Welcome to Today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. Over the last 6 weeks we have featured a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL, going team by team throughout the league. You can find all the articles here. You can also look at my extensive NHL Draft preview for more on many of these prospects. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances (especially due to the fact that the latest NHL season was only 48 games). Today we start the organizational rankings, looking at each team in countdown style from 30-21. For more information on each team, you can click on the team name which will take you to the article on their system.
30. San Jose Sharks – The Sharks system has been hurt by trading away recent picks, and top prospects like Charlie Coyle and Michael Sgarbossa. College free agent pickups like Matt Tennyson and Travis Oleksuk certainly help to build depth, but it just isn’t enough. When we look at the San Jose system, we see a lack of blue chip elite talent. We like Tomas Hertl, and Mirco Mueller was a nice addition, but neither is an elite “near sure thing” blue chip prospect, and overall the depth lacks compared to the rest of the NHL.
29. New Jersey Devils – The graduations of Adam Larsson, Jacob Josefsson, and Adam Henrique over the last few years along with the trading of multiple draft picks (the Devils only had 5 picks this year) has left the Devils prospect pipeline lacking in depth. Meanwhile, questions surrounding Jon Merrill, and Stefan Matteau who quit on his QMJHL team during the playoffs, have raised concerns about the character of two of the team’s most high profile prospects. As a result the Devils group just doesn’t match up when compared to other NHL clubs. With the Devils 2014 first round pick set to be forfeited, GM Lou Lamoriello will have his work cut out for him replenishing the Devils system. A solid season from Reid Boucher is the only thing keeping the Devils out of the 30th spot.
28. Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers prospect system is considered amongst the weakest in the NHL. While Scott Laughton, Samuel Morin, and Robert Hagg are good prospects, I don’t see a true game changer here, and overall the system lacks players who project as top 6 forwards, or top 4 defencemen. Two things have happened to get the Flyers system into the state it is in. Firstly the team spent many years trading high draft picks, and prospects for immediate help for the NHL side. Secondly, when the Flyers have made trades to get younger, players like Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier have immediately gone to the NHL. The Flyers have a number of young players already at the NHL level, and so this lack of depth in the system shouldn’t hurt too much.
27. New York Rangers – The Rangers prospect pool is quite shallow right now. We’ve seen them graduate numerous prospects to the NHL in recent years such as Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh, and others. We’ve also seen them move picks and young players, such as in the Rick Nash trade. As a result, they have really put a strain on their system and will need to build it back up in the coming years. A disappointing season from Chris Kreider also hurts the ranking along with the slow development of Dylan McIlrath. A look at the system in general sees a team where depth is lacking. This isn’t unusual though, as it is often the case for a team with a win now mentality like the Rangers have.
26. Los Angeles Kings – In Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Valentin Zykov and others the Kings have good depth on the wings. Meanwhile the defence also has depth with Derek Forbot, and Kevin Gravel leading the way. However, even with depth, there is little in the way of potential first line talent or top 2 defencemen here. There is also a real lack of depth at centre or in goal. The Kings are a team in win now mode though. They have an outstanding young team and are reaping the rewards of having one of hockey’s best systems for years. These things work in cycles, and the Kings are in win now mode, not building up the system as they were about 5 years ago. The way the team has been run should be an example to other NHL clubs.
25. Carolina Hurricanes – Overall the Canes system is a little shallow for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs much lately. The trade to acquire Jordan Staal is one factor. The quickness with which players like Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk progressed into NHL players and graduated is another factor. A third is seeing a highly rated prospect like Zach Boychuk bust out. The Canes hit the trifecta of what makes a prospect group shallow (trading picks/prospects, the good news of quick graduations, and the bad news of busts). While Elias Lindholm, and Ryan Murphy are real top propects, and there are a few other good prospects like Victor Rask, Zac Dalpe, Phil DiGiuseppe, Keegan Lowe, and Danny Biega, there are definitely some areas the group is lacking. Overall the Canes need to improve their depth on the wings, and there is not much in the goalie prospect pipeline, where almost all hopes rest on Daniel Altshuller.
24. Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks prospect pool was quite thin but they did a pretty decent job of strengthening it, especially at forward in the NHL Draft. Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk immediately become the team’s two best prospects. While Frankie Corrado will push for a spot on defence sooner rather than later. Nick Jensen is also a nice prospect who the Canucks can be patient with. On the other end of the spectrum, time is running out for players like Eddie Lack, and Jordan Schroeder. The time for these two to make an NHL impression is now.
23. Toronto Maple Leafs – The strength of the Leafs prospect pool is certainly in defence. Morgan Rielly is a top notch defensive prospect, while Matt Finn, Jesse Blacker, Stuart Percy and others give real depth here. Meanwhile the graduation of Nazem Kadri, and the trade of Matt Frattin, leaves the Leafs a little short in terms of forwards. Joe Colborne should get a great opportunity to make the team this season, but given his inability to truly dominate offensively in the AHL, he is likely a bottom 6 centre. New draft pick Frederik Gauthier has top 6 potential, but his ceiling is likely a responsible two way player on the second line. Past that players like Tyler Biggs and Brad Ross have questions about their ability to play in the top 6, and their most talented forward may be Josh Leivo, who will be a project. In goal, it seems the future is already in Toronto as Garrett Sparks is the best prospect they have, and is also a project. A serious injection of forward talent must be on Dave Nonis’ future agenda.
22. Washington Capitals – In Evgeni Kuznetsov the Capitals have an outstanding top end talent, in fact he might be the best prospect in hockey. However the depth of the system is lacking. Other forwards include Tom Wilson, who has questions as to whether he can be a top 6 forward or he is a third liner, 2013 draftee Andre Burakovsky, who has questions on his consistency; along with Zach Sanford and Riley Barber, a pair of projects likely playing NCAA hockey this year. Meanwhile, Stanislav Galiev really struggled in his first pro season and couldn’t adjust to the AHL, and ended up in the ECHL. There are some decent prospects, but no forward can really provide immediate help to the Capitals. On the defence Tom Kundratek will push for a full-time NHL spot this season and Madison Bowey was a good pick, but again there is a lack of depth. The reason for the Capitals lack of depth is the number of young players who have graduated in recent years including Karl Alzner, John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom, Dmitri Orlov, Marcus Johansson, Braden Holtby and others making impacts at the NHL level. When that happens, and so many young players make the big squad early, it’s not a bad thing for the NHL team, but it makes the prospect pool lack depth as a result. Caps fans shouldn’t be too concerned about the future of the team, even if they land a lower spot in the final team rankings.
21. Colorado Avalanche – For a team that has limited success since the 2004-05 lockout, you’d expect that the Avalanche would have amassed a better prospect pool than they have. While this year’s draft was a big boost to them of course with Nathan MacKinnon being a gem, and Chris Bigras, Spencer Martin, Mason Geertsen all having solid potential; the fact that there is only a few real high end talents in the system outside of the 2013 draftees should be concerning to most teams. However when we look at the young NHL team in Colorado with guys like Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and a young goalie in Semyon Varlamov already making major contributors to the team, this is an example where a prospect system may look to be on the weak end, but its an illusion because of the high quality young talent that has already been graduated to the NHL team. As far as the forwards are concerned, the future is bright in Colorado. Its now a matter of shoring up the backend, but even there, in Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie, Duncan Siemens, and Bigras, they have a good head start.
Check back tomorrow for rankings 20-11.
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