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). Yesterday we looked at the Organizations Ranked 30-21, today we continue, looking at each team in countdown style from 20-11. For more information on each team, you can click on the team name which will take you to the article on their system.
20. Edmonton Oilers- The Oilers system might seem a little thin right now, but that is merely due to the number of young players they have graduated to the big squad. They still have one of the best collections of young talent in the NHL in Gagner, Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov and Schultz. The graduation of so many forwards in recent years have left the next crop of forward prospects a little thin, as it mainly looks to be bottom six guys coming up in the Oilers system. While many have criticized them for having too many forwards and ignoring the defence and goaltending, that isn’t true. Devan Dubnyk had a solid season in goal and on Defence, Darnell Nurse was a nice pickup at the backend in this draft, while Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, David Musil, and Martin Gernat give the Oilers a good collection of young talent on their way up the ranks.
19. Ottawa Senators – The Senators ranked very high in my 2012 Prospect Rankings at 4th overall. However with five players graduating this season, plus two players (Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen) moved for immediate help, the depth of the prospect department has taken a real hit and dropped down. However, this isn’t a bad thing. The weaker prospect pool has meant a stronger NHL team due to the contributions these young players are making at that level as well as the acquisition of Bobby Ryan, a good young winger. Quite simply, the Senators would not have made the 2013 NHL Playoffs without the contributions of those prospects who graduated to the NHL level. The Senators still have some solid prospects in defenceman Cody Ceci and forwards Matt Puempel and Mark Stone on the way along with Curtis Lazar taken in the first round of the draft. There is also decent depth in the Sens system such as Mark Borowieki, Stephane DaCosta, Chris Driedger, Shane Prince and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. One must look at the Senators as a good young NHL team instead of at this ranking, which reflects a huge graduation in the past year.
18. Phoenix Coyotes – Brandon Gormley and David Rundblad will look to join a young Phoenix defence core that already includes Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle, and Michael Stone at the NHL level. Also coming along in the minors are defencemen Connor Murphy, and James Melindy. The group should give Dave Tippett a deep, mobile group of two-way defenders to work with for a very long-time. Up front the Coyotes focused their attention on adding offence in the 2013 draft with Max Domi and Laurent Dauphin, adding to a group that includes Tobias Reider, 2012 first-rounder Henrik Samuelsson, Lucas Lessio, and free agent signee Andy Miele competing for spots going forward. In goal, Mark Visentin is a few years away, but is progressing well as a goaltending prospect. The group could use even more forwards, but overall its a deep group that should provide a strong future for Phoenix.
17. Boston Bruins- The Graduation of Dougie Hamilton was a good move for the Bruins team, and adds youth at the NHL level, but hurts the Bruins prospect rankings. In Joe Morrow they do have a very good defence prospect added to the group this summer, and Torey Krug should make the Bruins as a bottom pairing guy and powerplay specialist. Meanwhile, Maxim Chudinov and Matt Grzelcyk bring depth to the defence group. In goal, Malcolm Subban is a top notch prospect who will be given time to develop. At forward the Bruins have a number of nice players including Alexander Khoklachev, Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight, Reilly Smith, Anthony Camara, and Peter Cehlarik; however they all have question marks and none are elite talents. Overall though system is deep, and with the Bruins in win now mode, it should combine with a good young core already in Boston to keep the Bruins in contention for some time.
16. Detroit Red Wings – Forgive me if this write up is a little long. See, given how other analysts have ranked the Wings, a justification for this ranking is necessary. The Detroit Red Wings certainly appear to have a deep prospect group, and they have gotten a ton of hype from other analysts for the depth of the group. I’m not as high on them as some others are though. I don’t see a surefire elite prospect in the group, and Detroit has long been living on a reputation as the best drafting team in hockey. I take nothing away from their drafting from the early 90s to 2004, they got multiple superstar late round picks, such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Johan Franzen. However since the 2005 draft I really don’t think the Wings have deserved the reputation they’ve been given. Even with their slow tendency to promote prospects, we still have not seen the team draft a single legitimate top-6 NHL forward since 2005, and that was 8 years ago. Some may say that this is an unfair way to look at things because Detroit takes so long in developing prospects, but that isn’t exactly true. When they did have blue chip talents like Zetterberg and Datsyuk, both were in the NHL within 3 seasons of being drafted. Franzen only spent one season overseas before being brought to Detroit after being drafted, and that one season was the 2004-05 lockout year. That means that while it may not be fair to judge the 2011, 2012 or 2013 drafts for not producing elite talent, 2005-2010 is fair game. On defence we have only seen one player, Jakub Kindl, play 1 shortened 48 game season, as a legit top 4 defenceman in the NHL. Brendan Smith hasn’t proven that he can handle top 4 minutes yet, and no other defender has come close. Meanwhile the Wings also haven’t drafted a goalie who has shown the ability to make it in the NHL yet, though Mrazek has potential. To summarize, in 8 years we have no top 6 forwards, one top 4 defender (and one that is still somewhat unproven), and no current NHL goalies drafted. If it was any other organization, there would be talk about being amongst the worst drafting teams in the NHL since the 2004-05 lost season. There are many publications and prospect sites that seem to automatically give Detroit a top 10 or top 5 prospect rating just because they are Detroit, and surely are the best drafting team in hockey right? Not so fast, as that is starting to change. Just look at The Hockey News Future Watch who had Detroit at 24th and a C- in their latest issue, or HockeysFuture.com who dropped the Wings to 11th this spring. Perceptions are slowly starting to change. And you’ll note we are in the middle of those two ranks.
That said there is potential NHL talent in Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Landon Ferraro, Tomas Jurco, Petr Mrazek and the Red Wings AHL club in Grand Rapids won the Calder Cup. Meanwhile Xavier Ouellet, Martin Frk, and Ryan Sproul all had good seasons for their clubs in junior hockey. The system is deep, there is no doubt about that. There is a lot of good talent here. I just question if there is the high end talent that is needed to replace the retired Nick Lidstrom, and the aging stars in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins have really stocked up on defencemen in recent years. In Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, and Scott Harrington they have a very nice young trio of top notch defencemen who impressed in the CHL last year. They also have Brian Dumoulin, who got his feet wet in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre. When you include Simon Despres who is not included in the actually ranking, but is a young graduate to the NHL, you see that the Penguins have the immense depth that allowed them to trade away a prospect like Joe Morrow. 2013 pick Tristan Jarry and 2012 pick Matt Murray will compete with college Signee Eric Hartzell to be the Penguins goalie of the future. Its a nice stable of goaltending and the Penguins will bank on at least one of the three developing into an NHL netminder. Up front Beau Bennett should make the NHL this year and Teddy Blueger seems to be a really solid pick from 2012. The Penguins also have a number of long shot projects up front. Overall the Penguins have had solid drafting in recent years, which built a deep prospect group allowing them to trade the picks and players they moved at the 2013 trade deadline. Without those trades the Penguins would likely be a top 10 system right now, but this is the type of thing a team in win now mode will do.
14. Nashville Predators – Last year a look at Nashville’s system showed a team that had some prospect depth, but really lacked top end blue chip talent. With the additions of Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg over the last year, the top end talent is certainly there, while players like Austin Watson, Mattias Ekholm, Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg, Brandon Leipsec, Jimmy Vesey, Taylor Beck, continue to provide a system that is full of depth. The additions of real blue chippers move the Preds from 23 a year ago, up to 15, despite the graduation of last year’s top prospect Ryan Ellis. GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz have consistently gotten results in Nashville despite their resources (high draft picks, and money at times) being more limited than the big boys they played under the old alignment in the NHL’s Central Division. I expect that won’t change with the move to the new Central Division, and that the team will continue to churn out quality two way hockey players who play Predators hockey.
13. Minnesota Wild – One year ago, the Minnesota Wild were ranked as the best organization in the NHL by Top Shelf Prospects. However the Graduations of Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle, along with the trade of Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and the 2013 first rounder mean that the Wild have fallen in this year’s Top Shelf Prospects organizational rankings. However this isn’t a bad thing, as 2 of those 4 players are now contributing directly to the Wild’s on-ice success and the other two were traded for Jason Pominville, the type of two way winger that can really help the Wild find a balanced attack now and in the future. Mikael Granlund had a disappointing season, but I believe that he remains one of the top prospects in hockey. There is still plenty of quality pieces and good depth in the Minnesota system, just look at players like Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips, Darcy Kuemper, Tyler Cuma, Johan Gustafsson, and Mario Lucia. The future is bright for the Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher has done an outstanding job in quickly turning the franchise around.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets feature a stud on the back end in Ryan Murray. He likely would have made his NHL debut last season if not for a shoulder injury suffered during the lockout. Three first round draft picks added in 2013 add to an already deep system with David Savard also knocking on the door for defencemen, and Boone Jenner ready to break into the NHL. Also in the system, desfence prospects to watch include Cody Goloubef, Austin Madaisky, and Mike Reilly. Upfront Ryan Johanssen, and Cam Atkinson are both graduates and making NHL impacts while Boone Jenner is ready to break into the pros full-time, and the 2013 draft really focused on bringing in Forward talent. This has brought in talent galore for future years. Meanwhile the goaltending is in strong and capable hands with Bobrovsky relatively young, and Oscar Dansk, and Joonas Korpisalo developping in the CHL and in Finland respectively. Overall John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen have taken over a deep team and the biggest task now will be making sure that all this young talent gets the proper coaching in order to develop into effective NHL players going forward. This was a challenge under previous Columbus regimes, but with the success these two men enjoyed in developing talent in St. Louis, they bring some much needed hope to the Blue Jackets organization.
11. Dallas Stars – The Stars had a weak pool three years ago, but had a solid draft in 2011, followed by excellent drafts in 2012 and 2013 to build it up. Adding a blue chip stud like Valeri Nichushkin was an absolute steal this year, while Radek Faksa and Jack Campbell remain top end prospects. Brett Ritchie exploded with a breakout year, and really showed what he is capable of. On defence the Stars are lead by Jamie Oleksiak who was their number 2 prospect last year, but was number 4 this summer. Make no mistake, Oleksiak hasn’t slipped, he had a good season in the AHL, and even got in 16 games for Dallas. The movement just shows how Dallas has really improved the group. Kevin Connaughton, acquired from Vancouver is another good young defenceman who should soon be looking for an NHL job. In Alex Chiasson and Alex Guptil we add some other young forwards with potential. Overall the Stars have quality and depth. If there is one misstep the organization made, and to be honest every organization makes these mistakes, it is Scott Glennie who is struggling to get ice time in the AHL and is looking like a mistake of a pick.
Check back tomorrow for the top 10.
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