Top Shelf Prospects: NHL Team Rankings – Part One

Now that we’ve taken a look at every team in the NHL, I felt that I should give a 1-30 ranking of every team in the NHL and the quality of their prospects. This is an overall view of each team’s entire system and includes players drafted in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. In this ranking, my philosophy is that it is important to look at the elite prospects in a system, as well as the overall depth and number of quality prospects a team has. For an indepth look at the prospects on each team, click on the team name and the link will bring you to that team’s page.


The Cupboard is Nearly Bare

30. Philadelphia Flyers – Scott Laughton was a nice draft pick, but I question if he can be a top 6 player, or if he is destined to be a very good third-line centre. The rest of the system is a mess featuring players who are bottom 6 forwards, or bottom pairing defencemen at best. It said a lot when the top prospect Erik Gustafsson was projected as a bottom pairing defenceman. At least the big club has some promising youth in Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier and has effective young NHL stars in Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakob Voracek, because they won’t be getting much help from the farm going forward.

29. San Jose Sharks – I liked the pick of Tomas Hertl, who immediately becomes the organization’s top prospect. Matt Nieto also has the potential to be a top 6 player. However, after these two prospects, there is not much else in the system as far as players with top 6 forward or top 4 defence go. The Remaining players such as Freddie Hamilton, Matt Tennyson, and Travis Oleksuk appear to be long shots or bottom tier players.

Below Average Systems

28. New Jersey Devils – Top Prospect Jon Merrill faces a number of questions about his defensive ability and his off-ice activities. Stefan Matteau was a quality pick, but faces questions about whether he has high-end offensive potential. The Devils have three intriguing goalie prospects, but the system really thins out after that.

27. Vancouver Canucks – Brendan Gaunce was a great pick, and Eddie Lack is an outstanding goalie prospect. Nicklas Jensen and Jordan Schroeder are serious boom or bust type players. Kevin Connaughton is a bottom pairing defence prospect. However after these 5 players, the Canucks have little else.

26. Los Angeles Kings – While Jake Muzzin, Alexei Loktionov, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli are good prospects, the Kings system is probably at the weakest point its been at in several years. High profile graduations and trades made by GM Dean Lombardi have paid off, as seen by the good young team that won this years’ Stanley Cup.

Still Some Good Here

25. Colorado Avalanche – Most of the Avalanche’s best young talent is currently playing in the NHL and are considered graduated. As a result the team’s prospect group is a little thin at this point in time. Avs fans shouldn’t be too concerned as we know how good Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Eric Johnson and Semyon Varlamov can be. Fans can still look to prospects like Stefan Elliot, Michael Sgarbossa, Joey Hishon, and Duncan Siemens to offer future hope.

24. Carolina Hurricanes – Ryan Murphy needs to add strength and improve his defence, but he’s a top notch offensive defenceman and will have a big impact in the NHL soon. However, this system is lacking beyond Murphy. Phil DiGiuseppe and Zach Dalpe provide some depth on offence, but overall the system has taken big hits with recent graduations and trades. Still the Hurricanes are a young team at the NHL level, so this mitigates this somewhat as young players like Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Zach Boychuk, Jamie McBain and Drayson Bowman are not included in this ranking.

23. Nashville Predators – Ryan Ellis is a top young defence prospect who should contribute to the Predators powerplay immediately. However, prospect depth has taken a hit in recent years due to graduations (Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Roman Josi, Jonathan Blum, Gabriel Bourque) and trades of draft picks. Pontus Aberg is a potential draft day steal.

22. Phoenix Coyotes – Brandon Gormley is an outstanding defence prospect who leads a group of strong defenders including David Rundblad, Max Goncharov, Connor Murphy, and Mike Stone. The Coyotes also feature good goalies in Mark Visentin, Mike Lee, and Louis Dominique. The system is thin on forwards even after signing Andy Miele last year and drafting Henrik Samuelsson and Jordan Martinook this year.

Good but Not Great Systems

21. Boston Bruins – Dougie Hamilton is an elite defence prospect, but the Bruins have little else of that caliber. Malcolm Subban is a good goalie prospect, and Jared Knight is a decent forward prospect, but the system is clearly all about Hamilton right now.

20. Calgary Flames – Sven Baertschi is the Flames next stud winger. John Gaudreau is an intriguing but undersized prospect. Max Reinhart and Markus Granlund provide forward depth. This system’s depth was greatly benefitted by an excellent 2012 draft.

19. New York Rangers – Chris Kreider is a great prospect who showed glimpses of his future in the NHL playoffs. J.T. Miller, Christian Thomas, Boo Nieves, Brady Skjei, and Dylan McIlrath provide the Rangers with depth. The system was able to absorb the loss of a player like Tim Erixon and still maintain a number of quality players.

18. Dallas Stars – A good draft featuring Radek Faksa, Ludvig Bystrom, Mike Winther, Devin Shore, Gemel Smith, and Branden Troock saves this team from the bottom portions of the rankings. Goalie Jack Campbell must show consistency going forward, and Jamie Oleksiak is a project who will need to learn to adjust to the speed of the pro game, as many defencemen his size do.

17. Winnipeg Jets – Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba give the system two elite talents, but there is little beyond those two. Patrice Cormier is a bottom line pest, and Paul Postma is a decent offensive defenceman, but has big questions in relation to his defence. However, two elite prospects is enough to make them a group close to the middle of the pack despite that lack of depth.  Another team that has graduated a lot of young players in recent years with guys like Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov, Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little, all considered full time NHLers.  The system needs a goalie though.

16. Columbus Blue Jackets – A team with two elite prospects in Ryan Murray and Tim Erixon. Overall the defence is quite deep with David Savard and John Moore included. The forwards don’t have the same level of talent but Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson Boone Jenner, Tomas Kubalik, Michael Chaput all are potential NHLers. They even have two excellent goaltending prospects in Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo. Decent depth in this system and just misses out on being among the top half in the NHL.

Click here to continue to the top 15 and be sure to leave your comments below. You can also follow me on twitter @LastWordBKerr.

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  1. For a draft year that was said to be one of the weakest in years you seem to give to much credit to Canadian clubs like Calgary and Montreal for great 2012 draft years. In Calgary’s case you could not get much worse, besides Sven you did not have much tallent in the system prior to the draft. The Habs had more tallent in the system, but to say it was a great draft by them this year is like saying Travis Moen is a top line player because he scores more than Scott Gomez. Not taking away anything from the two teams, but its tough to believe it great drafts when the class is weak to begin with. Galchenyuk is a good prospect, but to say he is the stud centre everyone dreams of? If that were true he would be an Oiler or Jacket, and it will be really interesting to follow him and see if he contributes more to the next cup run of the Habs than say a Tinordi or Subban. Will he come in and put up Koivu numbers as an elite #1 centre, or be a Chris Higgins type who never really lived up to expectations (still had decent numbers in Montreal). I think both Calgary and Montreal (and for that matter, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto) will all be adding more top picks to their prospect pools come the end of this season (whatever the season turns out to look like).

    1. A few things

      1) When scouts call a draft weak, they are not talking about the first five picks. They are talking about the depth of the draft overall… so I don’t see how a #3 overall pick is effected by the weak/strong draft argument. 2004 is generally considered to be a weak draft but featured Ovechkin and Malkin as the top 2 picks. 1999 is also considered a weak draft but featured the Sedins at 2 and 3. The strength of a draft is never measured by the first few picks… there are almost always good players available in the top 5 if you draft correctly. The strength of a draft is measured by what is available at the end of round 1.

      As for him being available at 3rd overall, part of that is due to the injury… From what I saw the previous season he would have challenged Yakupov for 1st overall if given the opportunity. And lets be clear, Yakupov is a stud. As for Columbus, I like Murray, I actually like him a lot, but I would not have taken him ahead of Galchenyuk, and given Columbus’ record for drafting, I think its fair to question their picks.

      2) I don’t buy that this was a weak draft. Two things come into play here, first is over analysis. In 2011, during the last few months we heard (oh this is a weak draft, 2012 will be the strongest draft in years)… same thing in 2010, and 2009, etc… Every year the closer we get to a draft it is called weak by scouts, and next year is always seen as better. The reason is that by April, May, June, scouts have picked apart the draft eligibles games and are now focused on all the weaknesses. They have little exposure to the 16 year olds and only see the strengths and how much those kids will improve.

      The second factor about why this draft is much stronger than everyone is giving it credit for is the injuries. I talked about it a lot in my Draft Preview all the way back in March. This year featured more injuries than any other draft year in recent memory. It really was quite remarkable. Less time on the ice for that huge a number of players has caused those players to fall. They quite simply got less exposure than they should have and are seen as weaker or as bigger risks than they should be. This created a lot of volatility in the rankings as there are probably players out there that 1 team has seen 5 or 6 times and another might have only seen once or twice due to the fact they were scheduled to attend games later in the year, and the player got hurt. I don’t believe the draft is actually any weaker than average, I just think we’ll see more 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounders this year do well (and less first rounders). Guys got overlooked due to their injuries.

  2. Good analysis, and given the injury to Galchenyuk I would be a little worried about his durability going forward (and yes there are plenty of exceptions out there that say an injury early on means little to a career). I hope you are correct and it turns into a good year for the Flames, Habs and other Canadian teams who draft. Agreed about the point that in a “weak” draft, whether it truly is, or if it is over analysis, there is a need to draft correctly.

    Although I would disagree that the 2004 draft was weak (and that if the 2012 draft were to yield similar results I think teams would be very happy). I dont think there is a clear Malkin or Ovechkin out of Yakupov, Murray or Galchenyuk (not saying they might not prove me wrong), and given the number of Captains of NHL clubs from that first round (3) and Alternate captains (2), starting NHL goalies (2) and legitimate backups (1), I think the 2004 first round was not that bad. It is hard to rate them as well, you have the 2004 where you have Ovi and Malkin on top, but you also have Barker in the top three followed by Ladd and Wheeler. Compare that top 5 to 2002 where you have Nash, Lehtonen, Bowmeester, Pitkanen and Whitney, all 5 have legitimate NHL careers (Nash not as good as Malkin or Ovechkin, but playing in NY may change that), but I would suggest 2002 is weaker than the 2004 draft.

    To your point about injuries, it is a scary statistic that is creaping into the sport more and more. It seems that more players (both before draft and early on in professional career) are suffering major injuries more than in the past. I dont know if this is due to more press about it now, bigger stronger equipment making players feel invincible, or whether it is training regimes are so tough and stressful now that players are tiring themselves out and opening themselves up to more injuries because of it?
    It will be interesting to see, with most speculating a lockout at the end of the week, and Murray and other first rounders already starting to report to CHL (or equivilant leagues) what effect the labor disruption will have on any of their careers? How many of the first round picks do you think would have a legitimate shot of making their respective NHL rosters this fall if there was not a lockout? In my opinion, Murray is ready and given the state of the Jackets blueline he would have a fairly good shot at making the lineup. Yakupov has said he will return to Russia if there is a lockout, so I suspect the same would hold true if he were not to make the Oilers out of camp and Edmonton would not want to see him go back to play in Russia if they can help it, so he is likely to make it. That would be about it I think (always exceptions I know), so the lockout may benefit a lot of clubs in the sense of seasoning their prospects. Habs is likely a team that will benefit in that way.

    1. I would expect 4 to 5 guys to make their NHL teams, same as any other year.

      Murray and Yakupov would be two that I would say will make it 100%.

      Plus then I think we get 2-3 surprises out of the rest our first rounders, ala a Jeff Skinner, Sean Couturier, Cam Fowler or other such player. Who those guys will be is impossible to tell. And if the lockout is half a season, we might even see more seeing as how the CHL is going to allow their players to attend NHL camps even if they happen at mid season. This could lead to even more 18 year olds making it than what is normal as many will greatly benefit from 2-3 months of CHL hockey and then come to camp NHL ready, where normally if you aren’t NHL ready in September you are sent down.

      As for a player being injury prone… those with concussions scare me most out of any other injury since they make a player more likely to future injuries. The other players I look at one injury as a fluke occurence that could happen to anyone. And even guys like Rielly and Galchenyuk who tore up their knees, we know that it is easier for a 17 year old kid to recover from such an injury than a 35 year old. Its just natural biology, so I’m not that concerned about it. There are plenty of NHLers, including this years Hart and Art Ross winner who have suffered torn ACLs and recovered fine with proper surgery and rehab.

      Historically, the biggest injuries for repeating are 1) Concussions 2) Shoulders 3) Groin. And the most damaging injuries are Concussions, Necks and Achilles as they seem to be tougher to recover from. Of course though there are exceptions to every rule.

  3. To your point about the CHL agreeing to allow players to attend camps, it will be interesting to see:

    1) at what point the CHL removes the verbal offer, cant see them allowing it in January or February;

    2) how the world juniors fits into all of this. If there is an agreement made late November and NHL camps are in December the WJ teams may have some issues getting top tallent from the drafted players (as you say, NHL teams will get and want to have time to see their prospects in camp).

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