Welcome to the 2015 edition of Top Shelf Prospects. As the summer progresses, I will be featuring each NHL team’s top prospects, following the order of the first round of the 2015 NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) —you can find all the articles here.
Because we already published an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in 2015, as my reports on them will not have changed — I will, however, link you to those articles. Instead I will focus on prospects that were acquired in past drafts, examining their progress and their chances of making the 2015-16 roster of their respective NHL team. I will also choose one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the fourth round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a darkhorse to make the NHL.
For those wondering, the determining factors for defining who is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not set in stone, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2015 NHL Organizational Prospect Rankings
Click on the team name to see a full report.
30. New Jersey Devils: New General Manager Ray Shero has his work cut out for him in rebuilding an older hockey club. Adding Pavel Zacha was a much needed addition of a high quality forward prospect, as its unclear if there is any other top end forward talent in the system. Stefan Matteau and John Quenneville are looking more like two-way types for a second or third line than true top line talent and Reid Boucher hasn’t quite found his touch at the NHL level. The defence is decent with Steve Santini looking like a good defensive defender, and there is depth behind him, but its unclear if any will challenge for a top four spot. Overall though, this group lacks high-end talent behind Zacha.
29. Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have traded away a number of prospects and picks for immediate help on their NHL team in recent years, and it has finally caught up to them. There is still a good group of forwards as Adrian Kempe and Valentin Zykov could develop into top-six forwards. Jordan Weal looks ready to make the team. Spencer Watson, Nick Shore and Matt Mistele are depth. On defence Derek Forbort is running out of chances to make the team, and Alex Liuntiemi and Nick Ebert are threatening to pass him on the depth chart.
28. Florida Panthers: The Panthers added Lawson Crouse in the NHL draft, giving them a big bodied power forward prospect. He is nearly the polar opposite of Rocco Grimaldi, the teams second best forward prospect. On the blue line Michael Mattheson has good potential, and he will make the jump from the NCAA to pro hockey. Ian McCoshen takes his spot on the Boston College blue line. Overall the Panthers are one of the up and coming franchises in the NHL, but the prospect system isn’t where you find that. With all the young players they have already graduated, the depth and high end quality of the pool has been diminished. This isn’t a bad thing though, as having these players producing at the NHL level shows the Panthers strong future.
27.Colorado Avalanche: Chris Bigras had an outstanding season and gives the Avalanche a high end defense prospect, but there are big questions beyond him on the blueline. Duncan Siemens hasn’t progressed as was hoped given his draft position. Similar things could be said about newly acquired blueliner Brandon Gormley. Up front the addition of Mikko Rantanen gives the team another two-way power forward. I like the additions in the Ryan O’Reilly deal, but it should be noted that only J.T. Compher qualifies as a prospect under our less than 50 NHL games criteria. Thats a theme with the Avalanche system though, they have good young players on their NHL team, and not as prospects, so they take a hit in the organizational rankings. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though with players like Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie all being big-time NHL contributors.
26.New York Rangers: Trades have weakened the Rangers prospect system in recent years. There is a high end forward prospect in Pavel Buchnevich, but it is unclear when he will come to North America. Oscar Lindberg is a two-way forward who could make the Rangers this year, but beyond those two there is little in terms of forward talent. Brady Skjei is a solid defence prospect but things thin out beyond him. Dylan McIlrath has never made the impact that was envisioned when he was drafted. He could be an NHL contributor, as could Calle Andersson, but the upside on these two is limited. In goal the Rangers are extremely well stocked with Brandon Halverson, Igor Shestyorkin, and MacKenzie Skapski all being solid prospects. The goaltending depth saves them from being at the bottom of this list.
25. Pittsburgh Penguins: There is some talent here as Derrick Pouliot is a stud who should make the NHL this year. Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry make a fine pair of goalie prospects. While Oskar Sundqvist and Brian Dumoulin are knocking on the door of NHL jobs, their upside is a question mark. Daniel Sprong was a really nice high risk, high reward pick, especially given that the Penguins don’t seem to have another high potential forward in the system. Overall this is a group that has been weakened by the team trying to move prospects and picks to get experienced players at the trade deadline and during the off-season in recent years.
24. Dallas Stars: In Julius Honka, the Stars have a solid offensive defense prospect, but his size still leaves some concerns about his defensive game. Denis Guryanov was taken twelfth overall, and while there are some offensive skills, we felt it was a bit of a reach. There is also a talented goaltender in Philippe Desrosiers in the pipeline. The inability of highly drafted prospects like Jack Campbell and Radek Faksa, to meet their potential thus far has hurt this group. They may not be busts, but their ceiling is lower today than when they were drafted. In terms of the rest of the system, there is depth, but high end ceiling is an issue.
23. Vancouver Canucks: I don’t know what to make of Jake Virtanen, he looked very good at the world juniors, but his WHL season was very underwhelming for a player taken 6th overall. Jared McCann started slow due to a bout with mono, but looked great late in the season and into the playoffs for Sault Ste. Marie. Hunter Shinkaruk has faced some criticism, but I still feel he has potential to bounce back and put together a solid year in the AHL. Meanwhile Brendan Gaunce and Cole Cassels have impressed with their two-way play at centre. Frankie Corrado is an NHL ready defender. Looking further on defence they lack a blue chip player, but Jordan Subban, Ben Hutton, Andrey Pedan, and newly drafted Guillaume Brisebois are good projects. The Canucks have to be impressed with the performance of Thatcher Demko who gives them a very good goalie prospect. The Canucks have done a lot to add depth, and have a number of good prospects, however the big question is if they have a true first line superstar in their pool or on the team. There are real questions if there is a game changer amongst this group, and that could beocme an issue as the Sedins are not getting any younger.
22. San Jose Sharks: Timo Meier and Mirco Mueller give the Sharks a pair of high end prospects, and Chris Tierney is establishing himself in the NHL. Nikolay Goldobin has high end offensive skills, but must round out his game. Rourke Chartier had an excellent season, and came out of nowhere to establish himself as a top prospect. Jeremy Roy was an excellent second round pick. Noah Rod and Danny O’Regan are projects who need to prove they can score at higher levels. Beyond that though there is a lack of depth. The Sharks have improved their prospect pool in recent years, but there is still work to do, especially at the back end.
21.Minnesota Wild: Adding Mike Reilly was a major coup for the Wild this summer. He looked good in the World Championships for Team USA last spring and could be ready to make the jump to the NHL relatively quickly. Alex Tuch is developing nicely as a power forward prospect. Joel Eriksson-Ek and Jordan Greenway were nice additions at the draft. However beyond them, there are questions. Gustav Olofsson only played one game last year due to a serious shoulder injury and must prove that he is 100% and can make up for the lost development time. Just three years ago we named the Wild as the best prospect pool in the NHL. While they don’t come close to that title this year, this is not a bad thing, and the Wild are bolstered by the success of those players who have graduated in recent years.
For Teams 20-11 click here
Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images