Welcome to the 2018 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2018 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2018 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed.
What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2018-19 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2018 NHL Organizational Prospect Rankings (31-21)
After going through the top 10 prospects of every team in the NHL and giving full scouting reports, we will now be ranking each team’s prospect pools.
Note: If you click on the team name, you will get a link to a full prospect report on that team. The snippets here are just a taste of the information available.
31.) San Jose Sharks
The Sharks do not have a single prospect that can be called a true blue-chip talent. Their top two prospects, Ryan Merkley and Rudolfs Balcers clearly have talent, however, they also come with huge question marks. For Merkley, his attitude, commitment in his own end of the ice, and dedication to the game are big issues. For Balcers, he needs to maintain a consistent effort level every night and in all three phases of the game. Mario Ferraro and Josh Norris, are developing in college, but their upsides seem limited to second pairing defence and middle six centre respectively. There are other middle-six forwards in the system, but little to speak of on the blueline, and nothing to speak of in terms of goaltending prospects.
30.) Washington Capitals
The Capitals have an elite goalie prospect in Ilya Samsonov. He is their only true blue-chip talent. Alexander Alexeyev, Lucas Johansen, Connor Hobbs, and Jonas Siegenthaler provide depth on the blue line, but there does not seem to be a top-pair player in the bunch. Axel Johnsson Fjallby, Riley Barber, Garrett Pilon, and Shane Gersich are the team’s best hopes at forward, but they all project as third and fourth line forwards. Drafting at the bottom of the first round year in and year out has taken a toll on the system, but as the Capitals continue to celebrate their Stanley Cup victory the price to be paid for that victory is more than worth it.
29.) Pittsburgh Penguins
Like the Capitals, the Penguins pay the price of success. Being perennial contenders along with Stanley Cup wins in 2016 and 2017 will hurt a team’s farm system. The Penguins top prospect, Daniel Sprong, is ready to make an NHL impact. Zach Aston-Reese, Dominik Simon, and Tristan Jarry have all contributed at the NHL level, but remain prospects by our criteria. Jordy Bellerive, an undrafted prospect whom the Penguins signed last year in training camp is looking like a steal while Filip Hallander and Calen Addison were solid picks in the 2018 Draft. The Penguins system improved over our last rankings, but there is a long way to go.
Most of the Blue Jackets best young talent is already in the NHL, leaving a system lacking in quality and depth. It shouldn’t be too big of a concern as the Jackets young players have already turned the franchise into a competitive team and should be part of the organization for a long time. They reached in the first round for Liam Foudy, who we graded as mid-second round talent. Top prospect Vitali Abramov has put up big QMJHL numbers, but his size is a question as he heads to the pro game. On the blue line, Gabriel Carlsson is close to NHL ready but doesn’t seem to have much offensive upside.
27.) Edmonton Oilers
Like the Blue Jackets, most of the Oilers best young talent is in the NHL. Picking at 10th overall, Evan Bouchard was just what the doctor ordered for the Oilers. He gives the team a future puck-moving defenceman, who can also play on the power play, and is right-handed. The pick addresses a number of team weaknesses. Kailer Yamamoto is a top-end talent but must overcome a lack of size. Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones are knocking on the door of making the NHL full-time but questions remain as to how high up the depth chart they can climb when they get there. Ryan McLeod is the team’s best centre prospect while Kirill Maksimov and Tyler Benson are depth on the wings. Goaltender Stuart Skinner just finished his time in the WHL and is a few years away.
26.) New Jersey Devils
The Devils surprising 2017-18 season was built on their youth. The system graduated five players, including first overall pick Nico Hischier. That puts a dent in any prospect pool. 2018 first-rounder Ty Smith was a steal for the Devils. His development is of massive importance as the Devils really lack defensive prospects. Their best forward prospect, Michael McLeod, stagnated a bit due to injury this year. There are questions if he has the offensive game to be a true top-six centre in the NHL. Forwards Jesper Boqvist and Joey Anderson had solid seasons and improved their stock as prospects. Meanwhile, the future of John Quenneville has been questioned.
25.) Calgary Flames
If these rankings were done prior to the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flames would have rated a lot better. They didn’t have a pick in the first three rounds, as other teams added quality talent. They also traded Adam Fox, who would have been one of their top prospects, to Carolina. There are quality defenders still in the system. Finland’s Juuso Valimaki had a strong season for Tri-City and moves to the AHL. Swedes Rasmus Anderson and Oliver Kylington appear close to NHL ready. The team is set in goal with Tyler Parsons and Jon Gillies. Forward contains depth but a lot of question marks. Team Canada’s World Junior captain Dillon Dube is the best of the bunch. Can he score at the pro level? Or is he a bottom-six forward?
24.) Nashville Predators
2017 First-Round pick Eeli Tolvanen is one of the best prospects in hockey. He was an absolute steal for Nashville, as we predicted one year ago. Dante Fabbro looks like a solid defender in college. So, how did the Predators fall from a top-five prospect pool in last year’s rankings into the bottom-10? A number of trades stripped the system. They gave up four of last year’s top 10 prospects in moves last year. Meanwhile, top goalie prospect Juuse Saros is now considered graduated. They also stripped the system of 2018 picks, leading to one of our worst draft grades.
Looking at what is left, Emil Pettersson and Yakov Trenin should push for forward spots in training camp; while Patrick Harper and Grant Mismash continue to develop in college. The Nashville blueline is too deep for any of their prospects to crack this year. In the AHL, Frederic Allard and Alexandre Carrier are two to watch going forward.
23.) Toronto Maple Leafs
Like the Oilers and Blue Jackets, the Leafs have graduated a lot of talent in recent years. This has weakened the prospect group. 2017 draftee Timothy Liljegren remains the team’s top prospect. They have high hopes for the right-handed defenceman. Youngster Travis Dermott contributed down the stretch and should be a full-time Leaf this year. The Leafs further addressed the defence with their first two picks being Rasmus Sandin and Sean Durzi. When they eventually reach the NHL, it should improve the team’s biggest weakness. Upfront, Andreas Johnsson looks like an NHLer this year. Wingers Carl Grundstrom, Jeremy Bracco, and Yegor Korshkov need more development. The team is weak at centre though. Joseph Woll is the Leafs top hope in goal.
22.) Anaheim Ducks
Ducks top prospect Sam Steel had another solid WHL season and moves up to the pros this year. He is joined by Troy Terry who leaves Denver University. The two forwards could push for spots in training camp. Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand head back to the QMJHL for another year. Isac Lundestrom was a solid pick in the draft. Meanwhile, Max Jones had a disappointing OHL campaign and will look to improve as he heads to the AHL. On the blueline, Marcus Pettersson is already making his presence felt. Meanwhile, Jacob Larsson and Josh Mahura are good prospects who need AHL time. This draft was not deep for goalies but the Ducks grabbed one of our top-ranked goalies in Lukas Dostal. They also have Olle Eriksson Ek in the system.
21.) Dallas Stars
In Miro Heiskanen, the Stars have one of the top defensive prospects in the world. Last year’s third overall pick had another strong season. They took Ty Dellandrea with the 13th overall pick this year. It seems a little high for Flint centre, but with the added value of centres in the NHL, the pick could work out. Jason Robertson had a great year in Kingston and Dallas management will likely put him back in the OHL next year. The Stars are set in goal with Colton Point and Jake Oettinger as high-end prospects. The team needs to get more out of Denis Gurianov as well as improve the defensive depth behind Heiskanen.