Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
What I 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 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. 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.
NHL Organizational Prospect Pool Rankings (30-21)
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.
Years of drafting late, trading draft picks and prospects have started to catch up to the Kings. When looking at the prospects in the Kings system, the only one who is one our top 100 list is Adrian Kempe. While the system has some good projects it just doesn’t stack up against other teams in the NHL. They do have some depth, especially on the blueline, but unless someone greatly exceeds expetcations, there doesn’t seem to be a top pairing player there. The team also has depth forwards. There is a real lack of a top notch goalie prospect.
Another team that has spent years near the bottom of the draft, and has traded a number of draft picks and prospects while being in win now mode. The results are hard to argue with, given the three Stanley Cups, but the quality of the prospect pool has suffered. Nick Schmaltz, Ville Pokka, and Gustav Forsling are the team’s top three prospects. They all have question marks though, and can’t be considered amongst the leagues very best prospects, with Schmaltz at #83 and Pokka at #92 on our top 100.
28. Florida Panthers
The Panthers have a ton of young talent on their team. There is little doubt that this is an up and coming organization. That said, their best talent, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjustad, Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov, and others are already producing at the NHL level. This is really the main reason why their group is so low. Expect Michael Mattheson to soon join the big club, with Ian McCoshen not far behind. Jayce Hawryluk and Henrik Borgstrom lead the forward group.
27. New York Rangers
The Rangers are another team who have lacked high draft picks, and traded prospects in recent years. Signing Jimmy Vesey was a real coup, and moved them up a couple spots on the list. Pavel Buchnevich should also be part of this year’s team. Brady Skjei is close to NHL ready on defence. Beyond that there is some depth, such as Ryan Graves on the blue line, and a very good stable of young goaltenders.
The Phil Kessel trade, amongst others, stripped the pool of much needed depth. The Penguins do have our top ranked goalie prospect in Matt Murray which keeps them out of the basement. Daniel Sprong is a strong forward prospect. Beyond them though, its unclear if there is anything more than depth players.
25. Minnesota Wild
There is some good depth in the system but no real true blue chip talent. Alex Tuch, Luke Kunin, and Joel Eriksson-Ek give the team a trio of big forwards with the potential to develop a power game. Mike Reilly was last year’s college free agent coup, but didn’t have the season that many expected. Behind these four are a lot of projects. Strong player development with those projects could make this ranking look silly in hindsight. However, as of today they remain unpolished gems.
24. Boston Bruins
If having a lot of high picks was the criteria, the Bruins would be much better ranked than they are here. They have made a number of curious picks though. Charlie McAvoy was a solid first round pick, but we aren’t sure what the Bruins were thinking with Trent Frederick. The trio of 2015 picks (13th-15th) overall were questionned at the time they were taken, and were not as impressive this past season as players taken after them. The Bruins did get a big surprise in Frank Vatrano this year.
23. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres were our top ranked prospect pool just two years ago, and were fourth in last year’s ranks. This massive fall should not be seen as a sign of a poor future though. The fact is that the Sabres formerly strong prospect group is making their team better. The team’s top three prospects one year ago, Jack Eichel Sam Reinhart, and Jake McCabe had excellent rookie seasons. Other prospects were moved for Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Zack Bogosian and Robin Lehner. The Sabres still have Alexander Nylander, Justin Bailey, William Carrier, Hudson Fasching, and Brendan Guhle on the way.
22. San Jose Sharks
Timo Meier is a legitimate top prospect and gives the Sharks plenty to be excited about. Beyond that, Nikolay Goldobin has plenty of skill, but plenty of question marks. After a disappointing year, Mirco Mueller looks to bounce back. A Sharks strength is the depth on defence as they look to develop Jeremy Roy into an offensive defenceman. Dylan DeMelo, and Michael Brodzinski add depth. This defence group is varied, has a wide variety of styles, and each player has legitimate NHL potential.
The Devils have a pair of high end talents up front in Pavel Zacha and Michael McLeod. Behind them are Miles Wood and John Quenneville. At the back end, Steve Santini is developing into a stay at home type. MacKenzie Blackwood gives them a solid goalie prospect. There is little depth beyond that though.