One of the things that makes the NHL so unique is the farm system. In the NFL, rookies either make the team or they don’t play. In the NBA, teams barely have prospects considering each draft is only two rounds and anyone who gets drafted is generally good enough to play right away. The MLB’s farm system is very well structured, but MLB prospects can take years to develop. This year’s NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom is 26 years old. There are 26 year olds in the NHL meanwhile that are 8 year veterans. A big part of the NHL is a flourishing farm system, so let’s take a look at who each teams top prospect is.
NOTE: If a player has played at least 10 games including playoffs (John Gibson, Leon Draisaitl, Alexander Wennberg etc.) I am no longer considering him a prospect due to the fact he has made the NHL.
Anaheim: Shea Theodore, D Seattle (WHL) 6’2 / 183 lbs / 19 years old /2013 26th overall selection
Despite being so good the last couple years the Ducks actually have a pretty solid system especially when you consider a lot of guys have graduated. Even with Emerson Etem, Devante Smith-Pelly, Rickard Rakell and John Gibson all full time NHLers the Ducks still have guys like Nick Ritchie, Nic Kerdiles and Theodore. Theodore has been injured to start this season, but led the WHL in defensemen scoring last season and without a doubt will find himself in the NHL very, very soon.
Arizona: Max Domi, C London (OHL) 5’10 / 198 lbs / 19 years old / 2013 12th overall selection
This season saw a couple of the Yotes top prospects in Tobias Rieder and Brandon Gormley officially graduate to the NHL. Despite struggling the past couple seasons, the Coyotes prospect pool is really only average due to the fact that most of their draft picks have really failed to fulfill their potential or they moved up quicker than expected. Their is one blue chipper in the system though and that is young center Max Domi. The son of former enforcer Tie Domi, Max tore it up the past two seasons in the OHL and is off to a magnificent start this year with 34 points in 17 games. Domi’s hockey sense and playmaking abilities are off the charts, and there’s no telling what kind of damage this kid can do on the next level.
Boston: Alexander Khokhlachev, C Providence (AHL) 5’11 / 184 lbs /21 years old /2011 40th overall selection
When you’re really good for a few years you’re drafting tends to suffer as you’re not getting the top prospects. That is the case with the Bruins who’s prospect pool is average at best. Most of their better prospects like Ryan Spooner and Seth Griffith have played in the NHL this year while Jared Knight can’t seem to stay healthy. Alexander Khokhlachev however is still in the Bruins system though that may not be for long as he has just been recalled by the Bruins who are short on forwards. Alex is a solid player and may become a decent NHLer, but unlike most other teams top prospects, Khokhlachev doesn’t have that superstar potential.
Buffalo: Sam Reinhart, C Kootenay (WHL) 6’1 / 185 lbs / 19 years old / 2014 2nd overall selection
Due to being hellaciously bad in the last couple seasons, the Sabres have compiled an impressive group of prospects including Brendan Lemieux, J.T. Compher, Joel Armia and Andrey Makarov. That also doesn’t include young guns on the NHL club like Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mark Pysysk, Mikhail Grigorenko and Cody Hodgson. None of those names compare though to Sam Reinhart. Reinhart played in 9 games this year for Buffalo before being reassigned to Kootenay and despite not scoring very much, it’s very clear how talented Sam is. He had a tremendous 105 points in only 60 games last year and has terrific hands and hockey sense. Buffalo may be struggling now, but in 2-3 years they will be an absolute force to be reckoned with.
Calgary: Sam Bennett, C Kingston (OHL) 6’1 / 178 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 4th overall selection
The Flames, like the Sabres have been in the cellar the league as of late. They’ve built their prospect pool in a very unconventional way though. Besides Bennett and Emile Poirier, most of their top prospects were late round draft choices. A couple of the prospects like Markus Granlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Josh Jooris and Max Reinhart have made the NHL this year. And while all of those guys, especially Gaudreau will be good, Bennett has potential to be great. He’s unfortunately going to miss several months due to surgery, but he put up 91 points in only 57 games last year and has all the tools to be a big time player.
Carolina: Haydn Fleury, D Red Deer (WHL) / 6’3 207 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 7th overall selection
After October, it appeared the Hurricanes would be beyond awful. Then all of a sudden they stringed together some wins and look to be at least mediocre. The Canes also don’t have a great prospect system due to trading away picks and having the others already in the NHL. Haydn Fleury is a rare exception to a mostly average farm system. Other guys like Brock McGinn, Jacob Slavin and Trevor Carrick may be decent players but they’re not gonna be fantastic by any means. Fleury meanwhile doesn’t have magnificent offensive skills, but he’s a big, bruising blueliner who could provide some serious grit to the Canes when he finds himself in the NHL.
Chicago: Teuvo Teravainen, C Rockford (AHL) / 5’11 /178 lbs / 20 years old / 2012 18th overall selection
When you make the playoffs in 6 straight years, and win the Stanley Cup in two of them, you’re generally not going to get the greatest draft picks in the world. With Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp on their roster, they don’t really need them. Still the Hawks have managed to find some solid prospects in Ryan Hartman, Teuvo Teravainen and Nick Schmaltz. Hartman and Schmaltz are still a couple of years away, but Teravainen has already made his NHL debut and continues to impress in Rockford of the American Hockey League. Teravainen has the talent to play in the NHL now, but with Chicago pressed up against the salary cap ceiling and the fact that the Hawks have excellent depth, Teravainen may find it tough to make the NHL. But if the Hawks continue to having offensive issues, he may find himself in the windy city sooner rather than later.
Colorado: Chris Bigras, D Owen Sound (OHL) / 6’1 / 190 lbs /19 years old / 2013 32nd overall selection.
Yikes. That’s a pretty good word to sum up the Avs prospect pool. Led by a large group of near-busts, most of the Avs first round picks have went straight to the NHL in the past. Their other recent picks Joey Hishon and Duncan Siemens have had concussion issues and defensive struggles respectively. Mike Sgarbossa meanwhile, just can’t seem to crack the NHL lineup. Chris Bigras does provide a little hope though. Bigras is still young, and with Colorado’s defense being as weak as it is, the rugged defensemen could find himself in Denver quicker than expected if he continues to develop. The Avalanche have a lot of talent on their main roster, so while their poor system isn’t totally awful, it’s certainly a major concern especially with their early season struggles.
Columbus: Kerby Rychel, LW Springfield (AHL) / 6’1 / 205 lbs / 20 years old / 2013 19th overall selection
After being bad for so long, Columbus has turned it around recently and ended up in the postseason last year after narrowly missing in 2013. Injuries have slowed down the Jackets so far this year, but they should regain their mojo when they get healthy. A large part of their recent success comes from their ability to crank out prospects. Ryan Murray, Marko Dano and Alexander Wennberg are all guys to come out of their system in the last couple seasons. Next in line should be winger Kerby Rychel. Rychel has battled injuries the past 2 seasons, but when he’s healthy Kerby has a wicked shot and more importantly is like a bull in a china shop. He’s a big body, and loves to use it to get himself in position to score. Health is a bit of a concern for Rychel, but if he stays healthy he has a chance to make a major impact in Columbus.
Dallas: Julius Honka, D Texas (AHL) / 5’11 / 180 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 14th overall selection
The Stars have built a pretty solid prospect group especially when you consider guys like Jamie Oleksiak and Patrick Nemeth have already made the NHL. Guys like Brett Ritchie, Radek Faksa and Jason Dickinson all project to be good NHL players and defenseman Julius Honka has a chance to make a real impact as early as this season. With Sergei Gonchar traded and Patrick Nemeth out for the season, there is a vacancy on the Stars blueline. John Klingberg currently filling the void, but Stars management has very high praise for Honka and some believe he could step in and play in the NHL this year.
Detroit: Anthony Mantha, RW Grand Rapids (AHL) / 6’5 / 214 lbs / 20 years old / 2013 20th overall selection
23 straight seasons the Wings have made the playoffs. How the heck do these guys keep digging out gems? Hakan Andersson the highly praised director of European scouting for the Wings is certainly helpful in finding guys like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco and going back even further guys like Pavel Datysuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom. The leader of the Wings prospect class isn’t currently a European however, it’s big power forward Anthony Mantha. Many were surprised when Mantha slipped to 20th in the 2013 draft and it looks the Wings may end up as big winners with Anthony. Mantha led the QMJHL with 123 points last year and ended up winning the CHL player of the year award. Mantha has been hurt so far this season, but with some of the current Red Wings climbing up in age, Mantha should be in the Motor City in no time.
Edmonton: Darnell Nurse, D Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) / 6’4 205 lbs / 19 years old / 2013 7th overall selection
Edmonton, Edmonton, Edmonton. Somehow the Oilers have managed three #1 overall pick and four top 5 picks since 2010 and they still manage to suck. Those 4 top 5 picks in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Leon Draisaitl have all made the NHL leaving their 2013 1st rounder Darnell Nurse as the only not to fully make the big time. And even that won’t be the case for long. Nurse got into 2 games this season before being sent back to juniors, and considering how poor the Oilers defense corps is, it’s almost certain Nurse will bring his gritty game to Edmonton for good next season. Outside of Nurse, the Oilers don’t have too many good prospects largely in part to the fact that most of their young guns are already in the NHL.
Florida: Rocco Grimaldi, C San Antonio (AHL) / 5’6 / 160 lbs / 21 years old / 2011 33rd overall selection
It’s taken Rocco Grimaldi a while to get going, but the undersized forward is really starting to find his stride after a great senior season at the University of North Dakota. Like Edmonton, Florida has been quite bad lately and a lot of their draft picks have found their way to the NHL already like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. Their #1 overall selection from this past season, Aaron Ekblad has really began to show that he absolutely is ready for the NHL. Grimaldi was reassigned to San Antonio last week after 4 games in Florida and though he did not record a point, he showed a lot of flash and skill for a guy of his size.
Los Angeles: Valentin Zykov, LW Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) / 6’0 / 209 lbs / 19 years old / 2014 50th overall selection
When you’re crowned as champions in 2 of the last three seasons finding good prospects can be tough. The Kings still do have a few good prospects, but they can’t compare to some of the others teams systems. Luckily for LA, they don’t need their system to be stellar. The Kings are one of the best teams in hockey despite their slow start, and when you’re that good a loaded farm system begins less important. There are solid players like Roland McKeown, Adrian Kempe and Valentin Zykov though none of those guys are gonna be bona fide stars. Zykov has the best chance to succeed because of his offensive skills and shooting ability though it could be tough for him to crack the L.A. lineup anytime soon. At some point though within the next couple years, Zykov will surely find himself playing in Hollywood.
Minnesota: Alex Tuch, RW Boston College (Hockey East)/ 6’4 / 213 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 18th overall selection
2 years ago, Minnesota had the best prospect pool in hockey. In the past two years though, Mikael Granlund, Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Darcy Kuemper and Matt Dumba have all moved up to the NHL. With all of those guys playing in the State of Hockey, their prospect pool is really quite week. Mario Lucia and Tyler Graovac may be okay players but they are nothing special. Tuch could be very good though in time. He isn’t ready yet and won’t be for another couple years but he has great size and plays a very, very sound two way game. The Wild have many free agents coming up within the next couple years so Tuch should have no trouble finding his way to the NHL within the next 2-4 years.
Montreal: Zach Fucale, G Halifax / 6’1 / 178 lbs / 19 years old / 2013 36th overall selection
Montreal’s prospect pool is really not very good. The top names in the group are Michael McCarron, Sven Andrighetto, Jacob De La Rose and Nikita Scherbak and while those guys are fine players, their ceilings aren’t more than 2nd or 3rd liners/2nd or 3rd defense pairings. Zach Fucale is an interesting case. He’s easily the top prospect in the Montreal system but he’s in a difficult spot. Montreal already has a goalie by the name of Carey Price and well, he’s pretty darn good. Price is also only 27 meaning he isn’t exactly nearing a decline any time soon. As good as Fucale might be, dethroning Price would be an insurmountable task leading some to believe that once Fucale is developed, trading him would be a smart option.
Nashville: Kevin Fiala, LW HV71 Jonkoping (SHL) / 5’10 / 180 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 11th overall selection
Nashville hasn’t had the greatest of prospects lately, largely in part to their lack of first round picks between 2010 and 2012. In 2010 they took forward Austin Watson who is yet to become much of anything. In 2011 they traded their first to Ottawa for Mike Fisher, and in 2012 they sent their first to Buffalo in exchange for Paul Gaustad. Through some trades and later picks though, they’ve developed an okay farm system. Filip Forsberg has been a great product of the system as he leads all NHL rookies with 20 points and a whopping +19. Kevin Fiala leads the system now though and is considered to be NHL ready sooner than most expect. He’s off to a great start in Sweden registering 10 points in his first 10 games. Nashville’s offense has been a concern for a while and it should be expected he’ll in be in the Music City within the next year or so.
New Jersey: Steve Santini, D Boston College (Hockey East) / 6’2 / 207 lbs / 19 years old / 2013 42nd overall selection
New Jersey’s prospect pool is flat out bad. Most of their decent prospects have moved up and trades and penalties have cost them high draft picks. Guys like Damon Severson, Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau are still young, but they’ve all moved up to the next level. Steve Santini is a player though that could really support the Devils soon. Santini has great size, and is a very good stay at home defenseman at Boston College. The Devils have a few older players in Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky who will need replacing soon, and Santini could come in handy when they do decide to retire.
New York Islanders: Griffin Reinhart, D Bridgeport (AHL) / 6’4 / 217 lbs / 20 years old / 2012 4th overall selection
This one is extremely tough. The Isles farm system is absolutely loaded and apart from Reinhart they have Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Sebastian Collberg, Taylor Cammarata and Ryan Pulock. Reinhart though just edges out Dal Colle because of Reinhart is more seasoned than Dal Colle. Michael was only drafted this past June, while Reinhart has been in the system since 2012. Reinhart has struggled at times to stick in the NHL, but there’s no question he’ll find a home there fairly soon. Reinhart’s offensive skills aren’t outstanding, but they’re serviceable and it’s defensive ability that has him so highly touted. With Lubomir Visnovksy’s lack of durability and age, a spot could be opening up for Griffin very quickly.
New York Rangers: Brady Skjei, D Minnesota (Big 10 College Hockey)/ 6’3 / 200 lbs / 20 years old / 2012 28th overall selection
The Rangers have really struggled to gather many good prospects lately which is a result of them making the playoffs in 8 of the last 9 seasons. They have compiled a pretty mediocre list headlined by Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich. Buchnevich is still a ways off and while Skjei could turn into a solid player, he’ll be trying to crack a very deep Rangers blueline. Skjei has the potential to be a good stay at home defenseman, but much like Fucale in Montreal, he may find himself traded simply because there isn’t a spot for him.
Ottawa: Matt Puempel, LW Binghamton (AHL) / 6’1 / 205 lbs / 21 years old / 2011 24th overall selection
Ottawa has graduated most of their prospects recently as Cody Ceci, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Curtis Lazar have all made the NHL within the last year and a half. It leaves the cupboards a little bare prospect wise in Ottawa but there is still a few guys left such as Puempel, Shane Prince and Alex Guptill. Puempel has had some troubles making it to the NHL but is still young enough to get to the big show and make a nice career out of it. Puempel has a good shot, his flaw comes with his playmaking and defensive abilities.
Philadelphia: Shayne Gostisbehere, D Lehigh Valley (AHL) / 5’11 / 160 lbs / 21 years old / 2012 78th overall selection
The Flyers have a solid group of kids in their system including names like Scott Laughton, Samuel Morin Travis Sanheim and Robert Hagg. This group is led by young ringer Shayne Gostisbehere. Ghost as he is called has surprised everyone with his fantastic composure and offensive game. His defensive game is still improving and he’s very, very small for a defenseman but Ghost seems to have all the intangibles to overcome some of the odds and make a name for himself on the NHL level.
Pittsburgh: Kasperi Kapanen, RW KalPa Kuopio (SM-liiga) / 6’0 / 178 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 22nd overall selection
Somehow, someway the Pens keep stockpiling draft picks and top prospects. Apart from Kapanen, they have Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington and Phillip Samuelsson along with Tristan Jarry in goal. Kapanen was at one point projected as a top 10 pick but slid down where Pittsburgh gobbled him up at #22. Kapanen was so impressive in training camp, that he came very close to cracking the juggernaut Pittsburgh offense. Pens management eventually elected to send him back to Finland, but there is hardly any doubt that Kapanen has a very good shot to be in the Steel City next season.
San Jose: Nikolay Goldobin, RW HIFK Helsinki (SM-liiga) / 5’11 / 180 lbs / 19 years old / 2014 27th overall selection
Ouch. The Sharks prospect pool is really quite dreadful. That could be assumed though as San Jose has made the playoffs in 15 of the last 16 seasons. But my oh my is this pool really quite bad. Mirco Mueller and Chris Tierney were the two best coming into the season, but they’ve both made the NHL. Matt Tennyson has been trying to hang around for a while but hasn’t been able to crack the code and make the NHL. Goldobin is SJ’s most recent 1st rounder and has a had a decent start to the season in Finland, but he isn’t a game breaker and won’t be able to replace the aging vets like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau
St. Louis: Robby Fabbri, C Guelph (OHL) / 5’10 / 170 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 21st overall selection
They currently stand amongst the best in the league, but for a while there the Blues were in the leagues cellar. In that time, they drafted very well and a large part of their current team is from those picks. They’ve still managed to draft well and their system features players like Ty Rattie, Jordan Schmaltz and Ivan Barbashev. Fabbri leads this class though. He had a fantastic year last season lighting the lamp 45 times and putting up 87 points. What makes Fabbri special though is not only his scoring ability but his defensive game as well. St. Louis is a team that loves two way players, meaning Fabbri will fit in under Ken Hitchcock quite well.
Tampa Bay: Andrei Vasilevski, G Syracuse (AHL) / 6’3 / 210 lbs / 20 years old / 2012 19th overall selection
Tampa Bay has done a magnificent job developing their players into NHL caliber guys. Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, Radko Gudas and Vladislav Namestnikov have all came up through the system within the last couple years. The prospect group is now headed by Russian goalie Andrei Vasilevski. His supporting class includes Adam Erne and Anthony Deangelo, but Vasilevski is the main guy here. He has struggled in Syracuse of the AHL so far, but if history is any indication he will adjust without trouble and could very well start forcing Ben Bishop out of the crease within the next 2 years.
Toronto: William Nylander, C MODO Hockey (SHL) / 5’11 / 169 lbs / 18 years old / 2014 8th overall selection
Toronto has been flat out bad lately, and have been able to put together a good group of future NHL players. Connor Brown, Matt Finn and Fredrik Gauthier all have the makings to be very good NHL players. The star of this class is without a doubt William Nylander. Son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, William has gotten rave reviews about his hockey skills and sense and at one point it was speculated he could even make the Leafs this season. He ended up going back to Sweden, but I would be shocked if Nylander isn’t in Toronto next season to help bring some buzz around the team especially if they struggle again.
Vancouver: Hunter Shinkaruk, LW Utica (AHL) / 5’10 / 181 lbs / 20 years old / 2013 24th overall selection
It wasn’t long ago that Vancouver had quite possibly the worst prospect pool in hockey. But through trades and one miserable season, the Canucks have stocked up their system. Bo Horvat and Nicklas Jensen have both made the NHL and the Canucks still have Brendan Gaunce, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann waiting in the wings along with lanky goaltender Thatcher Demko. Many were shocked when Hunter Shinkaruk slid down the draft in 2013, and having already picked Bo Horvat, the Canucks snatched him up and it looks like it’ll pay off. Hunter hasn’t had the greatest start in Utica, but he’s also coming off hip surgery. Shinkaruk was close to making the big club this year, and could very well see his shot next year if not later this season.
Washington: Madison Bowey, D Kelowna (WHL) / 6’1 / 195 lbs / 19 years old / 2013 53rd overall selection
The Caps have seen their two top Russian prospects Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov make the NHL leaving them a little short on top prospects but they do still have one very good one in Madison Bowey. Bowey was a projected 1st rounder in 2013 but fell down to Washington at #53 and the Caps aren’t regretting taking him. Bowey has developed rapidly and will almost certainly ready for the big time next year. He brings not only good defensive skills, but a solid offensive game too and should have no trouble cracking the Capitals defense next season.
Winnipeg: Josh Morrissey, D Prince Albert (WHL) / 6’0 / 195 lbs / 19 years old/ 2013 13th overall selection
The Jets have a very promising group of youngsters. Nic Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers and Scott Kosmachuk all project to be very good NHL players but Josh Morrissey is the leader of this bunch. Morrissey’s offensive abilities are off the chart and he has the potential to be one of the league’s best in that regard. His defense can be a bit of a liability, but at 19 years of age, there’s more than enough time for him to improve in that category and really mold himself into a great NHL defenseman.