Every NHL team’s prospect pool is constantly changing. Players graduate to the big league, some might get traded, and the NHL Draft provides fresh faces every year. The future of a franchise in this league is extremely dependant on having both high-end talent and a deep farm system. Some teams are lucky enough to have both, others don’t really have either for various reasons.
Related: The NHL’s Best Farm Systems Ranked
On most teams, they have a clear-cut, number one prospect in the organization. Others have two or more that could easily take the title, but for the most part, there’s an obvious choice. In this list, we’ll take a look at just who those to prospects are.
As I do with all of my prospect posts, I will be following The Athletic‘s prospect definition from Corey Pronman:
“A skater no longer qualifies as an NHL prospect if he has played 25 games in the NHL in any campaign, regular season and playoffs combined, or 50 games total; or reaches age 27 by Sept. 15.
“A goalie no longer qualifies as an NHL prospect if he has played 10 games in the NHL in any campaign, regular season and playoffs combined, or 25 games total; or reaches age 27 by Sept. 15.” (From: “Pronman: 2019-20 NHL Farm System Rankings”).
This list will be updated regularly, so be sure to check back often and see who takes the crown as the current top prospect on your favourite team. (Alphabetical by team, not ranked).
As always, feel free to reach out with questions, comments or thoughts. This can either be done in the comment section at the bottom or send me a message on Twitter – @JoshuaBellTHW.
Anaheim Ducks: Trevor Zegras
The Anaheim Ducks held the ninth overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft and landed their top prospect in Trevor Zegras. He looks to be an elite, impact player in the league. A great, creative playmaker that should be the club’s next number one centre. He likely won’t be in the NHL this season, but he could see a few games and be ready to make the jump in 2020-21 if he decides to leave Boston University.
Arizona Coyotes: Barrett Hayton
We’re kicking off some high-end centres early on. Arizona Coyotes centreman Barrett Hayton is another elite prospect, especially after his 1.67 points per game performance in the OHL during 2018-19. He has the speed and playmaking ability that could see him become a top-line centreman. The fifth-overall draft pick in 2018 could very easily be graduated from this list after the club’s first 25 games – or he could be sent back to the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Boston Bruins: Urho Vaakanainen
Boston Bruins defender Urho Vaakanainen is the first player that I can confidently say will be a graduate in the 2019-20 season (there will be more). He got a taste last season with two NHL games, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him steal a roster spot. A patient, smart defenseman, the 18th overall pick in 2017 is a player that every team would love to have in their system. Vaakanainen could bounce between the AHL and NHL this season but should prove his worth with the big club.
Buffalo Sabres: Dylan Cozens
Buffalo Sabres’ prospect Dylan Cozens is one of the best prospects in the entire league. Taken seventh overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, the centreman is an all-around stud, capable of playing in any situation and excelling. He’s an elite talent with high-end skating and creativity with the puck. He’ll likely head back to the Lethbridge Hurricanes to tear up the WHL for a season before having a great chance to see the NHL in 2020-21.
Calgary Flames: Jakob Pelletier
Jakob Pelletier doesn’t look like an elite prospect at this point, and he’s one of few on this list. The Calgary Flames don’t have a great prospect pool right now, as many of their young players have graduated in recent years. Pelletier was the 26th selection in the 2019 NHL Draft who’s not afraid to battle on the ice. He’s a small (5-foot-9) power forward with a good shot, who’s likely a couple of years away from the NHL still.
Carolina Hurricanes: Martin Necas
The Carolina Hurricanes’ 12th overall pick in 2017, Martin Necas is a future elite player in the NHL. He has high-end everything from speed, playmaking, creativity, and his shot. This young player is the complete package and will be terrorizing the league sooner rather than later. With eight games under his belt over the last two seasons, Necas will likely be a graduate from this list in 2019-20.
Chicago Blackhawks: Kirby Dach
The third-overall pick in 2019, Kirby Dach looks like he’ll be the future face of the Chicago Blackhawks. He should be the team’s next top-line centreman, as he combines all the right tools in his IQ, patience and pure skill. Dach is likely headed back to the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades this season, but it shouldn’t be long before he storms the Windy City.
Colorado Avalanche: Cale Makar
Can we even call Cale Makar a prospect? Yes – for now. Makar is about to graduate though, there seems to be no question of that. The reigning Hobey Baker winner became a Colorado Avalanche hero in the 2019 NHL playoffs where he made his NHL debut and collected six points in 10 games. He’s one of the top prospects in the league with elite skating, hockey sense, and shot. He won’t be on this list for long.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Emil Bemstrom
After trading many of their prospects away at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, there are not many high-end players in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ system. Emil Bemstrom is the best of the rest and is one of few true talents left. He’s led by his powerful and accurate shot, and his hockey IQ is very strong. He could be a top-six player and should be making the jump to the NHL this season. Being a fourth-round pick, 114th-overall, Bemstrom looks like a steal at this point.
Dallas Stars: Thomas Harley
The Dallas Stars just had a pretty notable defender graduate last season in Miro Heiskanen. Their next best defensive prospect and prospect overall is newly drafted, Thomas Harley. Taken 18th overall in 2019, the defender looks like he could be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. He plays big minutes and sets up plays very well. The best part of his game though is his elite skating. There’s a lot of upside to his game, but it will likely be at least one more season, probably two, before he cracks the NHL lineup.
Detroit Red Wings: Filip Zadina
The Detroit Red Wings Filip Zadina was the sixth-overall selection in 2018. He’s an offensive winger that defenders will start to take notice of if they haven’t already. After playing nine games in the NHL last season, he’s very likely to stick with the team this season. He’s unpredictable with a great shot – a dangerous combination. He’s one of the top prospects in the entire league and could very well be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy in 2019-20.
Edmonton Oilers: Evan Bouchard
The Edmonton Oilers selected defenseman Evan Bouchard with the 10th selection in the 2018 NHL Draft. One of the best defensive prospects in the league, Bouchard projects to be a top-two defender in the NHL. He’s a power-play quarterback with a wicked shot and a great offensive mind. He has seven games under his belt already and should make the full-time jump this season.
Florida Panthers: Spencer Knight
Our first goaltender and one of just two on this list. With the 13th overall selection in 2019, the Florida Panthers selected goalie Spencer Knight. He’s incredibly calm and collected in the net, has great positioning, and has great reflexes. He won’t be in the NHL anytime soon, as goaltenders take longer than players and the team has Sergei Bobrovsky locked up, but Knight is one of the top goaltending prospects in the league.
Los Angeles Kings: Alex Turcotte
The Los Angeles Kings have put together one of the best prospect pools in the league. Highlighting their strong system is 2019 fifth-overall pick, Alex Turcotte. Turcotte was the best two-way centre in the draft, and just might be the team’s next Anze Kopitar. He’s an excellent skater, can pile up the points, and is an elite prospect in the league. I’d expect to see the star prospect see some NHL time at the very latest in 2020-21.
Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov
For the 2019-20 season, the Minnesota Wild have one of the best players in the world not in the NHL. Kirill Kaprizov is entering the final year of his KHL deal, he’s an elite offensive threat that should be able to transition straight into the Wild’s top-six. He’s been piling up the points in Russia, and it won’t be long before he’s doing that same in the NHL.
Montreal Canadiens: Cole Caufield
Many had Cole Caufield as a top-10 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, yet he slid to 15 and the Montreal Canadiens – the first steal of the draft. He’s an elite skater and a pure goal-scorer. He has a full arsenal of shots, all of which can result in the puck in the back of the net. The Canadiens have a future superstar in their system, even if he spends a couple of seasons developing before he gets to the NHL.
Nashville Predators: Eeli Tovanen
One of the oldest prospects on this list, the Nashville Predators have been patient with Eeli Tolvanen – and he hasn’t exactly been breaking the door down. Still, Tolvanen is a very strong offensive talent that is absolutely lethal in the offensive zone. He’s a likely candidate to become a full-time NHLer this season.
New Jersey Devils: Jack Hughes
The first-overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft won’t be on this list for very long. Jack Hughes is going straight from the USNTDP into the NHL with the New Jersey Devils. He’s one of the best prospects in the league, with just about everything you’d want in a prospect from elite skating, high-end puck control, great playmaking ability, and he can score. As I said, he has just about everything.
New York Islanders: Noah Dobson
With the potential to be a top defenseman in the NHL, New York Islanders prospect Noah Dobson leads the current pool. He can skate, shoot, and he has great vision. He’s a dominating player and is one of the best defensive prospects in the league right now. He may very well make the jump this season, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Islanders wait for another season either.
New York Rangers: Kappo Kakko
The undisputed top prospect pool in the league has many players that could easily top most team’s farm systems in the league. But there can only be one, and that’s Kaapo Kakko. The second-overall pick in 2019 could have very easily been the first overall and now he’ll be out to prove why. He’s a franchise player, a dynamic offensive threat and is an all-around solid player. He looks like he’ll make the jump straight into the NHL.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Brannstrom
Related: Ottawa Senators Prospect Pyramid
An interesting note about the Ottawa Senators current top prospect is that Erik Brannstrom is the lone player on this list not to be drafted by the team he leads. Coming from the Vegas Golden Knights, the defenseman leads the ever-growing Senators farm system. He’s an elite puck-moving defenseman with an absolute cannon of a shot. He’s also a very good skater. He’s going to be fun to watch in some games this season and likely full-time in 2020-21.
Philadelphia Flyers: Joel Farabee
The Philadelphia Flyers are another organization that have put together a great group of young talent. At the top of the system is Joel Farabee. He’s a dynamic, creative winger with a great two-way game. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the 2018 14th-overall pick get some NHL experience this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Calen Addison
Related: Penguins 2019-20 Top-10 Prospects
The Pittsburgh Penguins have put more stock in the present than the future in recent years, but Calen Addison is one of few prospects to note. Addison could very well be a top-four defender for the Penguins in a few years. He’s a great skater and a solid playmaker. He’s a couple of years away, but the 2018 second-round pick shows a great deal of promise.
San Jose Sharks: Ryan Merkley
Despite the recent turmoil surrounding San Jose Sharks’ prospect Ryan Merkley, he remains the club’s top prospect. The 2018 first-round pick is lethal in the offensive zone, is a high-end playmaker, and has a great shot. He needs to work on his play in his own end and his attitude, but there’s no question that there’s a solid player in Merkley.
St. Louis Blues: Jordan Kyrou
The St. Louis Blues’ 35th overall selection in 2016, Jordan Kyrou won’t be on this list for long. For now, the dynamic forward is at the top of their system for his speed, hockey IQ, and creativity. He played in 16 NHL games in the 2018-29 season and should be a full-time player this season as the Blues begin to defend their Stanley Cup title.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Cal Foote
The Tampa Bay Lightning have had many of their top prospects graduate over the last couple of seasons, but there’s still some talent in the system. It’s headlined by Cal Foote. The defender is the son of legendary defenseman Adam Foote, so he has big shoes to fill (pun intended). He has an elite sense of the game, a great shot, and moves the puck well. Another season in the AHL will do him well.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Rasmus Sandin
The Toronto Maple Leafs are yet another club that has seen many of its recent top prospects make the jump to the NHL. Although, the play of Rasmus Sandin last season gives even more hope for the future. The defender is an elite puck-mover, plays big minutes, he’s great in his own end, and can play a physical game. He looks to be a top-four defender at this point but has been trending up.
Vancouver Canucks: Quinn Hughes
The second Hughes on this list, Quinn Hughes, is like his brother Jack, in that he won’t be on this list for very long. He already showed what he can do in five NHL games last season, collecting three assists in those games. He’s one of the top-two defensive prospects in the league, based on his elite skating and his dynamic play in the offensive end by combining his creativity, shot, and ability to pass.
Vegas Golden Knights: Cody Glass
Golden Knights’ Cody Glass is one of the top prospects in the league, and this season he’s going to become a full-time NHLer. He’s the future number one centreman of the team, combining elite passing with patience and offensive ability. There’s so much to like about his game and he should have a great shot to be a Calder Trophy candidate in 2019-20.
Washington Capitals: Ilya Samsonov
If you’ve been waiting for the second goaltender, here he is. Washington Capitals netminder Ilya Samsonov is another top goalie prospect in the league. He’s a very skilled netminder that can steal games for his team. He can make game-changing saves, showing up when his team needs him most. He seems to be the next in line for when Braden Holtby’s reign is over, so it may still take some time to see him break into the league, although Holtby does have just one more year on his contract.
Winnipeg Jets: Kristian Vesalainen
Just a reminder Winnipeg Jets fans, this is an alphabetical list. Topping the Jets’ farm system is forward Kristian Vesalainen. He looks like he could be a top-six player in the NHL so far, as he’s a speedy, offensive weapon. He already has five NHL games under his belt and he’s very likely to see some more action this season.
Any prospect decisions that you disagree with? Make sure to leave your comments below!