If you want to be one of the best teams in the NHL in the Salary Cap Era, you have to draft and develop your own prospects so you can build for the future with young contributors on cheap contracts. When you look at top teams in the league like the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs, you see teams that have developed through the draft and that continue to build their prospect systems for the future.
Some of the top teams on this list like the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks continue to develop and compete for the future, while other teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild are competing for the playoffs while also having great prospect pools. Having a deep farm system can go a long way toward a team’s long-term success. Without further ado, here are the mid-season farm system rankings for the 2023-24 season.
Much like the top 100 prospects, this ranking is going to be based on the quality and potential of each team’s prospect pool. Players are listed in no particular order. I will be using Corey Pronman’s definition of “prospect” for this, so if you’re confused about why players like Connor Bedard or Zach Benson aren’t on the list, this is why. “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 25 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 25 by Sept. 15.” (From: “Pronman: 2019-20 NHL Farm System Rankings”).
32. Ottawa Senators
Previous Ranking: 25
Top Five Prospects: Jorian Donovan, Zack Ostapchuk, Tyler Boucher, Roby Jarventie, Tomas Hamara
This might be lower than some would expect for the Senators to land, but come one, look at that list. Now, there’s no reason to panic, the reason their prospect pool looks so bare is simply because most of their best young players have graduated from this list and into the NHL full-time. If this were a ranking of the best young cores then the Senators would find themselves significantly higher on this list on the backs of players like Jake Sanderson, Ridley Greig and Tim Stutzle.
Jorian Donovan has looked good this year, as has Tomas Hamara, but nobody in Ottawa’s prospect pool projects to be more than a depth piece in the NHL. While this year hasn’t gone the way the Senators hoped, there have been plenty of off-ice issues contributing to the noise that will hopefully be much quieter next year.
31. New York Islanders
Previous Ranking: 31
Top Five Prospects: Danny Nelson, William Dufour, Samuel Bolduc, Simon Holmstrom, Matthew Maggio
The New York Islanders haven’t made a first round selection since they took Simon Holmstrom 23rd overall in the 2019 Draft, and it shows. While the Islanders don’t currently have anyone in their prospect pool who projects to be a big difference maker in the NHL, they have a deeper pool of guys who are likely to play for them someday than Boston does so they’ve avoided the bottom spot.
Danny Nelson is an intriguing prospect who only recently made the switch to playing center, growing up as a defenseman. Nelson showed flashes of offensive potential last season, and has a big frame that he uses quite well. His development will likely be pretty unpredictable, though I don’t expect he’ll be much more than a good third-line center if all goes well.
William Dufour and Samuel Bolduc both had great rookie pro seasons last year in the AHL with the Bridgeport Islanders, and while I expect both to play meaningful roles in the NHL eventually, they both have some issues they’ll need to iron out before that happens, such as Dufour’s tendency to get pushed to the perimeter or Bolduc’s lack of a clear role as a stopper or an offensive type.
30. Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous Ranking: 30
Top Five Prospects: Ethan Gauthier, Jack Thompson, Isaac Howard, Hugo Alnefelt, Dylan Duke
The Tampa Bay Lightning narrowly avoided hitting the bottom spot here for a third consecutive time, and that is mostly thanks to the resurgence of Isaac Howard. Tampa has been going all in for several years now and that has really caught up with them in terms of their prospect pool, which is now slightly less bleak than it was a summer ago.
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Gauthier is a solid prospect, combining a high-skill game (he challenges and beats a lot of defenders one-on-one) with a very competitive and physical style. He works incredibly hard which manifests in his ability to win 50/50 puck races, gaining position in front of the opposing net, and getting under his opponents’ skin at will. I think there’s a good chance Gauthier can be a middle-six winger for the Lightning someday, but that’s not enough to vault them out of the league’s basement in terms of prospect pools.
Isaac Howard has incredible skill and skates well, but his size and lack of a competitive edge were issues for him last year as a freshman in the NCAA. He transferred to Michigan State University for next season and so far he’s been able to show the skill that made him a clear choice to go early in the 2022 Draft.
29. Edmonton Oilers
Previous Ranking: 29
Top Five Prospects: Xavier Bourgault, Matvei Petrov, Maxim Beryozkin, Beau Akey, Shane LaChance
The Edmonton Oilers’ prospect pool is in as rough of a spot as it ever has been during the Connor McDavid era (and probably still going back to the pre-Taylor Hall era as well). The Oilers have been doing the only sane thing a team with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can do, going all-in by trading prospects and picks year after year. However, that leaves the cupboards pretty bare after a few years.
Xavier Bourgault had a solid first year as a pro in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors last season, coming off the heels of a remarkable final year as a junior player. He’s not the biggest or most physical player, but his hockey sense and skating should give him a chance to be a productive player in the NHL someday, ideally in a second-line role where he can alleviate some of the scoring pressure from the team’s star forwards. I’m a big fan of Beau Akey as well and I think he can be a full-time NHLer someday.
28. Boston Bruins
Previous Ranking: 32
Top Five Prospects: Fabian Lysell, Dans Locmelis, Mason Lohrei, John Beecher, Jakub Lauko
The Boston Bruins have made just 27 selections in the last five NHL Drafts combined (5.4 selections per year), with only four of those being in the first two rounds (two first rounders and two seconds). That lack of draft capital is bound to leave you near the bottom of a list like this, but their all-in strategy last season left them without their first rounders in both 2023 and 2024, as well as a handful of other future selections.
Boston’s prospect pool is quite dry at the moment, with Fabian Lysell standing out as a bright spot. Lysell debuted in the AHL last season with the Providence Bruins and the first half of his season was an unqualified success. He went pointless in seven games at the World Juniors for Sweden and then had an inconsistent end to the year back in the AHL. Lysell is an excellent skater and he has great hands so I expect he’ll provide value in the NHL, he’s just not enough to drag the Bruins out of the bottom spot here.
One other prospect who I think deserves a little bit more attention is Mason Lohrei, a towering defender who needs significant skating improvements still but has a ton of skill with the puck and could provide some good depth offense for the Bruins in a third pairing role down the line.
27. Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous Ranking: 28
Top Five Prospects: Brayden Yager, Samuel Poulin, Owen Pickering, Joel Blomqvist, Emil Pieniniemi
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been in a constant state of mortgaging the future for current success for the better part of the last decade as they tried to make the most of the primes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s careers (quite successfully I might add). As a result they have only used three of their last nine first round picks, and the prospect pool certainly reflects that willingness to move prospects and picks.
The Penguins selecting Brayden Yager 14th overall in the 2023 Draft is the only reason they’re not in the bottom-three of this list. Yager is an offensive dynamo with a cannon of a shot and a better defensive game than many give him credit for. He has “top-six forward” written all over him and if he can be that guy down the middle for the Penguins, then they have one less question to answer once the Crosby-Malkin era ends.
Owen Pickering, Pittsburgh’s first rounder in the 2022 Draft, was one of the better two-way defenders in the WHL. While he most likely won’t be a true puck-mover in the NHL someday, he makes a solid first pass and can transport the puck up ice himself quite confidently. I think Pickering has a good chance to be a meaningful second-pairing guy.
26. Colorado Avalanche
Previous Ranking: 27
Top Five Prospects: Calum Ritchie, Mikhail Gulyayev, Oskar Olausson, Jean-Luc Foudy, Sean Behrens
The Colorado Avalanche had a very successful first round at the 2023 Draft, selecting Calum Ritchie and Mikhail Gulyayev, who I consider to be their best and second best prospects respectively at this point. They’ve moved plenty of prospects and draft picks over the last few years, and their lack of prospect depth shows that, but the addition of these two prospects is a serious improvement.
Ritchie had a rough draft year, with a shoulder injury derailing what could have been an elite OHL season bringing up questions about his lack of consistency. The fact remains that Ritchie possesses an excellent toolkit to succeed as an NHL centerman, with the size, faceoff proficiency, and puck skills to even be a middle-six center someday. Gulyayev had a similarly unpredictable draft year, but ultimately his skill and skating won the Avalanche over and they gave the undersized defender a chance. I think Gulyayev has a good chance to replace Sam Girard in the lineup a few years down the line as a smaller, offense-only defender.
25. Vegas Golden Knights
Previous Ranking: 26
Top Five Prospects: David Edstrom, Lukas Cormier, Brendan Brisson, Matyas Sapovaliv, Carl Lindbom
In the past I have been very critical of the Vegas Golden Knights’ tendency to trade their best prospects and picks to win-now, and I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong. I was wrong in thinking that Vegas’ “it’s just business” mentality wouldn’t work and that they should have held onto more of their futures. Obviously it all worked out for them last season and that’s not even mentioning the fact that they’re still ranked higher than seven other teams on this list.
Vegas held onto their first rounder in the 2023 Draft which they used to select David Edstrom 32nd overall. I was a big fan of Edstrom as the draft approached, and so naturally I love this pick for Vegas, a team that won the Stanley Cup last season with a very big and physical lineup. Edstrom is a large center who skates very well and kills penalties. I believe in his offensive potential which is why he was firmly ranked within my first round leading up to the draft, though not everyone agreed, which is why he was still available with the final pick of the first round.
24. Florida Panthers
Previous Ranking: 24
Top Five Prospects: Gracyn Sawchyn, Mackie Samoskevich, Ludvig Jansson, Kasper Puutio, Michael Benning
The Florida Panthers certainly don’t have the deepest prospect pool, but the talent at the top-end of their pipeline was enough for them to crack the mid-20s. Several of their best draft picks in the last few years are already making a significant impact in the NHL so having the 24th ranked prospect pool isn’t so bad for a team that’s fresh off a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
I was a big fan of Gracyn Sawchyn last season and I expected his game will really pop with the Seattle Thunderbirds next season with the departures of high-end talents like Brad Lambert and Dylan Guenther. He was traded mid-season to the Edmonton Oil Kings and has looked good in a small sample there as an offensive leader. His ability to play through contact and draw penalties is admirable and I believe it will translate to higher levels as well.
23. Toronto Maple Leafs
Previous Ranking: 23
Top Five Prospects: Fraser Minten, Topi Niemela, Nikita Grebyonkin, Dennis Hildeby, Easton Cowan
The Toronto Maple Leafs are firmly within their competitive window so it would be a shock to see them land much higher on this list since they’ve traded several high picks in recent years. Matthew Knies is now a full time NHL player (big surprise) but their ranking didn’t take much of a hit because of the positive development of guys like Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan.
While neither of these prospects had inspiring performances for Team Canada at the recent World Juniors, a five-game sample size with new coaches, teammates, and in a new country is not as valuable as their league play in the CHL this year which has been nothing but encouraging. Minten is looking like he has the potential to be a good third-line center for the Maple Leafs and Cowan has already made Toronto look really savvy for picking him up in the first round. If he keeps it up, then Cowan will reach a new career high in points in less than half as many games, so his offensive touch is certainly going in the right direction.
22. New York Rangers
Previous Ranking: 20
Top Five Prospects: Gabe Perreault, Brennan Othmann, Adam Sykora, Bryce McConnell-Barker, Dylan Garand
The New York Rangers have many incredibly talented young players who have already broken into the NHL full time which is why they aren’t higher on this list, although they still have a good number of players I think will have real value in the NHL someday. Guys like Adam Sykora and Bryce McConnell-Barker look like they could factor into the Rangers’ bottom-six forward group in just a few years while Gabe Perreault and Brennan Othmann each have a chance at cracking the top-six group.
Gabe Perreault was a prospect I was quite high on entering the 2023 Draft, but I understand why he fell to the Rangers at 23rd overall. His skinny frame and skating issues are certainly worrisome from an NHL projection standpoint, but in the late-teens to early 20s of the first round I really think teams were leaving a lot of potential on the table by passing on Perreault. He’s got high-end skill and hockey sense which should make him an imposing figure on an NHL power play someday even if he can’t be a dominant player at even strength.
21. Los Angeles Kings
Previous Ranking: 17
Top Five Prospects: Brandt Clarke, Francesco Pinelli, Koehn Ziemmer, Jakub Dvorak, Alex Turcotte
The Los Angeles Kings’ prospect pool is a shadow of its former self, with prospects like Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev establishing themselves as NHLers and other young players like Brock Faber and Rasmus Kupari being traded for more established players. The Kings have one prospect to thank for their ranking here, with Brandt Clarke likely being the difference between finishing 17th and in the mid-20s on this list.
Clarke is one of the very best prospects in the world of hockey, with loads of offensive potential, and he is single handedly keeping them in the middle of the league on this ranking. He willingly jumps into play from the blueline, pinching in to keep possession or to attack space left by opposing defenders. Clarke’s awkward skating hasn’t improved much since his draft year, but he competes hard enough that he should be able to defend well enough to warrant a consistent spot in the Kings’ top-four. He has been the best defenseman in the AHL this year for my money and it’s only a matter of time before he cracks the NHL.
20. Philadelphia Flyers
Previous Ranking: 19
Top Five Prospects: Matvei Michkov, Carson Bjarnasson, Denver Barkey, Oliver Bonk, Emil Andrae
The Philadelphia Flyers are another team that has risen significantly following a very successful 2023 Draft. This year the Flyers added Oliver Bonk, who has a good chance of becoming a second-pairing defender in my eyes, as well as Russian phenom Matvei Michkov, giving them a whole lot more to look forward to as the team begins their rebuild in earnest. The Cutter Gauthier situation hurts their prospect pool for sure but Jamie Drysdale is no slouch as a seriously gifted skater who moves the puck well and has the potential to be a number one defender in Philly. They’ve been more competitive this year than most people expected and adding a skilled offensive defender to a team with one of the league’s worst power plays seems like a smart move for a team stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Michkov was a difficult player to assess last season as he spent most of the season on one of the KHL’s worst teams where he was asked to score enough to keep the team afloat, with defense being secondary. He has as much offensive potential as anyone in the prospect world, but certainly has a long way to go if he wants to reach that elite level in the NHL someday. Michkov may not become a franchise-defining player for the Flyers in the future, but there’s a very good chance that he’s an excellent winger who scores a ton of points and I don’t think they’d be too upset about that.
19. New Jersey Devils
Previous Ranking: 6
Top Five Prospects: Simon Nemec, Seamus Casey, Arseni Gritsyuk, Lenni Hameenaho, Graeme Clarke
Luke Hughes and Alex Holtz both making the New Jersey Devils full time out of training camp this year was great news. Hughes has looked like a future star and Holtz has finally been able to hold down a spot in the lineup, scoring at a good rate for a young middle-six winger. With those two moving on to the NHL, the rest of the prospect pool looks quite a bit weaker by comparison. However, Simon Nemec has been excellent and guys like Seamus Casey and Lenni Hameenaho both look like future NHLers.
Nemec just barely qualifies as a prospect per the rules I’ve set out above, but has looked like an NHL-caliber defender for certain. He may never be a flashy offensive guy, but the Devils already have Hughes and Hamilton on the backend who fill that role. Nemec works really hard on defense which gives him a chance against most NHL forwards despite his lack of high-end physicality. He looks like a true two-way, top-four lock, more in the vein of Devon Toews than Cale Makar.
18. Washington Capitals
Previous Ranking: 21
Top Five Prospects: Ryan Leonard, Ryan Chesley, Andrew Cristall, Ivan Miroshnichenko, Hendrix Lapierre
The Washington Capitals have been going all-in for more than a decade and while it was ultimately a success with their Stanley Cup victory in 2018, their prospect pool has been a sight for sore eyes for a very long time. The Capitals haven’t had much success since despite the remarkable durability of Alex Ovechkin, and last year functioned as a bit of a turning point for the team as they began to re-tool and look to the future.
The past two drafts have seen Washington’s prospect pipeline improve significantly, with the crowning piece of their future coming with the eighth overall pick in the 2023 Draft where they selected Ryan Leonard, a remarkable offensive talent who makes his teammates better at every turn. Leonard works incredibly hard and has a knack for scoring big goals in dirty areas and winning puck battles. He is also a remarkable athlete, with far more strength that one might expect from him at first glance. I expect Leonard to be a legit top-six (or maybe even top-line) winger in short order, hopefully soon enough to help Washington maximize the final years of the Ovechkin era.
17. Calgary Flames
Previous Ranking: 12
Top Five Prospects: Matt Coronato, Samuel Honzek, Etienne Morin, Dustin Wolf, Aydar Suniev
The Calgary Flames are still dealing with the fallout of the departures of both Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. While their NHL lineup continues to be a difficult puzzle to solve they do have several really great prospects to look to going forward, a couple of whom I think will be making an impact with the Flames as soon as this season (Matt Coronato and Dustin Wolf).
I was higher on Samuel Honzek than most in the leadup to the 2023 Draft, and even I didn’t expect him to go as high as 16th overall where the Flames took him. That’s not to say I think it was a reach, but rather that I didn’t expect he’d have enough value to a team to go that early. Honzek is a hard-working, pro-style winger who has spent a bit of time as a center in the WHL and has the work ethic to be an excellent 200-foot player. He killed penalties well last year in juniors and showed a lot more pop on offense than most expected going into his draft year.
16. Vancouver Canucks
Previous Ranking: 22
Top Five Prospects: Tom Willander, Aatu Räty, Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Arshdeep Bains, Hunter Brzustewicz
The Vancouver Canucks have risen significantly in this ranking over the past year, rising all the way to from 30th with the additions of Tom Willander, Hunter Brzustewicz (through the draft) and Aatu Räty (through the Bo Horvat trade) standing out as major reasons for their rise. Jonathan Lekkerimäki has also leveled up his play a ton since this time last year.
Tom Willander is an excellent prospect in his own right, with the skill and defensive chops to be a great top-four defender for the Canucks down the road. He is also a phenomenal skater and will likely take a significant amount of pressure off Quinn Hughes once he establishes himself in the NHL. Willander has a ways to go before he becomes a top-four guy in the NHL, but he’ll have the time to do that in the NCAA where he’ll likely stay for at least another season.
15. Dallas Stars
Previous Ranking: 18
Top Five Prospects: Logan Stankoven, Mavrik Bourque, Lian Bichsel, Tristan Bertucci, Aram Minnetian
The Dallas Stars have had one of the best groups of young players for several years now, though that strength is draining out of their prospect pool as youngsters like Ty Dellandrea and Wyatt Johnston continue to establish themselves as great NHL players. However, Dallas still has a couple of really high-end prospects and several more with a good chance of becoming NHLers.
Logan Stankoven stands clearly above the rest of this group for me (metaphorically of course since the 5-foot-8 Stankoven stands above very few NHL prospects) with a near perfect NHL skill set aside from his height. Stankoven is a phenomenal skater, has a great shot, and competes incredibly hard all over the ice. He will have to prove that he’s an outlier in an era where very few players under 5-foot-10 succeed in the NHL, but I expect him to handily prove that in the near future. Stankoven has a real chance to be a top-six forward (likely on the wing due to his size) for the Stars going forward.
14. Seattle Kraken
Previous Ranking: 15
Top Five Prospects: Shane Wright, Ryker Evans, Lukas Dragicevic, Jani Nyman, Eduard Sale
The Seattle Kraken are in a really strange place for a team that has only played two and a half seasons in franchise history. Typically, expansion teams are really bad for several years until their accumulation of draft picks turns into a really strong prospect pool which eventually turns into a good NHL team. The Kraken had a rough go in their inaugural season, but they followed that up with a remarkable bounce-back that saw them not only make the playoffs, but play spoiler as they upset the defending champion Avalanche. Now they’ve come back to Earth again and are competing for a wild-card spot.
Shane Wright is undoubtedly the top dog here, although there are a remarkable number of prospects in this pipeline who I think could be serviceable to good NHLers someday. Wright made the team out of training camp last season, though it was tough for the team to find regular minutes for him with Matty Beniers succeeding in the top-six and the reality of possibly making the playoffs for the first time. Wright was clearly strong enough to compete in the AHL last season in a short “conditioning stint”, but ultimately finished the season in the OHL where he was an excellent two-way force. Wright has been excellent in the AHL this year and will likely be given every chance to become an NHL regular at the start of next season
13. St. Louis Blues
Previous Ranking: 16
Top Five Prospects: Jimmy Snuggerud, Zachary Bolduc, Dalibor Dvorsky, Otto Stenberg, Theo Lindstein
Last season was a rough one for the St. Louis blues, with poor goaltending, dips in offensive production from a few key players, and enough bad injury luck to finally derail their season. They ultimately ended up trading away franchise mainstays Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly and committed to giving themselves the best chance to succeed in the 2023 Draft with three first rounders. Dalibor Dvorsky, Otto Stenberg, and Theo Lindstein are all legit NHL prospects and adding them to a pipeline that already had guys like Jimmy Snuggerud and Zachary Bolduc is a huge bonus.
Dvorsky had an up and down draft year playing against men in Sweden’s second-tier professional league, HockeyAllsvenskan, with solid production but inconsistent results. Many in the prospect world, myself included, were really struggling with where to place him after a bit of a disappointing year of league play until he joined Slovakia for the U18 World Championship where he was a dominant offensive force against his age group. Dvorsky is a monster in the offensive zone, finding space incredibly well without the puck, and making more space even better when he has it. If Dvorsky can be a center in the NHL, he will be an incredibly valuable piece for the Blues, ideally slotting in on their second line behind Robert Thomas.
12. Carolina Hurricanes
Previous Ranking: 14
Top Five Prospects: Alexander Nikishin, Scott Morrow, Bradly Nadeau, Noel Gunler, Felix Unger-Sörum
Teams that are as good as the Carolina Hurricanes shouldn’t have prospect pools as good as this team does. Despite being one of the best teams in the NHL over the past several years, the Hurricanes keep finding ways to improve their prospect system. Some of that is through shrewd drafting like landing Bradly Nadeau near the end of the first round and Felix Unger-Sörum late in the second round of the 2023 Draft, and some of it is through remarkable development curves with prospects like Alexander Nikishin.
Nikishin dominated the KHL on offense last season, leading all defensemen in points with 55, quadrupling his previous career high. If he can demonstrate that this is the player he will be from now on and that it wasn’t just a fluke, then Nikishin will quickly become one of the most hyped prospects in the world. He’s got an excellent point shot, moves quite well for someone his size, and plays a really physical style. If he continues at this trajectory, I could see him playing serious minutes in a top-pairing role for Carolina if they can get him to join them in North America when his KHL ends following the 2024-25 season.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous Ranking: 4
Top Five Prospects: Corson Ceulemans, Gavin Brindley, Stanislav Svozil, Denton Mateychuk, Jordan Dumais
The Columbus Blue Jackets have made some massive changes over the last two years, from trading away Seth Jones for the picks that became Cole Sillinger and David Jiricek, to landing Johnny Gaudreau in the biggest surprise of the 2022 Free Agency period. Several of their best young players have already entered the NHL like Jiricek and Adam Fantilli, but the Blue Jackets still have a great pipeline, led by Gavin Brindley and Denton Mateychuk.
Mateychuk is an incredibly smooth skater, and he’s super confident when jumping into the play. Injuries to Tristan Luneau and Tanner Molendyk meant that Mateychuk was asked to do much of the heavy lifting for Team Canada at the recent 2024 World Juniors, and he did more than his share. He looked the part of a dynamic offensive creator, with crisp stretch passes and clever off-puck routes in the offensive zone, but he also showed how his tenacity and speed make him a real factor defensively. Mateychuk may not be a number-one defenseman in the NHL, but he has a really good chance of being a meaningful top-four piece in Columbus.
10. Nashville Predators
Previous Ranking: 11
Top Five Prospects: Joakim Kemell, Yaroslav Askarov, Matthew Wood, Tanner Molendyk, Aiden Fink
The Nashville Predators have been in a weird position over the last few seasons, with their best players aging and slowing down a bit despite Juuse Saros being one of the league’s best goalies on a nightly basis. They ultimately decided to take a bit of a step back last season, trading guys like Mattias Ekholm and Tanner Jeannot each for massive returns. The picks and prospects that Nashville landed in those deals will likely provide at least one or two significant pieces of the next great Predators roster.
Joakim Kemell has had a strange trajectory over the past two and a half seasons. His draft year started off like a storybook, with him even leading the Finnish Liiga in scoring at times, but then he cooled down significantly and slid in the draft to the Preds at 17th overall. Last season he started off relatively slow in Liiga before turning it to 11 when he joined the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, scoring 23 points in 28 games. Kemell is known as a goalscorer, which is correct, but he has a whole lot more to his offensive toolkit than just his wicked shot. He knows that his shot draws attention so he uses that threat to create space and lanes for passes and dekes through multiple layers of the defense. I think Kemell will be a top-six winger for the Predators some day.
9. Chicago Blackhawks
Previous Ranking: 2
Top Five Prospects: Oliver Moore, Frank Nazar, Adam Gajan, Ryan Greene, Nick Lardis
The Chicago Blackhawks were obviously not going to stick at the top of this list for long after Connor Bedard joined the NHL, but the success of Kevin Korchinski in the NHL is another factor that led to them dropping here. However, the fact that the Blackhawks still possess a top-10 prospect pool in the league with their two best prospects joining the NHL is remarkable. Oliver Moore and Frank Nazar look like potential top-six pieces and Adam Gajan has shown meaningful growth in the USHL as well.
Frank Nazar was a major wildcard for articles like this last season as he missed the vast majority of the season due to a hip injury. Nazar was electric at times during his draft year but needed to bounce back in a big way this season to make sure he was back on the path to becoming a great NHL player. He has done just that in the NCAA this year, scoring at a point-per-game rate while still looking as fast and shifty as ever. He creates a ton of offense for himself and his teammates and has a high compete level. Nazar may not be a center in the NHL, but he has more than enough skill to be successful as a winger in my opinion.
8. Montreal Canadiens
Previous Ranking: 9
Top Five Prospects: Lane Hutson, Filip Mesar, Owen Beck, Joshua Roy, David Reinbacher
The Montreal Canadiens have continued to build their prospect pool despite several important players, like Kaiden Guhle and Juraj Slafkovsky, graduating into full-time NHL spots. The Canadiens have a great young core already in the NHL, so having a top-10 prospect pool as well means that they are quite likely to be a dangerous team in the NHL in a few years. While they may not have star-level talent up front in the pipeline, David Reinbacher and Lane Hutson provide plenty of potential on the backend.
Hutson has been a fascinating player to watch over the last couple of years and I don’t think that will change any time soon. He’s got elite hockey IQ and his skating is top-notch as well, meaning he can pick apart opposing teams with his fakes, strategy, or pure skill. Hutson was one of the best offensive players in the NCAA last season despite being a 5-foot-10 defender. His size is the only thing that puts his NHL projection into question a bit, though I think he defends better and harder than most people would assume based on his height. Hutson was tenacious for the American team that won Gold at this year’s World Juniors, looking like a strong defensive presence along the way.
7. Arizona Coyotes
Previous Ranking: 8
Top Five Prospects: Conor Geekie, Victor Söderstrom, Dmitri Simashev, Daniil But, Michael Hrabal
The Arizona Coyotes showed some improvement last year despite still finishing 27th in the league, largely due to the emergence of Clayton Keller as a star in the NHL and both Barrett Hayton and Matias Maccelli shining as solid supporting pieces. While the Coyotes aren’t ready to emerge from the league’s basement quite yet, they’ve put together a really solid group of young talent that they hope will help them emerge from the ashes as a competitive playoff team.
Selecting Dmitri Simashev and Daniil But with the sixth and 12th overall picks respectively in the 2023 Draft was a controversial choice, but I think it makes a whole lot of sense for Arizona. Not only did they get two prospects who add size and a ton of potential to their lineup, but they added players who are under contract in Russia for several more seasons each, meaning that they’ll be ready to join the team around the time that they will hopefully be establishing themselves as a competitive group.
6. Winnipeg Jets
Previous Ranking: 10
Top Five Prospects: Chaz Lucius, Brad Lambert, Elias Salomonsson, Rutger McGroarty, Colby Barlow
The Winnipeg Jets have an incredible group of forward prospects, with very little to show when it comes to prospects on the backend. Brad Lambert, Chaz Lucius, Rutger McGroarty and Colby Barlow all have great chances to become at least top-nine mainstays for the Jets someday, with each of them having at least top-six upside. They will need to diversify their prospect pool sooner than later unless they want to be left with no young options on the backend internally.
Colby Barlow has had a phenomenal junior career, with 76 goals in his first two OHL seasons combined. He is known as a do-it-all, goal scoring winger who works hard and has been a leader at many different levels. Barlow’s biggest strength is his shot, but his ability to find soft spots in defensive coverage and to arrive into that space at precisely the right time is what really makes his shot so dangerous. I can easily see him becoming a Brock Boeser-type of player who provides good two-way value and scores at roughly a 30-goal pace in the NHL, though the potential is clearly there for even more if the final years of his development go very well.
5. Minnesota Wild
Previous Ranking: 7
Top Five Prospects: Danila Yurov, Liam Öhgren, Riley Heidt, Jesper Wallstedt, Marat Khusnutdinov
The Minnesota Wild have had one of the best prospect pools in the NHL for a very long time, dating back to when they had dreams of signing Kirill Kaprizov and having him join the team. Now that he has broken several franchise records and established himself as a star in the NHL, the Wild still have a really solid pipeline with offensive talents like Riley Heidt, Liam Öhgren, and Danila Yurov as well as one of the hockey world’s most exciting goaltending prospects in Jesper Wallstedt.
Wallstedt looks like he’ll become a good starting goaltender in the NHL at least, with the potential to be a true star. After playing really well in the SHL two years ago, Wallstedt finally tried his hand in the AHL where he looked like a potential star. He definitely still needs some time to adjust to the different pace of play in North America’s narrower rinks, but luckily for Wallstedt the Wild have Marc-André Fleury under contract for another season and Filip Gustavsson for another three. A Gustavsson/Wallstedt combo could be a phenomenal goaltending tandem for Minnesota going forward, provided Gustavsson can bounce back from a rough first half of the season.
4. Detroit Red Wings
Previous Ranking: 5
Top Five Prospects: Simon Edvinsson, Marco Kasper, Nate Danielson, Axel Sandin Pellikka, Sebastian Cossa
The Detroit Red Wings haven’t had much to celebrate over the last six or seven years except for their prospect pool. Although many of those players haven’t exactly panned out, the Red Wings have continued to develop one of the league’s deepest pipelines in terms of both NHL quality and star potential. Marco Kasper and Nate Danielson project to solve the team’s questions at center going forward, with Simon Edvinsson and Axel Sandin Pellikka both looking like future top-four defenders in the NHL.
Marco Kasper is going to be a massive fan favorite in Detroit for a very long time, with enough offensive skill to likely score in the 40-50 point range with regularity and the type of work ethic that coaches dream of. Some opponents may outspeed or outmuscle Kasper in the NHL, but nobody will ever outwork him. He never gives up on the play which makes him a frustrating forechecker, an energetic backchecker, and just generally an absolute nuisance to play against. Kasper is willing to make plays in the difficult areas, regularly charging the net to gain positioning or battling well for possession along the boards against players much larger than him. He may not end up particularly high in their lineup, but Kasper will be an important piece of the next great Red Wings teams.
3. San Jose Sharks
Previous Ranking: 13
Top Five Prospects: Filip Bystedt, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Will Smith, Quentin Musty, Mattias Havelid
The San Jose Sharks have officially committed to their rebuild, moving their two best players, Timo Meier and Erik Karlsson, for future assets. With several of their best veterans still on long contracts the Sharks are in a bit of a strange spot, though their prospect pool has improved dramatically over the last two years or so. Another year or two of this and they should be ready to pull themselves back out of the NHL’s basement and into competitive hockey.
Will Smith is a phenomenal center prospect who shines in the offensive zone with shifty playmaking, incredible puck skills, and a surprisingly heavy shot for someone his size. Smith was a dominant force in the National Team Development Program (NTDP) last season and has done a good job of carrying that momentum forward with Boston College in the NCAA this year. Since he isn’t the biggest player and he hasn’t shown too much defensively, Smith will need to score a lot of points to justify the high selection, but I don’t think that will be an issue for him whatsoever.
2. Anaheim Ducks
Previous Ranking: 3
Top Five Prospects: Olen Zellweger, Cutter Gauthier, Nathan Gaucher, Carey Terrance, Tristan Luneau
The Anaheim Ducks looked to be on the rise two years ago when they came out hot with a rookie Trevor Zegras and a breakout year from Troy Terry. Ultimately that season fell apart in the new year and then last season wasn’t exactly fun for the Ducks either. That appears to have been the best case scenario for Anaheim as they have continued to build one of the absolute best pipelines in the NHL, with difference makers at several valuable positions.
With Leo Carlsson and Pavel Mintyukov joining the NHL squad, the prospect pool was finally starting to diminish a bit (considering the graduation of guys like Mason McTavish, Jamie Drysdale, and Zegras in recent years). However, that all changed when the Ducks made the shocking trade for Cutter Gauthier, giving up Drysdale and a future second round pick. They have a built-in replacement for Drysdale in Mintyukov, who has looked great in the NHL so far, and now they have another prospect who projects to be a meaningful top-six player, likely on the wing. Anaheim’s young core will be the envy of the NHL very soon, and that’s not even mentioning that they are overwhelmingly likely to have a top-five pick in the 2024 Draft.
1. Buffalo Sabres
Previous Ranking: 1
Top Five Prospects: Jiri Kulich, Noah Östlund, Matthew Savoie, Devon Levi, Isak Rosen
The Buffalo Sabres are the envy of the league at this point, with an embarrassment of riches on their NHL roster with guys like Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power holding down the fort on the backend and both Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozens looking like excellent top-six centermen for the next decade. They have already seen many great prospects graduate into big NHL roles and they still have the best group of prospects in the league for my money.
Jiri Kulich was a late first rounder a year and a half ago who lit up the AHL last season to the tune of 24 goals and 46 points in just 62 games. He plays a perfect NHL-style game highlighted by his great work ethic and bomb of a shot. Kulich looked mostly dominant whenever playing against his own age group in the last three World Juniors tournaments, and has elevated his play in the AHL once again this year. He’s scoring at a point-per-game rate this year with the Rochester Americans, and will make it really difficult for the Sabres to leave him off the roster at the start of next season.
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