The good news for most franchises with shallow prospect pools is it’s a direct result of winning. If you’re missing the playoffs and still on this list, it’s not a good sign, and it’s likely time to examine a complete rebuild. Sadly for fans in Canadian markets, five of the seven Canadian NHL teams fall in this bottom tier, many without playoff success to show for it. Conversely, teams including the Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Colorado Avalanche all have Cups in recent years, utilizing picks and prospects to get them over the top.
Coming soon, we’ll count down the NHL’s best prospect pools, but for now, here’s a look at the team’s with the worst prospect pools in the NHL.
32. Edmonton Oilers
Top three prospects: Xavier Bourgault, Matvei Petrov, Raphael Lavoie
Top pick in 2023: Beau Akey (56th overall)
Sorry Oilers fans, but with the graduation of Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway to the NHL, the prospect cupboard is bare. Ken Holland has a way of doing that, but he also inherited a bad prospect situation and then compounded it. Matvei Petrov could turn into a steal for the Oilers if he can duplicate his success from the OHL level in the AHL next year. The stock of two other Oilers prospects — Carter Savoie and Raphael Lavoie — needs to be determined this year. It’s a group that is thin from top to bottom, and not picking until 56th overall this year didn’t help.
Top three prospects: Owen Pickering, Brayden Yager, Joel Blomqvist
Top pick in 2023: Brayden Yager (14th overall)
After years of not having a first round pick, the Pittsburgh Penguins have now used two in a row. Last year, they selected big blueliner Owen Pickering, followed this year by Brayden Yager, a highly skilled centre. They’re the picks the Penguins have been waiting for, as the team begins trying to amass youth again. Joel Blomqvist is coming to the AHL this season after a down year, but he’s the lone goaltender in the Pens system on a current NHL trajectory.
30. Tampa Bay Lightning
Top three prospects: Isaac Howard, Jack Thompson, Gage Goncalves
Top pick in 2023: Ethan Gauthier (37th overall)
Isaac Howard didn’t have a great first NCAA season with Minnesota-Duluth, and Tampa will be hoping beyond hopes that his elite release starts finding the back of the net. He’s the top prospect in the organization, particularly as the Lightning have not picked high often in recent years. Jack Thompson had a steady first season in the AHL with Syracuse and will likely get a look with the Lightning soon. It feels like Gage Goncalves is set to become the next overripe prospect into Tampa. He has two full seasons in the AHL under his belt without a call up, but don’t count on that again next season. Other names to watch in Tampa Bay’s system include Hugo Alnefelt, Dylan Duke, and Niko Huuhtanen.
29. Vegas Golden Knights
Top pick in 2023: David Edstrom (32nd overall)
What the Vegas Golden Knights have is a Stanley Cup. What they don’t have is a prospect pool. They traded away almost every piece and pick acquired in their first two seasons of existence for a chance to win the Stanley Cup, and it paid off in 2023. Now, Vegas needs to see how long their current roster can hold, because internal reinforcements are few and far between. Brendan Brisson was a surprise first round pick when the Golden Knights took him in 2020, but he’s on track to make his NHL debut next season taking some spot duty. Matyas Sapovaliv is another player who continues to move in the right developmental direction. On the back end, Lukas Cormier had a strong rookie pro season in AHL Henderson. Vegas got solid upside at this year’s draft in David Edstrom and Mathieu Cataford to give a boost to their pool. Watching how Carl Lindbom fares in the SHL this season after a strong campaign last year will be exciting for the future of Vegas’ crease.
Top pick in 2023: Danny Nelson (49th overall)
William Dufour looks like a fifth round steal for the Islanders. He made his NHL debut last season thanks to a spectacular transition from junior to the AHL. Matthew Maggio looks to follow in his footsteps as another fifth round hit for the Isles. After bouncing from league to league, Ruslan Iskhakov looked like he could be nearing NHL ready up front as well. On the blueline, Samuel Bolduc had an extended NHL look last season and should be ready for a full campaign this year, while Calle Odelius was underwhelming in Sweden, but still holds potential.
27. Boston Bruins
Top three prospects: Fabian Lysel, Brett Harrison, Matthew Poitras
Top pick in 2023: Christopher Pelosi (92nd overall)
Without Fabian Lysel, this would be a dire situation for the Bruins on the prospect front. Their draft this year was abysmal, which will certainly impact their pool further in the coming seasons. When Lysel and Jakub Lauko step to the NHL, the lone forwards trending toward the NHL in the future will be Brett Harrison and Matthew Poitras. Mason Lohrei turned pro following his NCAA career at Ohio State to end last season and should factor into the Bruins’ blue line plans at some point. Dans Locmelis is a wild card to watch as he moves from Europe to the NCAA this year.
26. Florida Panthers
Top three prospects: Mackie Samoskevich, Michael Benning, Grigori Denisenko
Top pick in 2023: Gracyn Sawchyn (63rd overall)
It’s a shallow pool in Florida, but a few recent NCAA players look like they could become steals. Mackie Samoskevich lived up to his first round selection at Michigan and turned pro at the end of the season. He’ll get a full AHL campaign in if he doesn’t make the Panthers out of camp. Perhaps the most intriguing player in Florida’s system was free agent signee Ryan Mcallister, who had 139 points in Junior A two seasons ago, piled in 49 points in 39 games as an NCAA rookie, then scored five points in five games in the AHL to finish off the year. He’s on a meteoric path. At the other end of the spectrum is Grigori Denisenko, who looks like he’s running out of chances and could become trade bait looking for a fresh start elsewhere if he doesn’t click this season in Florida. On the blue line, Michael Benning is the top prospect in the system, but if he doesn’t sign in Florida following his senior season in Denver, it would be a huge loss to the Panthers.
25. Colorado Avalanche
Top three prospects: Jean-Luc Foudy, Oskar Olausson, Sean Behrens
Top pick in 2023: Calum Ritchie (27th overall)
With the Colorado Avalanche not picking until late in the opening round of the NHL Draft, they hit a home run getting Calum Ritchie, rounded the bases, and hit another picking Mikhail Gulyayev. It was an infusion to an otherwise waning prospect pool that should give hope to Avalanche fans. Jean-Luc Foudy or Oskar Olausson could find a permanent roster spot out of camp, while Sean Behrens continues his development in the NCAA, and is a strong candidate to turn pro at the end of his season and get a handful of opportunities in Colorado. In net, Justus Annunen continues to progress and looks like he’ll be earning more NHL starts in the very near future.
24. New York Rangers
Top pick in 2023: Gabe Perreault (23rd overall)
In terms of high-end skill up front, there’s a lot to like about New York’s prospect pool. Will Cuylle had an excellent start to his pro career with Hartford this year, earning himself a four game call up, and Brennan Othmann could do the same next year. Bryce McConnell-Barker will be back in the OHL, but took a step forward this year. How the Rangers manage Adam Sykora this season could play a major role in his future, as the Slovak came over for the AHL playoffs. And then there’s the sublimely skilled Gabriel Perreault, who can flat out score. Where the Rangers fall flat is on the blue line, where Zac Jones should stick full time on New York’s bottom pair this season, but beyond him, there is almost no one on the horizon. Thankfully for Rangers’ fans, their blue line is already young and skilled. Dylan Garand remains the team’s best netminding prospect, but only had a so-so AHL rookie campaign.
Top pick in 2023: Tom Willander (11th overall)
After a horrific season for Jonathan Lekkerimäki, he broke out scoring a point per game in the playoffs in Allsvenskan. He’ll step up to the SHL next year, and could be a prospect needing more time than anticipated. Vancouver also acquired Aatu Räty and Linus Karlsson, hoping a change of scenery will help them find their stride at the NHL level. Heading into this year’s NHL Draft, the Canucks had almost no blue line prospects looking like NHL candidates. They addressed that in part by selecting Tom Willander and Hunter Brzustewicz, but remain shallow at the position outside of 2022 pick Elias Pettersson. Arturs Silovs’ World Championship MVP performance has fans hoping he’s a long term goaltending solution.
22. Calgary Flames
Top pick in 2023: Samuel Honzek (16th overall)
It would be hard to point to a team who has drafted and developed worse than the Calgary Flames over the last half decade. They’ve just refused to give strong prospects a shot at the NHL, and eventually, it seems to have stunted development and confidence in many. By all rights, for a team in Calgary’s position, Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier should be done their development path and given every opportunity in scoring roles at the NHL level. Matt Coronato may start in the AHL, but he looks close as well after a spectacular NCAA career with Harvard and a strong World Championship with Team USA. Honzek’s selection adds to this crop of forwards. Jeremie Poirier had a spectacular rookie campaign in the AHL producing well beyond expectations from the blue line. He’ll get looks this year for the Flames if he doesn’t make the team out of camp with the towering Yan Kuznetsov close behind at the AHL ranks, and Etienne Morin showing promise in the QMJHL. Dustin Wolf is the top goaltending prospect in the system and should be given more starts in the NHL this year.
21. Ottawa Senators
Top three prospects: Ridly Greig, Zack Ostapchuk, Tyler Boucher
Top pick in 2023: Hoyt Stanley (108th overall)
Ottawa has an abundance of youth in the NHL, so there’s no reason to panic that they’re sitting this low, and they still have a handful of meaningful prospects on the way. This should be the season we see 2020 first round pick Ridly Greig begin his full-time NHL career after he got into 20 games last season as a rookie. Other players who could be in contention for a spot up front include Zack Ostapchuk, Tyler Boucher, and Roby Jarventie, with Boucher being of special interest as the 10th overall pick in 2021. It’s time for Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thompson to claim full time spots, but they’ll be battling with another rookie, Tyler Kleven, who made his NHL debut at the end of last season after ending his NCAA career. Tomas Hamara remains a top prospect despite a step backward last season in the OHL. Their top goaltending prospect is Leevi Merilainen.
20. Toronto Maple Leafs
Top three prospects: Matthew Knies, Topi Niemela, Nick Robertson
Top pick in 2023: Easton Cowan (28th overall)
Knies will be counted on to step in right away. He showed he was ready in the playoffs, although Toronto may be wise to also give him some top line starts in the AHL if their depth pushes him into a fourth line role. This season will be the year we know if Rodion Amirov’s recovery from cancer will include a future with the Maple Leafs as he’s set to suit up for his first full campaign in the KHL. Up front, it seems to be yet another make-or-break year for Nick Robertson as well, who has slid from blue-chipper to expendable. Up front, the development of Fraser Minten, Ty Voit, Nicholas Moldenhauer and Roni Hirvonen continues to trend in the right direction, while Easton Cowan, who was a shocking first round selection, will be under a microscope. On the blue line, Topi Niemela is the organization’s top prospect and will play his first full season in North America, while William Villeneuve was a pleasant surprise for the Toronto Marlies last year. The Leafs remain without a true goalie of the future in the system unless Dennis Hildeby can claim that moniker this year.
19. Washington Capitals
Top three prospects: Ivan Miroshnichenko, Hendrix Lapierre, Ryan Leonard
Top pick in 2023: Ryan Leonard (8th overall)
As Washington’s contending era ends, youth will be infused to the roster. Hendrix Lapierre had a good first full pro season, and could crack the roster next year. A wild card from the time he was picked, Ivan Miroshnichenko continues to look like his comeback story could be a success. It’s a good one-two punch, backed by the selection of Ryan Leonard and Andrew Cristall up front this season. On the back end, Ryan Chesley and Vincent Iorio are the two players to watch.
18. Dallas Stars
Top three prospects: Logan Stankoven, Mavrik Bourque, Lian Bichsel
Top pick in 2023: Tristan Bertucci (61st overall)
Whether it was at the World Juniors or with the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL, Logan Stankoven was just too good for the competition. Dallas may let him learn the defensive side a bit more in the AHL, but much like Wyatt Johnson, it’s likely Stankoven can step in and contribute immediately. In his first season of professional hockey playing with Texas in the AHL, Mavrik Bourque showed he can do it at a higher level. He was good in the QMJHL, but he put together a 20-goal season as a pro rookie, and that bodes well for the future. Francesco Arcuri and Antonio Stranges round out the excitement up front. While he’s far less exciting, Lian Bichsel is not less effective. The six-foot-five blueliner will make his North American debut next season. This year’s draft hurt Dallas’ prospect pool.
17. Los Angeles Kings
Top three prospects: Brandt Clarke, Francesco Pinelli, Kenny Connors
Top pick in 2023: Jakub Dvorak (54th overall)
LA’s best young players, whether it be Quinton Byfield or Artur Kaliyev, are ready to step in. But they also bid farewell to other young players like Gabriel Vilardi and Rasmus Kupari this year. If Alex Turcotte doesn’t find his groove in the NHL, he could be the next out, but the problem is, he’s played his value down so low, that he may be an unqualified free agent at the end of the year. One thing is certain, after his nine game audition last year, Brandt Clarke will be a pro this year. He’s one of the best young offensive defenders out there. Francesco Pinelli made strides this year, and the Kings found a decent pair of prospects despite not having a first round pick this year in Jakub Dvorak and Koehn Ziemmer.