August 13, 2011
The victors go the spoils; to the losers go the high draft selections and subsequent years of rebuilding. That's how it works in the NHL. For the most part.
ESPN.com published its NHL "organizational rankings" for 2011 this week (insider sub. required) in which Grant Sonier, a scout who most recently worked with the Atlanta Thrashers, evaluated the depth of talent for all 30 teams.
When looking at this list it's important to remember that various circumstances can affect each team's talent level, and that the better you finish each year, the later you pick in the draft. In many cases, teams have traded away top prospects in order to be one of the top teams today.
In determining the total number of prospects for each team, we counted draft picks, signed or unsigned, and players on the respective reserve lists who have not cracked an NHL roster on a regular basis. I count a player as a top prospect if I believe he will play a regular role on an NHL team, either this season or in coming seasons.
Outside of a few cases, it's mostly a list of which teams have the most NHL-caliber prospects in the pipeline. At the top of that ranking: The Florida Panthers, who have 15 "top prospects" in the incubator, from No. 3 overall picks like Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson(notes) to goalie-in-waiting Jacob Markstrom(notes).
When one hasn't made the playoffs since the Clinton administration, one tends to stockpile a prospect or 15. And if you don't think this is important to the Panthers, then you probably haven't read the front-page story on their website about it.
Coming up, a look at the ESPN rankings, including the part we all want to know about: The teams in the worst shape when it comes to depth of talent in their organ-i-zation.
Here's the ESPN.com 2011 organizational ranking, along with the number of top prospects for each team.
|1. Florida Panthers (15)||7. New York Islanders (11)||13. Buffalo Sabres (8)||19. Boston Bruins (7)||25. Carolina Hurricanes (7)|
|2. Edmonton Oilers (14)||8. St. Louis Blues (11)||14. Los Angeles Kings (9)||20. Tampa Bay Lightning (8)||26. Nashville Predators (7)|
|3. Ottawa Senators (14)||9. Colorado Avalanche (9)||15. Philadelphia Flyers (7)||21. Winnipeg Jets (7)||27. Washington Capitals (6)|
|4. Chicago Blackhawks (14)||10. Dallas Stars (9)||16. New Jersey Devils (8)||22. Toronto Maple Leafs (7)||28. Calgary Flames (6)|
|5. Detroit Red Wings (13)||11. Montreal Canadiens (10)||17. New York Rangers (8)||23. Pittsburgh Penguins (8)||29. Vancouver Canucks (6)|
|6. Minnesota Wild (12)||12. Anaheim Ducks (9)||18. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)||24. Phoenix Coyotes (8)||30. San Jose Sharks (6)|
For comparison's sake, here are the organizational rankings from Hockey's Future, as of May 31. Obviously, the draft and trades have affected these dramatically. But enough where the Nashville Predators have gone from third overall on HF to 26th (!) on ESPN in the span of a few months?
The justification for the lowest-ranked teams from ESPN is interesting. For the Capitals, ranked No. 27:
Evgeny Kuznetsov (26th overall, 2010) is yet another high-end talented Russian who will push to make the big club over time. And he'll do it sooner rather than later. He is multidimensionally skilled and if he wanted to come over from the KHL (he says he's staying for now), he could possibly make the big club this year. The Capitals did not make their first selection this past year until the fourth round and that is a major factor in their organizational ranking, as is the graduation of John Carlson(notes) (27th overall, 2008) and Marcus Johansson(notes) (24th overall, 2009), both regulars in the NHL now.
This one was jarring at first, because the Capitals have long had one of the deepest farm systems in the NHL. But as Sonier pointed out, many of those top prospects are now NHL regulars, and within the dynamics of his rankings that would seem to validate the rank.
But where is Braden Holtby's(notes) name in this, considering he's one of the reasons Semyon Varlamov(notes) was expendable? Or Dmitry Orlov(notes)? Granted, the focus is on depth here, but the Capitals would seem to have more NHL-caliber players than an organization ranked No. 27.
As for the Flames at No. 28:
The Flames measure poorly in these rankings partially because they have had a limited number of picks over the past few years. T.J. Brodie(notes) (114th overall. 2008) is close to breaking through after a solid season playing defense in the AHL, but Sven Baertschi (13th overall, 2011) tops the list of prospects with his smooth skating and skilled game. This forward could surprise. And soon.
Hard to argue with this, considering that the HF rankings had them at No. 30 in May. But this draft had some bright spots for the Flames. The win-now premium placed on this club by Darryl Sutter for years has left a rather barren system for Jay Feaster, which is why the "rebuild or retool?" question is an interesting one.
The Canucks, at No. 29:
Like the Red Wings, the Canucks have seen their high draft picks limited by their contending for the President's Cup each year. Unlike Detroit, they have not found as much value elsewhere in the draft. And now the Canucks will feel it in their prospect pool. This year's selections -- forward Nicklas Jensen (29th overall) and goaltender David Honzik (71st overall) -- give them a chance to overcome their lack of depth. Jordan Schroeder(notes) (22nd overall, 2009) and Cody Hodgson(notes) (10th overall, 2008) are coming along slowly and cannot be counted out just yet.
Interesting that a system that boasts two players with boundless potential — Schroeder and Hodgson — could be ranked so low. Add in Anton Rodin, and while the Canucks only six top prospects by ESPN's count they might deserve a slightly higher ranking.
But this is about depth, and the Canucks aren't the deepest in the minor leagues ... with the potential for other busts like Sergei Shirokov.
Finally, the Sharks:
The Sharks are not a team that's afraid to trade away picks and prospects to get what it wants in the short term. The cost of those moves, such as the acquisition of Brent Burns(notes) from the Wild, is high-end talent in the Sharks' prospect pool. It is worth noting San Jose often finds a way to develop its prospects well and several players picked later in the draft have panned out for them. The Sharks could have similar success with 2011 pick Matthew Nieto (47th overall). He could spend as many as three more years at Boston University, but should develop into an offensive forward with good speed and a scorer's shot.
Another team that has traded away some blue-chippers (Charlie Coyle to the Wild) and graduated a lot of talent from its AHL team to the NHL level. Combine that with low draft selections and goalie Alex Stalock(notes) recovering from nerve damage, and the Sharks are where they are. HF had them rather low, too, and that was before Coyle was traded.
Any surprises on the list for you? Besides the Blackhawks and Red Wings having 27 top prospects between them (yikes)?