Prospects allow fans to be excited about the NHL season, even if they don’t have a realistic chance to contend for the Stanley Cup. It isn't so much about winning games, rather just seeing the young players progress. In some cases, fans are blessed with both; hope for now and for the future.
Not every young player will work out of course. Frankly, it would be terribly less exciting if they did. Nothing is more thrilling than a roll of the dice. It’s frustrating when you have the odds heavily in you favor and still lose, but it's offset by the joy when you have a minuscule chance of success and pull through.
This article will go over the teams who have the most exciting and talented group of young players. These are teams who can expect to own the next generation of elite talent. Here are the top 15 NHL teams with the deepest prospect pools.
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15 Anahiem Ducks
Shea Theodore was taken towards the end of the first round by the Ducks in 2013 and has been the franchise’s top prospect ever since. The defenseman has the talent and size needed to shut down an attack, as well as play in the offensive zone. After having a highly successful run last year in his first taste of NHL action, he should be ready to finally take a full-time role on the team.
They also drafted Jacob Larsson in the first round of the 2015 draft. He is an insanely similar player to Theodore, though not quite as talented (few are, to be fair). These two give Anaheim a very top-heavy group of defensive prospects.
Nick Ritchie is another player that should be earning some NHL time soon. He was selected by the team in the top 10 of the 2014 draft. It isn’t hard to see why he was such an attractive prospect, at 6’3” and 230 pounds, as he’s a highly physical power forward. However, unlike the vast majority of NHLers in his role, speed and agility are among his biggest strengths.
14 Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton has had one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL for the past half-decade. The addition of Jesse Puljujarvi is another player in a long list of highly promising talent. He has a very large frame at 6’3” and 200 lbs and doesn’t appear to have any clear weaknesses in his game. It was a surprise that he fell to Edmonton at 4th overall in the draft and he’s instantly become the team’s most exciting young prospect to not appear with the team yet.
Puljujarvi is the first in a long list of talented wingers for Edmonton. The trade of Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson had many fans confused. However, when you look through their prospects you will find a plethora of talented wingers – Drake Caggiula, Tyler Benson, Anton Slepyshev, and Patrick Russell – but few promising defensemen. Ethan Bear has been developing nicely, however a 5th round player drafted last year is not someone that can be counted on to save a struggling defensive group.
13 Nashville Predators
Kevin Fiala has been developing and maturing in the minors for two years now. He was the 11th overall pick back in 2014, but now finally appears ready to make the leap to the majors. The winger will instantly give the Predators a welcomed offensive boost.
Behind him is Vladislav Kamenev, a center taken one round after Fiala in 2014. He has all the raw tools needed to be a stand out forward in the NHL, but has needed time to refine his game, which should be expected for a player taken in the second round. He likely won’t see any significant NHL action this year, but should compete for a spot in 2017-18.
Of course, their first round pick in July’s draft absolutely needs to be mentioned. The Predators certainly don’t have a need for defense, as they’ve done a fantastic job scouting and developing blue liners in recent years. Dante Fabbro was simply too good to pass up though. He’s an agile player who loves to join in on the attack. He will be a fun player to watch when he hits the NHL. For now though, he’ll spend time developing with the University of Boston in the NCAA.
12 Montreal Canadiens
Mikhail Sergachev is the player to watch in Montreal. Their ninth overall pick from a couple months ago will have a chance to earn a roster spot for the upcoming season. The defenseman has all the talent in the world and will give fans plenty to be excited about after the trade of P.K. Subban.
Beyond Sergachev, the Canadiens are absolutely loaded with offensive talent. Charles Hudon was a 5th round pick in 2012, but has been nothing but impressive in his time with the organization. He’s a hard worker who appears to finally be ready to take a full-time spot on the NHL roster. Montreal also has their top two 2013 picks to be excited about this season, Artturi Lehkonen and Michael McCarron. McCarron saw a little bit of NHL action last season, but nothing overly noteworthy. Both are versatile players who can fill whatever roles the coaching staff needs filled.
11 New Jersey Devils
Pavel Zacha is the Devils’ prized prospect. He was the sixth overall selection in the impressive 2015 draft. Despite being just 19 years old, it is likely the young center will take a spot on the roster this season. He excels in nearly every aspect of the game. He has the frame and style of a power forward, but all the natural talent of a finesse player.
Behind him is Michael McLeod, their 2016 first round pick. He is a somewhat comparable player to Zacha in that he also has a large frame that he can use to his advantage. But he also has impressive skating and puck control abilities.
Steven Santini has become a far more valuable player this offseason after the trade of Adam Larsson. The team’s 2013 second round pick has been playing for Boston College over the past several years. However, it appears he will finally get to show Devils fans what he can do at the professional level this season, as they look for help on the backend.
10 Calgary Flames
The Flames prospect pool is one of the more rounded ones in the NHL. On offense, their crown jewel is of course Matthew Tkachuk, the team’s first round pick just a couple months ago. The American forward was one of the more NHL ready prospects available and it shouldn’t be too long before fans get to see him on the ice with the professionals.
They also have Hunter Shinkaruk who could earn a roster spot this season. He’s a smaller, agile player with beautiful skating ability. He also has amazing awareness that allows him to make plays amidst chaos.
On the back end, their two 2015 second round selections, Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, are guys to keep an eye on. They’re very similar players, as both have high offensive upside, are skilled skaters, and are intelligent players.
9 Boston Bruins
The consensus top prospect for the Bruins is their 2016 first round pick Charles McAvoy. Defense has been a major need for the team in recent years and snagging one of the top defensive prospects in the class was a major step forward. McAvoy is currently playing in the NCAA, so it may be a while until he makes an appearance in the NHL.
On top of him, Boston has somewhat quietly established a nice core of high-end defensive prospects over the past year. Jakub Zboril and Brandon Carlo were both selections in the 2015 draft and they've been progressing nicely, so they could be given a shot at a roster spot for the 2016-17 season.
Outside of defense, Boston used their second 2015 first round pick to select Zach Senyshyn, a well-rounded winger who can do all the right things that often go unnoticed. He has been playing in the OHL since ’14 and was named an alternate captain just a year later. There is plenty for fans to be excited about in Senyshyn and the Boston prospect pool overall.
8 Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina has been drafting insanely well over the past few years. They’ve turned their first round picks into one of the most promising pairs of young defensemen, Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean. They also landed Julien Gauthier in the first round of the 2016 draft. He's a highly physical power forward who is able to beat people up and put pucks in the net – a combination of skills any hockey fan can appreciate.
They’ve also done far better in the second round than most teams. As good as Bean, Gauthier, and Fleury are, their top prospect is Sebastian Aho, their 2015 second round pick. He’s a smaller, dynamic offensive weapon who can make his opponents look silly.
In addition, they picked up goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic in the second round of 2014. He is a smaller, athletic goalie who is still very young. At just 20 years old, he likely won’t get a shot in the NHL for a few years. However, he has already established himself as one of the franchise’s more promising prospects.
7 Philadelphia Flyers
For the past decade, Philadelphia has had a sorry group of defensemen, despite spending more money on the position than the majority of NHL franchises. They have known it’s been an issue and have constantly overspent to try to correct it. It hasn't worked out.
However, the Flyers defensive woes will soon be in the past. The emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere has been a godsend for the franchise. In addition, they have their 2015 seventh overall pick Ivan Provorov, a player who had quickly emerged as one of the NHL’s most exciting defensive prospects.
In 2016, Philadelphia elected to load up on offense in the draft, figuring they have a bit of a log-jam at defense anyway. They picked up center German Rubtsov in the first and Pascal Laberge in the second. These players will add quality depth to a group of forward prospects that really only feature Travis Konecny as a notable weapon.
6 Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus has a little bit of everything here. Their 2015 eighth overall pick, Zach Werenski, is one of the league’s top defensive prospects and easily Columbus’ most exciting young player moving forward. Beyond him, they have Oliver Bjorkstrand who has come out of nowhere to be an elite-level prospect at right wing. On the left side, they have Sonny Milano, who is one of the more promising young goalscorers in the NHL.
One thing they have been lacking is talent at center. It isn’t just a recent issue either, as they’ve struggled to fill the position ever since they entered the league nearly two decades ago. They received a lot of criticism for their selection of Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi from this summer, but it filled a much, much bigger need for the team.
5 New York Islanders
The New York Islanders have been having quite a bit of success in recent years after a fairly long stretch of sub-par performances. They have established a nice, young core of players centered around superstar John Tavares. Most teams in this position would sell some of their prospects for established NHLers in an effort to make a Stanley Cup run.
New York has taken a patient approach. Not only are they not selling, they don’t appear to be forcing their talent into the NHL. Instead, they are allowing them the time they need to develop in the minors.
It’s very hard to not be excited about what the Islanders are doing. When forwards Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, and Kieffer Bellows hit the NHL, New York could transform into an offensive powerhouse.
Their talent isn’t exclusive to the offensive zone though. 2013 15th overall pick Ryan Pulock figures to be a staple of their defensive lineup moving forward. In addition, Ilya Sorokin is one of the more promising goaltending prospects.
4 Buffalo Sabres
Alexander Nylander was the Sabres eighth overall pick this past year and has become the team’s top prospect. The winger had a highly successful 2015-16 season in the OHL playing for the Mississauga Steelheads, where he recorded 75 points in 57 games. It’s unlikely he’ll see much NHL time this season, if at all. But he will certainly be an exciting player to keep an eye on in 2017-18.
Justin Bailey is another exciting forward for the Sabres. He’s a sniper who has been developing nicely in the minors since being drafted in 2013. He saw a bit of action last year, but largely failed to have an impact; which is to be expected from a young player in his first few games. This season, he should get his chance to prove himself.
Brendan Guhle was the team’s second round pick in 2015. Typically, players never get a realistic shot at a roster spot in their first season after being drafted unless they’re a top ten pick. However, Guhle was absolutely fantastic in camp last year. He was very close to forcing himself on the team. Their management decided to play it safe and let him develop in the WHL another year. It’s hard to say when he’ll get his shot, but it certainly won’t be long until he does.
3 Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Connor is my favorite NHL prospect by far. The 2015 17th overall pick absolutely tore up the NCAA last year for the University of Michigan. He has good size, at 6’1” and 190 pounds, and insane, world class speed combined with impeccable stickhandling abilities. He will likely be on the roster in 2016.
In addition, Winnipeg has Patrik Laine, a Finish sniper whom they drafted with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft a few months ago. This man has nearly limitless potential and has drawn many comparisons to Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin.
It’s hard to not get hyper focused on these two when discussing Winnipeg’s prospects, as they have the potential to be a pair as talented as Crosby and Malkin. Though, Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck are two athletes that absolutely deserve to be mentioned.
Hellebuyck is one of several talented goaltenders that Winnipeg has. He has played in AHL for two years now, along with 30 games in the NHL, and has been showing his talent and progressing as expected. At just 23 years old, it may be a couple years before the team is comfortable giving him the full-time gig in net, but he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. Morrissey is an offensive-defenseman whom Winnipeg selected with the 13th overall pick in 2013. After a successful season in the AHL last year, he’ll be looking to earn his spot on the Jets roster this upcoming season.
2 Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes have put together one of the most impressive group of prospects in the NHL. At every position, there are at least a couple players that are nearly certain to develop into quality NHLers.
Dylan Strome is the unquestioned head of this group. The center excels in every aspect of the game. He has the size, skill, and work ethic to be an elite player in the NHL very quickly. Coyotes’ fans should expect to see Strome earn a spot in the lineup this year.
Backing him up at center are two of the team’s 2014 second round picks, Ryan MacInnes and Christian Dvorak. Both players have demonstrated a well-rounded game and been making great progress. They also went ahead and used their 2016 seventh overall pick on yet another center, Clayton Keller. While he didn’t fill a need, he was too talented to pass up. He had been a standout player everywhere he played, most recently for team USA, scoring 50 points in 31 games on the under-18 squad.
Defense was a large need entering the 2016 draft. They traded for Anthony DeAngelo, an insanely talented offensive-defenseman who the Lightning took in the first round of the 2014 draft, but little else behind him. However, they rectified that with the selection of Jakob Chychrun with their second first round pick in 2016. He fell in the draft quite a bit after a down year, but he remains a highly talented player. It was a very high risk/high reward move; the kind that every fan loves to see their team make.
1 Toronto Maple Leafs
There are several franchises who have put together an elite group of prospects and given their fans a ton to look forward to. However, no other team can hold a candle to Toronto’s prospect pool.
To start things off, they have Auston Matthews as their number one prospect. He is one of the best prospects in recent memory and many have said he's the best since Sidney Crosby. It would take double the length of this article to list off all his strengths. So instead, think of any quality you could possibly want in a franchise center and know that Austin Matthews excels at it.
Moving on, William Nylander and Mitch Marner were top ten selections by the Maple Leafs in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Their development has been what you would expect from players of their draft position. Either one would be a top prospect on the vast majority of NHL teams. That’s really the story of the Leafs farm system, as they have many players that could be top 5 or top 10 prospects for most organizations. Their wealth in this regard is absolutely outstanding.
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