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.
15 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.
14 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.
13 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.
12 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.
11 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.
10 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.
9 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.
8 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.
7 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.
6 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.
5 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.
4 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.
3 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.
2 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.
1 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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