The first entry in a four-part series, this piece breaks down the prospect pools of each franchise in the Metropolitan Division, including the teams and leagues for which they played in 2015-16. The bolded numbers next to players’ names represent their rank among the NHL’s top 100 prospects, if applicable.
(Note: Players with 25 games or more of NHL regular-season experience are not eligible.)
1. Sebastian Aho, F, Karpat [Liiga] 23
2. Jake Bean, D, Calgary [WHL] 50
3. Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer [WHL] 59
4. Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Niagara/Flint [OHL] 93
5. Julien Gauthier, F, Val-d'Or [QMJHL]
6. Aleksi Saarela, F, Assat [Liiga]
7. Janne Kuokkanen, F, Karpat U20 [Liiga Jr.]
8. Valentin Zykov, F, Charlotte/Ontario [AHL]
9. Sergey Tolchinsky, F, Carolina [NHL]/Charlotte [AHL]
10. Nicolas Roy, F, Chicoutimi [QMJHL]
Sleeper: Warren Foegele, F, Kingston [OHL]
Overview: Knowing full well that no elite free agents plan on signing in Carolina, the Hurricanes are smartly drafting and acquiring players with high ceilings. Gauthier and Kuokkanen have extremely low floors, but are potential stars if everything breaks correctly.
Gauthier is an elite, goal-scoring power forward who’s a terrible playmaker and has questionable hockey sense. His ceiling is through the roof, as is the bust potential here. Getting Saarela in the Eric Staal deal was quite a coup for the ‘Canes. A talented forward with great hockey sense, he signed his entry-level deal with Carolina this summer. Carolina's pick of Kuokkanen at 43rd overall in June got little publicity, but I thought he was one of the most underrated players in the entire draft. A dominant offensive force in the Finnish junior league, he plans to arrive in North America and play for OHL London this coming season. Zykov came over from the Kings in the Kris Versteeg trade, but injuries limited him to just two AHL games after the deal. He’s a very good offensive player, but his production has never matched his ability. Tolchinsky had 14 goals and 36 points in his first AHL season. He also dressed for two games with the Hurricanes. He's a wizard with the puck, but he may be too small to earn a top-six role moving forward. Roy had 48 goals and 90 points in Chicoutimi last season and earned an entry-level deal from Carolina in April. He's big and strong, and does his best work right around the front of the net. Foegele's sophomore season at the University of New Hampshire lasted all of five games before he bolted for Kingston. A good playmaker who needs to add upper-body strength, Foegele had 48 points in 52 games for the Fronts.
Columbus Blue Jackets
1. Zach Werenski, D, Lake Erie [AHL]/University of Michigan [NCAA] 6
2. Pierre-Luc Dubois, F, Cape Breton [QMJHL] 27
3. Oliver Bjorkstrand, F, Columbus [NHL]/Lake Erie [AHL] 31
4. Sonny Milano, F, Columbus [NHL]/Lake Erie [AHL] 47
5. Paul Bittner, F, Lake Erie [AHL]/Portland [WHL]
6. Anton Forsberg, G, Columbus [NHL]/Lake Erie [AHL]
7. Vitali Abramov, F, Gatineau [QMJHL]
8. Andrew Peeke, D, Green Bay [USHL]
9. Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping [SHL]
10. Ryan Collins, D, University of Minnesota [NCAA]
Sleeper: Keegan Kolesar, F, Seattle [WHL]
Overview: The quality depth of the Columbus system is right up there with any team in the league. The system features a nice mix of players who are close to helping the NHL team (Werenski, Bjorkstrand) and others who are several years away from NHL duty (Peeke, Abramov).
Bittner played just 27 games (25 for Portland, 2 with Lake Erie) all season due to injury. At his best, he has the size and skill to be a game-changing power-forward, but his effort and consistency level leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly. Forsberg has been one of the best goaltenders in the AHL over the past two seasons. Unless the Jackets can convince some poor club to take on Sergei Bobrovsky's bloated contract, Forsberg has no clear path to playing time at the NHL level. Abramov led all QMJHL rookies in goals (38), assists (55) and points (93). He needs to put several pounds of muscle on his frame, but he's a wizard with the puck on his stick. Peeke, the 34th overall pick in June, is a physically mature kid who has the tools to help Columbus in both ends of the rink. He will head to Notre Dame this fall. Carlsson was a first-round pick (29th overall) in 2015. A physical, stay-at-home defender, he brings so little to the table offensively that I just couldn't justify ranking him any higher. Collins is a slightly bigger, American version of Carlsson. He has 13 total points in two full seasons with the Gophers. The Jackets surprised many when they took Kolesar 69th overall in 2015, but he rewarded them with a 30-goal season for Seattle. He works hard and plays physically, so he should make for an ideal role player down the line.
New Jersey Devils
1. Pavel Zacha, F, New Jersey [NHL]/Albany [AHL]/Sarnia [OHL] 32
2. Michael McLeod, F, Mississauga [OHL] 42
3. Miles Wood, F, New Jersey [NHL]/Boston College [NCAA] 67
4. John Quenneville, F, Brandon [WHL]
5. Steve Santini, D, New Jersey [NHL]/Boston College [NCAA]
6. MacKenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie [OHL]
7. Joshua Jacobs, D, Albany [AHL]/Sarnia [OHL]
8. Nathan Bastian, F, Mississauga [OHL]
9. Joey Anderson, F, USA U-18 [NTDP]
10. Scott Wedgewood, G, New Jersey [NHL]/Albany [AHL]
Sleeper: Johann Auvitu, D, HIFK [Liiga]
Overview: The Devils had one of the worst prospect pools in the league for many years, but the system has taken a considerable step forward over the last couple seasons. They need more from some players (Quenneville, Blackwood), but others have exceeded expectations (Wood, Jacobs).
Quenneville scored the prettiest goal of the season in any league during the Memorial Cup, but the rest of his season was pretty average. He's a pretty talented kid, but I'm not sure he has enough ability to eventually nail down a top-six role in New Jersey. Santini signed with the Devils after his junior season at Boston College ended and he dressed in the season finale. A steady defender who offers little upside, he should begin this season in the AHL. Others are higher on Blackwood than I am, but he is a big kid who tends to be very calm in net. The Devils plan to have him play in Albany this season. Jacobs' biggest issue is that you never know what you are going to get from him on any given night. At times, he looks like a potential top-pairing defenseman, but other nights he looks like a career minor leaguer. He's a high-upside lottery ticket at this point. Bastian is a banger with decent hands, but he can’t skate. I would have looked elsewhere in the second-round this past June. For a kid who checks in at 5-foot-11, Anderson is stocky and difficult to knock off the puck. He’ll attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth this fall. Wedgewood shined during a brief four-game stint with Devils, posting a 1.24 GAA and .957 save percentage. He was nearly as effective over his 22 games with Albany, posting a 1.55 GAA and .933 save percentage. The 24-year-old is not going to take playing time from Cory Schneider, but I think he would be a better backup option than Keith Kincaid. Auvitu drew interest from numerous teams this offseason before signing with the Devils as a free agent. An undersized defenseman who moves the puck well, he has spent the past five seasons playing in Finland's top league.
New York Islanders
1. Mathew Barzal, F, Seattle-WHL 11
2. Michael Dal Colle, F, Bridgeport [AHL]/Kingston/Oshawa-OHL 33
3. Anthony Beauvillier, F, Shawinigan [QMJHL] 43
4. Ryan Pulock, D, Islanders [NHL]/Bridgeport [AHL] 45
5. Josh Ho-Sang, F, Niagara [OHL] 48
6. Ilya Sorokin, G, CSKA Moscow [KHL] 56
7. Kieffer Bellows, F, USA U-18 [NTDP] 81
8. Mitchell Vande Sompel, D, Oshawa [OHL]
9. Linus Soderstrom, G, Vita Hasten [J20 SuperElit]
10. Anatoly Golyshev, F, Yekaterinburg [KHL]
Sleeper: David Quenneville, D, Medicine Hat [WHL]
Overview: The Islanders and Arizona both placed a league-high seven players in the top 100, but the Isles’ group carries considerably more risk. Among those seven players are: an underachieving enigma (Dal Colle), a player with numerous off-ice concerns (Ho-Sang), a Russian who’s given no indication when he plans on coming to North America (Sorokin), and an entirely one-dimensional 18-year-old (Bellows). There are virtually no notable players outside of New York's top 10, so it's imperative that the players mentioned above develop.
To the surprise of no one, Vande Sompel had another big year for Oshawa (38 points in 46 games). He's very weak physically and he struggles to defend, but the offensive skills are legit. He's basically a forward playing defenseman. Soderstrom was a standout for Sweden at the World Juniors, but he played the entirety of last season in Sweden's version of the AHL. We’ll get a better read on his long-term potential after he plays for HV71 of the SHL this year. Golyshev had a terrific year in the KHL (25 goals, 44 points in 56 games), but there's no indication that the diminutive forward plans on coming to North America any time soon. His KHL contract reportedly runs through 2018-19. Quenneville was the 200th overall pick this past June. Any player taken that late faces long odds to make the NHL, but he possesses great vision and can pile up points. He has a chance if his defensive game can make some strides.
New York Rangers
1. Pavel Buchnevich, F, SKA St. Petersburg/Severstal [KHL] 12
2. Jimmy Vesey, F, Harvard University [NCAA] 36
3. Brady Skjei, D, Rangers [NHL]/Hartford [AHL] 41
4. Igor Shestyorkin, G, SKA St. Petersburg [KHL]
5. Ryan Gropp, F, Seattle [WHL]
6. Robin Kovacs, F, AIK [SHL]
7. Sean Day, D, Mississauga [OHL]
8. Ryan Graves, D, Hartford [AHL]
9. Brandon Halverson, G, Sault Ste. Marie [OHL]
10. Adam Huska, G, Green Bay [USHL]
Sleeper: Tarmo Reunanen, D, TPS U-20 [Liiga Jr.]
Overview: The acquisition of Vesey as a free agent changes the entire outlook of the Rangers’ system. They now have three top-50 prospects and countless others (especially Shestyorkin, Gropp and Day) with very high ceilings. The old saying is that it’s better to be lucky than good, and the Rangers lucked out with the Vesey signing.
Shestyorkin is one of the best goaltending prospects in the world and the most likely heir to King Henrik's throne, but he played just seven KHL games last season as SKA's third-string goalie. He is going to get more playing time this season, but he signed a three-year contract extension with SKA this summer, so the young Russian isn’t going to be playing in North America for quite a while. Gropp had 34 goals in 66 games for Seattle, although he missed time in the playoffs due to an upper-body injury. A strong kid with a big shot, he’s expected to play this season in the AHL. Kovacs plays a game reminiscent of former Ranger Carl Hagelin, although he’s grittier and has much better hands. The best junior player in Sweden over the last couple of years, he signed his entry-level contract with the Rangers in July. Day has the physical attributes to be a franchise defenseman at the NHL level, but has a lot to learn before he can play in the big leagues. It's his first year in the system, but it figures to go down as the most important. Graves was an AHL All-Star in his first pro season. He can skate like the wind and has a cannon from the point. I'd be surprised if his NHL debut didn't come at some point in 2016-17. Halverson's numbers went backwards in his final season of junior hockey (3.00 GAA, .907 save percentage). He's a great athlete and one of the best puck-handling keepers that you'll ever see, but he may start his first pro season in the ECHL. Huska was an afterthought when the Rangers selected him 184th overall in 2015, but after posting a 26-9-2 record, 1.82 GAA and .931 save percentage, he was named USHL Goaltender of the Year. He’s enrolled at the University of Connecticut starting this fall. Reunanen's draft season was torpedoed by surgery that limited him to 11 games. He's your typical offensive-minded defenseman, and he has a high ceiling if he can stay healthy and return to form.
1. Ivan Provorov, D, Brandon [WHL] 9
2. Travis Konecny, F, Sarnia/Ottawa [OHL] 22
3. Travis Sanheim, D, Lehigh Valley [AHL]/Calgary [WHL] 38
4. Philippe Myers, D, Rouyn-Noranda [QMJHL]
5. German Rubtsov, F, Russia U-18
6. Samuel Morin, D, Lehigh Valley [AHL]
7. Pascal Laberge, F, Victoriaville [QMJHL]
8. Nicolas Aube-Kubel, F, Lehigh Valley [AHL]/Val-d'Or [QMJHL]
9. Carter Hart, G, Everett [WHL]
10. Wade Allison, F, Tri-City [USHL]
Sleeper: Alex Lyon, G, Yale University [NCAA]
Overview: Not all that long ago, the Flyers boasted arguably the worst prospect pool in the entire league; now it’s one of the best. Led by an embarrassment of potential top-flight defensemen, Philadelphia’s system has depth and strength at every single position.
After going undrafted in 2015, the 6-foot-5 Myers posted 17 goals and 45 points in 63 games for Rouyn-Noranda last season. He also led the league in rating (plus-52) and was named a first-team QMJHL All-Star – pretty impressive for an undrafted free agent. The Flyers were obviously comfortable enough with their ability to get Rubstov to come over to North America that they spent the 22nd pick this past June on him. He’s a valuable asset because he can fill a variety of roles on a team. Morin has been passed by several defensemen in the system, but that's mostly the result of them improving, not him getting any worse. He's so big and strong that there’s no reason he can't still turn into a second-pairing shutdown guy. Laberge is a smart offensive player whose game has room for growth. I expect considerable improvement on the numbers he posted last season (23 goals, 68 points in 56 games) Aube-Kubel has posted 164 points over the last two seasons in Val-d'Or. He's shifty and a very hard worker, so he should make for a fine role player if he doesn't produce enough offensively to fill a top-six role. Hart (48th overall) was the first goaltender taken in June. He was named the CHL Goaltender of the Year with Everett after posting a 35-23-4 record, 2.14 GAA and .918 save percentage. Allison is strong as an ox and could develop into a very solid power forward. He’ll play at Western Michigan University this fall. Lyon was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award after his brilliant senior season at Yale (1.64 GAA, .936 save percentage), and he signed with the Flyers in April as a free agent. Steve Mason has played well when healthy, but few goaltenders in the league are as injury-prone as Philadelphia’s starter. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Lyon makes starts at the NHL level this year.
1. Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh [NHL]/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton [AHL] 7
2. Daniel Sprong, F, Pittsburgh [NHL]/Wilkes Barre [AHL]/Charlottetown [QMJHL] 80
3. Filip Gustavsson, G, Lulea [SHL]
4. Lukas Bengtsson, D, Frolunda [SHL]
5. Kasper Bjorkqvist, F, Blues U-20 [Liiga Jr.]
6. Tristan Jarry, G, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton [AHL]
7. Oskar Sundqvist, F, Pittsburgh [NHL]/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton [AHL]
8. Jake Guentzel, F, University of Nebraska-Omaha [NCAA]
9. Ryan Jones, D, Lincoln [USHL]
10. Connor Hall, D, Kitchener [OHL]
Sleeper: Ethan Prow, D, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton [AHL]/St. Cloud State [NCAA]
Overview: The Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year, which is a good thing because there doesn't appear to be much help on the way. The Pens’ system is essentially five players deep, with a massive drop-off from No. 5 (Bjorkqvist) to No. 6 (Jarry).
Taken 55th overall in June, some considered Gustavsson to be the best goaltender available in the draft. However, he needs work on bringing his "A" game every night and is still too inconsistent for a big kid with his tools. Bengtsson was a high-upside free-agent signing this summer. It figures to take him a while to get used to playing on the smaller rinks of North America, but his ceiling is a second-pairing power-play specialist. Bjorkqvist won the Finnish junior league MVP after posting 66 points in 45 games. He will spend this upcoming season at Providence College. Jarry's first AHL season wasn't very good (2.69 GAA, .905 save percentage). He's probably a backup in the long term. The Pens were hoping Sundqvist could have a big role for them last year, but he ended up playing just 18 games and then spent the rest of the season in the AHL. He's a big body (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), but he's never been much of a point producer. Guentzel had three productive seasons at Nebraska-Omaha and a great run in the AHL playoffs with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He needs to add 10 or 15 pounds of muscle to his frame, but is an underrated prospect. Jones has spent the past two years playing in the USHL and will head to Nebraska-Omaha this fall as a 20-year-old. Because he's considerably older than most college freshmen, the steady rearguard will be counted on to make an immediate impact. Hall plays a smart, steady game, but offers next to nothing offensively. Prow played four years at St. Cloud State, with his last (eight goals, 38 points in 38 games) by far his best. His ceiling is limited, but since he turns 24 in November and played 149 collegiate games, it's possible he can help the Pens in a depth role later in the season.
1. Jakub Vrana, F, Hershey [AHL] 15
2. Ilya Samsonov, G, Magnitogorsk [KHL] 20
3. Madison Bowey, D, Hershey [AHL] 65
4. Lucas Johansen, D, Kelowna [WHL]
5. Zach Sanford, F, Boston College [NCAA]
6. Christian Djoos, D, Hershey [AHL]
7. Riley Barber, F, Hershey [AHL]
8. Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Zurich-Switzerland/Hershey [AHL]
9. Vitek Vanecek, G, South Carolina [ECHL]
10. Connor Hobbs, D, Regina [WHL]
Sleeper: Beck Malenstyn, F, Calgary [WHL]
Overview: The Caps possess a solid yet unspectacular system, which is fine for a team that’s perennially amongst the best in the league. The top of this list includes plenty of safe bets (especially Vrana and Bowey), plus others of the high-risk, high-reward variety (Barber, Vanecek), which is exactly what a quality team like the Caps should be shooting for.
A smooth-skating defenseman with the ability to skate his team out of trouble at a moment's notice, Johansen was one of my favorite picks in the 2016 draft. He had 49 points in 69 games for Kelowna last season, and while it's hard to see him putting up point totals like that as a pro, his mobility figures to make him an invaluable asset for the Caps down the road. Sanford improved considerably in all facets of the game during his sophomore season at Boston College. After racking up 39 points in 41 games and finishing with a plus-27 rating, he’ll turn pro and play this season in the AHL; with his big body, he could potentially turn into a top-six winger. Djoos is small (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), isn't a great skater and doesn't have very good hands, but he somehow manages to get the job done. He needs to bulk up, but even if he's nothing more than a depth defenseman, he should be a good one. Barber did the same thing in his first AHL season that he did over his three-year run at Miami (Ohio): produce offense – 26 goals and 55 points in 74 games, to be exact. A sixth-round pick in 2012, Barber has overachieved his entire career and there's no reason to believe it will stop now. A steady, two-way defender, albeit one with limited upside, Siegenthaler will probably give the Caps a decade-plus of solid, but unspectacular service. His biggest asset is his ability to make simple plays with the puck. Vanecek spent nearly the entirety of last season (his first in North America) in the ECHL. He’s so raw that the fact he got consistent playing time was all that mattered; if he can't make some sort of impression in the AHL this season, I'll be concerned. Hobbs had 19 goals and 41 points with Regina last season. He clearly has offensive ability, but needs to work on his defensive play. Malenstyn had 16 goals in 121 career WHL games. That's a large enough sample for me to predict that he isn't suddenly going to turn into an elite sniper, but he's a big body who plays hard and could carve out a career as a serviceable fourth-liner.