NHL Future Power Rankings

Ranking each team for the future.

Ranking each team for the future.

First things first, huge stick tap to generalfanager.com, eliteprospects.com, and hockey-reference.com. Without those sites, I wouldn’t have been able write this.

Before I start, I just want to state that this is NOT a regular power ranking for this season. This is a future ranking, as in ranking each team in how successful they’re built to be for the future.

Pulling an idea from ESPN, but with different twists, I wanted to create an NHL future power ranking that is able to rank each team in five categories and eventually average out the rankings to get a final ranking. I first saw the idea when Buster Olney did one for Major League Baseball, so I decided to see what it would look like in the NHL. Following the ranking isn’t too complicated, since the final ranking is out of 100.

The categories are NHL talent, farm systems, cap situations, management, and mobility. Categories are weighted a little different. NHL talent and farm systems are on a full 1-30 scale (i.e. a team ranked first in NHL talent would get 30 points), cap situations and management are on a two-thirds scale (i.e. a team ranked first in management would get 20 points), and mobility is on a one-third scale (i.e. a team ranked first in mobility would get 10 points).

Since the categories are not the same, there are some decimals so any decimal will be rounded to the nearest 100th.

I cannot stress this enough; the point of this is not to see who the best team is right now. This is a future ranking. In this, I try to project which teams have the greatest chance to sustain their success over the course of the next four seasons.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs – 82.67 mapleleafschart

Overview: After many years of inept management, poor signings, and below average drafting, the Toronto Maple Leafs are finally on the right path. The Maple Leafs probably aren’t a playoff team this season, but they should at least show a massive improvement from last season. The future looks as bright as ever with a young core led by Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. Add that with the fact, they have pricy contracts expiring after the season and a money to spend, and the future looks even better.

Dilemma: The lack of a legitimate number one defenseman and uncertainty in net can be a cause of concern. The closest thing the Maple Leafs have to a number one blueliner is Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner, but they aren’t quite there yet. The depth is there, the talent not so much. And, in net, Freddy Andersen has proven he’s a solid goalie, but can he be the guy over the course of a season?

Prospect Highlight: In a few games last season, Connor Brown faired extremely well and looked like an NHL regular. Head Coach, Mike Babcock, appears to be a big time fan of Brown’s and has a chance to crack the roster this year. Brown doesn’t excel in any particular thing, but he does everything really well.

  1. Nashville Predators – 81.93predatorschart

Overview: Over the course of the past nine months, the Predators were able to swap Seth Jones and Shea Weber for Ryan Johansen and PK Subban, respectively, in separate deals. Not a bad job considering they got a desperately needed forward and got younger on the blueline. The Preds are solid all around, since a lot of their better players are under team friendly contracts and they’re young enough to be able to withstand the Western Conference for the next few years.

Dilemma: The Predators have a lot of talent all throughout the system. The one glaring weakness, which also was a strength just a few years ago, is goaltending. Pekka Rinne used to be one of the elite goaltenders in the league, but now he might holding back the Predators from making a run come spring.

Prospect Highlight: One prospect who can make an impact and maybe pull a Matt Murray is Juuse Saros. Saros is one of the most highly regarded goaltending prospects in the NHL with a ton of upside. He was arguably the best goalie in the AHL and even posted two shutouts at the World Championships. If Rinne gets hurt or struggles, Saros could end up stealing some time in net.

3. Arizona Coyotes – 80.57

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Overview: After a brief run of being a playoff team, the ‘Yotes fell into obscurity and a rebuilding period. The farm system received an enormous shot of talent, especially at forward. Arizona has NHL talent with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, and should be joined by Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak. Sprinkle in that they have one of the best defenseman in the league with Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Dilemma: As with Nashville, Arizona has a bit of a problem in net. Mike Smith isn’t the goaltender he used to be and Louis Domingue doesn’t project to be anything more than a backup goalie. Once a reliable option, Smith has been well below average the last few seasons. However, unlike the Predators, the Coyotes don’t have an answer in their prospect system that appears to be the solution.

Prospect Highlight: As the former 12th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Brendan Perlini’s development has gone a little stagnant. He scored at below a point per game pace in the Ontario Hockey League with Niagara and was a major disappointment for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Perlini will most likely start out the year in the AHL where he really needs to have a big year to show his future belongs in the desert.

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning – 77.31TampaChart.jpg

Overview: This upcoming season will probably be the best chance for Tampa Bay to bring the Stanley Cup back to the Sunshine State. The Bolts have a loaded offense, one that will include Steven Stamkos after he resigned a long-term deal over the summer. He’s joined by the triplets (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov), enigmatic Jonathan Drouin, Vladislav Namestinkov, and Alex Killorn up front. Then, of course, they boast Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman on the backend and arguably the best goaltending duo in the NHL.

Dilemma: Money can’t buy happiness, but it can create being in a cap hell. The Lightning will have little flexibility unless they can make a trade or two. Johnson, Palat, and Drouin are restricted free agents after this year, while Bishop and Brian Boyle are unrestricted free agents. It doesn’t help the cap situation that Jason Garrison, Brayden Coburn, Ryan Callahan, and Valtteri Filppula take up $19.1 million. Steve Yzerman is going to have to get creative.

Prospect Highlight: Brayden Point had one more big season playing for Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League last season. So far, in training camp, he’s gotten nothing but great reviews from Jon Cooper and has the chance to even crack the big league club. Taking a guess and saying he’ll make the team and stay up for the entire season.

  1. Carolina Hurricanes – 74.01CarolinaChart.jpg

Overview: The ‘Canes were well liked by the analytics world by a strong possession game. On the other hand, they were also killed by some of the worst goaltending in the NHL. Some of it was bad luck but they were close to a playoff spot in their last campaign. The Hurricanes are fueled by a lot of young skill players, including Fins Sebastian Aho and Tuevo Teravainen. Throw in a great back end that can do it all and Carolina might have a playoff team if the goaltending improves.

Dilemma: Goaltending aside, the Hurricanes lack the game breaking forward. There isn’t really anyone on the team that they can bank on to score the big goal late in a game or put the team ahead. Sure, they have Aho and Teravainen, but neither one of those Fins is a proven enough goal scorer.

Prospect Highlight: With a team that could desperately use some goaltending, Alex Nedeljkovic is getting closer and closer to playing himself to Carolina. He was a rock in the World Juniors, helping Team USA bring home a bronze medal. He doesn’t have the size that teams prefer to have in net, but he’s one of the better goaltenders not in the NHL. He’ll get some seasoning in the AHL, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to see him starting a few games this year.

  1. Washington Capitals – 73.54 CapsChart.jpg

Overview: They certainly have the firepower up front. When you can boast a cast of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Justin Williams, you’re going to be in good shape. They also have a genuine number one defenseman in John Carlson and Vezina winner Braden Holtby. The Caps had a league leading 56 wins, were the second highest scoring team, and gave up the second least amount of goals. Any team that can put the puck in their net and keep it out of their own net is going to be a good team.

The Dilemma: The biggest problem the Capitals are going to have is that they won’t be able to keep all the pieces of the puzzle past this season. Oshie, Williams, and Karl Alzner are going to be unrestricted free agents, while Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, and Dmitri Orlov will all need new contracts, as they are restricted free agents. That’s six key players and the Caps will have around $25 million to get all of them. Someone is going to be on their way out of D.C.

Prospect Highlight: While not the most well known in the Caps pipeline, Zach Sanford looks poised to make the team for the season. The former Boston College forward has been one of the biggest surprises this pre-season with some extremely impressive play. He’s earned some high acclaim from Coach Barry Trotz and is a near lock to make the team this season.

7.Winnipeg Jets – 73.53

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Overview: Winnipeg probably didn’t envision a playoff appearance followed up by a cameo in the lottery. The consolation for missing the playoffs ended up being Patrik Laine, so I don’t think Jets management or fans will be complaining about that. Laine is joined by more than quality NHLers Blake Wheeler, Mark Schiefele, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, and Jacob Trouba. The Jets also have the youth with Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor. The core is in place, granted they keep Trouba, and they should be a much-improved team.

The Dilemma: The goaltending should be better off with Connor Hellebucyk in net. The problem with the Jets is the greatly talked about Jacob Trouba trade rumors. The Jets have a stud on the blueline with Trouba, except the way they value him seems to be off. Instead of shipping out Trouba, they should look to dangle Tyler Myers. It seems as if a Trouba deal is inevitable and it would worsen the team long term.

Prospect Highlight: After having, a not so special first year of pro hockey, Josh Morrissey will need a nice bounce back season. Morrissey was considered a blue chip defensive prospect in the WHL and possibly the best defensive prospect in the entire NHL. His first season in the AHL wasn’t bad, just not spectacular. If he has a strong start or a defenseman gets traded, Morrissey should have a job in the ‘Peg.

8. San Jose Sharks – 72.58

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Overview: The revamped Sharks, with their new coach Peter DeBoer, finally got over the playoff hump and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Getting great production from the ageless wonder (and possible caveman) Joe Thornton still helps out and will continue on. Pavelski and Couture helps to spread out the scoring so they have three really deep lines that can all score. It doesn’t hurt to have all-world defenseman Brent Burns, either.

The Dilemma: The farm system looks a little bare at the moment. The Sharks have four solid prospects, but after that, it starts to get more and more underwhelming. It doesn’t help that the team is on the older side and since they are usually a playoff team, the picks they get aren’t impressive in the first round.

Prospect Highlight: In a shocking move, Rourke Chartier was one of the last players to make the Canadian World Junior team. The former 5th rounder took a big step back last year, seeing his goal total drop from 48 to 25. He still has a chance to be a solid NHLer but he’s going to need to show the Sharks brass that last season was just a down year and not what he is actually going to be.

  1. New York Islanders – 67.19 IslandersChart.jpg

Overview: The Islanders are led by one of the best singular talents in the entire NHL with John Tavares. He is a do it all player who makes his teammates better and that team lives and dies by him. They have a few more young pieces with Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson to help generate offense. The team should also get even younger with Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, who are both expected to make the team. Andrew Ladd will help offset the losses of Frans Nielson and Kyle Okposo, too.

The Dilemma: Goaltending was a sore spot for the Isles last year and it is still a question mark this season. They will roll out a combination of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Halak will be the number one but it very may well come to whoever has the hot hand, especially after Greiss looked solid in the playoffs last spring. If they can get slightly better in the net, a playoff spot will almost be a lock.

Prospect Highlight: The Islanders may have gotten the steal of the draft when they selected Anatoly Golyshev in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He’s a diminutive forward but has a ton of skill and upside. He is currently in the KHL where he is one of the top goal scorers. If he pans out, that will be a huge win for the Islanders to get an impact pick from the later rounds.

  1. Philadelphia Flyers – 66.22 PhillyChart.jpg

Overview: The Flyers had themselves a nice turnaround going from having a top ten pick, to pushing the number one seed Washington Capitals to six games. They have a nice core of forwards who are about to graduate being a prospect and forwards who are still in their prime. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Brayden Schenn are a great start before you throw in Travis Konecny. The future of the defense looks amazing, highlighted by Shayne Gostisbehere, and joined by Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim.

The Dilemma: The Flyers don’t really have a game breaking forward that’s coming up through the pipeline. Konecny might be that guy but that seems like a long shot. They’re more than set on defense. Their big problem is NHL ready goaltending. Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth aren’t wowing anyone. For now, they’ll have to bank on them until a better and more consistent option comes along.

Prospect Highlight: While Ivan Provorov gets all the praise (and deservedly so), Travis Sanheim is one of the better prospects himself. He had back-to-back 60-point campaigns for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL and was selected to be a member of the Canada’s World Junior team, too. He made his professional debut and looked good in his four game stint in the AHL. If the big defenseman can improve his defensive game, he can find his way into the Flyers lineup.

  1. Chicago Blackhawks – 62.30 HawksChart.jpg

Overview: In the salary cap era, it’s almost impossible to create a dynasty. However, the Blackhawks have come closest to being one. With three Stanley Cups in the last six seasons. They have their core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Corey Crawford all locked up long term. They even got more than enough production from free agent Artemi Panarin. Add in a dash of Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman and it’s easy to see why they Hawks are so consistently good.

The Dilemma: Salary cap, salary cap, salary cap. As nice as it as to have a core locked down long term, it’s not as nice when there isn’t a ton of money to spend. Sure, Toews and Kane are probably worth the money. Hossa is worth the money, probably not the term. Keith is more than worth the money. The problem is the Hawks giving out money and term to expendables. There’s no reason Marcus Kruger, a fourth liner, should get over $3 million for four years. All they needed is a forward on a rookie contract to replace Kruger and use that $3 million on bringing Panarin back or improving their depth. They should also try to unload Seabrook’s contract, as well.

Prospect Highlight: He hasn’t been regarded as their best defensive prospect, but it turns out Gustav Forsling might as well be exactly that. He has leapfrogged Ville Pokka in the depth chart and appears to be a lock to make the team. Having someone like Forsling might help out a lot on the backend. He’s an offensive wizard and, because of him being on a rookie contract, a cheap option that can ease the load and spend time on the powerplay.

12. Dallas Stars – 62.25

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Overview: As of now, Dallas might have the best 1-2 punch and worst 1-2 punch. On offense, you cannot do much better than Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The two of them are still young and have plenty of glory years ahead of them. However, they are also unfortunate to roll out either Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi every game. Nonetheless, it’s still a really good team. They were the highest scoring team and have a nice mix of veteran presence (a la Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza) and players in their prime (Benn, Seguin, John Klingberg).

The Dilemma: While the defensive corps in Dallas isn’t spectacular, it should be able to get the job done. The real question is going to be, not so shockingly, goaltending. Lehtonen and Niemi have shown the hockey world over the last two years that they clearly aren’t NHL caliber starters. Neither one of them could get hot in the playoffs, which led to a second round loss to St. Louis. If Dallas could get an upgrade in net (maybe Ben Bishop or Marc-Andre Fleury), they could be a terrifying team to play against in the west.

Prospect Highlight: This could finally be the year where Brett Ritchie finally secures a spot in the Stars’ lineup. The former second rounder has had a few cups of coffee with Dallas but looks poised to have a permanent spot this season. He’s a big winger, so if he can impress coach Lindy Ruff, he might be able to move up in the lineup and maybe even play Benn, Seguin, Sharp, or Spezza.

13. St. Louis Blues – 61.86

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Overview: Like the Sharks, the Blues finally got over their own playoff hump this past postseason. What we now know is that Vladimir Tarasenko is absolutely one of the biggest game changers in the league, Robby Fabbri is going to be really good, and Colton Parayko might make another Blues defender expendable. Jake Allen is now their bonafide starter, so there won’t be any battling in net. The Blues have made some solid moves and still look poised to compete while also being able to stay a youngish team. Every team should want that statement said about them.

The Dilemma: The Blues look solid all around. They have good depth at forward, pretty good depth on defense and a solid number one goalie. The big question will be what to do about Kevin Shattenkirk. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will want quite a pay raise from his AAV of $4.25 million. He’s one of the more under the radar elite offensive defensemen, being a lock for 40+ points every year. Trading him and getting value for him would probably be best, but if they want to win now keeping Shattenkirk would help achieve that goal but run the risk of losing him for nothing. Of course, he can always resign as well.

Prospect Highlight: If Shattenkirk does end up leaving, the Blues can get a little bit of help from Jake Walman. The Providence blueliner has had a fantastic two-year start playing college hockey. He was a point per game player last season, even though he missed some time with a shoulder injury. He’s an offensive machine and he should be able to help out the Blues after what projects to be a strong junior season.

14. Buffalo Sabres – 60.92

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Overview: No one expected this amount of improvement from Buffalo last season. There 27-point swing is one of the highest increases we have ever seen. Then you realize the team added Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly, and Robin Lehner and it’s not shocking to see why they were better. With a full season under their belts, Eichel and Reinhart should take a big step and have huge seasons. It wouldn’t be that outrageous of a comment to say Buffalo is a playoff team this year.

The Dilemma: Can Buffalo get a fully healthy season from Robin Lehner? The thing is, we really don’t know what Lehner is capable of doing over the course of a full season. He looked solid in the 21 games he started last season, but was hampered by an ankle sprain that put him on the shelf for a few weeks. If Lehner can play like he did last season and stretch that out for 55 games or so, Buffalo will finally have an answer to their goaltending issues, post-Ryan Miller.

Prospect Highlight: He might only get a handful games to start the season but don’t be shocked to see Alexander Nylander finish the season with Buffalo. Since he was on loan to Mississauga in the OHL, he’s eligible to go to the AHL, where he’ll most likely spend some time this season. Nylander still has yet to be cut so his camp is going well. Nylander’s skill level is off the charts so there’s a chance he see a decent amount of time in Buffalo this season.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins – 51.91 PittChart.jpg

Overview: The Stanley Cup winning Penguins are starting a new trend in the NHL. For all the teams that love size and grit, Pittsburgh won on speed and skill. They also are rolling our four lines that can just play; instead of a conventional top six, checking line and grinding line. Obviously, having Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel helps out a lot. Nevertheless, they certainly have the perfect role players to play with the big names. Speed and skill proves to be of greater value than size.

The Dilemma: The reason all these role players are so helpful is that most of them are bargains of contracts. Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bonino will want a raise, Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary will need new contracts, and most importantly, Matt Murray needs one, too. These role players will either get paid and kill the Pens cap space, or leave and the Pens will need holes to fill. It will be a difficult task considering they have $32.25 million committed to just four players and that doesn’t even include Marc-Andre Fleury.

Prospect Highlight: After finishing off his junior year at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Jake Guentzel made his professional debut with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He played 11 games and scored six points to finish off the year, before he elevated his game and scored 14 points in 10 playoff games. He’s on the smallish side, but he has a ton of skill, shown by his 46 points in 35 games at UNO. Guentzel appears to be a prototypical Penguin already: small but with a lot of skill. With a few players that might leave for more money, Guentzel might be the perfect cheap option that could get some time in Pittsburgh this year.

16. Ottawa Senators – 50.28

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Overview: The Sens have an above-average core going in the Canadian capital. Erik Karlsson will make any core look good, but having Bobby Ryan, Derrick Brassard, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Kyle Turris doesn’t hurt either. They missed out on the playoffs by a wide margin but that was mostly because of a subpar year from Craig Anderson after Andrew Hammond was hurt midseason, although he didn’t fare much better. Having a new coach with Guy Boucher might help the Sens jump back into the playoff mix.

The Dilemma: Scoring was certainly not the problem, as they finished seventh in goal scoring. Keeping the puck out of their own net was the real issue. Only Columbus and Calgary gave up more goals than Ottawa did. Both Anderson and Hammond had a tough time in net, and unless they clean up their play, the Sens might struggle again. However, they aren’t the only ones at fault. Aside from Karlsson, they don’t really have another high caliber defender. Acquiring another capable defenseman should be one of the next moves they make.

Overview: While he shouldn’t be relied on to fix their defensive mishaps; Thomas Chabot has a chance to play some key minutes this season. His stock has rose considerably after a strong performance at the World Juniors and a strong camp and preseason. With the season almost ending, it seems like Chabot has played his way onto to the team. He projects to play on the bottom pairing but based on what the defense looks like after Karlsson, it wouldn’t be a shock if he plays himself into the top pair.

  1. Montreal Canadiens – 50.25 MontrealChart.jpg

Overview: Any casual hockey fan can tell that last season, everything that could’ve gone wrong, went wrong for Montreal. That starts with their face of the franchise, Carey Price, going down with a knee injury that forced him to miss the entirety of the season. The Habs couldn’t recover from having no Price and suffered immensely, finishing a disappointing 13th in the Eastern conference. This led to a big roster shakeup that saw PK Subban getting flipped for Shea Weber and acquiring Andrew Shaw.

The Dilemma: The management of this team took a big hit in the last 12 months. Marc Bergevin made arguably the most unpopular trade in the salary cap era by moving out the fan favorite Subban. It doesn’t look much better considering Michel Therrien didn’t seem to be a fan of Subban’s. Giving up two second rounders for Andrew Shaw and extending him to a long-term deal looks questionable too. Montreal is definitely in a win now mode but the transactions they made looks like they might be mortgaging their future.

Prospect Highlight: Finally making the jump across the pond, Arturri Lehkonen made the team straight out of camp. The small Finn will definitely be able to help the Montreal offense with his creativity. His stock is trending upward and Habs fans should be excited after his excellent playoff in the Swedish Hockey League. With Frolunda, he had 33 points in 49 games as a 20 year old. In the playoffs, Lehkonen had 11 goals and 19 points in 16 games. Adding offense will benefit Montreal a ton.

  1. Boston Bruins – 49.23 bruinschart

Overview: For a lack of better terms, the Bruins are getting old. There’s no way around it. Now, they aren’t the kind of old where they can’t compete, it’s just starting to show a lot. Especially Zdeno Chara, who looks every bit of his age. Nevertheless, they still have some top players in their prime or close to entering it. Patrice Bergeron is the best two-way forward in the NHL, and Brad Marchand is the perfect sidekick. David Krejci is still a really good player and David Pastrnak is poised for a breakout season. Torey Krug, Ryan Spooner, and Frank Vatrano are all still young while David Backes, Matt Beleskey, and Jimmy Hayes are all big-bodied veterans. A bounce back season from Tuuka Rask would be huge, too.

The Dilemma: To say that the Bruins defense is a tire fire would actually be an insult on tire fires. Chara is a shell of his former self at the age of 39. Of course, Krug is a fantastic young defenseman but after him, it gets bleak. Adam McQuaid, when healthy, isn’t very good and neither is Kevan Miller. Colin Miller and Brandon Carlo might be asked to do a little more than what they are comfortable with.

Prospect Highlight: The previously mentioned Brandon Carlo is just a 19-year-old defenseman that made the team. While the defensemen on the team aren’t all impressive, it’s still notable that he was able to make the team as a teenager. Playing top four minutes with either Chara or Krug doesn’t look out of the question either. Carlo isn’t an offensive force by any means, but he plays a tough, physical, and smart game who projects as a shutdown defenseman.

19. Calgary Flames – 48.34

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Overview: Whoever follows analytics knew that the Flames were in for a rude awakening last season. After a surprise playoff appearance and even winning a series, the Flames plummeted into the Western conference abyss. Part of that was porous goaltending; the other part was not having the puck. What they do have are some young talented forwards. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk, who are all under team control for quite some time. Having Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton is solid, while Brian Elliott will be trusted to improve the play in net.

The Dilemma: The forward depth has gotten considerably better than last year. The goaltending has gotten a lot more stable and competent. The Flames could use better depth at defense, though. Aside from their big three, the talent takes a dip. Dougie Hamilton projects to be a top defenseman but had an off year last year. Calgary also was actively shopping the $5.25 million man, Dennis Wideman and they still have a roster spot for Deryk Engelland. Another top four defenseman would help, but then again that would help every team.

Prospect Highlight: Once a highly touted first round pick, Hunter Shinkaruk was given up by Vancouver. Calgary took a chance by trading for him last season. He’s been a disappointment in his career so far, but with a change of scenery, his career can finally get back on track. Shinkaruk does still have a ton of skill, shown by his 27 goals in the AHL last year. If he can play a more rounded game, Calgary’s low risk might net a bigger reward.

20. Minnesota Wild – 46.96

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Overview: Minnesota looks stuck in the mud. They have a team that isn’t good enough to make a big playoff run, but they aren’t bad enough to miss the playoffs to secure a high impact pick. If the Wild want to make a serious run, this year will probably be their best chance. Taking a flyer on Eric Staal seems like a smart move, joining a team that already has Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Ryan Suter. Devan Dubnyk proved his breakout year wasn’t a fluke, too. There’s a lot of veterans and a lot young players entering their primes.

The Dilemma: The cap situation that the Wild are in is a mess. They currently have eight players on the books for roughly $45 million and the closest to any of them ending is in 2019 when Jason Pominville’s contract expires. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are signed until 2025 and are both on the wrong side of 30. With the money and longevity of these contracts, it’s going to be tough to sign Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba, and Nino Niederreiter when they need new contracts.

Prospect Highlight: After an up and down sophomore season at Boston College, Alex Tuch ended on a high note with a dominant Hockey East tournament and Frozen Four. He looked like a man among boys with his big body and was one of the best college hockey players in tournament play. If the Wild cannot afford to bring back any of their restricted free agents, the highly skilled Tuch will be next in line.

21. Edmonton – 45.94

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Overview: As one can imagine, a lot of the weight of this ranking comes from a decent farm system, some cap space to work with and a player named Connor McDavid, ever hear of him? McDavid alone probably moves up Edmonton a few spots. The Oilers do have a relatively solid top six with Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle flanking McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins skating with Leon Draisatl. Other than that group and rookie Jesse Puljujarvi, things look dim. The bottom six is abysmal and the defense group doesn’t look much better. The Oilers overpaid to get both Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson and the defense still looks like a mess.

The Dilemma: Pick your poison: defense or management. The defense is clearly a major flaw. Oscar Klefbom is their best defenseman but he’s probably a second pair guy on most other teams. Andrej Sekera is another second pair defenseman who is paid like a first. Larsson cost the team Taylor Hall and he’s a fringe second pairing guy. Kris Russell hurts teams more than helps teams but the Oilers still gave him a few million dollars for the season. This falls on Peter Chiarelli, who every time makes a deal, looks like a bad one. His legacy in Edmonton so far is trading players that are actually good for 50 cents on the dollar.

Prospect Highlight: The Oilers might’ve gotten themselves a steal by taking Tyler Benson in the second round. He had a first round grades in the beginning of the season and is a first round talent. The problem was he got hurt and missed a significant amount of time, hurting his draft stock. If he can have a bounce back season and stay healthy for Vancouver Giants, Edmonton might finally get a pick right after the first round. It’s missed picks like those that have been hurting the team for years now.

  1. Los Angeles Kings – 45.64 KingsChart.jpg

Overview: In a league full of teams trying to get quicker, the Kings still prove to be a success even with big physical players. Of course, the team isn’t just filled with players who want to check you through the glass. What they do have is a true number one center in Anze Kopitar, a number one defenseman with Drew Doughty, and kind of a number one goalie in Jonathan Quick. Jeff Carter still scores goals and does that quite well. Tyler Toffoli has also emerged as one of the more underrated players in the NHL. Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez are good defenseman, too. The one thing going for the Kings and a big reason of their success is they have the puck so much. Their corsi numbers are staggering.

The Dilemma: The Kings are starting to get a little on the old side. Aside from Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Nick Shore, the under 25 talent in the whole system is lackluster. It’s admittedly tough to build a good system when every pick is in the late 20’s or they are traded. Patience and sticking with the prospects is something that could be improved. Otherwise, the Kings will become the team that becomes a team that can’t get out of the cellar, sooner rather than later.

Prospect Highlight: With a relatively depleted pipeline, the Kings still look to have a good one in Spencer Watson. Watson knows how to put the puck in the net, evidenced by his 43-goal season in his last season of junior hockey. He isn’t the prototypical physical Kings player, but he is quick, has a knack for scoring, and has one thing that fits with the Kings have: puck possession. With the number of shot attempts Watson has, he has the puck and is driving play. The Kings have become masters of that, so Watson should fit in after some time in the AHL.

23. Anaheim Ducks – 45.20

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Overview: The Ducks had a tremendously up and down season last season. The beginning looked like a team that was lost and it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a trade or a firing. The Ducks eventually came into their own after their horrid start and finished as the sixth best team in the whole league. Their playoff performance was less than expected and ended up costing Bruce Boudreau his job that Randy Carylyle now has. The team is built to win now, with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all getting closer to father time.

The Dilemma: First things first, they made a huge mistake bringing in Carlyle. Maple Leaf fans will tell you all about how he’s stuck in the past and improperly utilizes his players. The Boudreau decision was a rash one, but the Ducks could have brought in someone a lot better than Carlyle. The Ducks’ depth also has been killed the past few years and it looks especially bad this year. The top six is quite good with Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, and Nick Ritchie. After that, it’s a whole lot of nothing.

Prospect Highlight: There probably weren’t a whole lot of people that expected Jacob Larsson to make the team, but here we are. The 19 year old might not stay up the entire season, as he’ll stay up until Hampus Lindholm gets re-signed. Still, Larsson was a pleasant surprise since he wasn’t expected to make an impact for Anaheim for possibly another two or three years. He should be a solid in zone defender for his time up with the Ducks.

24. Florida Panthers – 44.63

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Overview: The Panthers are officially here. After years and years of drafting and patience, the pieces were all put together for a 103-point season and a division title. They have major young contributors such as Aleksandr Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trochek, and Nick Bjugstad. They also have the veterans to balance out the lineup like the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, and free agent signings Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. This could be the year the Panthers take an even bigger step, while also possibly make a mini playoff run. Management also gets two thumbs up for somehow trading Dave Bolland’s contract.

The Dilemma: The roster is fantastic there’s no denying that. Florida comes in this low because their farm system rivals Chernobyl and the cap situation leaves them without a ton of mobility for the future. They made solid free agent signings and trades this offseason, for sure. There’s just a little too much money and term committed to a ton of their guys. Maybe it doesn’t look bad yet but take for example in the 2018 offseason; they are projected to have roughly $12 million to sign 12 players.

Prospect Highlight: A broken hand ended any shot of making the team for Jayce Hawryluk. He was having a really good rookie camp until he suffered his hand injury. Hawryluk has a ton of potential and had a chance at making the team. He’s a bit on the small side but makes up for that by playing bigger than his size and being an offensive machine. He had back-to-back 60-point seasons for the Brandon Wheat Kings before exploding for 106 in 58 games in his final season in junior.

  1. Vancouver Canucks – 44.61 CanucksChart.jpg

Overview: The Canucks roster isn’t great, to put it nicely. The top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin with Loui Eriksson riding shotgun is a great and extremely Swedish line. There’s not a lot to like after that, though. Bo Horvat looks like he’s going to be an outstanding two way center and Chris Tanev is one of the better defenseman no one talks about. Jake Virtanen still has loads of potential, it just remains to be seen if he can reach it. Ben Hutton also had a strong rookie season. This won’t be a playoff team for a little bit, but at least the prospect cupboard isn’t bare.

The Dilemma: The Canucks, unfortunately, have one of the worst general managers with Jim Benning. He whiffed on the trade with Florida where he gave up promising young center Jared McCann, a second round pick, and a fourth round pick for Erik Gudbranson and a fifth round pick. Not only did he gave up a better player, but also essentially traded two higher picks for a lower one. Gudbranson doesn’t give the Canucks a serious upgrade on the back end and that still is a major weakness for them. The Ryan Miller/Jakob Markstrom duo doesn’t give a ton of hope, either.

Prospect Highlight: With the goalie woes the Canucks have, there still might be light at the end of the tunnel with Thatcher Demko. Demko was the best goaltender in college hockey last season playing for Boston College where he was nothing short of spectacular. He had 10 shutouts in 39 starts and was the Eagles’ best player for most of the season. Once Miller leaves, the big athletic Demko has the shot and skill to be Canucks’ ace in net for years to come.

  1. New York Rangers – 37.33 NYRChart.jpg

Overview: Despite the low ranking, there are a few things to like about the team. They have some of the best depth up front, with roughly 12 top nine forwards. An offense with Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, JT Miller, and Chris Kreider shouldn’t have a problem scoring. Having depth like that will make them tough to play against. There’s always the Henrik Lundqvist factor, who has been the best goaltender for the last ten years, and has the capability to steal any game.

The Dilemma: Where do we start, the defense, or the cap situation? The defensive unit is led by Ryan McDonagh and takes a huge plummet in talent after the captain. Marc Staal might be a decent bottom pairing defenseman but carries a $5.7 million cap hit through 2021. Dan Girardi might be the worst defenseman in the NHL and to make matters worse, he has a $5.5 million cap hit until 2020, granted he’s not bought out before then. Those two combining for over $10 million is only the beginning of the problem. They lost out on retaining Keith Yandle since there was no money left for him. They can get a little relief if they can rid themselves of Rick Nash’s contract or buy out Girardi. And that doesn’t even take into their dreadful farm system.

Prospect Highlight: The Rangers are adequately deep with goalies for life after Henrik Lundqvist. At first glance, it looks like Igor Shesterkin is the goalie of the future. The 20-year-old Russian netminder has looked great in every league and tournament he has appeared in so far. Shesterkin still has plenty of time to hone his game in Russia, where he’s already off to a terrific start, and since the Rangers have Lundqvist, they can afford to be extremely patient with him.

  1. New Jersey Devils – 36.62 DevilsChart.jpg

Overview: The roster borders on lackluster, even after somehow turning Adam Larsson into Taylor Hall. Aside from Hall, the only other players on the team that scare opposing teams are Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique, and Kyle Palmieri. Pavel Zacha might turn out to be one by season’s end but isn’t there yet. Mediocre players hamper the defense, as their best defenseman is probably Damon Severson, and he’s probably a decent number four defenseman, at best. The poor defense will always have a last life with the Corey Schneider, though. Schneider is without a doubt one of the best goaltenders in the league and has kept the Devils from being a last place team every year he has been in New Jersey.

The Dilemma: The team lacks too much talent. Adding Hall helps out so much and that will help them increase their league low 184 goals. They also don’t have anyone on the team that resembles anything like a top pairing defenseman. The farm system is finally getting a little replenished and looks a lot better than what it has looked like in the past. Having Schneider will excuse the less than stellar defensive unit, but they goal starved Devils desperately need help scoring.

Prospect Highlight: Already looking like a stereotypical Devils defenseman, Steven Santini has a shot to end up being the Devils best blueliner. He’s a big, hulking, and physical defenseman who plays well in his own zone. The Boston College product is not going to rack up a ton of points, but he can certainly help keep the puck out of the net and the penalty kill, too. His game in his own zone is extremely sound and could end up being the closest to a top pairing defenseman.

  1. Detroit Red Wings – 35.58 WingsChart.jpg

Overview: While the Wings made a few signings this past offseason, they couldn’t hit the home run and get Steven Stamkos. They also couldn’t get the top pairing defenseman they desire. However, they did bring in Frans Nielson and Thomas Vanek to team up with Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar, and Gustav Nyquist. Detroit has three lines that vary from good to decent, then going to downright horrific for the fourth line. They give the wrong defenseman more minutes, so the in zone play isn’t great, but at least Peter Mrazek is good enough to cover those mistakes.

The Dilemma: Wow, that cap situation is brutal. The Wings still have to give Zetterberg $6 million until 2021, when he turns 40. Hank and seven other players combine for about $32 million, or about half the salary cap. They handcuffed themselves by giving out long-term deals to Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Luke Glendening, and Nik Kronwall. To boot, they still owe money to Stephen Weiss and have to keep Johan Franzen on injured reserve. The Red Wings are being badly mismanaged and that not only leads to bad contracts, but having players like Teemu Pulkkinen, someone who can help the team, being waived.

Prospect Highlight: His stock took a big hit last year, but Evgeni Svechnikov needs to have a bounce back year. He was considered a steal at the 17th pick when the Red Wings smartly drafted him. He didn’t improve his game or point total in his last season playing for Cape Breton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, or have a good World Juniors, where he went pointless. There’s still a lot to like about him, with his plus size and tremendous offensive skill always being wanted features.

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets – 35.53 CBJChart.jpg

Overview: While there are some positives about the Blue Jackets, there’s almost as many if not more negatives about them. They have some good future pieces, such as Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano, Zach Werenski, and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Columbus also has the distinction of being the employer of David Clarkson, so that has to count for something too. Aside from a strong group of under 25 players, there’s not a whole lot of confidence with a successful future. They hand out bad contracts, make poor trades, and have David Clarkson which all leads to having no cap space and not a lot mobility for the future.

The Dilemma: The cap situation is appalling. There was a point over the summer where it didn’t look like they could’ve paid Seth Jones. Luckily, Jones is on a pretty team friendly contract. Unluckily, they pay Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, and Scott Hartnell a combined $15 million, while Dubinsky and Foligno’s contracts end in 2021. The Jackets are also not getting full value for Sergei Bobrovsky, who at over $7 million hasn’t looked like a starting goalie in three years. Again, they also are paying David Clarkson $5.25 million for three more years. They also hold the distinction of having the worst coach in the NHL with John Tortorella.

Prospect Highlight: This might be one of the final chances for Sonny Milano to prove himself. Milano was almost traded at the NHL draft this past summer, but the deal fell through. The former first round pick didn’t have the greatest season in the AHL but contributed to a Calder Cup winning team. Milano is small but his skill is off the charts and doesn’t lack confidence on the ice either. Columbus’ patience might be running thin with him so if he can’t pick it up this year; he might be on his way out.

  1. Colorado Avalanche – 29.20 avschart

Overview: Poor Colorado. Just a few years ago, they were an exciting playoff team, and now they’re in the basement of a meaningless ranking. There’s only a handful of players that truly show future signs of hope for the Avs. One thing working for them is they have reasonable contracts with Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie. The pipeline is highlighted with Tyson Jost and Mikko Rantanen. JT Compher and Calvin Pickard are the next best but there’s a huge gap in talent between them and Jost and Rantanen.

The Dilemma: The management has misevaluated a lot of players and it’s led to them not having any depth. Management also has had a tough time keeping their star players. Ryan O’Reilly was shipped off, while Tyson Barrie and Matt Duchene were both on the trade block. It’s tough for a team when they are taking calls on their best players, and not keeping them. They did make a good step to get a coach that isn’t Patrick Roy, even if it wasn’t their call. Joe Sakic continues to make poor decisions which leads to thin talent on the team and in the farm system.

Prospect Highlight: There’s no way in this world that Mikko Rantanen is not on this team on opening night. Realistically, he could have been on the team last year, but the Avs were patient with him. All he did was post more than a point per game as a 19 year old in the AHL, while leading rookies in scoring. He also captained Finland to a World Junior Hockey Championship. He’s a big body who can score at will. He will fit in with the other high scoring options like MacKinnon, Jost, Duchene, and Landeskog.

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