When fans of NHL teams feel that there is no hope for the current season, this is where they tend to look for inspiration and, above all else, faith.
Faith that next year could be better. That the second line won't always lack the scoring that it does right this second. That the lack of a puck-moving blueliner could be just around the bend. That the current starting netminder won't need to rack up 60-plus starts a year because some kid is killing it in the AHL.
Yes, teams turn to prospect lists and depth charts when things are bleak. And they also turn to them in times of glory.
Look no farther than the Boston Bruins for an example of that.
Yet every team in the NHL, from the Anaheim Ducks down to the Winnipeg Jets, has at least one prospect on the way that makes fans giddy. I'm here to identify that prospect for each team.
Real quick, lets define prospect. I'm not going to set a game limit or something along those lines. Instead, to be a prospect, a player must not currently be an important, integral part of his NHL teams success.
So that rules out players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Mikael Granlund. I'm not here to argue with you about who is "integral" on their teams and who isn't (though I'd be more than happy to discuss it). Instead, I'm here to shine a light onto the most promising, coveted prospect on every team.
If you find yourself thinking "this guy is full of it, it should be Player X", don't hesitate to let me hear it. But if more than the player I mention comes to mind, consider how lucky of a fan you are to be able to drool over more than one or two of the guys in your farm system.
Emerson Etem is on the cusp of being a very important part of the Anaheim Ducks, and he's probably seen his last stints in any hockey league besides the NHL. Unless the Long Beach, California native receives an offer he just can't refuse from the KHL.
Last season with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL (not the J), the former 29th overall pick demolished the league by putting up 61 goals—tops for the league lead.
He's now in Anaheim, adding to forward depth that has been lacking for a few years now.
I think it's safe to say that no one considers Dougie Hamilton a prospect any more, as he is playing big minutes for the Boston Bruins just a handful of games into his NHL career. Nearly 19 minutes on average as a kid is nothing to scoff at.
That opens the door for Malcolm Subban to become the leading Bruins prospect, narrowly beating out Alex Khokhlachev and Maxim Chudinov.
Athleticism is the key to Subban's game. He is capable of making saves when it appeared that anything besides a goal was impossible. That should sound mildly familiar to Boston fans.
If Tuukka Rask (whose name I just spelled correctly from memory for the first time ever, unlike Khokhlachev up there... have fun with that one Jack Edwards) doesn't pan out, Anton Khudobin doesn't impress and Tim Thomas doesn't find himself on the roster after his exile, Subban could be an important player for Boston very soon.
That most likely won't be the case, so it could be a while before Subban finds his way to a starting role. Which is bad news for NHL scorers, since he'll have plenty of time to work on his already solid game.
Hey Buffalo Sabres fans, have you ever watched a game and thought to yourself "man, I wish we had a goal scorer like Thomas Vanek that was just more of a power forward-type player"?
Even if you haven't, that's pretty much what prospect Joel Armia is. He isn't quite as fast as Vanek, but he uses his 6'3" frame to protect the puck as he drives to the net. He's also known to be a top-notch stick handler, using his hands to weave in and out of traffic.
He is currently playing in Finland's top league, posting a respectable 20 points through 36 games played. As a kid who is 19, that is.
I know, Sven Baertschi is currently on the roster of the Calgary Flames. I just don't consider going scoreless through four games before landing on the week-to-week injury list with a busted hip to be "making an impact."
Despite the mildly slow start before really getting the chance to get going, Baertschi gives Flames fans something to be excited about.
He scored 94 points last season with the Portland Winterhawks, and has already found the back of the net three times in nine games in the NHL. Baertschi should soon shake this injury, and the tag of prospect for good.
Sorry Victor Rask, but Ryan Murphy is the player to watch in the farm system of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Murphy is the current captain of the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, a team where he places third in scoring. Not too shabby for a defensemen. He is a remarkably talented offensive-blueliner, which is arguably the number one most sought after commodity in the NHL these days.
The only knock on him is his size, but at 5'11" he's not in the position to be overrun in the NHL.
The 'Canes hope that Murphy is soon ready to become the cornerstone of their power play and top-four blueline unit.
2012 draft pick Teuvo Teravainen claims the title as the most coveted prospect of the Chicago Blackhawks as Brandon Saad is already making his mark with the team.
While Saad has been one of the best players on the ice (despite what his points tell you) for the 'Hawks so far this season, Teravainen has been finding his groove during his second year playing with Jokerit in the SM-liiga.
After making his debut as a 17 year old in Finland's top league, he has come back even better this season. He currently has 24 points in 34 games, while scoring 11 goals. The knock on him is (again) his size, but Chicago plays a skill-game, where Teravainen will be able to use his hands and vision.
In all fairness, this spot should belong to Stefan Elliott. However, the blueliner's inability to stick with the Colorado Avalanche lineup after being labeled as a "can't miss" player is a bit disheartening to all parties involved.
Because of this, I am bumping the talented and slick Elliot in favor of the physical and nasty Duncan Siemens. He is an imposing presence on the backend, and at 6'2" and 200 pounds, he already has NHL-ready size.
Siemens hits a lot, blocks a lot of shots, and is capable of joining the rush on occasion. While he might not be the fireworks-type of blueliner like Elliot, he is the sturdy, solid and dependable kind of player teams burn for in their own end.
He's used to playing massive minutes, and shows great mental toughness.
The argument could be made that NHL-ready-but-injured Cam Atkinson belongs here for the Columbus Blues Jackets, but I just can't bring myself to list a scorer for a team that hasn't had more than a half-season of solid goaltending since their very first season.
That's why Oscar Dansk gets the spot. Because more than perhaps any other team, the Jackets need this guy to work out. Steve Mason is just awful, and Sergei Bobrovsky has not been the answer they were looking for.
In short, this team can stock up on youngsters and attitude all it likes, but there isn't a playoffs in this squad's future without a netminder, no matter how many goals are scored.
Radek Faksa is a Swiss Army knife of a forward, being able to fluidly play all three forward positions well in all three zones. While Jack Campbell has had a roller coaster-ride over the last two years or so, thus hurting his stock in my eyes, Faksa already has NHL size and talent.
He has plenty of offensive upside, as he has shown with the Kitchener Rangers, but his true value is probably in his ability to do just a little bit of everything. It's these kinds of players that give your team the depth needed to roll four lines effectively and dangerously.
While the Dallas Stars have plenty of depth on their prospect list, I give the nod to Faksa over the likes of Campbell and Jamie Oleksiak (whose name I would write two sizes bigger if I could) due to his style of play and versatility.
It's not exactly an undocumented secret that I believe Gustav Nyquist should be playing a top-six role on the Detroit Red Wings, but since he is still stuck down in the AHL, I have to put him here as their most coveted prospect.
He's also their best prospect, and will slide nicely into a scoring role for the Wings whenever he has the chance. Which is probably two more years worth of "seasoning" by Ken Hollands logic. But I digress.
The 23-year-old has been very effective in the minors, posting 62 points in 64 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Last season he actually became the best Griffins rookie ever, scoring 58 points in 56 games. It'll only be a matter of... a few years... until Detroit fans will be able to see Nyquist full-time in the NHL.
I was tempted to just write "their entire first line" for the loaded Edmonton Oilers, but decided that wouldn't be fair to Oscar Klefbom—the most coveted prospect not currently in the NHL and playing major minutes with good results.
He is a bit of a project, unlike most of Edmonton's recent top picks. Drafted as a raw blueliner, Klefbom has shown impressive leadership capabilities and toughness from the backend. He is most likely the perfect match to the fire-on-ice approach the Oilers and their youth tend to take.
As good as Rocco Grimaldi and Nick Bjugstad could be, the Florida Panthers have a lot riding on third-year pro Jacob Markstrom. If he were a forward still trying to crack the NHL lineup after three years in the AHL, I'd be skeptical.
In the case of Markstrom, it makes sense as the Panthers want him to get the bulk of the starts, which he wouldn't with Florida. He's been everything from excellent to sub-par with San Antonio as he learns to use his 6'6" to square up to NHL-quality shooters.
His numbers this season are a little behind those from last year, and that could very well have something to do with the number of talented and young NHL players that were in the A during the lockout. Still, he is on track to garner considerable attention for the starting job in Florida.
After ripping a hole through the competition in the OHL during his last two seasons there (breaking the century mark... twice) Tyler Toffoli made the jump to the pro-level this season in the AHL. He already has 20 goals through 43 games played, and has also added 14 helpers with the Manchester Monarchs.
The only thing that could slow his scoring pace at the NHL level is his speed, which is incredibly important in "today's NHL" (I wonder when we get to stop calling it that?). It hasn't effected him at the AHL level, but anyone who has watched considerable amounts of minor league hockey can tell you that speed is the biggest difference.
The level at which things happen, and the small windows for reaction time.
Toffoli, should he reach his ceiling, could be on the of better scorers on the Los Angeles Kings for years to come, playing a second center role to Anze Kopitar.
Charlie Coyle may finally have his shot at cementing his role on the Minnesota Wild, as coach Mike Yeo has decided to shake things up a bit by placing the large and young player on his first line; replacing Dany Heatley, in case you were curious.
He's a strong skater and is hard to knock off the puck, and could quickly find chemistry with "skill" guys Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise.
Regardless of the effectiveness of this experiment, the Wild liked him enough to move Brent Burns in a deal where he was (arguably) the centerpiece, and he hasn't let them down developmentally yet. Coyle scored at the same pace in the QMJHL after he left Boston University.
Sebastian Collberg cemented his place as the most coveted prospect for the Montreal Canadiens during the 2012 WJC tourney. He scored four goals and tacked on three assists in six games for the silver-winning Swedish team. Collberg was one of the most effective and dangerous forwards of the tourney despite being one of the youngest participants.
Worth of note is that he is a right wing—an area where many NHL teams lack much youthful depth, much less a standout.
Collberg is a sniper that isn't afraid to go through traffic to get a shot off from the slot. Predictably, the question mark beside his name is his size and ability to play more of a two-way game, but as it stands, he has plenty of time and talent to develop.
The Alex Galchenyuk-Collberg connection could turn into one of the more exciting duos in the NHL within the next few years. Galchenyuk seems to be the kind of player that pulls people to him, and Collberg is the kind of player that can brutalize teams with a few extra feet of space.
The goaltender factory that is the Nashville Predators may have struck again with Magnus Hellberg. The former second round pick will look to join a very proud fraternity of NHL-quality netminders that Nashville has produced over the years.
After playing as one of the top goalies in Sweden's second best league (Allsvenskan), he made the jump to the Elitserien league last season, a year after dominating the Allsvenskan, and started three games while in a backup role. Things seem to have gone swimmingly as he recorded two shutouts in those games.
He has started in 13 games in the AHL this year while backing up incumbent Jeremy Smith as he's adjusted his angles to the North American rink.
Nashville's talented group of defenders seems to be making the jump, leaving Hellberg as the standout in the Predators system.
The New Jersey Devils knew that they'd be taking on a player with some character issues when they selected Jon Merrill back in 2010. Three years later, Merrill's career probably couldn't have gone any more off track.
For a more detailed look at what exactly has gone wrong with Merrill, hit the link. If you don't have quite that much time to kill, all you need to know is that there have been several internal disciplinary issues for Merrill with the University of Michigan. And these issues have cost him a lot of hockey games since the end of the 2010-2011 season.
Luckily for the Devils, character off the ice is something that takes some players longer than others. Merrill seems dedicated to getting his career (life) back on track, and that track would lead him directly into an important role for New Jersey. He's that good—he's just had some issues.
Thank the Hockey God's he's not a Russian...
After what one may consider years of bad hockey and questionable management, the New York Islanders have one of the better prospect pools in the NHL. John Tavares has already made his meteor-sized impact up front for the Isles.
Ryan Strome could be the next one to strike.
The guy that some refer to as "the Natural" could slide in behind Tavares in a top-six role as early as next season after posting 273 points over 211 games played for the Niagara Ice Dogs. He is wearing the C this season, and has dominated the OHL , posting 72 points in only 40 games played.
Yeah. I'm sure the Islanders are giddy about getting him into the lineup next season. Maybe he can get Kyle Okposo to actually do something.
I'm probably pushing it with the inclusion of Chris Kreider here, as he already had his coming out party last year during the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was there that he ignited the imaginations of New York Rangers fans for 18 games as he scored a timely five goals.
"If he can do this in the playoffs, what can he do in the regular season?" seemed to be the big question.
The storyline has derailed a bit as he's had issues sticking with the Rangers. He managed to score one goal in four games for the Rangers, and then chipped a bone in his ankle. He's improving, but still far from "being a lock" to be a difference maker in New York this season.
Still, hopes are high for the speedy forward as he's shown that he can play in the NHL already.
Mika Zibanejad appears to be making most of his opportunity following an injury to Jason Spezza, and Jakob Silfverberg has carved out a role with the Ottawa Senators, leaving Stefan Noesen as the most coveted prospect in the system.
He's been an offensive threat for three years in the league after failing to do much in his rookie campaign. Noesen has 30 points in 34 games played so far this year, and despite serving a suspension that prevented him from competing in the WJC, he continues to hone his offensive skills before making the jump to the pros.
He projects as a power forward that gets to the dirty areas to score goals, and should compliment the new attitude of the Senators nicely.
Scott Laughton was such a natural fit for the Philadelphia Flyers that they had a hard time sending him back to his junior team. He is a big, physical center who isn't fun to play against and who can play in all three zones.
He'll never dazzle you with his outright offensive talent, but still finds a way to get things done in all areas of the ice. Laughton is a battler and does a lot of little things right for being such a youngster.
Adding him to a team that already boasts young players like Sean Couturier within the next season or two will make the Flyers a tough team to match up against because their forward lines will be so sound in all three zones.
Brandon Gormley is finally getting his long-awaited taste of professional hockey, as he's skated in 40 games for the AHL's oh-so hip Portland Pirates. The former 13th overall selection has started to settle in, posting 14 points so far.
The beat on Gormley isn't that he'll wow you in the offensive zone like a purely offensive defender. Instead he seems to possess a knack for knowing when to jump up and when to settle in, leading to some strong all-zones play.
Could Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Gormley be the future for the Phoenix Coyotes?
Joe Morrow is cranking on his game a bit in the AHL this season—his first as a pro—and is finally starting to translate his biggest weapons from junior. He has a booming slap shot, is a very aggressive offensive-defensemen and has a keen hockey sense.
If that doesn't sound like the prototype for "young blueliner every NHL team wants" then I don't know what does.
While some consider other guys from the deep stable of Pittsburgh Penguins to be tops, Morrow is still the guy that the Pens would balk at trading the most. His upside is too high, and as a player who runs on confidence, it's only a matter of time until he starts pounding in the points in the A.
The San Jose Sharks have one of the most boom-or-bust heavy prospect pools in the NHL. Among them though, is netminder Harri Sateri who is starting to put his North American pro-game together this season. It's his first as an AHL player here in North America, and after a rough start, he's been getting better for the Worcester Sharks.
He still has all the time in the world to work on his skills, but the Finnish backstop has looked flashy enough at junctures to garner some attention in the A.
Vladimir Tarasenko or Jaden Schwartz would have topped the most coveted prospect pile for the St. Louis Blues a month ago, but they have both established themselves as NHL-caliber players at this point—Tarasenko with an early Ovechkin-like electricity.
That leaves Ty Rattie as the man in the farm system of St. Louis.
I feel so sorry for the Blues, what with the drop off between Schwartz/Tarasenko and Rattie. The latter has only managed 313 points in 252 games for the Portland Winterhawks, clearly showing the lack of an offensive upside.
Or the Blues could have a very scary offense for a long time to come. Either way, Western Conference beware, this is just the first wave of young talent to come from this lubriciously deep pipeline.
They make goalies do this stupid pose too? That doesn't seem fair.
There are three ways the goaltending situation could go for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Anders Lindback could establish himself as a legit, full-time and young starting netminder in the NHL, buying Andrey Vasilevskiy all the time he needs to develop his substantial talents.
Or Lindback could fall flat, clearing the way to the starting job in Tampa a bit earlier or expected.
Or-or Vasilevskiy could continue to improve and push Lindback for starts, creating a great netminding tandem for the Lightning in the next few years.
Goaltenders take a while to develop, so I wouldn't expect to see the ultra-talented Russian in the NHL with any sort of haste, but once he arrives, he'll be poised to make some noise in Florida.
Morgan Rielly is far and way the top prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs system, as well as the most coveted. Another offensive-defensemen, there wasn't anyone taken in 2012 who can move the puck from the backend like this kid can.
The fifth overall selection has posted 38 points in 42 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors while playing in the WHL this year. While his defensive work may need a little work, his first-pass ability and talent on the power play will likely be too tempting for the Leafs to resist for much longer.
Nicklas Jensen is one of a few bright spots among the prospects of the Vancouver Canucks.
The right wing decided to bolt to the Swedish Elite League to work on his game, and so far he hasn't looked the least bit lost. Jensen has always tilted towards the role of a goal scorer, and the larger players in Sweden haven't slowed that down one bit.
So far he's posted 15 goals in 42 games for AIK, and hasn't seen a major dip in awareness while playing a faster game. The former first-round selection has taken a bit of an odd road, but odds are it leads straight to the NHL.
For every 10 Russian players that come to the United States without incident, there is one player like Evgeni Kuznetsov to keep the "Russian Effect" from every fully going away.
I get that he wanted to finish out the terms of his contract in the KHL at first, but signing another two-year deal last May doesn't help matters.
The contract issues doesn't change the fact that Kuznetsov is arguably the best player not currently in the NHL. He's only 20, so the Washington Capitals can continue to be patient. They need to look no further than St. Louis to see how waiting out a Russian prospect of this caliber can go.
I can understand if some fans have an issue with Jacob Trouba getting the nod here over Mark Scheifele, but the latter just failed to stick with the Winnipeg Jets for a second straight year while the former was busy increasing his stock and winning a gold at the WJC tourney.
Few players caught my eye for the United States like Trouba, and I'm sure plenty of fans in Winnipeg will understand why. The guy seems to have a nose for the moment, laying big hits and scoring big points whenever his team needs them.
I'm mildly uncertain about what Winnipeg plans to do with Scheifele, but the future looks bright for Trouba.
Franklin Steele is a hockey analyst for the Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter if you're awesome.