With the 2012-13 NHL season winding down, here is a look ahead. In this article, we rank the top 10 teams with the brightest future.
Obviously, we have to define "future" for the purposes of this discussion. It's not easy to go too far ahead, since things like upcoming draft choices, trades and injuries will all factor in to the equation. Some highly touted prospects will fail to reach their potential while other unheralded players will make a big impact that few people were expecting.
With all of that in mind, we will project three years ahead. That means we combine the foundation of teams as they now exist with an emphasis on younger players and prospects that are due to join the team. Having early draft picks also helps raise a team's ratings.
So, here are the top 10 team's with the brightest future. Feel free to comment and add a team you feel I left off the list, but tell who comes off the list to add your team and why your team deserves to be added.
The New York Islanders are heading slowly but surely in the right direction.
This year, they have a chance to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007.
They still haven't won a playoff series since 1993 when Al Arbour was the coach, but hey, one step at a time.
The Isles are built around John Tavares. The first overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft is still only 22 and continues to improve with each passing season. He is presently tied for third in the league in goals scored and 10th in the league in points.
The Islanders have some young players to complement Tavares, including Matt Moulson, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic. In goal, Kevin Poulin is considered the future, while Evgeni Nabokov presently tends the nets.
Former high draft picks like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey have not developed into stars but have filled in as useful second- and third-line players this season.
The Isles have plenty of strong prospects to look forward to like Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart, Brock Nelson and Calvin de Haan.
Assuming the team will spend a little more money once they move to Brooklyn in 2015, it should be able to supplement these prospects and become a competitive franchise for years to come.
The Winnipeg Jets are in a fight to make the playoffs this season, but their gradual rebuilding program seems to be taking root, and each year, the club is making progress.
The present-day Jets are built around young stars like Evander Kane (21), Alex Burmistrov (22), Paul Postma (23) and Zach Bogosian (22).
Key players like Dustin Byfuglien (28), Bryan Little (27) and Tobias Enstrom (28) are all under 30 and should have several quality years remaining.
Add highly ranked prospects like defenseman Jacob Trouba and center Mark Scheifele and you can see the future coming together in Winnipeg.
A lot of people may find it hard to believe, but the Florida Panthers do have a pretty bright future.
In the annual "Future Watch" issue of The Hockey News, the Panthers were listed as having the fourth-best group of prospects in the league.
The Panthers have three players in the issue's top 50 prospects, including forwards Jonathan Huberdeau (eighth) and Nick Bjugstad (36) and goalie Jacob Markstrom (30th).
The Panthers have been hit hard by injuries this season, but as a result, more than 10 players aged 25 or under have been on Florida's roster this season, giving them valuable experience as the team moves forward. It also gives GM Dale Tallon a chance to determine which of his young players are going to be a major part of this franchise's future.
The key to the future may be Markstrom, who has been considered one of the top goaltending prospects for the past few years.
Add the fact that Florida should have another lottery pick this season and you have the foundation of a much brighter future for the Panthers.
The Ottawa Senators are still in the playoff race this season despite a rash of injuries to key players that would devastate almost any other team.
Losing Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson for the season had to hurt the Sens, but remember that the swift Swede is only 22 and has yet to enter his prime. If Karlsson returns from injury and picks up even close to where he left off, the Senators have another highly coveted weapon to build around.
The Senators placed three players in the Hockey News' future watch issue's top 50, center Mika Zibanejad (17th), winger Jakob Silfverberg (18th) and goalie Robin Lehner (24th).
There are several other young stars on the Sens' roster like Kyle Turris (23) and recently acquired Cory Conacher (23).
Again, having a highly touted goaltending prospect certainly helps the Senators' cause. The injuries that have hit the team this season have given some of these prospects NHL action sooner than expected and many of them have proven equal to the challenge.
Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins have traded away assets this season near the trade deadline, including their first- and second-round pick in 2013 and a highly touted prospect in Joe Morrow, but there's a reason the Penguins are on this list.
The key core players on the Pittsburgh roster are still very young and should still be among the league's best in three years.
Sidney Crosby is 25, Evgeni Malkin 26, Marc-Andre Fleury is just 28, James Neal is 25 and so is defenseman Kris Letang.
The Penguins also have some solid prospects in defensemen Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot. Forward Beau Bennett had some time with the big club this year and showed potential to be a solid second- or third-line NHLer once he matures.
As long as players like Crosby, Malkin and Neal stay healthy, the Pens should be a contender in the Eastern Conference in the near future.
The Boston Bruins are another team that is successful right now that figures to continue to be contenders in years to come.
The Bruins have replaced Stanley Cup-winning goalie Tim Thomas with Tuukka Rask, who is just 26. They also drafted Malcolm Subban in the first round this past summer who is just 19 and their goalie of the future.
The nucleus of the Bruins is still young with rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton (19), Milan Lucic (24), Brad Marchand (24), David Krejci (26) and Tyler Seguin (21) all figuring to remain in their prime three years from now.
The Bruins' biggest obstacle may be replacing the leadership of captain Zdeno Chara, but talent-wise, the Bruins should still be near the top of the league in three years.
The Blue Jackets have only made the postseason once in their brief history, and they have yet to win a playoff game, but Columbus has clearly taken a big step forward this season and has the potential to be consistent contenders in the years to come.
First, let's not forget that John Davidson is now running the Blue Jackets, and they also have former Penguins GM Craig Patrick on their staff as an adviser. That's two very distinguished and respected hockey minds right there.
The Rick Nash trade gives Columbus an extra first-round pick this season, and it also gave them a respectable group of players to build around, including Artem Anisimov (24), Brandon Dubinsky (26) and Tim Erixon (21).
The Jackets also found a solid goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky who has given them the ability to stay in games they would have lost a year ago.
Ryan Murray is considered one of the best defensive prospects in the game although he is out for the rest of this season with a shoulder injury. Boone Jenner is also highly touted and figures to be a solid top-six center in the near future.
The Anaheim Ducks surprised a lot of people by leading the Pacific Division this year, but their future looks even brighter.
The Hockey News ranked Anaheim second in its "Future Watch" issue and gave the team four prospects in the top 60 (goalie John Gibson, defenseman Hampus Lindholm and forwards Rickard Rakell and Kyle Palmieri).
Gibson will probably not reach the NHL for another three years, but that's just about when Jonas Hiller will start to slow down, so the timing there appears good.
Add young pieces like Emerson Etem, Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa to the dynamic duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (both 27) and you can see a bright future for the Ducks in years to come.
The Edmonton Oilers are chock full of young talent, especially at forward.
Years of lottery picks have given Edmonton some dangerous young scorers like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Defenseman Justin Schultz and prospect Oscar Klefbom are important pieces of the puzzle on a blue line that needs to catch up to the talent available on the forward lines.
Goaltending remains a question mark. Is Devan Dubnyk the long-term answer? The jury is still out, but right now, the Oilers don't have anybody better on the roster.
Future drafts and trades may be needed to add balance, but the level of talent available for the Oilers is very impressive, and this club should be near the top of the league in goals scored three years from now.
The Minnesota Wild have added some key free agents who are still in their prime to supplement a crop of very highly touted prospects that were ranked third in "Future Watch" by The Hockey News.
Zach Parise (28) and Ryan Suter (28) should both still be in their primes in three years. So should Devin Setoguchi (26) and banger Cal Clutterbuck (25).
But young prospects like centers Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle and defensemen Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba give the Wild a potentially outstanding future.
The biggest issue facing the Wild in future years may be goaltending, where Niklas Backstrom is 35. Darcy Kuemper is big at 6'5", but if he's not the answer, the Wild may need to bring in a starting goalie once Backstrom starts to slow down.
Overall, however, the future in Minnesota is looking very bright.