Ranking the Top 10 NHL Prospect Pools After the 2017 Draft

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJune 27, 2017

Ranking the Top 10 NHL Prospect Pools After the 2017 Draft

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    NHL teams have been stocking prospect cupboards for 100 years and it remains a staple of success. In fact, procurement of youngsters is even more important in the salary-cap era, when players are being lost to free agency or trade every summer. 

    An excellent example of the importance of having a strong prospect system is the quick turnaround by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The club improved by 36 points in the standings in the 2016-17 season partly due to a historic rookie class. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner all posted more than 60 points, while Toronto got 20 goals from Connor Brown. Effective defensive play by Nikita Zaitsev and strong two-way play by Zach Hyman were also part of the monster crop of freshman.

    That's the goal for the other 30 NHL teams, while the Maple Leafs attempt to maintain the team's current status as an outstanding producer of NHL talent. Here are the top 10 prospect pools in the NHL after last week's 2017 draft. 

10. Vegas Golden Knights

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Existing Talent

    The Vegas Golden Knights' management needed to aggressively pursue prospects and picks during the expansion draft and were dogged in their determination. Many fans were disappointed in the split priority of drafting an NHL team and adding useful draft assets, but the payoff comes in a handsome prospect pool. Among the quality prospects and young NHL players acquired during the expansion draft process were Shea Theodore, Alex Tuch and Brendan Leipsic. 

         

    2017 Draft

    We'll be talking about the Vegas draft haul of 2017 for a long time, as a dozen picks were collected by the Golden Knights. First-rounders Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki represent some of the best available at the center position during the draft. A Swedish defender, Eric Brannstrom, should also be considered top quality. 

          

    Summary

    The biggest challenge for general manager George McPhee in June was figuring out how to ice a competitive team while also adding enough prospects to create a credible pool. It's an open question as to how good the first edition of the Golden Knights will be, but management and scouts appear to have hit a home run in amateur procurement. 

9. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Existing Talent

    The Columbus Blue Jackets enjoyed a wonderful season from impact rookie Zach Werenski in 2016-17, and forward Oliver Bjorkstrand took another step on his way to becoming an NHL player. Top-flight prospects in the system include Pierre-Luc Dubois, Sonny Milano, Andrew Peeke, Vitaly Abramov and Gabriel Carlsson

          

    2017 Draft

    Columbus traded its first and second picks, so it was forced to trade back into Round 2 in order to secure Alexandre Texier. The club also surprised some by securing Russian goalie Daniil Tarasov despite the fact he didn't play in 2016-17. 

           

    Summary

    If you believe Dubois, Milano and Abramov are outstanding NHL prospects, then the Blue Jackets have more than enough to cover this ranking. Even if fans are beginning to wonder about Milano, who has now played two full AHL seasons, Columbus has so much talent bubbling up every year. That quality and depth allowed the team to close the mammoth Artemi Panarin trade recently, partly due to the inclusion of goalie prospect Anton Forsberg

8. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Existing Talent 

    The Toronto Maple Leafs had a jaw-dropping rookie crop in 2016-17, one of the best in the game's history. Just as amazing, the club has enough in the prospect pool to rank among the league's 10 best again this summer. Among the most impressive prospects bubbling under are Kasperi Kapanen, Jeremy Bracco and Yegor Korshkov.

          

    2017 Draft

    Toronto doesn't make this list without a strong draft in 2017 and a stroke of luck. One of the best prospects in the draft, Timothy Liljegren, saw his draft stock fall during the season. The Maple Leafs were able to get him at No. 17 overall and now have a perfect fit right defenseman to add to what is an exceptional young team. 

          

    Summary

    Added to the group of young players who were rookies in 2016-17, the combination of Liljegren and the group of prospects drafted in 2015 and 2016 should transform the Maple Leafs to a power in the Eastern Conference. Toronto hasn't celebrated a Stanley Cup since 1967, but that drought may come to an end in the next several years. 

7. Arizona Coyotes

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Existing Talent

    The Arizona Coyotes at the NHL level look like a chaotic crew undergoing a power struggle. General manager John Chayka has an enormous stockpile of young talent, as shown by his ability to acquire veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, goalie Antti Raanta and center Derek Stepan last week. Chayka was able to do it without touching on a fantastic prospect group led by Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome and Christian Fischer. 

           

    2017 Draft

    The New York Rangers acquired the No. 7 overall selection in the big trade that brought Stepan and Raanta west, but Arizona had another first-round pick. Pierre-Olivier Joseph is a highly regarded defenseman who began a run on the position by the Coyotes. The overall quality of the Arizona draft lacked the spectacular, but it could be termed productive in quality and depth. 

          

    Summary

    It's clear Arizona is going through some shuffling that often occurs with ownership changes, with losing and with disagreements between coaches and management. Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic detailed the thinking of former coach Dave Tippett through the process that ended with his leaving the organization.

    The Coyotes had a productive group of 2016-17 rookies, led by Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun. The prospect base remains one of the NHL's best, with Keller and Strome seemingly ready to take the next step. The lack of a top-10 pick in 2017 was offset by the acquisition of useful veterans for the big league club. That's exactly how a smart team uses excess prospect talent.

    There's plenty to worry about when it comes to the Coyotes, but the prospects continue to bubble up with great consistency. 

6.Carolina Hurricanes

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Existing Talent

    The Carolina Hurricanes saw Sebastian Aho emerge as an outstanding NHL rookie during the 2016-17 season. There's more high quality on the way, including defenders Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean along with marksman Julien Gauthier. 

         

    2017 Draft

    The Hurricanes had one of the NHL's best drafts in 2017. The club started with brilliant offensive talent Martin Necas and followed up with Luke Martin, Morgan Geekie and Stelio Mattheos. A draft pool that some described as below average could be productive for Carolina. 

           

    Summary 

    Carolina has always marched to its own beat at the draft table and mostly come away with quality results. Aho is an example of the club's ability to find gems outside the first round, and we saw that talent on display at the 2017 draft. The Hurricanes may lack an impact prospect, but the sheer number of upper-level players gets them inside the top 10. 

5. Winnipeg Jets

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Existing Talent

    For an organization to send an impact rookie like Patrik Laine to the NHL and still have one of the best prospect pools is an accomplishment. For a team to do it without going through a massive rebuild should be breaking news, but the Jets aren't a famous hockey team. 

         

    2017 Draft

    The Jets had to wait until selection No. 24 to make a pick but still acquired quality with big Finnish winger Kristian Vesalainen. The club's second-round pick, Minnesota high school defender Dylan Samberg, is also considered a quality prospect. 

          

    Summary

    Winnipeg has several candidates who can step into the lineup this fall as impact rookies. Kyle Connor has played 20 NHL games after showing he could deliver in the AHL with 25 goals in 52 games. Jack Roslovic had a similar experience with the Manitoba Moose and will push for playing time this winter. Chase De Leo could also step up and help the NHL club from the farm. 

    The Jets don't make a lot of trades and are shy in free agency. The strength of the organization comes through the draft and procurement of college and CHL free agents. Winnipeg has become very good at it, as is proved by the club's perennial appearances on lists that reflect strong prospect talent pools. 

4. Boston Bruins

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    Existing Talent

    The Boston Bruins had an impressive rookie in Brandon Carlo and received solid work from men like Austin Czarnik. Emerging talents include Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, Zachary Senyshyn and Charlie McAvoy, the jewel of the organization. Trent Frederic was a maligned prospect on his draft day but has performed very well since.

            

    2017 Draft

    Urho Vaakanainen is one of seemingly dozens of smooth-skating Finnish defenders, and the Bruins stepped up to take him a little ahead of his projection. Jack Studnicka is a solid two-way center who might be a little shy offensively but plays an intelligent game.  

          

    Summary

    Boston has one of the best talent pools in the NHL, including McAvoy and six first-round picks in the last three summers. By sheer number, and by early signals, the Bruins have cobbled together one of the NHL's best feeder systems in a short period of time. 

3. New Jersey Devils

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    Existing Talent

    The New Jersey Devils welcomed a large group of rookies to the NHL last season, led by Pavel Zacha, Steven Santini and Miles Wood. General manager Ray Shero drafted a small army of prospects in 2016, and that group is showing some very good early signs. Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Joey Anderson and Brandon Gignac are solid to excellent prospects. John Quenneville is from the 2014 draft and looks ready to contribute at the NHL level. 

           

    2017 Draft

    The Devils got the No. 1 prize on the board in Nico Hischier and followed up with several astute picks. Jesper Boqvist, Fabian Zetterlund, Reilly Walsh and Nikita Popugaev are all worth noting in the days after the draft. New Jersey is drafting about 10 players a year over the last two drafts, so by sheer numbers, the prospect pool is going to spike. 

          

    Summary

    The only negative thing one can say about the Devils' prospect pool is that it lacks top-end defensemen. As the team continues to add talented forwards, Shero should be able to address the imbalance via trade. For now, fans can be content in the knowledge that impact prospects are developing and should lead the team in the near future. 

2. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Existing Talent

    The Philadelphia Flyers saw two tremendous rookies impact the NHL in 2016-17. Defenseman Ivan Provorov and center Travis Konecny posted terrific numbers while playing prominent roles. The Flyers still have a substantial group of youngsters, led by defensemen Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers, goalie Carter Hart and forward Oskar Lindblom. 

         

    2017 Draft

    General manager Ron Hextall remains aggressive in procurement. He traded veteran winger Brayden Schenn on the draft floor in order to add prospect Morgan Frost at No. 27 overall. Added to the team's earlier pick of Nolan Patrick at No. 2, it assured Philadelphia would come away with one of the strongest draft hauls of any of the 31 teams. 

         

    Summary

    The hardest thing for a building organization to do is contend for a playoff spot while also rebuilding on the fly. Ron Hextall appears to be attempting and succeeding in accomplishing it. Flyers fans should expect Patrick, Sanheim and possibly Lindblom to make some noise in the NHL this coming season, and there will still be plenty of talent bubbling under in the minors and across the hockey world. 

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Existing Talent

    The Tampa Bay Lightning are very good at finding talent. They found Brayden Point playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2014, spending a third-round pick on him. Two years later, he's in the NHL. Unlike many teams who appear on this list, the Lightning players who will emerge from the draft lists don't come from the lottery zone. Taylor Raddysh, who is ripping up the OHL, was chosen in the second round in 2016. Tampa has unlocked something about prospects and seem to have a patent on the intelligence. 

          

    2017 Draft

    Cal Foote is a quality selection and a two-way defenseman the club can afford to be patient with over the next couple of years. Russian forward Alexander Volkov is a quality pick, but we might not hear about him until the end of the decade. Alexei Lipanov is a Russian center who will play for the Barrie Colts of the OHL next season; he might end up being one of the best centers from the 2017 draft. The Lightning are really good at drafting players like Lipanov in the third round. They selected Cole Guttman late and he could end up being an NHL player because he can score goals. 

           

    Summary

    Not every player drafted by the Lightning in the 2017 draft will make it. That's not the point. The point is that all of the team's picks have a chance to make it. Tampa Bay has applied the lessons of Brayden Point to this year's draft and given themselves a wonderful chance to be successful.