Welcome to my inaugural ranking of every NHL team’s prospect pools.
Over the next 30 days, I will count down to the NHL organization with the best collection of prospects, with each team’s best players ranked within that system. With this page updating daily, the project will include evaluations and commentary from coaches and staff on more than 500 prospects.
These evaluations (both of each team’s pool on the whole and their individual players) are developed out of countless hours of in-person and on-video assessment.
In many cases, I have tracked these players across repeated viewings spanning several years. In others, I may have seldom seen select players and have made efforts throughout the preparation and authoring of this series to learn more about them from those more in the know than I (be it coaches, managers, agents or other evaluators).
For more insight into my experience, my process, the things I look for, and my potential biases and limitations, check out my guide to scouting. And for a second opinion on almost all of these players, check out the work of The Athletic’s Corey Pronman in his NHL farm system rankings, released each summer.
If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll know how this is going to work. If you’re new to it, here’s a brief explainer of my criteria before you jump in.
To be eligible for inclusion as a prospect, a player must be:
- Under 23 years old. We now know that by the time a player turns 23, he is largely done the steep upward progression we see in prospects and will begin to plateau.
- Not currently in the NHL, with rare exceptions for players who I believe could still bounce between levels and aren’t yet considered full-time NHLers by their teams. Though this is the only arbitrary section of the criteria, preference for exemption was given to teenaged players, rather than 22-year-olds.
- Either signed to an NHL contract or selected in the entry draft, without the expiration of either of those rights.
This means that players who are signed to AHL contracts, or those whose rights have expired, were not considered. Because we also know that goalies develop at a slower rate than skaters, I set the goalie age cutoff at under-24, instead of under-23.
In the interest of giving you an expansive look at every team’s potential NHL prospects, each team’s ranking will run a minimum of 15 players deep. In the interest of keeping those rankings to players who I believe have even a remote chance at the NHL, I have capped the rankings at a maximum of 20 players. As a result, the teams that rank lowest in the league will feature shorter lists of players, while the teams with the best prospect pools will feature 20. Unless I make particular mention of a player who didn’t crack a team’s top 20, it means I don’t believe that prospect has NHL upside.
As always with my prospect rankings, the rankings will be broken down into team-specific tiers in an effort to provide you with better insight into the distinction between Player A and Player B, as well as a sense for the potential fluidity within groups of tightly-ranked prospects.
Skill is paramount. Throughout these rankings, you will notice consistent emphasis is placed on upside. That will often mean that I have players I believe have a chance to play in a scoring role or in a team’s top-four on defense ranked higher than those who may have already played NHL games but project into depth roles. Increasingly, star-level talent will define success in the NHL. In a cap world, players who have a chance to make an impact during their entry-level contracts have become the game’s most valuable commodity. I believe teams should be drafting and signing prospects based on that premise and that, in the long run, those are the teams that will distinguish themselves in a league built on parity. My rankings should reflect that.
28. Pittsburgh Penguins
29. Washington Capitals
30. Boston Bruins
31. Columbus Blue Jackets
(Top photo: Dave Reginek/Getty Images)