With the new season just around the corner, it's time to go team-by-team and review the top prospects in each organization for the upcoming year. Let's get started with the Metropolitan Division.
(Notes: If a player has a number listed after his team, it represents his overall prospect ranking for the entire league. We rank the 100 top prospects. All stats listed are from 2013-14 season, any player with 25 or more games of regular season NHL experience are not included.)
1. Haydn Fleury (D, Red Deer-WHL, 34): The Hurricanes spent the seventh overall pick in this past June's draft on Fleury, which was right around where he was projected to be selected. Carolina's system is dreadful and Fleury is easily the top prospect there. He projects as a solid two-way defender who can log big minutes once he reaches the NHL. He will be given a long look at training camp, but he appears to be ticketed for one more season in the WHL.
2. Victor Rask (C, Charlotte-AHL): Rask had a dreadful season back in his draft year of 2011 and fell all the way to Carolina with the 42nd overall pick. His future looked a bit brighter after two solid seasons with Calgary (WHL), but he wasn't terribly impressive (39 P in 76 GP) in his first AHL season this past year. He has offensive ability -- and he's still just 21 -- but the odds are against him ever becoming a consistent NHL contributor at this point.
3. Alex Nedeljkovic (G, Plymouth-OHL): Cam Ward isn't getting any younger and there is no clear-cut No.1 guy in the Carolina system, so the Hurricanes were smart to spend a second-round pick this past June on Nedeljkovic. He's extremely athletic, battles hard and the only real concern scouts had about him was his size (6-1, 185 pounds). Nedeljkovic will head back to juniors and he has a realistic chance to make Team USA for the upcoming World Juniors in December.
Next In Line: Brett Pesce (D, University of New Hampshire), Warren Foegele (LW, St. Andrews- High School, Canada)
Columbus Blue Jackets
1. Alexander Wennberg (C, Frolunda-Sweden, 14): Wennberg's stock has really risen since he was taken 14th overall in the 2013 draft. He spent this past year playing in Sweden, but he will be given every opportunity to make the Jackets out of training camp this year. Wennberg needs to get stronger, but he's very responsible in his own zone for a kid his age and he has great hands. He's never played in North America before, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he needs some time in the minors to adjust to the smaller rink size.
2. Oscar Dansk (G, Erie-OHL, 25): Dansk came to North America immediately after being selected with the first pick of the second round in the 2012 draft. His first year in Erie, playing on a dreadful team, was awful. But this year, lead by Dansk and Conor McDavid, Erie became one of the best teams in the entire CHL. Dansk is big (6-3, 200 pounds) and takes up a ton of room in the net. He has little left to prove in the OHL and would be better served spending this upcoming year in the AHL. Simply put, Dansk is one of the best goaltending prospects in the league.
3. Kerby Rychel (C, Guelph-OHL, 31): A midseason trade from Windsor to Guelph gave Rychel a chance to suit up for the eventual OHL champions and also play in the Memorial Cup. He is another player with very little to prove in the OHL, but he's too young to play in the AHL, so if he doesn't make the Jackets out of camp, he has to head back to juniors. Rychel has tons of talent, but he tends to disappear for long stretches at a time and he really needs to work on his consistency. Not surprisingly, he played much better once he played alongside better players in Guelph.
Next In Line: Sonny Milano (LW, US NTDP-USHL, 70), Marko Dano (C, Bratislava-KHL, 93)
New Jersey Devils
1. Damon Severson (D, Kelowna-WHL, 78): Severson's game is lead by his bomb of a shot and his ability to get his team out of trouble in his own end. His offensive game really has taken off since he was selected 60th overall in the 2012 draft and he put up 15 goals and 61 points in 64 games for Kelowna this past season. The Devils are on record as saying Severson will be given an opportunity to make the team out of camp, but he figures to open the season in the AHL.
2. Steve Santini (D, Boston College-NCAA, 79): Santini is what he is. A big, tough defensive defenseman who has just enough offensive ability to chip in the odd point here and there. He actually was a bit better offensively (11 points in 25 games) in his freshman season at Boston College than I expected. He also represented Team USA at the World Juniors. He's still only 19, so he'll be back in the tournament once again this year. Santini will return to Boston College for his sophomore season in the fall.
3. Reid Boucher (LW, Albany-AHL, 87): Boucher was a big scoring star in the OHL and he had a productive first year in the AHL that lead to a 23 game trial with the Devils this past season. Boucher is generously listed at 5-11, 185 pounds. He's smaller than that. He definitely has the ability to score at the NHL level, but if he isn't playing a top-six role, there's really no reason for him to be on the team. The free agent additions of Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat don't help Boucher's chances of making the team out of camp. He'd be better off developing in the AHL than getting 10 minutes a night in the NHL.
Next In Line: Stefan Matteau (C, Albany-AHL), John Quenneville (C, Brandon-WHL)
New York Islanders
1. Griffin Reinhart (D, Edmonton-WHL, 9): The Isles have addressed their goaltending and forward situation this offseason, but they still have major questions on defense. Barring some sort of trade, Reinhart should open the season on Long Island. The Isles smartly (for a change) sent Reinhart back to Edmonton for another season and he responded by helping lead the Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup title. I don't think he'll ever be a huge point-producer at the NHL level, but I also don't think it will be very long before he's one of the Islanders' best defensemen.
2. Michael Dal Colle (LW, Oshawa-OHL, 28): The Islanders are actually very deep up front (especially after the signings of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin) which means the No. 5 overall pick from this past June's draft is likely ticketed for another season in Oshawa. Considering they won't be winning anything this year, it's for the best. Dal Colle has one of the best sets of hands around, but he struggles with consistency and the physical aspect of the game. These are the exact type of things that can be worked on in another year of junior hockey.
3. Josh Ho-Sang (C, Windsor-OHL, 88): Nobody has ever doubted Ho-Sang's offensive ability. It's his maturity level and character issues that have been questioned in the past. The Isles traded up into the end of the first round to pick him, so they obviously must be satisfied that he'll get his act together. If he does, he has the potential to be a steal. It doesn't help that Ho-Sang will be suspended for the first 15 games of next year's OHL season due to an illegal hit he threw in the playoffs this past year. But in the end, that should just be a minor blip on the radar.
Next In Line: Ryan Pulock (D, Brandon-WHL, 94), Ville Pokka (D, Karpat-Finland)
New York Rangers
1. Danny Kristo (RW, Hartford-AHL, 32): Offensively, Kristo was ready for the NHL as soon as he stepped off the North Dakota campus in spring 2013. But the rest of his game hasn't developed as quickly as the Rangers would have liked, and as a result he has yet to make his NHL debut. He did have a productive first professional season last year with 25 goals and 43 points in 65 games played for Hartford, but his defensive zone play still needs work and since he isn't big (5-11, 185 pounds), he'll never be a physical asset. If he doesn't take another step forward this season, Kristo is going to be passed by several of the up-and-coming prospects in the Rangers system.
2. Brady Skjei (D, University of Minnesota-NCAA, 54): Skjei's development has gone just as the Rangers would have hoped in his sophomore year at Minnesota, helping lead the Gophers to the NCAA title game. He has great size (6-3, 205 pounds) and is an elite skater, but his offensive game took a step forward this year when he tallied 14 points, as opposed to the three he put up in his freshman year. He also played a big role on Team USA at the World Juniors. Skjei considered signing with the Rangers this summer, but has decided to return to school for his junior year. He should take on an even bigger role for the Gophers next season and he will likely sign his first NHL deal next summer.
3. Anthony Duclair (LW, Quebec-QMJHL, 66): Duclair's dreadful 2012-13 performance (20 goals, 50 points in 55 games) turned him from a potential early first-round pick into a late third rounder. The Rangers happily grabbed him 80th overall and he proceeded to turn in one of the best seasons of any prospect in the league this past year. Duclair had 50 goals and 99 points in 59 games with Quebec before a concussion ended his season early and forced him to miss the playoffs. He's fully healthy now and will look to impress the Rangers brass in training camp. In all likelihood, he's ticketed for one more season in Quebec where the Rangers will hope he continues his stellar play.
Next In Line: Pavel Buchnevich (LW, Cherepovets Severstal-KHL, 67), Dylan McIlrath (D, Hartford-AHL)
1. Shayne Gostisbehere (D, Union College-NCAA, 33): Gostisbehere put on one of the great performances in NCAA hockey history to help lead Union to the 2014 National Championship. Immediately after the season ended, Gostisbehere decided to forgo his senior season and sign with the Flyers. He finished the season playing in the AHL and he figures to start next season at the same level. Gostisbehere is small (5-11, 170 pounds) but he's fairly solid in his own zone and he's always put up big point totals in college. I fully expect him to make his NHL debut at some point next season.
2. Scott Laughton (C, Oshawa-OHL, 52): For no good reason, the Flyers decided to have Laughton start the lockout-shortened season two years ago in the NHL. He played just five games before being shipped back to Oshawa, where he spent this past season as well. Laughton has always been a consistent scorer at the junior level, but I don't see it continuing at the NHL level. He's more of an effective third-liner, penalty-killing type. He will challenge for a roster spot in camp and will head to the AHL if he fails to make the team.
3. Samuel Morin (D, Rimouski-QMJHL, 59): Defensemen who are 6-foot-7 generally take a long time to develop, but Morin has come a long way in the year since the Flyers took him 11th overall in the 2013 draft. Morin is still learning how to use his size to his advantage, but he logs big minutes. While it will never be the strength of his game, his offense has taken a step forward. The Flyers have seven defensemen signed to NHL contracts for this upcoming season, so I don't see any room for Morin to make the team. He's looking at one last season in the QMJHL.
Next In Line: Travis Sanheim (D, Calgary-WHL), Anthony Stolarz (G, London-OHL)
1. Derrick Pouliot (D, Portland-WHL, 14): To nobody's surprise, Pouliot had another monster season (17 goals, 70 points in 58 games) for WHL powerhouse Portland. Unfortunately, after the season it was revealed that Pouliot would need shoulder surgery. He underwent the operation in late May and he is expected to miss four to six months. Pouliot thinks he'll be ready to play by the end of training camp, but there were some reports that he wouldn't be ready to return until late November. Once he's ready to play, Pouliot will head to the AHL. Assuming his shoulder is fully healed, he should make his NHL debut at some point this upcoming season.
2. Kasperi Kapanen (RW, KalPa-Finland, 45): Kapanen was the best player at the Penguins development camp this summer and as a result there has already been talk of him breaking camp with the team. It's an awful lot to ask of a kid who didn't turn 18 until late July. Kapanen has spent the last two seasons playing against men in his native Finland, so he does have that on his side. Kapanen also plays an extremely smart game for a kid as young as he is. Even if he does make the team, he doesn't figure to be worth a Fantasy selection in year one.
3. Scott Harrington (D-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-AHL, 71): Harrington is the type of player who is far more valuable in real life than he would be on a Fantasy roster. He is known for his defensive play, positioning and making a solid first pass out of his own zone. His first professional season in the AHL resulted in 24 points in 76 games. I actually expect that number to drop at the NHL level. He's another player who figures to open the season in the AHL and make his NHL debut at some point during the season.
1. Evgeny Kuznetsov (C, Chelyabinsk-KHL/Washington-NHL, 2): It took nearly four years to get Kuznetsov to come to North America (he was the 26th overall pick in the 2010 draft), but he was very impressive once he arrived. He finished the season in Washington, putting up nine points in his first 17 games in the NHL. The Caps are counting on him to take an even bigger step forward this season. He's going to be behind Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in the pecking order, but players with Kuznetsov's offensive ability don't come around very often and he should make for a solid Fantasy selection this season.
2. Andre Burakovsky (LW, Erie-OHL, 11): Burakovsky's first season in North America was a success. He teamed with Conor McDavid to give Erie the most explosive duo in the OHL and finished the year with 41 goals and 87 points in 57 games. Burakovsky is an offensive player. His defensive and physical play still needs work. The Caps spent nearly every dollar they had available to them this offseason on defensemen (especially on Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik) and as a result, I think Burakovsky has at least a 50/50 chance to crack the Caps roster out of camp. If he ends up alongside Ovechkin, Backstrom, or Kuznetsov, Burakovsky could be a Fantasy option in year one.
3. Jakub Vrana (C, Linkoping-Sweden): Vrana (selected 13th overall this past June) is a typical Caps draft pick. Highly skilled, who needs work in other areas of his game. Vrana needs to get stronger and his defensive play needs a ton of work. But he has a touch around the net that you can't teach and that has been the kind of attribute the Caps scouting staff has valued for the past several drafts. By all accounts, Vrana was one of the best players at the Caps prospect camp this summer.
Next In Line: Riley Barber (RW, Miami University (Ohio)-NCAA), Madison Bowey (D, Kelowna-WHL)