The key to long-term success in the NHL derives heavily from a fertile farm system. By accruing young talent via the draft -- or trades -- you can fortify your team in a position of strength, whether you're contending for the Cup or rebuilding your roster. The value of talented young prospects is two-fold. They can be cornerstones around which to construct a Cup contender. Or they can be currency, exchanged for vital pieces in the playoff puzzle.
The teams that endure atop the standings are those that have found a way to nurture their prospect pipeline while achieving playoff success and replenishing their depth charts with affordable (read: cap-friendly), young players with high-ceiling potential. Over the past season we saw a number of top prospects graduate to play pivotal roles for their NHL teams. Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn helped the Flyers exceed expectations after trading away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Chris Kreider supplied a postseason spark for the New York Rangers. Slava Voynov's growth allowed the Kings to trade away Jack Johnson and add Carter for their Cup run.
Which teams are ripe with prospects for the 2012-13 season? Our organizational rankings evaluate the developmental system of every NHL team to see which pipelines are supplying a steady stream of talent ... and which are running dry.
For the purposes of the rankings, we define prospects as all drafted players -- signed or unsigned -- who have yet to see regular action at the NHL level. For example, a player such as the Senators' Mark Stone -- called up for one playoff game -- retains his prospect status. Kreider, on the other hand, is now a veteran of 18 NHL games and excluded from consideration. With limited space to discuss each team's prospects, I focused on the most intriguing ones. If you have questions regarding prospects not mentioned, please feel free to post them in the comments section.
I considered several factors in making these evaluations, including the quality and the quantity of a franchise's prospects. Additionally, the closer to the NHL a prospect is, the more valuable he becomes because his potential becomes clearer. Time eliminates some of the guess work.
When we last examined these rankings, Florida and Minnesota topped the list. As we revisit them this summer ... those teams haven't gone anywhere. A playoff team last year, Florida could add highly touted C Jonathan Huberdeau to its ranks this fall. Meanwhile, Minnesota expects to receive huge contributions from C Mikael Granlund -- an addition who could be nearly as important as the wave-making signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
At No. 3, however, we see a team rising in the rankings after a strong haul at the 2012 entry draft. And things only get more interesting from there.
1. Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 1)
The Panthers have elite prospects and plenty of them. The offensive-minded Huberdeau (Saint John-QMJHL) heads up a list of players who have a chance to make an impact in the near future. Fellow forwards Quinton Howden (Moose Jaw-WHL) and Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota-NCAA) are joined by defensemen Alex Petrovic (RD-WHL) and Michael Matheson (Dubuque-USHL) -- this year's first-round selection -- to form a quality group of up-and-coming talents.
I imagine Huberdeau will stick in the NHL this season, while the rest of this group will marinate for another season.
Sleeper Prospect: Alexander Delnov, LW, (RUS) (fourth round/2012)
His effort is first-rate and his talent is better than the average fourth-rounder. I can see him being a steal down the line.