Earlier this year we ranked the 30 NHL teams based on their drafted prospects and what each team has coming through its respective system. But one of our qualifications for evaluating those systems was that we discounted any player who had begun his entry-level contract. Now that the nine-game trial window for junior players has expired and a number of other rookies appear to be sticking with their NHL clubs, we're re-evaluating the rankings to account for those graduations as well as the early-season performances of the prospects still in the pipeline.
One thing to keep in mind before we get started: Just as before, in determining the total number of prospects for each team, we counted draft picks, signed or unsigned, and players on the respective reserve lists who have not cracked an NHL roster on a regular basis. The stats referenced below were current as of Nov. 8.
Here is how the teams shape up now that some young players have made the leap to the NHL.
1. Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 1)
D-man Erik Gudbranson (third overall, 2010 draft) has made the jump to the NHL, but the Florida Panthers remain locked and loaded with a fine stable of prospects, including Jonathan Huberdeau (third overall, 2011), who has been sent back to the Saint John Seadogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for seasoning and development. Already the Quebec League powerhouses looks like it they contend for a Memorial Cup repeat, and Huberdeau will be front and center in that effort.
Keep an eye on 6-foot-3 Quinton Howden (25th overall, 2010), who plays in Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League. After overcoming an upper-body injury, he is back and in five games through Nov. 8 he has four goals and four assists. Size, skating, skill ratio is a term we scouts use to help project prospects at the NHL level. Howden's ratio is terrific, and that could make him a potential force in the league.
The towering (6-5) Nick Bjugstad (19th overall, 2010) is off to a great start with eight goals and seven assists in 10 games with the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and he too heads up a long list of prospects waiting in the wings for Florida. His skating is strong for a player of his size and he's now translating into production and performance in college. Bjugstad will someday be a regular big man for the Panthers.