Many of you likely missed it yesterday afternoon making snow angels, watching football or decking the halls with bells of holly and others still may have seen and dismissed it, but Hockey's Future came out with their updated rankings of NHL team's prospects. Before I get to criticizing some details of the rankings, here's a few things you should know about the website. It's a fairly massive undertaking: they rank draft prospects, organizational prospects and provide history and 'talent analysis' sections for players on the site. Moreover, they rate a prospect with a number and a letter grade. The number is a subjective rating of their potential ceiling as a prospect (of course, there's no way to objectively rate a prospect with a number) and the letter grades the writer's perception of the player's likelihood to reach that ceiling. I will say this about Hockey's Future: It's a comprehensive website, easy to jump around and offers fine background information. It's also an ambitious project, which is to their credit. However, gathering plenty of information in one place has its limits, especially because once it gets dated and isn't changed to stay relevant, it actually becomes misinformation.
The analysis they provide can be helpful, but it can also seem slightly off, especially to those of us who closely monitor a particular team's depth. Also, it's often behind the times. For example, did you know Jakob Silfverberg is "investing one more year of development in the SEL to further progress the physical and mental elements of the game"? Still ranked as a 'C', I wonder what a player would have to do to become a 'B'? Perhaps winning an SEL championship and being league MVP might help give that boost. Similarly, I'm pretty sure his talent analysis has been the same for the last few years:
Silfverberg is a strong skating two-way forward with good hockey sense. He is a very smart and mature player and is solid both offensively and defensively. Silfverberg has good technical skills and plays with plenty of intensity. His shot is quick, but could be more accurate and he could stand to play more physical. Opinions about Silfverberg's career differ. Some see a potential star player in him, while other see his potential limited to that of a role player.
Indeed, we could go a little further in questioning those numbers (Mike Hoffman: 8.0 C is the highest prospect number in the organization. Mark Stone sits at 6.5), but I'd rather not. Not for lack of material to criticize, but because it would quickly grow tedious. Instead, I'd rather nitpick their latest rankings and the justification behind them. This year, they rank the Senators as having the fourth best organizational depth in the NHL-- no complaints here. Not yet, anyhow. Where they get into more contentious territory is with the minutiae of their criticism. Hockey's Future writes of the Senators:
Strengths: Ottawa has a talented group of talented, versatile forwards led by Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen, and Matt Puempel. Further down the depth chart, the Senators have many players with top-nine potential such as Shane Prince, Mark Stone, and Andre Petersson. They also possess a diverse group of defensive prospects led by offensive defenseman Cody Ceci and stay-at-home defenseman Fredrik Claesson. Goaltending prospect Robin Lehner is among the top netminders in the AHL.
Preaching to the choir for the most part, although I'm not particularly sold on Andre Petersson playing in anything but a top-six role. Top-nine is generous. If one wants to go there, look at a resurgent Derek Grant instead. They venture onward, beyond the relative safe footing of 'strengths':
Weaknesses: While the organization has several quality goaltending prospects, they are short on depth at that position. The Senators could also stand to add some more depth on the right wing.
You know the ranking is going to be high when the word count is about triple for the strengths what it is for the weaknesses. Still, I have some qualms here. The organization certainly does have 'several quality goaltending prospects' and I'm not sold that the primary weakness in our prospect depth is in nets. With Chris Driedger and Francois Brassard in the CHL putting up good figures, and Robin Lehner running the show in the AHL, the goaltending situation is far improved from where it has been in the last few years. That's true even without mentioning Ben Bishop, who Hockey's Future don't consider a prospect, but a player in the team's system. Goaltenders may be the most difficult position to project, giving strength in numbers, but a player like Robin Lehner should logically carry a little more weight than two late-round projects in net. The Minnesota Wild, who are ranked as the best in the league and do not have goaltending listed as a weakness, also do not have a goaltender as being among their top prospects. The Senators do.
Their criticism of the situation at right wing is a little more on the money. Ottawa only has three prospects at the position, although a few players at center could probably make the switch handily. Still, the three prospects are among the strongest Ottawa has in the system: Jakob Silfverberg, Mark Stone and Stefan Noesen.
None of this nitpicking should suggest Ottawa does not have deficiencies in their prospect depth. They do. But, in my opinion, if one is going to direct barbs at the team's prospect system in relation to others in the league, it would be at the relative lack of elite-level talent. Ottawa's management has compiled a cupboard stock-full of potentially important cogs, but if there is one place where one could spot weakness, it is in the lack of top-line players, depending on one's evaluation of players like Zibanejad, Silfverberg, Stone et al.
Finally, Hockey's Future offers their perception of the five best in the system:
1. Mika Zibanejad, C; 2. Jakob Silfverberg, RW; 3. Robin Lehner, G; 4. Stefan Noesen, RW; 5. Cody Ceci, D.
What say you?