As we are all sitting in quarantine, itching for hockey content, sports outlets still have to keep producing. As rumors of the NHL season returning float around, NHL on NBC decided to take it upon themselves to rank which teams have the brightest future ahead.
This got a lot of people talking. It’s quite evident that the Lightning and Avalanche, teams flustered with young talent, would top that list. However, all bias aside, is it correct to crown the Penguins and Capitals in the top five over the Flyers?
To start this off, it’s important to define what will be determining the grades of a “bright future” in this article. Their current record, the average age of the current team, the potential of current players, and talent in the pipeline (AHL, ECHL, and draft picks) will all be used to rank the Metropolitain teams for their 5-10 year potential.
2019-2020 Record: 41-21-7
Average Age: 27.2 (9th Youngest)
Future Grade: A-
This season was a true breakout season for the Flyers. They have surged from sixth in the division to battling for the top spot in the Metro this season. Philadelphia has their franchise goalie sitting at a mere 21-years-old, with key contributors in Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier, Phillipe Myers, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov, and Kevin Hayes under 27-years-old and hitting their primes.
Already on their roster, they are also stacked with young talent. The likings of Nolan Patrick, Oskar Linblom (hopefully), Joel Farabee, and Morgan Frost are no older than 23-years-old. Nic Aube-Kubel and Robert Hagg are solid bottom-line & pairing options, neither older than 24.
Down in their pipeline is where things get even more interesting. Recent draft picks Bobby Brink and Cam York are each NHL-caliber prospects. Cam York was the number one guy on a stacked USNTDP team, largely due to his elite hockey sense. He’s patient, makes good decisions, and seems to slow the game down for the entire team. Undrafted Yegor Zamula is also impressing in his development. He’s a very smart defender who seems to do all of the little things right.
On top of these two, the Flyers drafted another potential steal, Ronnie Attard, in the third round in 2019, while Linus Sandin, Wade Allison and Wyatte Wylie have each recently signed ELC’s as well. Keep an eye on Mason Millman too, who’s insane hockey IQ alone could score him a spot on the roster in the years to come.
Throw all these guys together with 3-5 years of Claude Giroux and Jake Vorcaek, and the Flyers have a dominant roster in the years to come.
New York Rangers
2019-2020 record: 37-28-5
Average Age: 26.2 (Youngest in league)
Coming into the season, New York was granted the best pipeline system in the NHL by Elite Prospects. After years of a dismal prospect pool, the Rangers finally got back on their feet. They were on their way to a late-season playoff push as the season was suspended.
28-year-old Artemi Panarin is one of the league’s best offensive players, but what truly makes this team fascinating going forward is the young talent around him. Mika Zibanejad averaged over a point-per-game this season and sits at a mere 26 years old. Aside from getting sharpshooter Kaapo Kakko in the recent draft, the Rangers have some other notable names in their system. Vitali Kravtsov was ranked fifth out of all NHL prospects heading into this season. D-men Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller are expected to be atop their position in the coming years.
As for goaltending, they have two outstanding young goalies (Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev) in their system as well. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the East soon enough.
New Jersey Devils
2019-2020 record: 28-29-12
Average Age: 26.9 (8th Youngest)
The New Jersey Devils are a very interesting team to talk about. After acquiring American star Jack Hughes in the draft and Nico Heisher in 2017, while also making trades for P.K. Subban and Nikita Gusev, they were on paper to be competing for a playoff spot.
However, their team just continues to fail to produce. They are a very young team, sitting at the eighth youngest in the league. Veteran Kyle Palmieri, who is only 28 himself, has had another down season point-wise.
Mackenzie Blackwood has drawn a plethora of comparisons to Carter Hart. These comparisons, despite debate on Twitter, are much closer than most casual fans think. A mere 23-years-old, Blackwood has a .915 save percentage with a 2.77 GAA for his career, with a pretty dismal defense in front of him.
Instead of a rebuild nearing its end, as was expected, the Devils seem to be entering the beginning stages of a brand new rebuild. Sitting in their system, Ty Smith and Jesper Boqvist are positioned to be in their NHL lineup sooner rather than later. New Jersey may just need a coaching change or something, but they have the talent to be a good team. But hey, maybe this is the sign of another top pick in the draft soon?
2019-2020 record: 41-20-8
Average Age: 29 (7th oldest)
Look, the Washington Capitals are a very good (regular season) hockey team; they have been for a little over a decade now. As long as they have Alex Ovechkin, they’ll be somewhat competitive.
The bad part for Washington is, however, that their top three-point scorers are at least 30 years old. One of the greatest goal scorers of all-time, Alex Ovechkin, is 34, with John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom sitting at 30 and 32, respectively. Along with those guys comes 33-year-old T.J. Oshie, who even feels like he’s been around forever.
Their top talent revolves around that group, and they have experienced a lot of success with that core. However, trading picks were involved in that process. They also have a really nice wave of young talent starting to emerge with players like Ilya Samsonov and Jakub Vrana, but these guys are nowhere near the talent of their core group.
Their all-star goaltender Brayden Holtby looks to be replaced by their top prospect, Ilya Samsonov, in the coming years. Samsonov and their most recent top pick, Connor McMichael, top their very shallow prospect pool.
New York Islanders
2019-2020 Record: 35-23-10
Average Age: 28.8 (8th Oldest)
The New York Islanders are one of those teams that you hardly hear about year-after-year. Similar to the Flyers, it seems like it’s routine to alternate playoff year vs. down year. After finishing in the top three of the division, they seem to fall to the bottom three the following year, only to shoot back up to the top three. The consistency is pretty remarkable.
For starters, the reason that they have a B- instead of a C+ is because of Mathew Barzal. At 22, Barzal is putting up incredible numbers and only has a brighter future ahead. However, he may be the only “star” on that roster.
Their lack of star power is beginning to hold them back, but they have a pretty gleaming pipeline. They have great talent in the system, but a few other teams in the division are just above them.
Sitting in their farm system is their very own Sebastian Aho; the same name and everything. Already on their team is Noah Dobson, a long-term d-man in the making. Dobson’s fellow 2018 first-rounder Oliver Wahlstrom had turned pro at the end of 2018-19 and looks to crack more stable playing time in the years to come. Additionally, goaltender Ilya Sorokin still has starter potential and will remain in Russia for at least another season after earning KHL playoff MVP honors last year.
2019-2020 Record: 40-23-6
Average Age: 27.7 (12th Youngest)
It’s no secret that the Penguins have been one of the best hockey teams since Crosby and Malkin were paired up. However, they are on a track to demise as soon as they are gone.
The only reason the Penguins get a “plus” in the D+ grade is that they are in for likely three-five more years of the group of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel. Pittsburgh essentially went all in the past five years, going into win-now mode by trading five years straight of first-round picks. 2019 was the first year since 2014 that they picked in the first round when they took Kasperi Kapanen.
Using ESPN’s draft rating system, they are one of the only teams without an “A” rated prospect. Calen Addision looks like he’ll be a top-four d-man down the line, except it’ll be for the Minnesota Wild. The Penguins traded their top prospect to the Wild in the Zucker trade in Feburary, depleting their prospect pool even more.
The Penguins going all-in definitely paid off, as they gained three Stanley Cups since the 2008-2009 season. And honestly, fans should be happy with that; I know I’d say it’s worth it. However, for the sake of their future, they’ll likely need to rely on free agency if they want to maintain for the years to come.
2019-2020 Record: 38-25-5
Average Age: 26.7 (5th Youngest)
The Carolina Hurricanes shocked the entire NHL when their young roster made an Eastern Conference Finals run last season.
They not only have one of the better rosters in the league on paper, but have an even better prospect pool. Their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, have the Calder Cup championship to prove it as well.
The thing about the ‘Canes is that they get scoring from multiple players. They don’t have a sure-fire superstar on paper yet, but they have three guys, all 25 and under (Aho, Teravainen, Svechnikov) who put up at least 61 points in their 68 games. Rod Brind’Amour has proven to be a great talent developer down in Carolina and has even more talent coming soon.
2019 draft additions Ryan Suzuki and Patrik Puistola look like they could end up being steals. Martin Necas, Morgan Geekie, Julien Gauthier, Jake Bean, Janne Kuokkanen, and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic all have been contributing heavily to the AHL. In fact, Necas & Geekie earned a couple of NHL call ups this season as well.
On top of this talent pool, Jordan Staal is still *only* 31, and serves as a great leader to the young group. The Hurricanes are very similar to the Flyers, and both teams look to lead the Eastern Conference for the next few years.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2019-2020 Record: 33-22-15
Average Age: 26.2 (2nd Youngest)
The Blue Jackets have always maintained an average farm system. They may have lost Sergei Bobrovsky, however they have three more goalie prospects lined up to rule the helm for the coming years. Elvis Merzlikins has already made his NHL presence known, as Veini Vehvilain and Daniil Tarasov are sitting in the trenches.
Emil Bemstrom, Vladislav Gavrikov, Elvis Merzilikins, Eric Robinson, and Alexandre Texier have all graduated to the big leagues, all of who were top prospects in their pipeline. They traded away Vitaly Abravmov and Jonathan Davidsson, but still have Liam Foudy and Kirill Marchenko, both who look to be NHL regulars in the coming years.
As for now, Columbus is brought hope by their very young roster putting them into playoff contention already. Their leading points grabber, Pierre-Luc Dubois, is a mere 21 years of age. Joonas Korpisalo, their starting goalie, is only 25. They may not have the talent the Flyers, Hurricanes, and Rangers have, but they’ll look to compete for the next 5-8 years.
The Round Up
The Metropolitan Division is arguably the best division in all of hockey right now. With the exception of the Devils, the top team and second to last team are only separated by 11 points. The close competition does not look to be going anywhere, either.
While near dynasties like the Capitals and Penguins begin to hand over their Metro-crowns in the coming years, teams like the Flyers, Hurricanes, and Rangers look to battle for it, while the Devils, Islanders and Blue Jackets will look for their opportunities to get into the top three.
Data driven from: https://thehockeywriters.com/nhl-farm-system-rankings/ and https://www.espn.com/nhl/insider/story/_/id/27552394/ranking-nhl-prospect-pools-top-prospects-breakouts-more-all-31-teams#nj for some help
Mandatory Credit – © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports