- Corey Pronman, ESPN Insider
When I ranked prospect pipelines last year, the No. 1 system was the Tampa Bay Lightning, who produced two Calder Trophy finalists and had many young players throughout the team playing noteworthy roles en route to being a top team in the Eastern Conference. This year's top system, the Buffalo Sabres, are unlikely to do the same this upcoming season, especially the latter component, as they are about three years away from making the jump to playoff contention.
Strength of an organizational pipeline is considered as the totality of the players they have, however, additional value is given to teams with the very best prospects. Depth is considered, but it's depth in terms of quality prospects -- players who could project as a top-nine and preferably a top-six forward, a top-four defenseman or a starting goaltender.
These organizational rankings are done as a snapshot in time. They are not meant to rank team's draft and development abilities, there is no adjustment for prior draft successes or success from current young players at the NHL level, and they can change significantly by midseason due to graduations and player development. The profiles of the organizations are meant to be summaries of the farm systems and not detail every major prospect in the pipeline. Omission of particular names does not mean they were not considered, and remember to check back next week, as we'll have in-depth write-ups on the top 10 prospects for each organization.
As with any of my prospect files, the criteria for a prospect to no longer be eligible are more than 25 regular-season games played in any season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.
Here is my ranking of all 30 NHL team pipelines as of this summer:
1. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres were tough on the eyes this past season. But at the prospect level, they have the best system in the NHL. With Rasmus Ristolainen graduated, eight of Buffalo's top 10 prospects are forwards, to go along with an elite defenseman prospect in Nikita Zadorov. In addition to the balance of forward positions, there is a balance of different playing styles. For instance, Sam Reinhart and Mikhail Grigorenko play different types of games than graduate Zemgus Girgensons. Hudson Fasching, J.T. Compher and Joel Armia are all different types of players, as well, yet are still top prospects. The future is bright in Buffalo, and not just because it's August.
Which NHL teams have the best prospect pipeline? Corey Pronman ranks them 1 through 30, with the Buffalo Sabres atop the list.