As a fan of the NHL, it’s always interesting to look down the road and see what your team and all the other teams have coming up in the future. Several teams are set for a long time coming and will be amongst the NHL’s elite for a while. Others meanwhile aren’t in the safest place and could very well have some dark days looming on the horizon.
San Jose Sharks: Dark Future
San Jose is hanging on by the slightest thread. They’re an older team and a team that’s long period of success is resting on life support. Both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will be 36 next year, Antti Niemi is only an average goalie and the prospect pool for San Jose is terribly weak. After a stellar rookie season, Tomas Hertl has hit a bad sophomore slump raising some questions as to what his true identity is as an NHL player. After Hertl, who isn’t even considered a prospect anymore, the Sharks have defenseman Mirco Mueller and forward Nikolay Goldobin. Both players should become solid NHLers, but Goldobin isn’t going to be able to repalce Marleau or Thornton. The Sharks do still have Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski who are fantastic players, but defensively, their only real stud defenseman is Marc-Edouard Vlasic. At this point, the Sharks are coasting by because of Thornton and Marleau, and while Couture and Pavelski do lead the Sharks in scoring, Joe and Patrick provide the veteran leadership and an extra scoring punch, a scoring punch not easily replaceable. The biggest reason for the dark future for San Jose rests between the pipes. An average starter, an average backup and a hellacious prospect group at goalie, San Jose’s goaltending will likely drag down the rest of the team, and the Sharks won’t have enough firepower without Thornton and Marleau to overcome goaltending mediocrity.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Bright Future
Tampa Bay may be called the Lightning, but there aren’t any dark clouds coming to the Amalie Arena any time soon. The Bolts are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and are already amongst the NHL’s elite. They boast a fantastic young line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, all three are under 25 and they also have young guns Jonathan Drouin, Alex Killorn and Brett Connolly up front. It gets scarier too. The Bolts only have two forwards that are least 30 years of age and only 5 players total. They also have an elite goaltending prospect in Andrei Vasilevskiy along with a solid goaltender currently in the NHL in Ben Bishop. The rest of their prospect pool isn’t terrific, but they do have some nice players in Vladislav Namestnikov, Anthony DeAngelo, and Slater Koekkoek (how about that last name). Oh, and did I mention that they have some guy by the name of Stamkos? Yeah, he’s pretty good, and he’s the captain of what is going to be an elite hockey team for a long time coming.
Edmonton Oilers: Dark Future:
Edmonton is a very interesting case. They have a great group of young forwards in Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and the much disgruntled Nail Yakupov. The defensive prospects meanwhile aren’t fantastic, but Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Martin Marincin are serviceable. The issue for Edmonton does not rest on the players they have, though watching them attempt to play defense is like watching a bunch of monkeys trying to hump a football. The problem for Edmonton comes in their piss poor management. The Oilers can gather all the talent they want, but until they change the way they do business and run the team, no amount of talent will get them to the end of the tunnel. On top of that, while they do have young players, they have very few serviceable veterans. Plain and simple Edmonton needs guts. They need forwards that can go in the corner and fish the puck out for their scorers since their prized forwards are too worried about blemishing their looks (or for Jordan Eberle, widening the gap in his teeth) to go into the dirty areas on the ice.
By prospects alone, Edmonton would have a bright future. When factoring in management and the lack of grit however, Edmonton is still a long time away from replicating the days of Gretzky, Messier and the high flying Oilers of the 80’s.
Detroit Red Wings: Bright Future
How in the heck do they do it? How does Detroit keep gathering prospect after prospect after prospect? Well it’s really quite simple. Detroit is probably the best drafting team of all time and every year they scoop up one or two gems in the late rounds. From Zetterberg and Datsyuk to the more recent Nyquist and Tatar, the Wings have a knack of digging out the overlooked players and making them superstars. On top of Nyquist and Tatar, the Wings also have Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Danny DeKeyser, Petr Mrazek, Luke Glendening, Xavier Ouellet and Teemu Pulkkinen. In addition, they have all the veterans too like Datysuk, Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall. Those guys also don’t even begin to touch on the prospects they have in Grand Rapids and in juniors. Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin headline a list that also includes Martin Frk, Zach Nastasiuk, Ryan Sproul and Mattias Janmark amongst others. Detroit has made the playoffs in 23 straight seasons, and that’s a streak that doesn’t seem to be in any sort of jeopardy any time soon.
New Jersey Devils: Darkest Future
Ouch. That would be the way you could describe the Devils current outlook. To start with, they are the oldest team in the NHL with an average age of 30 years. That would be a concern for any team but when you add in the complete lack of forward prospects for the Devils, being successful in the future will be a daunting task. New Jersey is set in goal with Cory Schneider, and have a solid group of defensive prospects in Damon Severson, Steve Santini, Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill. When it comes to forward prospects though, the cupboards are more bare than Kim Kardashian’s butt in those photos. Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau are the only somewhat notable forwards and neither of them are projected to be more than 3rd liners, maybe 2nd liners at best. Matteau has had some attitude problems that seem to have passed, but even so he’s nothing too terribly special. The defense and goaltending for New Jersey look solid enough to compete but the conundrum at forward will lead to dark times for Lou Lamiorello and the Devils.
New York Islanders: Brightest Future
Take note everyone, the Islanders are back and in a big way. They stand atop the Eastern Conference right now and boast the best group of young players in the NHL. The current roster holds names such as Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Casey Cizikas and superstar John Tavares at forward.
The Islanders also do not have one forward over 30 besides Eric Boulton who almost never plays. The Islanders current defensive corps is only decent but does contain a terrific young player in Calvin de Haan along with other solid players in Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. In goal Jaroslav Halak isn’t a Vezina candidate but he’s serviceable to keep them in almost every game. Despite all that though, it’s the flourishing prospect pool that makes the Islanders future so promising. The Isles have not one, not two but three blue chip prospects in defensemen Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock and forward Michael Dal Colle. All three are projected to be top notch NHL players and when combined with the likes of Tavares and Okposo could create a juggernaut on Long Island and bring the Islanders back to the glory days of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and “Battlin” Billy Smith.