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Part 26 in my "State of the Franchise" series. Final 5! Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great. Current Rankings List: 5. Chicago 6. Montréal 7. NY Rangers 8. Anaheim 9. Pittsburgh 10. Buffalo 11. Ottawa 12. Minnesota 13. Colorado 14. Phoenix 15. Detroit 16. Toronto 17. Boston 18. Washington 19. Winnipeg 20. Tampa Bay 21. Carolina 22. Los Angeles 23. Philadelphia 24. Nashville 25. New Jersey 26. Dallas 27. Calgary 28. Vancouver 29. Columbus 30. San Jose ------------------ #5: Chicago Blackhawks Top Fws: Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane Top Ds: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook Top G: Corey Crawford Top 3 Under-23s: 1. F Patrick Kane (23) 2. D Nick Leddy (21) 3. F Marcus Kruger (22) Top 5 Prospects 1. F Teuvo Teravainen (17) 2. F Brandon Saad (19) 3. F Jeremy Morin (21) 4. F Mark McNeill (19) 5. F Brandon Pirri (21) Prospect Pool Rating: Depth: B Bluechip Talent: B Diversity: B Overall: B Organizational Strengths: The Blackhawks are blessed with some of the best players in the NHL at the front of their team. The forward corps consist of such luminaries such as Toews, Kane, Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland. Not to be outdone, the backend also has some top talent with Keith, Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya. With a core that's as good as any, the Hawks are a highly skilled and speedy team that scores a lot of goals on the transition. Organizational Weaknesses: Depth throughout the pro system is thin. The offense is extremely top-heavy; after the aforementioned Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp and Viktor Stalberg, the rest of the forwards have been marginal in terms of production. On the backend, Duncan Keith has been merely ordinary since his glory year in 2010, while names like Leddy and Hjalmarsson have been on and off in their own ends (a fact only compounded by a goalie who is merely "good"). The team lacks a capable number 2 center up front. Prospect Strengths: The Hawks have a potent group of forward prospects. Some, like Morin and Pirri, are already top contributors at the AHL level and look to be NHL-ready, if not now then sometime soon. At the wings, names like Teravainen, Philip Danault, Jimmy and Kevin Hayes and Ben Smith all look like potential NHL players. Overall, it's a very well-balanced and deep development system that should churn out some assets for the Hawks. Prospect Weaknesses: While they have a good number of goalie prospects, none of them can be considered high-end (unless one comes out of nowhere and surprises). Similarly, while they have a good group of defenders (Dylan Olsen, Adam Clendening, Dillon Fournier, Stephen Johns), none of them look to be top quality prospects. In general, beyond a small group of forwards, none of the Blackhawks' prospects can be considered high-end players or bluechip talents. Outlook: The Hawks are coming off a second straight 1st-round ousting in the playoffs. Just two years removed from a Stanley Cup victory, the team has had to weather just about everything from management miscommunication to injuries to inconsistency over the last two years. To be fair, the Blackhawks had to gut their championship-winning support almost immediately after that win; while their star-studded core remains the same, the oh-so-important role players (guys like Ladd and Versteeg) were shipped off, leaving the team with a group of 6-7 really good players and a whole bunch of less-effective-than-thou players. The Blackhawks have found a silver lining in those trades though, as it allowed them to rebuild their prospect pool. The Hawks, a prime example of a team that built itself through strong drafts and young players, have seemingly found a new group of young guns. While it's unlikely there's another Kane or Toews among the group, the prospects should eventually be able to provide the secondary contributions that the Hawks have lacked. Combine that with the aforementioned Kane and Toews, as well as names like Hossa, Keith, and Seabrook, and the Hawks have all the pieces required to remain contenders for a long time. Unless their team defense implodes on itself (unlikely in its own right considering Seabrook, Keith, Toews and Hossa remain on the team) the Blackhawks can be counted as a postseason team again next season and for what they hope will be a long time.
Part 12 in my "State of the Franchise" series. Feel free to leave comments; I'm always willing to take feedback and I readily accept that I'm not the next Charles Dickens, so any constructive criticism would be great. Current Rankings List: 19. Winnipeg 20. Tampa Bay 21. Carolina 22. Los Angeles 23. Philadelphia 24. Nashville 25. New Jersey 26. Dallas 27. Calgary 28. Vancouver 29. Columbus 30. San Jose ------------------ #19: Winnipeg Jets Top Fws: Evander Kane*, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd Top Ds: Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien Top G: Ondrej Pavelec Top 3 Under-23s: 1. F Evander Kane (21) 2. D Zach Bogosian (22) 3. F Alexander Burmistrov (20) Top 5 Prospects 1. F Mark Scheifele (19) 2. F Carl Klingberg (21) 3. D Jacob Trouba (18) 4. D Paul Postma (23) 5. D Zach Yuen (19) Prospect Pool Rating: Depth: D Bluechip Talent: C Diversity: C Overall: C Organizational Strengths: The core of the team is young and talented with most of its best players all well within their best-before dates. The team boasts a group of forwards that can get the job done; Kane and Wheeler are the key cogs but names like Olli Jokinen, Bryan Little, Nik Antropov, and Burmistrov add depth and skill to the top 3 lines. Byfuglien, Enstrom and Zach Bogosian form a potent 1-2-3 on the backend and Ondrej Pavelec looks like he's just getting started with his ascension into elite status. Organizational Weaknesses: While the Jets have 3 solid anchors at the top of their defense, the trade of top 4 defender Johnny Oduya has left the team a little thin behind them; the defense could overall use a little more grit and toughness. Up front, the Jets lack a go-to-player (although Kane and Wheeler have both shown promise). Ondrej Pavelec is solid but he has no proven backup behind him. Prospect Strengths: The defense position has a couple of notable prospects, each with different attributes: Jacob Trouba is a hard-nosed defender, Paul Postma is a PP QB, and Zach Yuen is a smooth-skating two-way blueliner. Mark Scheifele is a top-quality prospect; he's part of a group of forwards that mixes size with various levels of skill, with Klingberg, Brassard and Lowry chief among them. The forwards group in general has quite a bit of overall grit. Prospect Weaknesses: Beyond Mark Scheifele, there isn't any player in the system you would consider to be a top-notch prospect. There's also a lack in potential top 9 skilled forwards in general, which is compounded by the number of players that have hit a wall in the former Thrashers' organization. On the back end, they lack a true high-caliber player and depth behind the top 3 or 4 prospects. The goaltending prospects in the organization are not high-quality. Outlook: There's a case to be made that the Jets' previous incarnation was arguably the worst-run franchise in the NHL since the turn of the new millennium. And the Jets followed a similar seasonal path as the Thrashers did, looking as if they could be a playoff team right up until gut-check time, where they bowed out of the postseason race and ended up finishing 11th in the East. The team, playing in front of the best home crowds in the league, ended up losing out on the postseason race due to inconsistency among depth names such as Nik Antropov and Ron Hainsey. But there is reason to be optimistic again this season. Evander Kane looks like he'll be an NHL star for a long time, Blake Wheeler broke out despite just 17 goals, Zach Bogosian seemed to finally be living up to the hype of his 3rd overall selection, and Ondrej Pavelec was one of the few things keeping the team competitive. And with the annual "Our young guns will improve" in Alexander Burmistrov, Paul Postma and Mark Scheifele, the Jets look like they could be a player in the East if everything works out alright in Winnipeg. The Jets will hope to build off of a box office success in their first season with playoff success in the second. While nothing is a sure bet in the NHL, the Jets look to be near the top of the teams fighting for the last few playoff berths in the East.