Top prospects by team: Central

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
2:35
PM CT

As part of the prospect rankings series this summer, we've looked at the Top 100 overall prospects, Top 10 goalie prospects and the ranking of all 30 NHL teams in order of their prospect pipelines.

We continue with a deeper look at the state of each team's pipeline, as I identify the top 10 prospects for each organization. Included in the analysis is an overview of the system, what kind of an impact will be made by the prospect group in 2014-15, and a particularly noteworthy player from each system.

A reminder that my rankings are determined by conversations with scouts, coaches and executives, as well as my own viewings. My assessment of forwards leans toward puck possession skills, and I tend to favor those players more than defensemen or goalies, whose development is harder to project.

The tour around the league continues Wednesday with the seven teams in the Central Division:

Top 10s by team: Atlantic | Metro | Central | Pacific

NHL prospect pipeline rankings

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
2:29
PM CT

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:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


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.


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Top 10 goalie prospects

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
11:32
AM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15. I provide a separate ranking for goalies due to the fact that I rank most of them fairly low relative to skaters. For example, my top two on this list would be ranked at about No. 50 and No. 80, respectively, in the overall top 100.

As part of this prospects package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

The following ranking and analysis are based on my own observations and include notes I've picked up in conversations with scouts and other NHL sources:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
2013-14 team:
Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
2013-14 stats: 28 GP | 2.21 GAA | .923 SV%

I'm not exaggerating when I say this: Vasilevskiy is one of the best goalie prospects of the past 20 years. He's a special player who has excelled if not dominated at just about every level and major event he's participated in during the past five years, including the KHL playoffs. Vasilevskiy has good size -- 6-foot-3, 201 pounds -- elite athleticism, and a high hockey IQ and technical refinement you don't typically see in a goalie of his age (20).


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Top 100 NHL prospects: 51-100

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
1:53
PM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 regular-season games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks running this week, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are prospects Nos. 51 through 100 for the 2014-15 season, listed with the highest-level team for which they played this past regular season. Previous ranking here refers to the ranking the player was given last summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


51. J.T. Compher, C, Buffalo Sabres (Previous ranking: 91)
2013-14 team:
Michigan (NCAA)
2013-14 stats: 35 GP | 11 G | 20 A | 22 PIM

Unfortunately, Compher missed out on the IIHF World Junior Championship this past season due to injury, but he was great as a freshman for Michigan, leading the team in scoring, which is quite unusual for a frosh. J.T. is a good all-around center who isn't dynamic in either end, but plays at an impressive level. His hockey sense is very good as a playmaker and reading the game without the puck, and he possesses a nice wrist shot.


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Top 100 NHL prospects: 1-50

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
3:32
PM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are prospects Nos. 1 through 50 for the 2014-15 season, listed with the highest-level team for which they played this past season. Previous ranking here refers to the ranking the player was given last summer:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


1. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous ranking: 1)
2013-14 team:
Halifax (QMJHL)
2013-14 stats: 46 GP | 29 G | 79 A | 43 PIM

After the Lightning elected to not keep him on the NHL roster for 2013-14, Drouin had another elite season in the QMJHL, torching the league in terms of point production. He led the QMJHL playoffs in points (41 in 16 games) despite Halifax not advancing to the final round. His skill level and hockey sense are both off the charts, he's a very elusive skater and he has the ability to create a scoring chance at will. When you combine all of his offensive elements (all of which are high-end), Drouin is the clear best forward prospect outside the NHL. He converted to center this season, showing pretty effective play in the defensive zone, which was previously a weakness. With a good summer from a physical development standpoint, he should be a player to watch for next year's Calder Trophy.


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Top 100 NHL prospects index

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
2:52
PM CT

With the junior evaluation camps in Lake Placid, New York, and Montreal in the rearview mirror, it's time to roll out my initial top 100 drafted prospects rankings for 2014-15.

The 2014 draft class shows very well in these rankings, which is not a huge surprise given the number of new No. 1 prospects around the league.

Changes in my ranking philosophy from previous lists include more emphasis on upside, and a little less on older players who are closer to the NHL and have AHL experience. I also value defensive defenders a little more, thus a player like Scott Harrington makes the list in a significant spot after being previously omitted.

The criteria for a player to be no longer eligible for this list are: more than 25 regular-season games played in any one regular season or 50 career NHL regular-season games. For example, Mikhail Grigorenko is eligible, but Beau Bennett and Brett Connolly are not.

As part of this package, we will also have the organization pipeline ranks, and will have the top 10 prospects by team running next week.

Here are my top 100 NHL prospects for the 2014-15 season in list form:

Top 100 index | No. 1-50 | No. 51-100 | Top 10 goalies


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Stars, Antoine Roussel reach deal

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
11:23
AM CT
[+] EnlargeAntoine Roussel
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesThe Stars rewarded Antoine Roussel with a four-year contract after his solid second NHL season.

The Dallas Stars agreed to a four-year contract with forward Antoine Roussel on Tuesday, the team announced.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed but a source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun the deal is worth $8 million total.

The 24-year-old Roussel posted career highs in games played (81), goals (14), assists (15), points (29) and penalty minutes (209) in 2013-14, his second NHL season. He was the only player in the league to have 25 or more points and at least 150 penalty minutes.

In the playoffs, the 6-foot, 200-pound native of Roubaix, France, had three assists, four shots and 27 penalty minutes in six games.

"Since coming into the NHL, Antoine has been a very effective and hard player for opposing teams to compete against," Stars general manager Jim Nill said in a statement. "His skill combined with his competitive grit create energy for our club that impacts our whole lineup."


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Penguins hire Mark Recchi as coach

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
3:25
PM CT

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have hired seven-time All-Star Mark Recchi as the franchise's player development coach.

The 46-year-old Recchi will be in charge of working with prospects throughout the minor leagues as well as at the college and junior levels.

Recchi spent the last two years as a senior adviser with the Dallas Stars. He scored 577 goals during a 22-year career that included stints in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Montreal, Boston and Carolina. Recchi won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins, the Hurricanes and the Bruins. He retired after the 2011 season.


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Blues give Steve Ott 2-year deal

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
4:44
PM CT

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues have re-signed forward Steve Ott to a two-year contract.

The deal is worth a total of $5.2 million, sources told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun.

The 31-year-old Ott, who was acquired in the Ryan Miller deal from Buffalo, had three assists and 37 penalty minutes in 23 regular-season games. In six playoff games, he added two assists and 14 penalty minutes.

Ott had been the Sabres captain before the trade on Feb. 28. He's an 11-year veteran and a former 2000 first-round pick of the Stars.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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Orr & Messier & YzermanGetty ImagesWho's the best player from their respective franchises? Vote now!
Time to step up, people.

We want you to name your favorite player from your favorite team -- of all time. Not just this season, not just the past five years, not just that one time when they should have won the Stanley Cup but were robbed by a bad call. Of all time. Columbus Blue Jackets fans, you've got less work to do than, say, fans of the Montreal Canadiens. And keep in mind that the player is representing the franchise, not just the team. New Jersey Devils fans, don't forget about your complicated lineage. Winnipeg Jets fans, remember those long, hot winters in Atlanta. Etc.

So, who's it going to be? Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque or Zdeno Chara? Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull or Jonathan Toews? Marcel Dionne or Jonathan Quick? Mike Modano or Cesare Maniago? Yes, it's a tough gig, picking players from different positions and different eras. Who cares if Bobby Clarke had to finish his career wearing Cooperalls? The bottom line: Does he deserve to be named Mr. Flyer over Bernie Parent? Or Eric Lindros (wouldn't that be ironic)?

We need representation from all 30 teams, or it's just not going to work, so vote now and vote often. Vote for players on teams you love, vote for players on teams you don't.

You can cast your ballot in three ways: in the comments section below, through our Facebook page or, if you're hitting us up from the Twitter, use the hashtag #ESPNplayerNHL. We'll sift through all of the comments and isolate the most insightful and invective-free for a grand and provocative unveiling later in the summer.

The time for bellyaching is over. You can't complain if you don't vote. Now, go!

David Legwand agrees with Sens

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
3:32
PM CT

OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Senators signed veteran center David Legwand to a $6 million, two-year contract on Friday.

Legwand split last season between the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings. He had 51 points in 83 games.

The Detroit native played the first 15 seasons of his NHL career with Nashville before a March 5 trade sent him to the Red Wings. He has 577 points in 977 games.

"David is a good, veteran center, a guy that skates pretty well, gets up and down the ice," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said in a statement.

"We just think the way things shook out for us that having an experienced center that can be a decent faceoff man, be a good defensive player, get points, was very important at this time."

Ottawa needed a top-two center after trading Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday for right wing Alex Chiasson, a draft pick and two prospects.

The Senators also re-signed defenseman Eric Gryba to a $2.5 million, two-year deal. Gryba had 11 points in 57 games last season.

Murray said the Senators "continue to talk" about a trade, adding "it's just a matter of if we can get satisfaction both ways."


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Dallas Stars re-sign Vernon Fiddler

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
6:22
PM CT

DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars re-signed center Vernon Fiddler to a two-year, $2.5 million contract Wednesday.

The 34-year-old Fiddler will provide depth behind Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza, who was picked up in a trade with Ottawa on Tuesday.

Fiddler had six goals and 17 assists in 76 games last season, when the Stars ended a five-year playoff drought and lost to Anaheim in six games in the first round. He has 77 goals and 129 assists in 656 games in 11 seasons with Nashville, Phoenix and Dallas.

The Stars also signed 22-year-old Brendan Ranford to a three-year entry-level contract. He spent his first pro season with the American Hockey League champion Texas Stars.


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Early free agency grades 

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
9:53
PM CT
Brooks Orpik, Paul Stastny & Jonas Hiller Getty ImagesThe new deals for Brooks Orpik, Paul Stastny and Jonas Hiller met with very different reactions.
The opening hours of NHL free agency were truly frenetic, with signings being announced in a flurry shortly after noon ET.

Some teams made their mark ahead of time -- the Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars made major upgrades down the middle by trading for Ryan Kesler and Jason Spezza, respectively -- but for the rest of the teams that made impact signings, it's time to grade just how well they did for themselves on Day 1.

Note that these grades reflect the talent and fit of the players signed, as well as the reported length and dollars in their deals.

Buffalo Sabres: C-plus

The Sabres are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project under GM Tim Murray, but it was important for him to surround the young talent with veteran leaders who can help break them in to the NHL. In former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta (three years, $12.75 million) and Matt Moulson (five years, $25 million) the Sabres have done exactly that.

Neither player is the kind of impact player who is going to put the Sabres in any danger of spoiling the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, but both are quality players and individuals who will help Ted Nolan instill a professional culture in Buffalo. The Sabres also inked Andrej Meszaros to a one-year deal that’s a pricey $4.125 million. On the bright side, he gives them more trade ammunition at the deadline.

Calgary Flames: C

The Deryk Engelland contract (three years, $8.7 million) was immediately criticized, considering he’s a borderline No. 6 defenseman on a good team. That’s a lot of dough for that kind of player, but at the same time, the reality is that teams in Calgary’s position have to pay a premium to land anyone on the first day of free agency, and there was competition for his services.

“There are lots of teams after him,” said one source close to Engelland on the eve of free agency. And, he certainly fits the truculent identity Brian Burke and GM Brad Treliving are trying to build in Calgary, along with bringing strong character. The Flames may not make the playoffs, but they’ll be miserable to play against. Landing a starting goalie in Jonas Hiller on such a short term (two years at a total of $9 million) helps make up for the questionable Engelland deal.

Chicago Blackhawks: A

Considering the high price his counterparts paid to address their needs at center, Chicago GM Stan Bowman deserves credit for bringing in Brad Richards on a one-year deal worth just $2 million.

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The St. Louis Blues made quite the splash Tuesday, signing the most coveted center on the unrestricted free-agent market, Paul Stastny.

Just imagine had they also traded for Jason Spezza on top of that?

That’s exactly what the Blues would have attempted had the Ottawa Senators not dealt him so early in the day.

The priority in St. Louis was to make sure Stastny was going to sign there, but a source told ESPN.com the Blues would have also circled back to the Senators after that to inquire about what it would take to get Spezza as well.

Go big or go home, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not convinced the Blues would have offered as impressive a package as the Stars did, so the Senators probably made the right decision to trade with Dallas.

More on the Stars later. But let’s finish up with the Blues first. Major kudos to GM Doug Armstrong for sticking to his guns on not signing any contract past four years with Stastny. That was really important to Armstrong, but it’s hard to have that kind of self-control on July 1 when sometimes your emotions get the better of you with all the money flying around the NHL. He gave Stastny top dollar, averaging $7 million per year, but was able to get the term he wanted at four years, buying exactly the best four years of Stastny’s career from age 28 to 32. That’s mighty impressive.

At the end of the day, Stastny could have gone elsewhere for more term, but the Blues were the runaway front-runners if he was going to leave Colorado. He grew up in St. Louis and had long ago made that club a target if he couldn’t say with the Avs. He didn’t stay because Colorado just couldn’t move enough on term or salary to ever really come close.

Now the Blues will likely feature a top line of Stastny between Alex Steen and David Backes.

Stastny wasn’t the only free-agent center signed on this day by St. Louis. While it didn’t get nearly as much fanfare, the Blues were through-the-roof delighted to get Jori Lehtera to finally sign and leave overseas, where he has been a consistent top point producer in the KHL and before that the Finnish League. The Blues drafted him in 2008 but failed in a few attempts to get him to come over. Now he’s arriving as a matured, 26-year-old pivot who may turn some heads next season.

And those stars …
So in a league where team execs will always tell you it’s impossible to acquire top-end centers, Stars GM Jim Nill has picked up Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza within 12 months.

"Jim Nill is doing an incredible job there," a rival GM said Tuesday night.

The funniest thing about the Spezza trade is that, as late as Saturday, Nill was under the impression that Spezza didn’t want to go to Dallas. There was some miscommunication or confusion with Ottawa on that. Once that got cleared up over the weekend, Nill got back hard into the Spezza situation.

There had also been some dialogue with San Jose previously regarding Joe Thornton, but Jumbo still isn’t ready to leave the Sharks. So Spezza certainly made plenty of sense for the Stars, who tried to keep up with a Western Conference arms race at center.

With Ales Hemsky also signed Tuesday, you’ve got yourself a Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin pairing on the top line perhaps and Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky on the second unit. Um yeah, there’s a few goals there.

Blackhawks get Richards
Word is Brad Richards had solid interest from the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, but in the end he was really sold on having a chance to win another Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Conversations with Hawks GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville over the past few days were all Richards needed to take a one-year flyer with the perennial Cup contenders.

To me, that’s a great fit for both sides and a smart play by Bowman to make it work at $2 million.

Brodeur still waiting
Martin Brodeur told us before free agency he knew he’d have to be patient once the market opened, and that patience is certainly being tested.

Tampa Bay was looking for a backup and spoke to Brodeur's camp, but then chose to go with Evgeni Nabokov.

The Pittsburgh Penguins talked to Brodeur’s camp but couldn’t make the money work, so they signed Thomas Greiss instead.

You have to believe there’s room somewhere for the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie, even at the age of 42, but it appears it’s not going to be easy.

Habs deal GorgesS
It wasn’t an easy few days for Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin after word leaked out of an attempted trade of Josh Gorges to Toronto, only to have the veteran defenseman block the deal to the Maple Leafs via his partial no-trade clause.

Word first leaked Saturday via TSN’s Bob McKenzie and, while it produced angry comments from Gorges, the Habs hung in there with Toronto for a few days, allowing the Maple Leafs to try to convince Gorges to change his mind. Bergevin waited until Tuesday morning, but when he was told the answer was still no from Gorges (the Habs it appears would have gotten Cody Franson in return), Montreal quickly turned its attention to Buffalo and got a deal done for a second-round pick in 2016. The Canadiens eventually got their right-handed defenseman elsewhere when they signed Tom Gilbert.

Many Habs fans and even some Montreal players are not happy to see the popular Gorges go. But with four more years on his deal at $3.9 million per season, Bergevin and the Habs front office made a calculated yet unpopular decision that Gorges’ play in the last two years of that deal would not warrant the cap hit, not to mention the necessity to open up more playing time on the left side of defense for youngster Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi.

Said one Western Conference GM: "I think Bergy did the right thing even if it was tough to do. Gorges is a warrior, but those miles will catch up to him."

Meanwhile, another popular player also left town Tuesday: Habs captain Brian Gionta joins Gorges in Buffalo via free agency, signing a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. A source told ESPN.com the Canadiens didn’t waiver from offering Gionta only a one-year extension, so that decision to leave was fairly simple for Gionta.

Between both veteran players, that’s a lot of leadership out the door and certainly two players that teammates valued. I’d say the risk here isn’t so much on the ice with these two departures, but rather off of it. There’s a leadership void to fill.

Rangers sign Boyle
Dan Boyle left "a lot" of money on the table from other teams, according to one source, in order to sign for $4.5 million per season over two years with the New York Rangers. Fact is, the allure of playing with old bud Martin St. Louis plus quarterbacking the Blueshirts power play made the Rangers the front-runners for Boyle.

Toronto, Tampa, Montreal and Detroit also had interest in Boyle.

Stephane Robidas to Maple Leafs

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
1:23
PM CT

Veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas has signed a three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The deal is worth $9 million, a league source told ESPN.com's Craig Custance on Tuesday.

Robidas, 37, spent 11 seasons with the Dallas Stars before being shipped to the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline in March.

The well-respected defenseman suffered a broken leg this past season before his trade to Anaheim and reinjured his leg during the playoffs. He played in only three games for the Ducks in the postseason but drew significant interest on the open market when free agency began Tuesday.

TSN reported that Robidas is recovering well from the multiple fractures suffered this past season. He is reportedly skating already and anticipates being ready for training camp.

Robidas provides a boost to the Maple Leafs' back end, adding 14 years of experience to Toronto's defensive corps.

Information from ESPN.com's Katie Strang was used in this report.


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