It's an ever-important question: which team drafts the best? Which team has the best depth at each position? Such knowledge can be invaluable when it comes time to draft and you've gone blank. How do all 30 teams stack up? Find out in Part 1, a look at the Central Division talent pools.

 

The following was assessed by drawing a grade for each player based on five factors: what I feel their potential is, how they're doing this year, what league they're playing in, and finally their age. This analysis was done only on players who've a) played fewer than ten NHL games and b) on players drafted since 2005. There some exceptions- both to this rule and the scoring matrix- but a full explanation can be found shortly on my blog.

The Grades


3.7-4.0- Can't miss, should be in the NHL, prospect. No 4.0 grades were given out as talent like this is in the NHL (i.e. Filatov) .
3.6- Guaranteed second liners, maybe more (i.e. MaxPacs, Lars Ellers)
3.3-3.5- Guys that will be gone in your keeper leagues (i.e. Ted Purcell)
3.2- The majority of prospects you'll find in your keeper league. They vary in traits (safe vs. high impact), but all have about the same worth.
3.0- Players on the bubble. These prospects are usually drafted by keeper GMs because they feel 'good' about them based one or two attributes (i.e. Jared Staal).

But now back to the fun stuff. Each team presents their five best forwards, three best defenders and two best goalies. Teams with depth beyond this have been rewarded by having all players with a grade of 3.0 and above included in the average for that position.

The Contenders


As mentioned, the first installment will take a look at the Central Division. Long known as the punching bag for the Detroit Red Wings, that perspective has changed gradually as the expansion teams abound have begun to figure out drafting.

Nashville


C Colin Wilson 3.6
C Nick Spaling 3.4
C Cal O'Reilly 3.4
RW Andreas Thuresson 3.2
LW Mark Santorelli 3.0

D Jonathan Blum 3.4
D Cody Franson 3.4
D Roman Josi 2.75

G Chet Pickard 3.5
G Jeremy Smith 3.2

Comments:
While Nashville's defensive depth has slowly thinned out due to trades and roster needs, the Preds still maintain their requisite minimum of two stud young defenders plus one intriguing prospect. The team has added something new, though: future firepower. Patric Hornqvist is already in the NHL, and there's quite a bit of help to follow. The Preds will also have at least one number one goalie on the way in the form of 2008 first rounder Chet Pickard.

St. Louis


LW Lars Eller 3.6
RW Aaron Palushaj 3.4
C Phil McCrae 3.2
C Jori Lehtera 3.2
RW Simon Hjalmarsson 3.0
RW James Livingston 2 3 3 2 5 3.0
RW Nikolai Lemtyugov 3 5 4 2 1 3.0

D Ian Cole 3.6
D David Warsofsky 3.4
D Jonas Junland 3.25
D Kristoffer Berglund 3.2

G Jake Allen 3.5
G Ben Bishop 3.2

Comments:
Gone are the days when the team skipped or traded away entire drafts. In the 1990s, the odd gamer would come along, and that hasn't changed. But now there's a whole lot of depth. Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and David Perron were just the first wave. On D, the team has a solid balance of two future PP QBs (Warsofsky and Cole) and two stay-at-homers. In goal, most teams would be crippled by having not one but two highly touted prospects flop (Marek Schwarz and Hannu Toivonen). St. Louis has been good at the plugging the hole cheaply and mostly effectively, and they'll have to do it for three or so more years before Jake Allen is ready.

Chicago

RW Igor Makarov 3.6
RW Akim Aliu 3.5
C Kyle Beach 3.4
C Maxime Tanguay 3.2
LW Billy Sweatt 3.0

D Shawn Lalonde 3.25
D Ben Shutron 3.2
D Teigan Zahn 2.8

G Antti Niemi 3.6
G Corey Crawford 3.2

Summary:
No team has completed such a 360 as the Chicago Blackhawks when it comes to player evaluation. As a result, the team is better, the fans are coming back- it's a great thing all around. Chicago's last three drafts in terms of forwards have been excellent; they picked up two franchise players that played their first seasons before age 20, and have kept it coming with another potential first line winger (Makarov) and plenty of second liners. Goaltending was horrid until this summer, when the team signed hot Finnish FA Antti Niemi. Still left on the to-do list: more top-four potential d-men.


Detroit


RW Ville Leino 3.3
RW Cory Emmerton 3.25
RW Jan Mursak 3.25
LW Dick Axelsson 3.2
C Joakim Andersson 3.2
LW Justin Abdelkader 3.0

D Jakub Kindl 3.6
D Jonathan Ericsson 3.5
D Logan Pyett 3.4
D Brendan Smith 3.0

G Thomas McCollum 3.75
G Jim Howard  3.2
G Daniel Larsson 3.2

Summary:
How good are the Wings at drafting? Forget about Zetterberg. Forget about Dastyuk. Forget even about Franzen. Detroit was able to turn the very last pick in the 2007 draft into an a) World Junior star and b) PPG AHLer. Along the way, they stole a future starting goaltender in the bottom of the 2008 first round.


Columbus


RW Maxim Mayorov 3 3 4 2 4 3.2
RW Jake Hansen 3 1 3 1 4 3.2
LW Matt Calvert 2 3 3 2 5 3.0
LW Tom Sestito 1 3 4 3 3 2.8
RW Tomas Kubalik 3 1 4 1 5 2.8

D Andrei Plekhanov 3 5 4 4 1 3.4
D Cody Goloubef 3 3 3 2 2.75
D Ben Wright 2 4 3 1 3 2.6

G Steve Mason 4 0 4 3 4 3.75
G Allen York 2 0 3 1 4 2.5

Summary: It may look like the old days, but that's what's left after the Jackets saw Nikita Filatov, Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Derek Dorsett make the big club. Still left to draw from are a couple second liners (Mayorov, Hansen) and a trio of third line wingers. Of them, Sestito wil llikely have the most immediate impact- he has 45 PIM in 5 AHL games. Columbus just needs to find room for him. On D, only a blast from the past in 2004 pick Andrei Plekhanov salavaged another equally as culled-from pool. Goloubef has nice potential, but is a long time away. In goal, only an injury to Steve Mason has allowed him to retain his prospect status. 


Head-to-Head


So how did the Central Division do in a grudge match of talent? Let's find out.

Goalies


McCollum, Howard, Larsson: 3.38
vs.
Niemi, Crawford: 3.35
vs.
Pickard, Smith: 3.35
vs.
Allen, Bishop: 3.35
vs.
Mason, York: 3.13

Winner: Detroit, thanks to their depth at the position. But as one can see, it was close!


Defense


Plekhanov, Goloubef, Wright: 3.07
vs.
Blum, Fransson, Josi: 3.18
vs.
Cole, Warsofsky, Junland, Berglund: 3.36
vs.
Lalonde, Shutron, Zahn 3.08
vs.
Kindl, Ericsson, Pyatt, Smith 3.38

Winner:
Detroit. Again it was a tight finish, and again the Wings beat out a team by less than a quarter of a point. However, it was for the opposite reason: Detroit boasts great high-end talent, while the Blues countered with fine depth. Erik Johnson is a fine consolation for St. Lou, though.


Forwards

Mayorov, Hansen, Calvert, Sestito, Kubalik: 3.0
vs.
Wilson, Spaling, O'Reilly, Thuresson, Santorelli: 3.32
vs.
Eller, Palushaj, McCrae, Lehtera, Hjalmarsson, Livingston, Lemtyugov: 3.23
vs.
Makarov, Aliu, Beach, Tanguay, Sweatt: 3.35
vs.
Leino, Emmerton, Axelsson, Abdelkader, Andersson: 3.24


Winner:
Chicago. After coming close in every other category, the Hawks finally score a win. Even with Kane, Toews, Byfuglien, Bolland and a host of others no longer prospects, Chicago leads the pack based on boom-or-bust forwards Makarov, Beach and Aliu. The Wings succumb to their depth again; slow starts by Mursak and Emmerton hurt their stock in this scoring system, as both have no points after one week of AHL play. Dick Axelsson ahs also been underwhelming in the SEL. However, it would be interesting to check up on them again by the midway point.


Division Champion


Detroit: 3.33
St. Louis: 3.30
Nashville: 3.28
Chicago: 3.26
Columbus: 3.07


It should come as no surprise that the Wings are the overall winners; winning two of three categories and finishing strongly in the third will do that for you. However, they're no longer alone: watch for the Blues, Preds, Hawks and even Jackets to challenge for both best prospect pool and best team.


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