With so much hype around the NHL playoffs, rebuilding teams can be easily forgotten. But come June, these seven teams will be center stage to draft top end talent with a winning pedigree. Rebuilds don’t last forever, even though some seem a lot more painful than others. While most fans loathe rebuilds, in a salary cap era, rebuilds usually bring in high end talent.
These Power Rankings don’t just look at rosters. Each team will be assessed on their draft picks in the top three rounds of the 2018 draft, their salary cap situation, their top prospect and their “core four”. The core four, is arguably the four best active roster players on each team under the age of 25. The highest-ranking team on this list, will be the team with the highest chance of competing in the near future.
7) Ottawa Senators
Core 4: Thomas Chabot, Filip Chlapik, Mark Stone, Jean Gabriel Pageau
Top Prospect: Colin White
Picks in Top 3 Rounds: 2
Lottery Percentage: 13.5%
Biggest Need: Salary Dumping?
Next Step: If you need to trade Erik Karlsson, make sure you get top value
Ottawa is just one year removed from a trip to the Eastern conference finals. Unfortunately for Sens fans, this year has been an absolute bust. After shipping out a first and third round pick, prospect Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond and Kyle Turris to acquire Matt Duchene, the season went into free fall. With rumours of Erik Karlsson leaving town and goaltender Craig Anderson turning 37 in May, Ottawa is already a favorite to be a rebuilding team next year.
Ottawa’s first round pick this year is top ten protected, so you can imagine they won’t have a first next year thanks to the Duchene deal. They do have two firsts this year, but no picks in the second and third round hurts. Young players like Colin White, Thomas Chabot and Logan Brown are exciting, but not nearly enough to compete. With Bobby Ryan and Marian Gaborik accounting for 12 million against the cap for the next three years, expect the Senators to be bad for a long time.
The key for Ottawa’s offseason is to make smart trades. If they do decide to trade Karlsson and Hoffman, they need to get great value. Prospects and picks are the ideal currency.
6) Detroit Redwings
Core 4: Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha
Top Prospect: Michael Rasmussen
Picks in Top 3 Rounds: 6
Lottery Percentage: 8.5%
Biggest Need: Keep getting younger
Next Step: Don’t rush and keep drafting speed
Detroit is going to be a fun franchise to watch over the next few seasons. They have drafted talented forwards over the past few years, who should keep games fast paced and competitive. They also have 6 picks in the first three rounds to help stock the prospect cupboards.
Detroit will unfortunately be handcuffed by the salary cap for the foreseeable future. More than 20 million of the cap is tied up by Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser for the next three years. However, if Detroit does fully embrace a rebuild, their current group of talent is a nice start towards relevancy.
5) Vancouver Canucks
Core 4: Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, Brendan Gaunce
Top Prospect: Elias Petterson
Picks in Top 3 Rounds: 3
Lottery Percentage: 7.5%
Biggest Need: A top pairing defender
Next Steps: Keep calm and rebuild on
Vancouver fans have a lot to be excited about. Elias Petterson is arguably the best teenager in Europe other than Rasmus Dahlin, and he should be a regular on the Canucks in 2018-19. The Canucks also have 14 million coming off the books with both the Sedin twins retiring. Loui Eriksson’s 6 million until 2021-22 is looking bad now, but they’ll be able to work around it.
The biggest problem with the Canucks current rebuild is their drafting history. Drafting Olli Juolevi 5th overall in 2016, before players like Matthew Tkachuk and Clayton Keller is bad. Drafting Jake Virtanen in 2014 6th overall, over a more skilled forward like William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers is even worst. These high picks have simply stalled the rebuild. However make no mistake, with up and coming talent the Canucks are poised to make some noise sooner rather than later.
4) New York Rangers
Core 4 : Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, Mika Zibanejad, Jimmy Vessey
Top Prospect: Lias Andersson
Picks in Top 3 Rounds: 7
Lottery Percentage: 6%
Biggest Need: Top line talent
Next Step: Commit to the rebuild but don’t ship out Zibanejad
Jeff Gorton and Glen Slather calling for a rebuild via letter was a classy move by a world class franchise. However, the Rangers probably have the best current roster on this list, which includes a future hall of fame goaltender. The Rangers began their rebuild with a very successful trade deadline. They acquired 2 picks in the first round this year by shipping out Rick Nash, Ryan McDonaugh and J.T Miller. They also added decent prospects in Brett Howden, Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren. This added to a prospect pool which already included Anthony DeAngelo and Lias Andersson, via a trade with Arizona in the offseason. One thing the Rangers are lacking is top line talent. No disrespect to their current players, but there is no one on this roster that has top line forward or number one defenseman pedigree.
On paper this team should be a competitor within a year or two, but considering they’ve committed to the rebuild there’s a decent chance that more of a roster overhaul will happen at the draft and in the offseason. Names like Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and maybe even Kevin Shattenkirk could be on the move. With 25 million in cap space next season, the Rangers have to consider resigning 4 UFA’s and 7 pending RFA’s. Names like Brady Skjei and Vladislav Namestnikov are due for big raises.
Mika Zibanejad however, is a name that needs to remain in the big apple. Zibanejad has had injury problems, but at 5.3 million the Swedish forward should be a building block of the rebuild. Another interesting name to keep an eye on is Ilya Kovalchuk. The flashy Russian has made it clear he wants to sign in the Big Apple, which could add some high-grade talent to the roster. It will be a massive summer for the Rangers.
3) Montreal Canadiens
Core 4 : Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, Noah Juulsen, Victor Mete
Top Prospects: Ryan Poehling
Picks in Top 3 Rounds: 6
Biggest need: Commit to a roster turnover, not a full rebuild
Next Step: Trade Patches and draft the best players available, not positional need
Montreal needs to stop trading away their young talent. The team would look much different with Sergachev and Subban on the blue line. But let’s face it, bashing Bergevin because he’s made poor trades is getting old. The hockey world needs to stop dwelling on the past, Bergevin tried to risk it to get the biscuit, he just didn't get the biscuit. It’s time to look towards Montreal’s future which will see them draft 6 times in the first three rounds.
It’s no secret that Montreal’s biggest need is at the Center position. Should Montreal draft in the top five, they can’t go off track and draft a Centerman, they need to draft the best player available. With 4 picks in the second round, Montreal should be able to find at least one gem, or maybe package to move up.
As for their Captain, The Habs should move on from Max Pacioretty. Not because he hasn’t been a great player and Captain, but because he could help a roster turnover with the return value in a trade. Besides, Montreal won’t be able to afford him. Other than Patches getting shipped out, there’s no need to blow up the Habs. Montreal needs to commit to their younger guys, sit back and remain patient. With a stronger core of young forwards and defenseman in front of one of the best goalies of this generation, Montreal will be back to relevancy sooner rather than later. Don’t worry Habs fans, it won’t take too long.
2) Buffalo Sabres
Core 4: Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Evan Rodrigues
Top Prospect: Casey Mittelstadt
Picks in Top 3 Rounds: 2
Lottery Percentage: 18.5%
Biggest Need: Defense
Next Step: Improve on defense whether through the draft or free agency
This is the year Buffalo wins the draft lottery. Buffalo hasn’t picked lower than eighth overall since 2012. After they drafted Jack Eichel, they seemed like a team that should be taking the next step towards contending. Still, Buffalo finds themselves at the bottom of the standings, thanks to poor defense and injuries. The Sabres are one of those odd teams that seems to have talent but can never execute. However, if Casey Mittelstadt, Alex Nylander join the current core in Buffalo, expect them to make some noise.
Buffalo needs to address their primary problem, defense. Luckily this year’s draft has plenty of young defenders who look close to making the jump. If Buffalo opts to draft a forward in June, they need to go after a defender via trade or free agency. John Carlson is a name that could make sense, but that may be a little too expensive. The Sabres only have 18 million in cap space and have to worry about 5 RFA’s including Sam Reinhart. But don’t sleep on the Sabres! In a top heavy Atlantic division, Buffalo could be a team that surprises as a wildcard team in 2018-19.
1) Arizona Coyotes
Core 4: Clayton Keller, Max Domi, Christian Dvorak, Jakob Chychrun
Top Prospect: Dylan Strome
Picks in Top 3 Rounds: 3
Lottery Percentage: 11.5%
Biggest Need: A better start to next season
Next Step: Bring up Strome and draft a crowd pleaser
The Coyotes are a team that a lot of people write off to begin every season. However, the Coyotes are in a position to succeed. The Coyotes were actually one of the better teams in March, winning 10 games. Maybe some foreshadow for next year?
Their younger players are getting a lot better. Dylan Strome has been stellar in the AHL, and with guidance from Derek Stepan he could definitely center a second/third unit. Clayton Keller has enjoyed a successful rookie year and has the talent to be even better in his sophomore season. Meanwhile, Max Domi is too talented to have another poor season next year. Add a high draft pick to the mix and Arizona will ice a very talented unit. Meanwhile with only two RFA’s and 28 million in cap space the Yotes have the space to make a splash in free agency.
The Coyotes haven’t made playoffs since 2012 and they play in a weaker Pacific division. While other teams need to be patient, the biggest key for Arizona this off season is to be aggressive. With so many young talented players, cap space and their lottery pick, they have the ability to make a trade for a major player. Don’t be surprised if Arizona looks very different in 2018-19.