In the weeks leading up to the publishing of The Hockey News Future Watch issue, which hits newsstands in early March, I get hundreds of calls and emails from diehard hockey fans eager to get a jump on the competition.
Well, maybe not hundreds of calls, but four or five, anyway. These diehard hockey fans are actually the hardcore type who own and operate teams in keeper fantasy leagues.
They’re so in tune with the next wave of NHL hopefuls, they know the production schedule of Future Watch and the process in which we come up with our annual ranking of the top prospects outside the NHL.
The Future Watch process takes about five weeks and involves a lot of back and forth communication with scouts and writers to establish rankings of prospects in assembling profiles of 300 hopeful NHLers.
This year, more than 20 NHL executives took part in the analysis and rating process of NHL-affiliated prospects. These are players who have been drafted and are in hockey development systems (minor pro, major junior, college and Europe).
Past No. 1 Future Watch poster boys have included Peter Forsberg, Roberto Luongo and Alex Ovechkin. While it’s neat to see those names and faces on our Future Watch covers, it’s the anticipation of the ranking of other top prospects that greatly interests hockey fans, especially the keeper pool GMs.
In 2006 for example, Alexander Radulov rose from a No. 46 Future Watch ranking in 2005 to No. 19. That suggested scouts were enamored with his progress and saw him as a bargain pick at 15th overall in the 2004 draft.
Same for Travis Zajac, drafted 20th overall in 2004, ranked 41st in Future Watch 2005, then 21st in FW 2006. Or Wojtek Wolski, drafted 21st overall in 2004, ranked 72nd in FW 2005, then 24th in FW 2006. The trend was their friend.
Then there’s Benoit Pouliot, drafted fourth overall in 2005. His first Future Watch appearance was in 2006 when our panel of scouts ranked him the 14th best prospect outside the NHL. Not great, but not bad considering his early draft selection.
However, in Future Watch 2007, Pouliot slipped to 20th, and as we tabulate the voting results for Future Watch 2008, it’s clear he won’t be among the top 50 prospects.
Keeper poolies, dump him now while you can.
Moving to Future Watch 2008, it’s still too early to divulge all the names who have made monumental steps forward, but we can slip a few through.
St. Louis prospect Patrik Berglund was drafted 25th overall in 2006. Our scouting panel ranked him 57th in Future Watch 2007. (Remember, our ranking of prospects every year includes non-NHLers from the previous four or five entry drafts who are working their way through the system. So don’t be alarmed thinking he fell from 25th to 57th in one year.) Berglund is sure to be ranked among our top 10 overall this year.
Florida’s Shawn Matthias, drafted 47th overall by Detroit in 2006 and traded to the Panthers for Todd Bertuzzi, wasn’t ranked among top prospects in Future Watch 2007. He’ll be top 20 for sure this year.
Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, drafted 22nd overall in 2006, was ranked 44th in Future Watch 2007 and is now also in the top 20.
And Teddy Purcell, an unaffiliated Maine freshman a year ago, who signed with Los Angeles last April as a free agent, he’s sure to crack the top 30.
More hints next week.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.