Jacob De La Rose. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Which NHL-affiliated farmhands have regressed or fallen upon hard times and sunk in our Future Watch rankings over the past year?
The glass was decidedly half full last week when I revealed the top 10 rising prospects in THN Future Watch 2016. It's half empty now. Every year, dozens of youngsters rise in their farm development, and countless others are drafted into teams' systems, so it's inevitable, then, that some prospects tumble down the overall rankings.
To recap the Future Watch ranking process: we start by consulting scouts from all 30 NHL franchises, who rank their organizations’ top 10 prospects who are not yet full-time NHLers, creating a pool of 300 players. We turn that list over to our scouting panel, which typically consists of 15 executives, head scouts and GMs, with the number fluctuating slightly year to year. Each member ranks the top 50 players from the group of 300. We then assemble the votes to create an aggregate top 50, which expands to the top 75 players who received top-50 votes.
Stefan Matteau and Brandon Gormley plunged the most last year. Who took the biggest dives this time around? Here are the top (bottom?) 10. Keep in mind no player drafted in 2015 was eligible, nor was any player who graduated to full-time NHL duty since last season.
Read on at your own peril, Canadiens fans. Don't shoot the messenger.
1. Jacob De La Rose, C, Montreal Canadiens (-48)
Last year: 27th
This year: 75th
Habs fans don't necessarily have to panic seeing De La Rose plummet this much. He's not a flashy player by nature, so it's natural for him to be passed by more dynamic prospects in the top 75 if he hasn't yet stuck as a full-time NHLer. It didn't look like he'd be back to the AHL after Montreal played him for 33 regular season games and 12 playoff games last season, but he started the year with St. John's after all. He scored very little there and, since his January recall to the big club in Montreal, he's continued to score very little.
De La Rose was never supposed to become a big-time scorer, of course. He's a two-way force with good size at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds. But the offensive totals aren't just modest. They're microscopic so far. De La Rose's overall ceiling appears to have lowered. Future Watch 2016 states that he "projects as a shutdown forward in the bottom six." When you're only 20 and you're already forecast as a bottom-six player, you can't maintain a rank of 27th overall among NHL prospects, which De La Rose held a year ago. That doesn't mean he can't become a highly useful NHL checker, though.
2. Zach Fucale, G, Montreal Canadiens (-44)
Last year: 32nd
This year: Not ranked
Fucale's resume looked pretty pristine when the scouts voted him 32nd in 2015. He had a Memorial Cup and a world junior gold medal to his name. Since then, though, he struggled in the 2015 QMJHL playoffs, and his first year as a professional has been inconsistent. He was expected to back up Dustin Tokarski or Mike Condon with AHL St. John's, but the Carey Price injury hoopla forced Fucale into a much larger workload – perhaps one he wasn't quite ready to shoulder. The shine has worn off him as a prospect slightly, but it's far too early to worry about him. Just 20, he's an infant in goalie years. He was passed in this year's Future Watch rankings by several older goalies with multiple years of AHL service. Fucale should begin 2016-17 as the IceCaps' starter and will be much better prepared. If he struggles next year, though, it will be fair to ask questions.
3. Brendan Perlini, LW, Arizona Coyotes (-42)
Last year: 34th
This year: Not ranked
Perlini, 19, didn't fall as far as De La Rose and Fucale did, but Perlini's slide is far more concerning, as he's an offensive weapon and he's failing to dominate even though he remains in major junior. The Coyotes like what they saw from him in training camp, but he's struggled with consistency since they returned him to junior. He posted a donut at the 2016 World Junior Championship. He averaged much more than a point per game in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Instead of lapping the field with OHL Niagara in 2015-16, he's slipped to less than a point-per-game player.
"It's going to be up to him and his training to see if he can possibly step in next year and be that scoring winger that everyone wants," Coyotes GM Don Maloney told THN correspondent Sarah McLellan in Future Watch 2016.
4. Brett Ritchie, RW, Dallas Stars (-41)
Last year: 35th
This year: Not ranked
Ritchie, 22, wouldn't have dropped in the rankings nearly as much had he not missed a significant chunk of time after wrist surgery in September. He returned to the AHL Texas Stars' lineup in December and didn't miss a beat, playing a heavy power forward game and flashing some goal-scoring ability. Dallas called him up to the NHL last week, but it remains to be seen if he can stick there for good. Playing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin sure is an opportunity of a lifetime. Ritchie does have six goals in 33 career games with the big club but hasn't quite graduated from Quad-A status.
5. Josh Morrissey, D, Winnipeg Jets (-40)
Last year: 18th
This year: 58th
Morrissey's first full professional season was described in Future Watch 2016 as a "baptism by fire." He'd shown all the makings of a high-end puck-moving blueliner leading up to this season, posting big offensive numbers in major junior and playing on Canada's gold-medal 2015 WJC team. He struggled adjusting to the speed of the AHL game to open this season, however, and looked indecisive. Reportedly, he's improved his game a lot in the New Year. It's far too early to write him off. He's just 20.
6. Nikita Scherbak, RW, Montreal Canadiens (-37)
Last year: 29th
This year: 66th
As was the case with Ritchie, Scherbak has been a difficult prospect for scouts to assess of late because of health woes. He injured his ankle in camp and aggravated it upon suiting up with AHL St. John's. His offensive potential remains nice and high. As Pat Hickey reports in Future Watch 2016, though, the Habs feel Scherbak, 20, is at about 75 percent of where they want him to be physically.
7. Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton Oilers (-36)
Last year: 13th
This year: 49th
Reinhart, 22, faces a fair amount of pressure, as the Oilers sent away a plum first-round selection in last June's draft to acquire him. He's a big, powerful and smart blueliner but isn't the fleetest of foot and doesn't play as mean as he could or should with a 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame.
8. Malcolm Subban, G, Boston Bruins (-35)
Last year: 41st
This year: not ranked
It's been a star-crossed year for Subban, 22. He hasn't been bad at the AHL level but hasn't progressed. He missed time in October with a lower-body ailment and fractured his larynx when a puck hit him in the throat last month. He remains a strong prospect, but 2015-16 looks like a lost season.
9. Michael Dal Colle, LW New York Islanders (-34)
Last year: 12th
This year: 46th
Expect Dal Colle, 19, to reverse the downward trend and climb next year. He started the season slowly with OHL Oshawa and failed to make Canada's WJC squad but has absolutely lit it up since a trade to Kingston.
10. Nick Paul, LW, Ottawa Senators (-33)
Last year: 43rd
This year: not ranked
It's not unheard of for a prospect to earn a high Future Watch ranking while he dominates in junior, then sink the following season as he learns the pro game. Binghamton coach Luke Richardson is trying to turn Paul, 20, into more of a true power forward and two-way player as an AHL rookie, and there's been a learning curve. Paul is up in the NHL with Ottawa right now and has two goals in his first 10 games.
Future Watch 2016, the world’s most authoritative hockey prospect guide, is available for purchase here.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin