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Future Watch 2017: the NHL’s Top 10 falling prospects

Matt Larkin
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Future Watch 2017: the NHL’s Top 10 falling prospects

Sonny Milano. Image by: Getty Images

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Future Watch 2017: the NHL’s Top 10 falling prospects

Matt Larkin
By:

Some are surpassed by new draftees. Others battle injuries. Some just can’t evolve their games. Which prospects have regressed the most in our Future Watch rankings since 2016?

Earlier this week, I unveiled the top 10 rising prospects as reported in THN Future Watch 2017, our ultimate farm system ranking magazine. Now it’s time to unveil which NHL-affiliated prospects nosedived the most over the past 365 days. Any prospect who hasn’t cracked an NHL roster full-time since Future Watch 2016 has a decent chance to slide merely because his team has since drafted half a dozen or more new players. Still, the 10 names below have slipped far enough to sound alarm bells.

To recap the Future Watch ranking process: first, we consult scouts from all 30 NHL franchises to get lists of their top 10 prospects. In this case, “prospects” mean players under team control who are not yet full-time NHLers. That gives us a list of 300 players. We then turn that list over to our scouting panel, made up of roughly 15 NHL executives depending on the year, including head scouts and GMs. Each panel member ranks the top 50 prospects from that group. Enough players receive votes that we produce a final top-75 individual player list, and we expanded that to 100 players this year. Finally, we grade every team’s prospect list while also including any players 21 and younger on their NHL rosters.

The Montreal Canadiens got dinged the worst on Future Watch 2016’s falling prospect list, with Jacob De La Rose and Zach Fucale suffering the biggest plunges in the rankings. This year, it’s New York Islanders fans’ turn to sweat.

A reminder: players drafted in 2016 are not eligible for the risers or fallers this year, as they’ve only just debuted in Future Watch.

1. Sonny Milano, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (-68)
Last year: 33rd
This year: Not ranked in top 100

Ouch. That’s a precipitous drop. There’s no denying Milano’s YouTube-worthy hands. The kid can dangle like almost nobody else. But there’s a lot more to NHL hockey than stickhandling wizardry. The scouting report in Future Watch 2016 foreshadowed a regression by comparing Milano’s polarizing reception to Nikita Filatov’s. The 2017 report criticizes Milano’s play away from the puck and questions whether he’ll ever jive with hardnosed coach John Tortorella.

Milano hasn’t been a disaster at the AHL level, amassing 13 goals and 31 points in 49 games, but he hasn’t displayed improvement, either.

2. Jakub Zboril, D, Boston Bruins (-59)
Last year: 42nd
This year: Not ranked

Just one more reason for Bruins fans to bemoan GM Don Sweeney trading Dougie Hamilton, then passing on Matt Barzal with three straight first-round picks to nab Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn at the 2015 draft. Zboril’s overall scouting report still shows promise, particularly on the physical side, as he’s a punishing physical player and strong on his skates. He’s been overshadowed on his own junior team, however, surpassed by Thomas Chabot with QMJHL Saint John, which is ironic because the Sea Dogs’ coaching staff instructed Chabot to try and be more like Zboril.

His focus has been called into question, and his reputation is described in Future Watch 2017 as that of a player “who’s not always there.” He’ll need to find his consistency and improve his skating a bit before he sniffs an NHL roster. Zboril remains a project, albeit one who could still wind up an impactful player for the Bruins in a few years.

3. Ryan Pulock, D, New York Islanders (-58)
Last year: 43rd
This year: Not ranked

Blame the organization and some bad luck. The Isles have repeatedly blocked Pulock on their defensive depth chart with aging veterans, preventing him from getting an extended NHL look even though he had little left to prove in the AHL. He made a strong showing in a 15-game trial late in 2015-16, which bled into the playoffs. Pulock posted elite possession numbers in that stretch. A broken foot in October derailed his 2016-17 season. The good news: he has a monster shot, clocked at Shea Weber speeds, and will help the Isles’ power play if and when he finally gets the chance he deserves. His skating is average at best, but that was true the day New York drafted him in 2013. We know who he is.

Injury and lack of opportunity have squashed Pulock’s prospect ranking, but it’s an artificial fall. He still has an intriguing ceiling.

4. Haydn Fleury, D, Carolina Hurricanes (-54)
Last year: 41st
Last year: 95th

Gulp. Most of Hurricanes GM Ron Francis’ early-round draft picks have earned praise since he took over in 2014. He nabbed Sebastian Aho 35th overall in 2015. He took Noah Hanifin fifth overall that year, too. He had two first-round picks last June and wisely used them on Julien Gauthier and Jake Bean.

But Francis grabbed Fleury seventh overall in 2014. The next two players chosen: William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers. It’s easy to cherry pick, and Francis was obviously drafting according to needs at the time but, hey, D-man Julius Honka went seven spots later. Honka rates as the No. 17 overall player in Future Watch 2017, up from 20th the year before and 23rd in Future Watch 2015. Fleury has sunk from 28th to 41st to 95th in our rankings over that span. He started slowly in his first AHL season this year but has steadied his game and is now the Charlotte Checkers’ go-to defender. Still, it does not appear he’s going to show much offense at the NHL level. That puts a lot of pressure on him to use his 6-foot-3, 221-pound frame effectively and shut down the opposition, which he does some nights but not consistently yet. He’s only 20, though, so there’s no reason to panic about his development yet. Big blueliners take time.

5. Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton Oilers (-52)
Last year: 49th
This year: Not ranked

Reinhart is one of two players to crack the top 10 fallers list two straight years, which is extremely difficult to accomplish. Do the math. The Islanders hoped they had a big, powerful minute muncher when they drafted him in 2012, as did the Edmonton Oilers when they acquired him at the 2015 draft for picks, one of which became Barzal. Reinhart, though, doesn’t play as mean as he should for a 6-foot-4, 212-pound man. Note the use of the word “man.” He’s 23 now, no longer a kid, rapidly trending toward bust status. He’s steady and smart defensively, but his foot speed has become a problem.

6. Michael Dal Colle, LW, New York Islanders (-47)
Last year: 46th
This year: 93rd

Dal Colle is the second player to crack the 2016 and 2017 fallers lists. He ranked as high as 12th in Future Watch 2015. His goal-scoring talent made him a top-five draft pick in 2015, after all.

Dal Colle finished last season strongly in major junior, posting some monster numbers after a trade from Oshawa to Kingston reignited his game. His adjustment to the AHL has gone rockily, though, hence Josh Ho-Sang getting the call-up over him. Dal Colle does have 15 points in his past 16 games with Bridgeport, however, as he adjust to the league’s speed. He still has more than enough time to become a legit NHL goal scorer – if the Islanders give him an opportunity. They block their youngsters with signings like 37-year-old Jason Chimera.

7. Michael McCarron, C, Montreal Canadiens (-43)
Last year: 47th
This year: 90th

McCarron is an odd addition to his list considering he’s taken a fairly regular NHL shift since December, but our scouting panel starts ranking players around the new year, and McCarron wasn’t guaranteed to stick with the Habs at that time. His monstrous 6-foot-6, 231-pound frame has obvious appeal, but his offense isn’t translating to the NHL and had even regressed in the AHL. As you could expect, lack of wheels is a problem.

8. Samuel Morin, D, Philadelphia Flyers (-41)
Last year: 51st
This year: 92nd

Don’t panic too much over Morin’s plunge. Our panel put Philly’s Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers in the top 100 ahead of Morin and also factored Ivan Provorov into the Flyers’ overall team youth crop ranking of sixth. Morin is the least offensively flashy of the bunch and thus fades into the background, but the most recent scouting reports on his development in AHL Lehigh Valley aren’t negative at all.

He’s a towering, tough beast at 6-foot-7 and 227 pounds. The Flyers hope he can be Chris Pronger, minus the offense of course. Morin is only 21. He didn’t play himself out of last year’s high ranking. It’s more that other prospects just outshone his game, which isn’t eye-poppingly entertaining.

9. Kerby Rychel, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs (-40)
Last year: 61st
This year: not ranked

From 61st overall as a Blue Jacket prospect to not even cracking Toronto’s top 10, let alone the top 100, Rychel has really fallen off the map. Maybe his feud with the Jackets, in which he demanded a trade when he wasn’t exactly in a position of leverage, soured scouts on his attitude. Maybe it’s because the Leafs have so many exciting rookies attracting more attention. He’s quietly enjoying a pretty decent season with the AHL Marlies, with 16 goals and 45 points in 60 games, and there’s no denying his size and toughness. It remains to be seen if he can find a place in the Leafs’ lineup, though.

10. Steve Santini, D, New Jersey Devils (-40)
Last year: 60th
This year: 100th

Two years ago, Santini landed on our top 10 risers list. Now he’s a top 10 faller. Too bad. The Devils still love his physical game. He’s a rock-solid 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and a devastating hitter. He profiles as a future team leader, too. But can he get his skill level high enough to make a long-term NHL splash? His stickhandling and skating need work. He cracked the Devils roster in January, though, and has held his own, playing 16 minutes a game and actually displaying more offense than he did in the AHL.

Want to learn where every team and player finished in our 2017 Future Watch rankings? Click here to purchase the issue online.

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Future Watch 2017: the NHL’s Top 10 falling prospects