Which still-developing NHL prospects have made the biggest strides in our rankings over the past year?
Future Watch, our annual prospect-bonanza publication, is hitting newsstands right about…now. Inside that special edition, scouts from every NHL team rank their organization’s top 10 prospects. That generates a pool of 300 players. A panel of about 15 (the number varies slightly by year) head scouts and GMs uses that 300-player list to create a top 50. Votes are assembled to create an aggregate top 50, and the panel also ranks each franchise’s prospect pools.
Which players have skyrocketed among our top 75 based on last year’s rankings? Here’s a look at Future Watch’s top risers. Keep in mind anyone ranked last year who graduated to full-time NHL duty doesn’t count as a “riser,” nor do players drafted in 2014 who debuted on the list this year.
1. Anthony Duclair, LW, Arizona Coyotes (+59)
Last year: not ranked
This year: 17th overall
Duclair’s leap explains the enthusiasm from Arizona’s perspective about landing him in the Keith Yandle trade. Duclair is fast and skilled, with a natural goal-scoring touch. Duclair always had a first-round skill set, but he fell to the Rangers at 80th overall in 2013 because of the space between his ears. He ranked as the No. 6 prospect in New York’s system a year ago. He lit up the QMJHL with Quebec after “being challenged to play at full speed on a nightly basis.”
Fifty goals in 59 junior games last season, followed by an impressive camp, earned Duclair an NHL roster spot. He notched a goal and seven points in 18 games before being loaned to Canada for the world juniors, where he lit it up on a line with Sam Reinhart and Max Domi. Duclair has matured into a more coachable prospect. He’s trending toward the ceiling of his potential instead of the floor.
2. Shea Theodore, D, Anaheim Ducks (+55)
Last year: 75th
This year: 20th
Here’s another prospect buoyed by his world junior effort. Theodore and Darnell Nurse absolutely devoured their competition during Canada’s 2015 gold medal run. The pairing weren’t on the ice for a single goal against. Thedore’s offense was never in question, but defensive acumen was the original knock. The critical voices have quieted significantly as Theodore hones his all-around game. As if Anaheim’s blueline wasn’t scary enough.
3. Madison Bowey, D, Washington Capitals (+51)
Last year: NR
This year: 25th
The Caps have plenty of reasons to let Mike Green walk as an unrestricted free agent this off-season. Bowey is one of them. He’s a right-handed shot who can generate major offense. With John Carlson, Brooks Oprik, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner locked up long-term, Washington need not break the bank re-signing Green. It wants to make room for Bowey’s dynamic game anyway. Bowey has a few creases to smooth out defensively, but his stock has risen regardless. He looks like a future power play dynamo.
4. Nick Paul, LW, Ottawa Senators (+33)
Last year: NR
This year: 43rd
Alex Chiasson was supposed to be the prime piece going Ottawa’s way in the Jason Spezza trade with Dallas. Paul was a relative afterthought last summer. He was the 101st overall pick in 2013 and didn’t even crack the Stars’ top 10 prospects in Future Watch 2014, let alone the overall top 75. But the 6-foot-3 power forward has really grown into his frame. He has career highs across the board with OHL North Bay already this season. Maybe GM Bryan Murray and his scouts were simply ahead of us when they pushed for Dallas to include Paul in the Spezza deal.
5. Steve Santini, D, New Jersey Devils (+28)
Last year: 67th
This year: 39th
Santini has missed time with a wrist injury this season, but that doesn’t dissuade the Devils from considering him a future mainstay on their blueline. Santini’s specialty is thunderous hits. If only we could think of a famous Devils D-man to compare him to…
6. Ryan Sproul, D, Detroit Red Wings (+27)
Last year: NR
This year: 49th
Sproul’s big rise is mildly deceiving. Yes, he’s on track to become a good pro. He has great size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he’s 22, he has a big shot, and his general ascension toward NHL-readiness boosted him into the top 50 this year. A shoulder injury, however, has led to a regression in Sproul’s numbers with AHL Grand Rapids. He remains an important part of the Wings’ future, and he’s one of the many appealing prospects GM Ken Holland refused to surrender leading up to the trade deadline.
7. Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, Detroit Red Wings (+26)
Last year: NR
This year: 50th
The stocky Finn has absolutely lit up the AHL. His lethal one-timer ability has even inspired Brett Hull comparisons.
8. Samuel Morin, D, Philadelphia Flyers (+25)
Last year: 56th
This year: 31st
Just a natural ascension for gigantic, mean blueliner. He openly tries to emulate Chris Pronger.
9. Xavier Ouellet, D, Detroit Red Wings (+21)
Last year: 63rd
This year: 42th
You’ve probably guessed by now that it’s a good year for Detroit prospects. Ouellet marks the third Wing among the top 10 risers, and the team has even better blue-chippers in Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Ouellet: a solid all-round defenseman who impresses Detroit most with his hockey sense. Was named to the AHL All-Star Game.
10. Ryan Pulock, D, New York Islanders (+20)
Last year: 60th
This year: 40th
Griffin Reinhart will one day hammer opposing NHL forwards. Pulock, an offense-minded blueliner, will hammer pucks past opposing NHL goalies. He’s a true shooting defenseman who scores goals. He had 23 in his final year of junior, and he has 12 in 34 games with AHL Bridgeport.
Stay tuned for another blog later this week on Future Watch prospects who took the biggest falls in the rankings.
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
Future Watch 2015, the world’s most authoritative hockey prospect guide, is available for purchase today.