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Future Watch 2018: the NHL’s top 10 falling prospects

Some got hurt. Some have struggled. Some are just unlucky. Which prospects tumbled the most in our scouting panel year over year?

Earlier this week came the good news from our Future Watch 2018 magazine with our top 10 rising prospects. You can read that breakdown here. Now it’s time to dole out the bad news. Which NHL-affiliated prospects saw the greatest drops in their ranks from our scouting panel over the past year?

First, a refresher on how our Future Watch edition comes together: we consult personnel and scouts from every NHL franchise and produce an updated list of their top 10 prospects. That gives us 310 players total. We then turn that group of 310 over to our hand-picked panel of scouts from around the NHL, who rank all the players, yielding an individual list of our top 100 prospects. The same scouting panel also looks at each franchise’s top 10, plus the franchise’s current NHLers aged 21 and younger, and grades each franchise, helping us determine top-31 rankings of the best development systems. You can purchase the special edition magazine here.

The risers list is easy to understand. Every kid on it has accomplished something significant and/or shown noteworthy improvement over the past year. The fallers list is much murkier. Readers often get upset if their favorite teams’ youngsters land on this list, but it’s not always an indictment of a player when that happens. Sometimes, an injury slows the kid’s development. Also, if a year passes without a prospect reaching the NHL, that means another draft has passed, meaning there are more bodies to compete against in the rankings. Eight of our top 10 prospects were drafted in 2017. So a fall in the rankings doesn’t always mean a given prospect has done something “wrong” in the past year.

Then again, sometimes it does. And the best prospects find a way to climb despite the increased competition. Look at Jordan Kyrou. The point is – you get a mixed bag on the fallers list. Some have been unlucky, some have stalled in their development, some have regressed, and some haven’t necessarily done anything bad. Just know our scouts aren’t declaring that these kids “suck.”

Disclaimer: 2017 draftees obviously don’t qualify for the fallers list, as they didn’t appear in Future Watch last year and thus have no rank to “fall” from.

1. JULIEN GAUTHIER, RW, CAROLINA HURRICANES (-76)
Last year: 25th
This year: not ranked in top 100

Wow. To go from a consensus top-25 prospect in our scouts’ poll to…not even a top 100 prospect? In one year? Ouch. When the drop is that big, there’s a reason for it other than bad luck. As reported in Future Watch 2018, Gauthier’s transition from major junior to his first season as a pro with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers has been rocky. He’s tallied just 12 goals and 16 points in 55 games. Gauthier is a gym beast, a jacked physical specimen, but the mental side of the game has come slowly for him this season, with Checkers coach Mike Vellucci wanting him to move his feet more. When Gauthier is a deer in the headlights, he can’t use his size to its full potential.

The good news: Gauthier has worked hard to improve and showed flashes this winter, especially when placed on a prospect line with Janne Kuokkanen and Nicolas Roy. And it’s hardly uncommon for monster power forwards to mature slowly. Tom Wilson, for example, was a grinder before breaking through as a scoring threat in his fifth NHL campaign. So Gauthier, 20, is far from a lost cause.

2. MAX JONES, LW, ANAHEIM DUCKS (-58)
Last year: 28th
This year: 86th

Jones, a big-bodied winger who plays on and often over the edge, was a high-risk, high-gain pick the day the Ducks nabbed him 24th overall in 2016, so it’s not a massive surprise to see his perceived value fluctuate year to year in our scouting vote. In Future Watch 2018, Ducks beat writer Eric Stephens reports that Jones’ had a “so-so” camp to start the year. He was scoring at less than a point-per-game pace with OHL London before a trade to the Kingston Frontenacs, which sets him up to gain valuable experience in a deep playoff run…when he’s back in the lineup. He’s missed two months after surgery on a broken finger. He last played Jan. 21. That’s obviously cost him major development time, but keep in mind some of our scouts cast their votes before Jones got hurt, so we can’t let him completely off the hook. He has that blend of skill and aggression to become a Corey Perry type and only just turned 20, so Jones, like Gauthier, still has time to figure things out.

3. DENIS GURIANOV, RW, DALLAS STARS (-55)
Last year: 43rd
This year: 98th

The Dallas Stars’ first-round picks since 2009: Scott Glennie, Jack Campbell, Jamie Oleksiak, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Julius Honka, Denis Gurianov, Riley Tufte, Miro Heiskanen.

Yikes. Heiskanen looks like a future star, fair, and Faksa has slowly matured into a legit shutdown center. There’s still time for Honka. But the rest of that group? It’s remarkable how little the Stars have gotten from their recent first-round picks, two of which crack 2018’s list of fallers, starting with Gurianov. He’s played one NHL game since going 12th overall in 2015. Eighteen players from that first round have 50 or more games, and 11 have crested 100 games. Gurianov was always projected to come along slower since he was staying behind in Russia for a year, but he’s now deep into his second AHL season and showing almost no improvement. It took him 17 games to score his first goal with Texas in 2017-18. The Stars want more consistency and discipline from him. With such a big, projectable body, you’d think he’s close to a shot at NHL duty, but he hasn’t done enough to earn it this season.

4. VLADISLAV KAMENEV, C, COLORADO AVALANCHE (-53)
Last year: 48th
This year: not ranked

Don’t shoot the messenger here. We know this ranking really isn’t Kamenev’s fault. He broke his arm in his first NHL game Nov. 21. He was a nice piece in the package Colorado acquired for Matt Duchene. Kamenev brings something different to the speedy Avs lineup, as he has real two-way sensibilities at center. Don’t worry about the ranking downgrade in this case, Avs fans. He was a victim of circumstance, and the world juniors came right after he got hurt, meaning players from that tourney were fresh in the panel’s minds when the voting finished. Kamenev is still a nice B-grade prospect. He’s back with the Avs now if you want to have a look at him in action.

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5. JON GILLIES, G, CALGARY FLAMES (-52)
Last year: 49th
This year: not ranked

Gillies ranked as one of our better goalie prospects for a couple years in Future Watch, but he’s since been passed on his team’s depth chart. David Rittich has established himself as the No. 2 netminder behind Mike Smith, while Tyler Parsons has taken over as the Flames’ unofficial goalie of the future, ranking as the No. 67 overall prospect in Future Watch 2018. Gillies mixed a few great starts with a few duds at the NHL level when Smith was injured. At 6-foot-6, Gillies is naturally built to block the net well, so he just needs to discover consistency. He hasn’t lost the battle with Rittich and Parsons yet. The Flames just have to hope one distances himself from the pack soon, as Smith is 35 and a UFA after 2018-19.

6. JAKE WALMAN, D, ST. LOUIS BLUES (-51)
Last year: 50th
This year: not ranked

A year ago, prospect D-men Walman, Jordan Schmaltz and Vince Dunn were perceived as neck and neck in the Blues’ pecking order, all offering similar puck-moving skill sets and fighting to crack the NHL lineup. Dunn won the battle in camp and looks like a permanent NHLer now, while Schmaltz’s production spiked enough in the AHL to earn him a call-up, too. Things haven’t gone nearly as well for Walman, who has struggled to produce much offense. The deck has been a bit stacked against him, though. The Blues’ AHL affiliate situation is highly unstable. They don’t officially have one right now. The Chicago Wolves belong to Vegas, with the roster partially populated with Blues prospects, while the overflow forces the Blues to send some prospects elsewhere. Walman has thus played for two AHL franchises this season: the Wolves and the Binghamton Devils. It can’t be easy to adjust to two sets of coaches and teammates. Walman deserves a mulligan for 2017-18.

7. RILEY TUFTE, LW, DALLAS STARS (-50)
Last year: 43rd
This year: not ranked

Tufte went from top-50 prospect NHL-wide to ranked No. 6 on the Stars’ list alone, behind Heiskanen, Nichushkin, Jason Dickinson, Gurianov and Roope Hintz. Tufte is a stranger case than Gurianov in that it’s tougher to pinpoint the reason for Tufte’s fall. He’s improved his scoring rate at the University of Minnesota-Duluth as a sophomore, nearly doubling his goal total in roughly the same number of games, and he represented Team USA at the 2018 world juniors. One flaw in his game to note: consistency. Ten of his 28 points have come in a five-game stretch across his 38 games. He’s had scoreless droughts of six, four, three and three games. It’s to be expected from a 6-foot-6, 220-pound behemoth still growing into his body. Sure seems like that’s the most prevalent theme of this list so far, doesn’t it? Slow-developing power forwards.

8. EVGENY SVECHNIKOV, RW, DETROIT RED WINGS (-45)
Last year: 20th
This year: 65th

It looks like Evgeny’s younger brother Andre, a projected top-three pick in the 2018 draft, will reach the NHL and make an impact first. Evgeny’s game has gone backwards at the AHL level this season, as he’s found the net just seven times in 52 games, and on the pages of Future Watch 2018, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill criticizes Svechknikov for not playing with enough pace and for taking too many minor penalties. But, hey, maybe a player with as much skill as he has will simply work better alongside NHL-caliber teammates. The Wings are giving Svechnikov a late-season look, and he scored his first NHL goal Tuesday in his seventh NHL game. Ideally, he gets a shot somewhere other than the fourth line, though. Can you really evaluate Svechnikov when he’s playing with Luke Glendening?

9. RASMUS ASPLUND, C, BUFFALO SABRES (-43)
Last year: 39th
This year: 82nd

Was Asplund’s ceiling overestimated a bit? In Future Watch 2017, he was labelled a “supreme playmaker.” In 2018: “he grinds it out with a decent dose of skill. Good speed, but he could use more creativity.” Sounds like he’s starting to project to something more like a second-line talent than a first-line talent. It’s tough to evaluate him properly until he tries his hand at the North American pro game, which he likely will soon after four seasons with Farjestad of the Swedish League. Might he be a trade candidate? The Sabres have Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and, eventually, Future Watch No. 1 overall prospect Casey Mittelstadt at center, so where would Asplund slot into the lineup? He has two-way ability for sure, but he has more offensive upside than a fourth-line center.

10. LOGAN STANLEY, D, WINNIPEG JETS (-43)
Last year: 58th
This year: not ranked

He’s built like Zdeno Chara, who was famously a project before blooming into a Hall of Famer, so it’s not the end of the world if Stanley develops slowly. But why such a big drop in the rankings? He won a Memorial Cup with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires last spring, and his offense is growing to match his physicality as he toils with the Kitchener Rangers. My theory as to why he’s slipped so far: he got cut from Team Canada’s 2018 world junior squad. Not only is failing to make the team a perceived slight on a player’s value, but it takes away a crucial evaluation showcase, and the WJC has an enormous influence on our Future Watch rankings. The tournament MVP, Mittelstadt, tops the rankings this year. If Stanley made Canada, I bet he would’ve finished 20 spots higher.