The approach of spring brings the NHL playoff race’s home stretch and also my favorite issue we publish at THN every year: Future Watch. It’s a farm system breakdown you can’t find anywhere else. We grade out every franchise’s developing crop of NHL-affiliated talent.
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 – as we can hardly discount Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel as significant part of their teams’ futures for years to come.
And voila, that’s Future Watch, covering teams’ farm systems from every angle.
Every year, individual player rankings see wild fluctuations. Which prospects not yet graduated to full-time NHL duty made the biggest leaps over the past year? Last year’s top climbers were Jimmy Vesey and Nick Schmaltz, each of whom plies his trade in the NHL today.
Note: the list of risers does not include any prospects drafted in 2016, as they’re appearing in Future Watch for the first time. That includes Clayton Keller, Jesse Puljujarvi and so on.
1. Kirill Kaprizov, LW, Minnesota Wild (+63)
Last year: Not ranked in top 75
This year: 13th
Kaprizov forced his way up our rankings with an incredible 365 days between Future Watch 2016 and 2017. He absolutely devoured the 2017 world juniors, with nine goals and 12 points in seven games. Then he ripped off 20 goals in 49 games with the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and his 42 points set a league record for a teenager. If there’s one thing the Wild lack right now on their deep roster, it’s a truly deadly goal scorer, as they should finish 2016-17 without a 30-goal man. Kaprizov can help them in that area long term. He doesn’t fit the mold of prototypical Richard Trophy contender in that he’s not a pure, “selfish” shooter. He’s more of an all-around scoring type with great hands and speed. At just 5-foot-9, he’s often compared to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Artemi Panarin.
Minny fans have to mop up their saliva and wait a couple years, however. Kaprizov’s KHL contract doesn’t expire until 2018. So we’ll anticipate his 2018-19 arrival just like we did Evgeny Kuznetsov’s for so many years.
2. Philippe Myers, D, Philadelphia Flyers (+47)
Last year: Not ranked
This year: 29th
The Flyers inked Myers as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He didn’t even crack their top 10 prospects in Future Watch 2016, so a leap inside the top 30 shocked us. Our panel really likes the kid, as do the Flyers, who rave about his blend of mobility and agility on a 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. He’s quietly been better than a point-per-game player with the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies this season. He impressed in a pre-season look with the Flyers last fall, too, and made Canada’s world junior squad. TSN’s Bob McKenzie excited Flyers fans in January by suggesting Myers was NHL ready.
As if the Flyers weren’t stacked enough with young D-men. They already have Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere at the NHL level, with Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg in the system. Myers could leapfrog that AHL trio if he keeps playing this well.
3. Jordan Greenway, LW, Minnesota Wild (+40)
Last year: Not ranked
This year: 36th
The hulking Greenway earned a “project” label in last year’s edition but made a massive leap for 2017. He was a huge component of the championship 2017 U.S. world junior squad, with three goals and eight points in seven games. He’s a major part of Boston University’s offense, too. TSN’s Ray Ferraro, quoted in Future Watch, compares Greenway to Todd Bertuzzi. Greenway possesses a similar blend of scoring touch, size and flat-out nastiness.
4. Thomas Chabot, D, Ottawa Senators (+35)
Last year: 38th
This year: 3rd
Chabot didn’t make the single-biggest jump of any prospect over the past year, but climbing specifically from 38th into the top three overall makes his rise arguably the most significant. He became a household name in Canada as the world junior team’s workhorse, do-it-all D-man and is the first defenseman to win tournament MVP. Most blueliners need AHL seasoning to learn the pro game, but Chabot might be too good. He could jump from QMJHL Saint John right to the Sens for good next season. First, he’ll try to pad his resume with a Memorial Cup.
5. Brandon Montour, D, Anaheim Ducks (+35)
Last year: 65th
This year: 30th
Montour appears to have landed in the NHL for good but was still spending most of his time in the AHL when our scouts compiled their rankings, so he was still treated as a prospect in our magazine this year. There’s a reason why, despite all the trade rumors, Montour remained a Duck through the deadline, even with Anaheim enjoying a surplus of good young blueliners. Montour is just too promising, and his offensive ceiling appears to have surpassed that of Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Shea Theodore. That’s not to say Montour is a sure thing – but he’s a smooth-skating right-hander who can run a power play and has a big-time shot. He’s a risk taker who makes mistakes, but he could grow into a high-scoring NHLer if he rounds out the rest of his game and earns an increased role. The question now is: should GM Bob Murray shop right-shooting Sami Vatanen to free up depth chart space for Montour?
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6. Jack Roslovic, C, Winnipeg Jets (+30)
Last year: Not ranked
This year: 46th
Spoiler alert: the Jets’ farm system finished first in our team rankings for the second time in three years, and Roslovic is making nice a splash as a first-time pro in the AHL alongside speedy Kyle Connor. Roslovic possesses promising 200-foot hockey acumen. Is he the long-term successor to Bryan Little as Winnipeg’s No. 2 center? Little turns 30 next year, has one season left on his deal at a $4.7-million cap hit and has missed significant time due to injury three years in a row.
7. Jacob Larsson, D, Anaheim Ducks (+27)
Last year: 50th
This year: 23rd
Sheesh, these Ducks are swimming in ‘D’ prospects. Larsson has strong two-way skills and fluid skating. The Ducks gave him four games in the NHL and AHL before loaning him back to Frolunda of the Swedish League. Larsson’s still just 19, and the Ducks’ stacked blueline buys them time to slow-cook him. He’ll likely get an extended look at the North American pro game next year in the AHL, with an eye on cracking the Ducks for good in 2018-19.
8. Christian Fischer, RW, Arizona Coyotes (+22)
Last year: Not ranked
This year: 54th
Subpar skating hasn't derailed Fischer’s ascension as a promising power forward. He’s torn up the AHL in his first season of pro hockey, flirting with point-per-game production, and he scored twice three NHL games with the Coyotes.
9. Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (+20)
Last year: 73rd
This year: 53rd
Like Montour, Bjorkstrand hadn’t yet stuck with the big club when our panel ranked the players. It appears he’s there permanently now. He was a prolific scorer in major junior with WHL Portland, and he found his touch and ripped it up with AHL Lake Erie in the 2016 playoffs en route to winning the Calder Cup. So far, so good in the NHL as well, where he has five goals and 10 points in 18 games this season. He’s bouncing around the lineup a bit but always has quality linemates on such a deep team.
10. Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Minnesota Wild (+18)
Last year: 23rd
This year: 5th
The scouts love Eriksson Ek, and with good reason. He’s a smart, skilled pivot who, interestingly enough, profiles as a Mikko Koivu type of player but with more offensive upside. Eriksson Ek had five points in nine games with Minny to start the year, but the Wild decided they’d rather see him play a ton back in Sweden than toil on their fourth line. He lit up the world juniors with six goals and nine points in seven games, too. He’ll be back in the NHL soon, likely next season, and he’ll contend for the Calder Trophy.
Itching to see our Future Watch rankings in full? Click here to purchase the issue online.