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Future Watch 2019: the NHL's top 10 rising prospects

Which NHL-affiliated prospects made the biggest jumps in The Hockey News' top 100 rankings over the past calendar year?

Future Watch, one of our most anticipated magazine editions every year, just arrived on newsstands. It’s our annual NHL franchise farm report, in which we assess and grade every team’s collection of 21-and-younger players from the NHL level to the depths of their development pipelines. You can purchase Future Watch 2019 here.

So how do we create our ranking system? First, we work with personnel and scouts from around the league, representing almost every franchise, and come up with an updated list of each team’s top 10 prospects not yet in full-time NHL roles. That gives us 310 players total. We then turn that group of 310 over to a hand-picked panel of scouts from around the NHL. They rank all the players, creating 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.

Some readers ask why we count the 21-and-younger NHLers toward our “farm” rankings. Well, if a team’s youth development is going so well that its teenagers are jumping right to the NHL while another franchise’s youngest prospects are still in the minors, the team whose prospects are ahead of the curve should not be “punished” in the rankings, should it? Having elite kids younger than 21 is a positive thing. The Philadelphia Flyers deserve to get rewarded for having a goaltender good enough to make a major impact at the NHL level before his 21st birthday in Carter Hart.

We focus on the individual top 100 ranks for this “Risers” exercise. Which youngsters not yet fully graduated to the NHL have jumped the highest in the top 100 over the past year?

Disclaimer 1: prospects drafted in 2018 don’t qualify, as they obviously weren’t ranked last year and thus have no comparison number to “rise” from. You hence won’t see Filip Zadina or Quinn Hughes on this list. Both crack the top 10 overall in our top 100 for 2019, but both debut on the list this year.

Disclaimer 2: just because your favorite prospect didn’t make this list doesn’t mean it’s bad news for him. Chances are, he was simply already ranked highly. Colorado blueline phenom Cale Makar is our No. 1 overall prospect for 2019, but he was No. 4 overall last year, meaning he only jumped three spots – not enough to make him a top riser over the past 365 days.

Disclaimer 3: Every set of rankings inspires a set of haters. Go ahead and hate if you must, but at least understand whom you’re hating. We Hockey News staffers don’t determine the player rankings. A group of NHL scouts and executives does. It doesn’t get more authoritative than that, so criticize their rankings at your own risk.

Last year: not ranked in top 100
This year: 21st

There's a reason so few goalies get picked in the first round anymore. Predicting their success at the NHL level is too much of a crapshoot when they're teenagers. It's thus not a huge surprise to see a player ranked outside the scouts' top 100 last year skyrocket all the way to 21st overall. Our voters needed that extra year to understand who Luukkonen was. The World Junior Championship ends just before the final ballots get tallied, creating somewhat of a recency bias in the evaluations. It shot Casey Mittelstadt to first overall in Future Watch 2018, and Luukkonen's shiny new rank reflects the 2019 WJC, in which he led Finland to gold and was named the tournament's top goaltender. He was a beast all year for the OHL's Sudbury Wolves and has begun carrying that momentum into the post-season, too. With a 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame and some excellent experience already for his age, he deserves the hype he's getting as Buffalo's "goalie of the future." Expect Luukkonen to start for AHL Rochester next year and push one of Linus Ullmark or Carter Hutton out of the way by 2020-21 in the NHL.

Last year: 78th
This year: 14th

Because the final rankings for Future Watch get tabulated early in the new year, Terry still qualifies for this list despite spending the past six weeks in the NHL. A year ago, his skills were undeniably dynamic, and he was a 2017 World Junior Championship hero and NCAA champion with Denver, but he was untested at the pro level. This time around, our scouts saw the way he was tearing up the AHL as a point-per-game player with San Diego. It's clear he's going to make a major impact as a scoring-line forward in the NHL, and the Ducks desperately need him with a great generation of forwards led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry aging out of its prime years.

Last year: not ranked in top 100
This year: 44th

Robertson is the latest youngster to improve his game significantly after spending a summer working with fitness guru Gary Roberts to get in tip-top shape. Robertson went supernova after a blockbuster OHL trade sent him from Kingston to Niagara, averaging better than two points a night across 38 games en route to winning the league scoring title. No one doubts the raw scoring ability or two-way intelligence, but his skating remains a work in progress. Think Mark Stone.

Last year: 81st
This year: 38th

Returned to junior after breaking camp with the Senators. Out of the world juniors because of a knee injury. It almost feels like a drop in the rankings would've made more sense than a rise for Formenton. But speed trumps most skills in today's game, and his is elite. Now healthy, he has a chance to help the London Knights on a potentially deep playoff run. The Senators wanted him back in junior so he'd get a lot of reps handling the puck rather than be forced into depth minutes. It would be an upset if he's not an NHLer next fall, though.

Last year: not ranked in top 100
This year: 60th

We recognize the name because of his NHL family bloodline, but Keith's son is starting to carve out his own reputation on merit. Across his past two seasons at Northeastern and the 2019 WJC with Team USA, he's posted a save percentage better than .930. He's already big enough for the pros at 6-foo-2 and 199 pounds but, at 19, he may not even be done growing. Might he take Carey Price's mantle in Montreal half a decade from now? Primeau took the next step last week by turning pro. He's years away from a starting NHL gig but an elite netminding prospect nonetheless.

Last year: not ranked in top 100
This year: 63rd

It's been a rollercoaster season for Comtois. He scored his first NHL goal literally seconds into his career and racked up seven points in his first 10 games, but the Ducks returned him to the QMJHL after he recovered from a lower-body injury sustained in late October. That freed up him to captain Canada's world junior squad – and end up targeted by cyber bullies on social media after his missed penalty shot in overtime of Canada's tournament-ending loss to the Finns. That anguish aside, though, he tore it up with Drummondville, scoring 31 goals in 25 games. His size, physicality, leadership and speed should make him at worst a good middle-six NHL forward.

Last year: 99th
This year: 71st

He looked like one of the few swings and misses in a 2015 draft class shaping up to be an all-timer. He actually finished third on last year's top Future Watch fallers list after dropping 55 spots between 2017 and 2018 and was a healthy scratch during the Calder Cup final. But the light has finally switched on for the big, rangy goal-scorer. He's been one of the AHL's best players, averaging close to a point per game, and has seen occasional NHL duty. He has little left to prove in the minors, so he should get a longer look next season, especially since he's added penalty-killing acumen to complement his wheels.

Last year: 53rd
This year: 27th

He's been a scoring machine with AHL Belleville and slowed flashes in the NHL, especially when playing with now-former Senator Matt Duchene, but the farm club is in the midst of a playoff chase, so the franchise wants to keep Batherson playing meaningful games rather than having him pile up garbage-time stats with a last-place NHL club. The Senators value him as a future fixture on one of their top two lines.

last year: not ranked in top 100
This year: 75th

The Devils rank 21st in goals per game and desperately need more high-upside forwards. Boqvist has a chance to fill that need. His shifty game is all about offense. A broken wrist slowed him last year, but he's impressed in the Swedish League this time around. He's not a big body, but he's plenty fast, and being 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds isn't nearly the hindrance it was perceived to be a decade ago. Little guys can flourish, as Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau and Brayden Point can attest.

last year: 87th
This year: 61st

The Flames boast two excellent scoring lines and didn't want to limit Dube's minutes in a depth role, so they sent him to AHL Stockton after 23 games. His tremendous speed is his best asset, and it's helped him transition smoothly to the pros. The question is where he fits long-term on Calgary's depth chart. He's unlikely to displace Sean Monahan or Mikael Backlund on the first two lines.


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