Future Watch 2020: The NHL's top 10 falling prospects - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Future Watch 2020: The NHL's top 10 falling prospects

Which NHL-affiliated prospects have sustained the biggest drops in our scouts' top-100 rankings year over year?
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James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I revealed the 10 NHL-affiliated prospects who had risen the most in our Future Watch rankings over the past year. For you glass-half-empty types, it’s time for the top 10 falling prospects.

First off, if you aren’t familiar with Future Watch 2020, which can be purchased here: It’s an annual special edition in which we (a) grade every NHL franchise’s collection of 21-and-younger talent, from players in the system to young guns on the NHL rosters and (b) rank the top 100 NHL-affiliated individual prospects, with “NHL-affiliated” referring to all drafted or signed players in a team’s system. To learn more about how our panel of NHL team scouts creates the rankings, click here and read the top 10 Risers article.

(You can also buy a digital version of Future Watch 2020. Just download The Hockey News app in the Google Play or Apple app store. You can purchase digital copies of each issue in our app: https://apps.apple.com/ca/app/the-hockey-news/id1075503864)

The Fallers list is a lot more complicated than the Risers list. It’s not as simple as perusing these names and just assuming all 10 players have regressed developmentally over the past 365 days. Sometimes, that’s true but, other times, an injury has cost a prospect crucial playing time and stalled his trajectory or suppressed his stats. Also, if a player hasn’t graduated permanently to the NHL over the past year, that means an entire other draft class has been added to each team’s farm system, so some of the new recruits are competing on prospect lists against players who appeared in previous editions of Future Watch. Sometimes the old guard gets pushed down the ranks by the new additions.

A disclaimer to remember before we get to the Fallers list: 2019 NHL draftees aren’t eligible. They didn’t appear in Future Watch 2019, as they weren’t yet drafted, so they can’t be fallers when they have no previous ranking to fall from.

1. LIAS ANDERSSON, C, NEW YORK RANGERS (-67)
Last year: 34th
This year: not ranked in top 100

Andersson was an obvious bet to “win” the 2020 Fallers title. His 2019-20 could not have gone more disastrously. He posted a single point in 17 games, during which he was entrusted with just 9:33 of average ice time and was utterly pasted by opponents in the possession numbers. He was then demoted to AHL, where he lasted 13 games before leaving the team, requesting a trade and getting suspended. He was loaned to HV71 in the SHL back in his native Sweden and didn’t look out of place, but his future with the Rangers looks extremely complicated. He spoke of disturbing “incidents” within the organization which seemed to imply being bullied, but he didn’t elaborate further. When he was in the lineup, he struggled with his explosiveness as a skater. It’s tough to imagine Andersson wearing a Ranger uniform ever again, but he’s still just 21. It’s not too late for the 2017 draft’s seventh-overall pick to turn his career around.

2. RASMUS KUPARI, C, LOS ANGELES KINGS (-58)
Last year: 19th
This year: 77th

Kupari’s best asset is his tremendous speed. He’s a true burner and represents the Kings’ organizational shift toward eschewing vestiges of the big, slow Dean Lombardi-era teams for a smaller, quicker squad. Why, then, does, Kupari go from top-20 prospect to almost off the radar? He hasn’t brought much finishing ability with him since transitioning from Karpat of the Finnish Liiga to the AHL’s Ontario Reign. Ideally, you want scoring touch to complement the wheels. The Kings felt he started to show progress adjusting to the North American game after a couple months. The main reason for his drop is the torn ACL he sustained at the 2020 world juniors competing for Finland. For a player whose calling card is speed, it’s scary to see such a major knee injury so young.

3. NICOLAS BEAUDIN, D, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (-44)
Last year: 50th
This year: 94th

The hope is that Beaudin goes backward to go forward. He was an offensive dynamo in major junior, a power-play quarterback scoring at better than a point-per-game clip in his final two seasons with QMJHL Drummondville. Transitioning to the AHL and playing with men, he’s not putting up the same big numbers – not even close, but that’s partially because he’s been working hard on his fundamentals and learning how defend against bigger forwards. That will be important given his 5-foot-10, 178-pound build. Smaller D-men can excel in today’s NHL but still need certain baseline strength and must understand how to use positioning and footwork to thwart attackers. By working on those areas, perhaps Beaudin will be better off in the long run. He didn’t fall this year because he did anything wrong, really. It’s more likely the dip in his stats caused our scouting panel to overlook him a bit. He did get called up for an NHL game March 11.

4. BODE WILDE, D, NEW YORK ISLANDERS (-44)
Last year: 57th
This year: not ranked in top 100

Wilde has bounced around this year. He sustained a high-ankle sprain in the World Junior Summer Showcase and ended up playing 20 games with AHL Bridgeport before being returned to OHL Saginaw where he could play a much bigger role. He’s still just 20, he has great size, and he’s a naturally talented offensive defenseman with a booming shot, but he must continue honing his hockey sense and defensive acumen. He is physical, so he has potential to grow into a two-way force. Given he technically moved backward on the developmental plane this season, he’ll likely need another full year in the AHL before he knocks on the NHL door.

5. EELI TOLVANEN, LW, NASHVILLE PREDATORS (-38)
Last year: 15th
This year: 53rd

Remember how excited we were when Tolvanen was smashing KHL underager records a couple years back? It’s been a real grind adjusting to the North American game. He has trouble getting his shot off and has not graded out as a good defensive forward. That matters, as when you’re an AHLer perceived to have a one-way game, you don’t have much of a chance to stick with the NHL club as a bottom-six forward. You have to make it as a top-sixer, and if you’re going to do that, you better be dominating the AHL offensively. Tolvanen has not been. The tantalizing tools haven’t gone anywhere, though. Electric wrister and one-timer. Capable of major hot streaks. And he’s only 20. He’s no longer Nashville’s top prospect, but he’s far from hopeless yet.

6. ALEKSI HEPONIEMI, C, FLORIDA PANTHERS (-37)
Last year: 64th
This year: not ranked in top 100

Heponiemi didn’t just tumble out of the top 100. He’s not even ranked as a top-10 Panthers prospect in Future Watch 2020. The transition from the Finnish Liiga to the AHL has been…ugly. He managed three goals and 14 points in his 49-game AHL debut. That was after posting massive point totals in major junior and being quite a productive player in the Liiga. There’s no questioning his natural playmaking skills, but his decision making with the puck has been inconsistent, and he’s even been a healthy scratch at times. Weighing just 148 pounds (!!!) can’t be helping him win battles, either. The strangest thing about Heponiemi’s struggles is that he’s not the stereotypical European prospect adjusting to the speed and confined spaces of the North American game. He played two seasons with the Swift Current Broncos. He did show blips of life later in the season with AHL Springfield. All three of his goals came in his last 16 games. He has the foot speed and vision to make an impact someday but has to climb the depth chart into a meaningful farm-club role first.

7. OLLI JUOLEVI, D, VANCOUVER CANUCKS (-35)
Last year: 66th
This year: not ranked in top 100.

Juolevi actually ranked sixth on this list last year, when he’d tumbled from 21st to 66th, and now he’s dropped right out of the top 100, which is disheartening to say the least given the Canucks used 2016’s fifth-overall pick on him. This season, the news isn’t all bad, however. Despite the slide in the ranks, he’s finally been relatively healthy, shaking off a bout of hip soreness and getting 45 games in with AHL Utica, during which he’s been used in all situations. So while the ranking suggests he’s slipping, Juolevi has actually experienced a positive year developmentally simply by staying on the ice and getting his reps in an important role. He turns 22 in May. Plenty of great NHL defensemen have debuted older than that. So we may see Juolevi get there at some point.

8. MARTIN KAUT, RW, COLORADO AVALANCHE (-31)
Last year: 56th
This year: 87th

Kaut’s drop reflects a horrible start to his AHL season. He got his first point in Game 11 and first goal in Game 13. He also missed more than a month due to an upper-body injury sustained in late October. Kaut, a defensively responsible forward with some edge, did find his game eventually, picking up 18 points in what will likely be his final 24 AHL games played this season. He also did most of his damage at even strength. He earned a February call-up to the Avs and scored twice in nine games. Given the strong finish, he could compete for a roster spot in the NHL next season.

9. JARET ANDERSON-DOLAN, C, LOS ANGELES KINGS (-29)
Last year: 72nd
This year: not ranked in top 100

Anderson-Dolan’s drop in the ranks could simply be the result of his own team pushing so many new talents ahead of him on the depth chart. Since Future Watch 2019 came out, the Kings have drafted or traded for the players now ranked as their five best prospects: Alex Turcotte, Tobias Bjornfot, Samuel Fagemo, Arthur Kaliyev and Tyler Madden. General manager Rob Blake has been busy. The speedy Anderson plays a conscientious two-way game, so perhaps our scouts figure he could end up being a middle-six forward and thus has a lower ceiling than some of L.A.’s other blue-chippers. Anderson-Dolan actually acquitted himself pretty well as rookie pro in the AHL this season, picking up 28 points in 53 games in a significant role. It wasn’t a surprise to see him get four games in with the Kings this year, either, as his skill set makes him someone you can trust on a checking line upon calling him up.

10. JASON ROBERTSON, LW, DALLAS STARS (-26)
Last year: 44th
This year: 70th

Jason’s younger brother Nick has good skating ability, so it’s a bit surprising that skating is actually Jason’s weakness. It’s likely the biggest reason for Robertson’s drop, as our scouts appear not to trust his long-term ceiling. Short-term, however, his development is going quite well. As a rookie pro, he led AHL Texas in scoring, and he earned himself three NHL games with Dallas. Robertson, who also won the OHL scoring crown last year, has progressed nicely but has to improve his skating and defense if he wants to unlock star potential.

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