Sports Future Watch 2021: The NHL's Top 10 Falling Prospects
IIHF U18 Men's World Championship 2021: Rosters, NHL draft status, jersey numbers for all 10 teams
The 2021 IHF U18 Men's World Championship will see 250 of the game's top players under 18 compete for national pride and a gold medal beginning April 26.Each team will sport a 25-man roster (minus one or two due to last-minute COVID-19 protocols) in a tournament that will see some of the top NHL prospects for 2021 — and a few who could top the draft board in 2022 and 2023.
Which NHL-affiliated prospects took the biggest tumbles in our scouting panel's rankings? The unorthodox hockey calendar had a major influence on the list this year, and that's why you shouldn't panic.
The fun part came first. Earlier this week, we unveiled The Hockey News’ top 10 rising prospects in Future Watch 2021, our special magazine that. Now, hat in hand, we break the news about which 10 prospects fell the furthest between Future Watch 2020 and 2021.
The full breakdown of how our panel of NHL scouts and executives creates our Future Watch rankings appears in. But to quickly summarize Future Watch: it’s an annual special edition of The Hockey News in which we (a) grade every NHL franchise’s pool of 21-and-younger talent, from players in the system to youngsters on the NHL rosters and (b) rank the top 100 NHL-affiliated individual prospects.
NHL evaluating alternate plans for North Division's playoff setup
As the Stanley Cup Playoffs creep closer and closer and there has been no change at the Canadian border, it is seeming more and more likely that there will be some form of relocation in the postseason. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that the NHL is not rushing to any conclusions, waiting to see if border policies are relaxed, but have to evaluate alternative plans for the North Division winner to be able to compete in the semifinals and Cup Final this season.
As I say every year, the fallers list is much more complicated than the risers list. It’s not a matter of facepalming as soon as you see someone from your favorite team land on the fallers list, as not all fallers are players who struggled on the ice and regressed significantly. Some are, sure, but some fall because they sustained major injuries that kept them from playing. Others fall because their teams have implemented an additional draft class since the previous Future Watch edition, meaning every prospect pool swells, and any players who haven’t been promoted have more organizational competition. The past year has presented even more hurdles than normal because of COVID-19, as playing situations vary wildly from one prospect to the next. Most players in European pro leagues, for instance, have gotten their full seasons in, whereas OHLers got no season, WHLers got no playoffs and AHLers started their season in the winter.
COVID protocol-related absences: 04/27/21
Each day, the NHL will publicly release the list of players that are unavailable to their respective teams due to being in COVID-19 Protocol. Here is today’s list: Anaheim – Adam Henrique Calgary – Josh Leivo Montreal – TBA New Jersey – P.K.Anaheim – Adam Henrique
Keeping the unprecedented circumstances in mind, let’s dive into the Fallers list. One more disclaimer to remember: players drafted in 2020 aren’t eligible. The draft came long after Future Watch 2020 published, meaning the 2020 draftees weren’t ranked last year, meaning they can’t be fallers since they have no rankings from which to fall.
1. HENRIK BORGSTROM, C, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (-65)
1. HENRIK BORGSTROM, C, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (-65)Last year: 33rdThis year: 98th
Probably not what you want to see if you’re a Blackhawks fan given the team just acquired Borgstrom as part of a Brett Connolly salary-dump trade. But the our scouting panel voted before the deal, and there’s a reason why the Blackhawks got Borgstrom for a song. He’s a reclamation project, only a couple years removed from being a standout college player and NCAA champion with the University of Denver. His size and puckhandling ability have looked good enough for the NHL a lot of the time, but he struggled to maintain his confidence in his first few pro seasons with the Panthers repeatedly shuffling him back and forth between the AHL and NHL.
NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 8, 2021
Players in the protocol are: Colorado's Devan Dubnyk and Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov.Calgary – TBA
This season, he’s stayed home in Finland, rallied from an injury layoff and played all over the lineup with HIFK. With his hands, smarts and ability to play multiple forward positions, he still has a chance to make an impact in the NHL, and he should have less competition for a job in the Chicago system. A sense of consistency in his new organization should help him feel more confident in his role, too.
2. LASSI THOMSON, D, OTTAWA SENATORS (-51)
Last year: 46thThis year: 97th
The Senators’ farm system finished first in the Future Watch 2021 overall rankings and, after they added 2020 draftees Jake Sanderson and Ridly Greig to their list of prospects not yet in the NHL, some existing Ottawa prospects were bound to get pushed down the organizational rankings. So that’s one reason why Thomson tumbled. It’s not the only reason, however. Thomson turned pro in 2019-20 with Ilves Tampere, his hometown team, in the SM-Liiga, but he didn’t get the reps he needed because of injury woes, a lack of ice time when healthy and the season getting cut short due to COVID-19. This season, his role shrunk, and he struggled in the Liiga. He’d played major junior before turning pro, but perhaps going back to Europe and a larger ice surface messed up his reaction time. Upon returning to North America this winter to play with AHL Belleville, he’s been criticized for seeming rattled in his decision making, almost as if the game looks too fast for him now that he’s playing in more confined quarters. That said, he’s only 20, and the Senators like his physicality in trench warfare. He has plenty of time to mature into a mobile two-way blueliner who skates well.
Sabres' Rasmus Ristolainen open to trade
Ristolainen has now been in Buffalo for eight seasons but has yet to step foot on the ice of an NHL playoff game. He has seen six different coaches behind the bench since his debut in 2013, but none of them were able to get the team to even a .500 record. The 26-year-old defenseman has been a big part of those losses, averaging nearly 24 minutes a night throughout his Buffalo career, only to post an eye-popping -163 rating in 542 games. While +/- has its obvious flaws, Ristolainen has also posted poor possession numbers throughout his career and is likely playing a bigger role than he is truly capable of.
3. ERIK BRANNSTROM, D, OTTAWA SENATORS (-49)
Last year: 12thThis year: 61st
Video: Auston Matthews Apr.29/21 (Hockey News on Sports Illustrated)
A drop from the 12th overall prospect to 61st is significant. Brannstrom had large expectations heaped on him as the centerpiece of the trade sending Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights. As a dynamic puck-mover, he racked up points last season in the AHL but looked physically overmatched in the NHL and had his conditioning called into question. This season, his handling has been curious, as he spent a lot of time stashed on the taxi squad, not playing for the Sens but also not getting additional AHL experience –when GM Pierre Dorion publicly opined that Brannstrom had to improve his defensive play. The Mike Reilly trade to Boston has finally opened up more playing time, however, and Brannstrom has slotted into Reilly’s spot on the second pair with Artem Zub. It appears Brannstrom is starting to find his confidence and showcase his tremendous raw skill as puck-rusher. It’s important to remember that the scouting panel voted before the start of the NHL and AHL seasons because of the wonky COVID-19 calendar. If we held the vote again today, he’d probably rise back up a bit.
Canadiens' Molson, Bergevin have been talking about future
Bergevin’s nine-year tenure in Montreal has had its ups and downs, including a rebuild in the last couple of years, which has had some success as the Habs' young players have, for the most part, developed well. Bergevin added a number of veteran players during the offseason in order to post a playoff-caliber team, including adding Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Jake Allen and Joel Edmundson, but Bergevin did fire head coach Claude Julien midseason with pressure mounting for the Canadiens to make a playoff run, which they have done this year under interim coach Dominique Ducharme.
4. ALEXANDER ALEXEYEV, D, WASHINGTON CAPITALS (-44)
Last year: 55thThis year: 99th
Alexeyev’s ranking drop is more a reflection of his body of work entering this season that what’s transpired this season. With multiple campaigns shortened by injuries, he simply slipped down the Future Watch rankings as additional draft classes arrived. His potential didn’t go anywhere, though. He played a big minute-munching defensive role in the KHL with Salavat Yulaev Ufa this season and is now back with AHL Hershey, where he’s also showcased some offensive chops. Here’s a case of a “falling” prospect who shouldn’t worry anyone. Alexeyev has been quite good this season, and his long-term ceiling as a two-way contributor remains interesting. 5. RYAN POEHLING, C, MONTREAL CANADIENS (-44)
Last year: 44thThis year: 88th
I said it the night it happened, and I’ll say it again: the hat trick in Poehling’s first NHL game back in 2019 was a curse. It created hype that didn’t match his skill set. His projection was always to be a two-way pivot topping out in the middle six, not a big-time scorer. Jake Evans leapfrogged him to seize the Canadiens’ fourth-line center job this season, however. It’s no longer a given that Poehling breaks into the NHL as a center, and his long-term forecast trends more toward bottom-sixer at the moment. The good news is he still has potential to be effective in that defense-first, penalty-killer role once he sticks. He's also found his scoring touch in the AHL, putting up close to a point per game this season.
Los Angeles Rams draft picks 2021: Round-by-round selections
Here is a 2021 NFL draft pick-by-pick breakdown for the Los Angeles Rams.Round 2 (No. 57 overall) - Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville: Welcome to the draft, L.A., which gave up its first-rounder in the Jalen Ramsey deal. Atwell may only be 5-9 while hovering near 150 pounds, but his speed could bring another dimension to an offense that already added DeSean Jackson. An all-ACC selection in 2019 when he led the conference with 1,272 receiving yards, Atwell should use every ounce of QB Matthew Stafford's arm strength.
6. KRISTIAN VESALAINEN, LW, WINNIPEG JETS (-43)
Last year: 58thThis year: not ranked in top 100
The Jets are trying to reshape Vesalainen’s game. There’s no doubting his natural tools as a goal-scorer but, because Winnipeg’s forward group is perpetually loaded in the top six, any forward who wants to crack the NHL lineup needs to develop “bottom-six” abilities as well. The Jets are thus working on developing Vesalainen’s defensive skills more and even having him kill penalties in the AHL. He’s one of many prospects suffering from the taxi-squad problem right now, though, as it’s keeping him from getting into many games. He’s played just 16 between the Manitoba Moose and the Jets. Most recently, he's seen NHL action this week on Winnipeg's third line.
7. NOLAN FOOTE, LW, NEW JERSEY DEVILS (-42)
Last year: 28thThis year: 70th
A lower-body injury held Foote to just 27 games with WHL Kelowna last season, costing him crucial time to improve his skating, and his drop in the rankings is reflected in that. The news isn’t all bad, though. The budding power forward looked pretty comfortable his first AHL season, earned an NHL call-up this month and scored in his second game. He still needs to improve as a skater, but his size, strength and shot are exciting. His drop from 28th to 70th is another reminder of how abnormal the Future Watch rankings are this season, as so many of the North American prospects were still idle, waiting for their seasons to start, when the ballots were turned in.
8. KEVIN BAHL, D, NEW JERSEY DEVILS (-41)
Last year: 60thThis year: not ranked in top 100
At 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, Bahl is almost always the biggest player on the ice, and he brings something fresh to a Devils pipeline that has plenty of smaller, swifter offensive defensemen. The key for any throwback behemoth blueliner today: he must be mobile. He can’t be the equivalent of early-2000s Hal Gill competing in 2021. The good news is that Bahl moves extremely well for a man his size, meaning he should have the modernized-big-man skill set to stick in the NHL, albeit likely as a bottom-pair bruiser. He made his NHL debut Thursday night, held a 60-percent shot attempt share and drew positive reviews. Why the drop in the rankings, then? It’s likely because Bahl’s game isn’t flashy, so his slide was likely due to other prospects catching our scouts’ attention more.
9. KLIM KOSTIN, RW, ST. LOUIS BLUES (-38)
Last year: 63rdThis year: not ranked in top 100
Kostin’s drop reflects his early struggles to find the confidence and commitment to match his size and skill in the AHL. Letting him stay for the a full season in the KHL this season reportedly worked wonders, however. Playing under seasoned coach Bob Hartley with Avangard Omsk, Kostin found his competitive fire, used his big, strong body effectively, and won a Gagarin Cup, contributing five goals in 24 playoff games. He’s expected to join the Blues after a quarantine period and, playing with increased confidence and engagement, could get a look anywhere in the lineup.
10. TIMOTHY LILJEGREN, D, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (-37)
Last year: 64thThis year: not ranked in top 100
Because Liljegren is now appearing in Future Watch for a fourth year, it seems our panel voters have a case of ‘Liljegren fatigue,’ but his drop is deceiving. The Leafs organization feels he’s legitimately improved his two-way play to complement his excellent puck-moving skill. The next step his for him to become more of a shooting threat to keep teams off balance when he carries the puck. In an odd coincidence: Liljegren, like Bahl, also made his season debut Thursday night, also played 15 minutes and also held a 60-percent share of the shot attempts.
NHL Draft stock watch: 10 risers after 2021 U18 World Championship .
FCHockey's Josh Bell breaks down the 2021 NHL Draft's biggest names to rise following the 2021 IIHF Men's U18 World Championship.With Connor Bedard and Shane Wright leading the charge, the Canadians defeated Matvei Michkov and Russia 5-3 in the final game of the tournament.