- Fisher’s Top 186 for December
- Fisher’s Top 186 for November
- Fisher’s Top 124 for October
- Fisher’s Top 124 Preseason Rankings
With the junior leagues now at their holiday break and the World Juniors nearly upon us, here are 10 fallers from my December rankings of the top 186 prospects for the 2019 NHL draft — some of whom have been trending down since September and others who were slumping or tailing off to end the first half:
1) Yaroslav Likhachyov (RW, Russia, Gatineau QMJHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 32
DECEMBER RANKING: 47
ANALYSIS: There were no real significant fallers within my first round, so this list starts at the top of my second round with three in a row on the way down from November until now. The first two have appeared on my fallers list more than once, but I’m still a fan of most the prospects here and that includes Likhachyov. Reality is, he’s not lighting up the Q but, in saying that, he’s shown glimpses of his potential and scored some highlight-reel goals.
— QMJHL (@QMJHL) November 10, 2018
For Likhachyov, inconsistency and a lack of production are hurting his stock — much like Dmitry Zavgorodniy last season, who fell all the way to the Flames in the seventh round (198th overall), but look at him now. For the record, I remained high on Zavgorodniy, mocking him in the second and third rounds (59th and 80th) ahead of the 2018 draft in June. In a re-draft just six months later, Zavgorodniy might go somewhere in that range.
I really liked Likhachyov at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and it’s not easy adjusting to the North American game — let alone the lifestyle changes off the ice — so I’m not giving up on Likhachyov by any means. He’s still a quality prospect, even if he’s been slipping down my rankings month over month after starting out as a first-rounder.
2) Blake Murray (LC, Canada, Sudbury OHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 33
DECEMBER RANKING: 49
ANALYSIS: I was on Murray’s bandwagon to begin the season and believed he’d push to be a top-20 pick, perhaps even top 15. I still think he’s got first-round talent, but he’s not putting up the kind of numbers to remain in my top 31. It’s not that Murray is playing bad, but others — from my risers list — are playing so good that they have surpassed him in my rankings.
It could play out similar to Ryan McLeod in 2018, who fell to the Oilers at 40th overall. I had McLeod mocked as both a first- and second-rounder (21st and 41st), and I feel Murray is the type of prospect who could also go anywhere in that 20-50 range for 2019. Lots of similarities between those two, McLeod and Murray.
Murray’s skill-set screams first-rounder but his stat-line suggests second-rounder. We shall see. He’s a kid who could take off in the second half and be back on the rise, much like Likhachyov. Both were surprising omissions for the CHL Top Prospects Game, so that snub should provide added motivation going forward.
3) Alex Vlasic (LD, USA, NTDP U18)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 34
DECEMBER RANKING: 51
ANALYSIS: Vlasic certainly has the size to be a first-round pick and he skates fairly well for a big guy, but does he have the offensive upside to crack the top 31? That will be the biggest question for scouts as the draft year continues into 2019. If Vlasic projects as more of a shutdown type in the NHL, then he might get labelled a safer pick that slides into the second round.
The best comparable might be Boston’s Brandon Carlo (37th in 2015), but some see Vegas prospect Nic Hague (34th in 2017) or shades of Winnipeg first-rounder Logan Stanley (18th in 2016). Depending on the month, I’ve been higher or lower on Vlasic, but I’m still trying to determine his upside as an NHLer.
4) Simon Holmstrom (RW/LW, Sweden, HV71 J20)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 38
DECEMBER RANKING: 52
ANALYSIS: Injuries have been hurting Holmstrom’s stock and he’s sidelined again with a broken thumb. He’s trending down for me, not due to a lack of skill but rather a lack of exposure. The draft year is a crucial development period for prospects and if you’re not playing, you’re typically getting passed over by those who are progressing and catching the eye of scouts. That’s the case with Holmstrom, as it was with Jake Wise last season and so many others in years past.
Still, those familiar with Holmstrom — those who have watched him coming up the ranks over the years — are insisting that he has first-round talent. So, if he can make up for this lost time to injuries, Holmstrom could be a huge steal for some team in the second round — especially if he falls out of the top 50.
5) Maxim Cajkovic (RW/LW, Slovakia, Saint John QMJHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 40
DECEMBER RANKING: 55
ANALYSIS: There was a lot of hype surrounding Cajkovic coming into the season as the first overall pick in the CHL import draft, but he has struggled at times to produce on a bad QMJHL team and his frustrations have been showing. Some scouts are seeing red flags, others are suggesting a change of scenery for the second half.
For me, the upcoming World Juniors will be telling for Cajkovic and a strong showing for his native Slovakia could get him trending up again. It has been hard to watch his woes with Saint John — without much of a supporting cast there — so hopefully he’ll thrive in this best-on-best environment and revive that hype while renewing his confidence.
6) Valentin Nussbaumer (LC/LW, Switzerland, Shawinigan QMJHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 41
DECEMBER RANKING: 54
ANALYSIS: Like Cajkovic, Nussbaumer has left some scouts wanting more in the Q and the World Juniors are going to be big for his draft stock — for better or worse. Both these prospects were projected first-rounders for me — and for most — from the outset of the draft year, but they do seem to be trending down.
Nussbaumer could go either way from here and he’ll be a go-to guy for Switzerland at this showcase, which is where scouts will largely form their opinions on his potential. You’ll remember, at this time last year, fellow Swiss forward Nando Eggenberger was ranked by most in the top 62 — in the second round — and he went undrafted after an uninspiring performance at the World Juniors.
I have higher hopes — and higher expectations — for Nussbaumer, so maybe he can use this tournament as more of a springboard like Nino Niederreiter back in 2010.
7) Samuel Poulin (LW, Canada, Sherbrooke QMJHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 48
DECEMBER RANKING: 67
ANALYSIS: I’ll admit, with these next two prospects, I’m not as high on them as many other scouts. For most, they are second-rounders, but I have them slipping into the third round. That could change, there’s lots of time left to win me over, but I haven’t been wowed by either of them.
With Poulin, he’s putting up points in the Q — producing at a point-per-game pace — but he didn’t impress me at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup back in August, and I do question his upside and his ability to be an impact player as a pro. Thus he’s a faller for me, but Poulin has been up-and-down my rankings to date — debuting at No. 70 in August following the Hlinka, then rising to No. 39 in October on the advice of others, before dropping to No. 48 in November. Now, he’s essentially back to where he began for me, at No. 67 for December.
8) Michael Vukojevic (LD, Canada, Kitchener OHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 60
DECEMBER RANKING: 70
ANALYSIS: Vukojevic also played for Canada at the Hlinka, on a deep defence corps, and didn’t do much for me there. It doesn’t help that my OHL contacts are quite divided on what the future holds for Vukojevic, whether he has top-four potential. Some think he’s smooth, just not flashy, but others question his hockey sense. It’s a real mixed bag with Vukojevic, mixed reviews from out east. I’m trying not to write him off too soon, but I have a hard time seeing Vukojevic in my second round going forward.
9) Vladimir Alistrov (LW, Belarus, Edmonton WHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 62
DECEMBER RANKING: 81
ANALYSIS: These last two, I’m more familiar with — they are in my wheelhouse, in the WHL — and I honestly feel bad including them on this list because I see a lot of upside in both.
Alistrov may not be the most consistent player — certainly not now and maybe not ever — but he’s all kinds of fun to watch when he’s on his game. He’s playing a secondary role on a surprisingly deep Edmonton team and he’s obviously still finding his way during his first season in North America, but Alistrov — like Likhachyov leading off this list, and Zavgorodniy from a year ago — has a high ceiling and could really boom for some lucky team that drafts him.
That high ceiling, based on skill and creativity, is why I had Alistrov so much higher in my earlier rankings. He debuted at No. 46 and climbed to No. 41 before falling to No. 62 and now No. 81. That speaks to the range of where NHL teams may have Alistrov ranked as of today, but it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody reached for him earlier than anticipated even if the draft were held tomorrow. And I could totally see Alistrov becoming a steal if he goes below No. 75 on draft day.
I like the player, like the ceiling, but I may have overrated Alistrov to some degree from the outset and, as a result, he’s landed on this list for a second straight month.
10) Dillon Hamaliuk (LW, Canada, Seattle WHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 67
DECEMBER RANKING: 80
ANALYSIS: Hamaliuk, on the other hand, was an honourable mention on my list of risers last month. He’s cooled off since then, so you could argue this is a bit of a momentum play, but I feel it’s more of a levelling off to where he belongs in the present. It’s always a balancing act.
Don’t get me wrong, Hamaliuk has the tools to rise towards the second round again, but he’s a third-rounder for me right now. That’s a safe bet, but I wouldn’t rule out his potential to trend up in the second half. I don’t see Hamaliuk trending down, anywhere below the third round.
Worth noting, Seattle’s other prospect garnering attention for 2019, defenceman Jake Lee, stayed at No. 123 for me in December, but he could work his way up my rankings in the second half. Truth be told, I wanted to slot Lee higher this month — he’s been stuck at No. 123 in three of my four rankings to date — but let’s just say he’s a fourth-rounder for me right now with third-round upside, with the potential to crack my top 100 in the months to come.
RELATED: Fisher’s Rankings Through November
NOTE: Here are five more fallers from within my top 100, including four defencemen who fell into that same range as the aforementioned Lee — all of whom could be top-100 picks when the draft arrives in June.
Henri Nikkanen (LC, Finland, Jukurit Liiga)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 69
DECEMBER RANKING: 82
Andrei Pribylskiy (RD, Russia, Dynamo Moskva KHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 78
DECEMBER RANKING: 114
Jordan Spence (RD, Canada, Moncton QMJHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 89
DECEMBER RANKING: 113
Albert Johansson (LD, Sweden, Farjestad SHL)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 93
DECEMBER RANKING: 117
Antti Tuomisto (LD, Finland, Assat U20)
NOVEMBER RANKING: 94
DECEMBER RANKING: 121
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.