- Fisher’s Top 217 for January
- Fisher’s Top 186 for December
- Fisher’s Top 186 for November
- Fisher’s Top 124 for October
- Fisher’s Top 124 Preseason Rankings
Fresh off covering an entertaining World Junior Championship tournament, with the CHL Top Prospects Game on the horizon next week, here are 10 fallers from my January rankings for the 2019 NHL draft.
1) Kirby Dach (RC/RW, Canada, Saskatoon WHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 4
JANUARY RANKING: 8
ANALYSIS: Let’s start this off by saying that I’m still very, very high on Dach’s upside. And a drop of four spots wouldn’t normally land a prospect on a list of fallers, but when that drop occurs within the top 10, it is quite substantial and tends to get magnified. So I wanted to address Dach here.
This is as low as Dach has been for me through five rankings to date (7, 4, 4, 4, 8) and also the first time he’s been below fellow WHLer Dylan Cozens (8, 5, 5, 5, 7). There are a few reasons for that. For starters, Dach’s production tailed off after a torrid start to his draft year, enduring a seven-game pointless drought in December with only one assist over an 11-game span. Cozens has been much more consistent while picking up his scoring pace as the season has progressed. Now, it should also be noted that Dach recently missed some time with an undisclosed lower-body injury, so perhaps he was playing through a nagging pain during that slump. But Dach has had his share of quiet nights when he’s been in the lineup and presumably healthy — even here in Kelowna during my live viewing on Dec. 1 — so it’s safe to say he often leaves the scouts wanting more. Especially since we can tell he’s capable of more, even from watching him on an “off” night. When he’s fully engaged, Dach is a dominant force in the Dub and he’s got the size and skill-set to translate that dominance to the pro ranks.
For me, it’ll be really telling to see whether Dach can elevate his game and bring his best every night come the playoffs. That is where I plan to judge his performance and his character — in a seven-game series, and perhaps in multiple rounds this spring — but we also have to remember these are teenagers and they don’t all develop in a straight line. Like I said, the ceiling is sky high for Dach’s future, even if he’s been surpassed by a few of his peers in the present.
2) Mikko Kokkonen (LD, Finland, Jukurit Liiga)
DECEMBER RANKING: 15
JANUARY RANKING: 22
ANALYSIS: Kokkonen had all kinds of momentum going into the World Juniors and was a surprising cut for me, but it’s hard to argue with any of Finland’s roster decisions now that they have won gold. I don’t think missing out on that showcase is going to derail Kokkonen in the big picture — it’s primarily a 19-year-old tournament and he’s only turning 18 this week, thus could still represent Finland in both 2020 and 2021 — but in the present Kokkonen has been overtaken in my rankings by fellow Finn Ville Heinola, who made the cut over Kokkonen and went on to perform extremely well on that stage before getting hurt in the quarterfinals. Heinola exceeded expectations for a lot of scouts and made the most of the opportunity that Kokkonen never got. As a result, they essentially swapped spots in my monthly rankings with Heinola rising from No. 25 in December to No. 15 in January, while Kokkonen slipped from 15 to 22 despite continuing to impress as a pro back home.
Miro Heiskanen’s 10 points two years ago were the most by a draft eligible defenseman in the Finnish league in decades. #2019NHLDraft eligible Mikko Kokkonen already has 12 points this season
— Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie) January 11, 2019
That will be labelled a momentum play, but there honestly doesn’t seem to be much separating the two. There are a lot of similarities between Kokkonen and Heinola, and both are looking like first-round locks right now in my opinion. More so than this next Finn.
3) Anttoni Honka (RD, Finland, JYP Liiga)
DECEMBER RANKING: 17
JANUARY RANKING: 23
ANALYSIS: Honka also made the cut over Kokkonen but had a hard time earning the trust of Finland’s coaching staff during the World Juniors, even after their defence was depleted with Heinola going down to injury. That limited role, given the extenuating circumstances, certainly won’t help Honka’s stock in the scouting community — as evidenced by Craig Button’s glaring omission of Honka from his recent top 75 rankings following the World Juniors. He’s still a first-rounder for me as of today, but I’ve been higher on Honka than most from the outset — ranking him 5, 7, 15, 17 and 23 thus far. As you can see, he’s been trending down and is now nearing that bubble range to become a second-rounder for me too.
I’m trying not to read too much into that minimal usage for Finland — even though Honka is almost five months older than Heinola (Oct. 5, 2000 to March 2, 2001), which may seem miniscule but can be seen as a massive age gap in terms of draft-year implications in the eyes of some scouts — and I’m looking at it as more of a sheltering since Honka has a reputation for playing high-event hockey for better or worse. He’s known to generate chances both ways, often sparking the offence but also committing untimely turnovers. To my eye, Honka mostly played it safe and took an abnormally cautious approach when he did get on the ice in the medal round. Nothing too flashy and no real gaffes over his nine total shifts in the gold-medal game, which amounted to six minutes 15 seconds of ice-time but none in the third period.
Honka was relatively unproductive there — finishing the tournament without a point and with a minus-1 rating over the six games that he suited up for (averaging 9:06 in ice-time prior to the final) — but when he’s doing his thing, when he’s at his best, it seems the team that drafts Honka will always have to take the good with the bad and just hope the good outweighs the bad on most nights. That can be said for a lot of young defencemen — look at a guy like Anthony DeAngelo with the Rangers or even Honka’s older brother Julius, who has been struggling to stay in the lineup with Dallas for some of the same reasons. I don’t know if Anttoni will be the better brother in the long run, but I do think he’ll be a player and the fact he’s a right-shot defenceman with offensive upside — a coveted commodity in this day and age — might be enough to keep him in the first round or even in the top 20 when it comes time for the draft in June.
4) Raphaël Lavoie (C/RW, Canada, Halifax QMJHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 21
JANUARY RANKING: 26
ANALYSIS: That was quite the deep dive on Honka, but I don’t have nearly the same depth in divulging the fall for these next two. Lavoie is only down five spots for January but, like with Dach, I wanted to highlight his drop this month since Lavoie started the draft year as a top-10 candidate and is now clinging to his first-round status in my rankings. Lavoie is still producing above a point per game through 40 games — with 43 points, including 19 goals — but his pace has slowed substantially after a hot start that saw him building on the momentum he brought back to Halifax from the WJC Summer Showcase in Kamloops where Lavoie made a very positive impression on Hockey Canada and the scouts in attendance, myself included.
Perhaps Lavoie will ramp his game back up in the second half — starting with next week’s CHL Top Prospects Game — and find another gear for the Memorial Cup host team, but lately he seems to have plateaued or stagnated to some degree, which is never a good sign. Certainly not for Lavoie as one of the older prospects for 2019, with a September birthdate just 10 days shy of being part of the 2018 draft class. But there is more to Lavoie’s game than just scoring or putting up points — some have likened his style to that of Max Comtois, who captained Canada at the World Juniors — so it wouldn’t be shocking if a number of NHL teams still had Lavoie in the top 15 on their lists. He has to work his way back into that range for me, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility between now and June.
5) Nolan Foote (LC/LW, Canada/USA, Kelowna WHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 22
JANUARY RANKING: 28
ANALYSIS: Foote is the prospect that I’m most familiar with on this list since he’s developing right in my backyard here in Kelowna. I like Foote and I think he’s going to be a quality NHLer, capable of carving out a career in a variety of roles — be it as a top-six scorer or a bottom-six grinder. Some scouts are leaning towards the latter in their current assessment of Foote, but I fully believe he can be a perennial 20- to 30-goal guy, with potential for more in his prime. He has an NHL-calibre shot and good size that he is starting to use more to his advantage. That’s the good news on Foote.
— The Hockey Writers (@TheHockeyWriter) September 7, 2018
The bad news on Foote — and why he’s landed on this list of fallers — is that he hasn’t been able to drive his own line to this point in his draft year and has had difficulty generating offence at even strength and off the rush. Through 40 games, he’s only netted nine of his 21 goals at even strength, with the other 12 coming on the power play thanks mainly to his wicked shot. It’s becoming evident that Foote will be more of a complementary player as a pro, that he’s better suited to the wing than centre and that he really needs a set-up man to get him the puck in prime scoring spots. Those could and probably will be viewed as negatives, thus might bump Foote into the latter part of the first round — where I now have him ranked — or perhaps into the second round.
Unfortunately for Foote, Kelowna doesn’t have that ideal playmaking centre to pair with him — Kyle Topping has mostly been filling the role and is leading the team in points — so Foote’s stat-line could be all the more impressive with the right fit. Yet he’s still on pace to score 35 goals (20 on the power play). Foote will get the opportunity to play with higher-end talents at the CHL Top Prospects Game, and he’s already shown he can take his game to another level during the Canada-Russia Series in November where Foote emerged as a standout for Team WHL in those two contests. The Kelowna-driven comparison to Jamie Benn (who also played junior here) and mine to Mark Scheifele might be setting the bar too high for Foote, but he’s definitely going to be an NHLer in my mind. I think he’s a safe pick in that sense, a safe bet to play in some capacity down the road and perhaps sooner than later.
6) Spencer Knight (G, USA, NTDP U18)
DECEMBER RANKING: 29
JANUARY RANKING: 35
ANALYSIS: That turned into another novel on Foote, but now that we’re through the top five, I promise to shorten up the back half of this list. Knight is still the consensus top goaltender for 2019, but that is the toughest position to project in terms of development and thus goalies are rarely taken in the first round anymore. I wouldn’t necessarily say Knight is a faller for me or trending down in general, but so many forwards and defencemen are trending up that I could see Knight dropping out of the top 31 in this year’s draft. That is essentially what my January ranking is suggesting for Knight. It’s not a slight on his recent play or his performance to date by any means. In fact, he’s been so good and consistent that some scouts now have Knight in the teens and my ranking is on the low end for him lately.
Looking at how long it took for Jack Campbell to develop — as the 11th overall pick from 2010, just now cutting his teeth as the Los Angeles Kings’ backup at age 27 — that could scare some teams off in the first round, but on the flip side Jake Oettinger, the 26th overall pick for Dallas in 2017, is looking like a stud in the making at Boston University. He just turned 20 in December but all signs are pointing to Oettinger becoming Ben Bishop’s successor as the future starter for a Stars franchise that also originally drafted Campbell. What can I say, goalies are a crapshoot when it comes to the draft and most general managers aren’t that patient when it comes to their first-round selections.
Getting back to Knight, we didn’t get to see him in action at the World Juniors, where Knight dressed for two games but didn’t make an appearance as Team USA’s third-stringer. The fact Knight cracked the U.S. roster as a 17-year-old was an accomplishment in itself and he’ll benefit from being a part of that silver medal-winning experience. The Americans were backstopped by Cayden Primeau, who won the starting job over Kyle Keyser in a battle of 19 year olds, but that crease will most likely belong to Knight at next year’s 2020 tournament in the Czech Republic.
7) John Beecher (LC, USA, NTDP U18)
DECEMBER RANKING: 32
JANUARY RANKING: 38
ANALYSIS: I’m still trying to get a read on Beecher’s offensive upside. I like the player, like the package of skills, but I just don’t know yet if he can be a top-six and preferably 1B centre in the NHL. If not, then Beecher will more likely be a second-rounder for me, which is the way I’m leaning as of today — as evidenced by my January ranking and his appearance on this month’s list of fallers.
Beecher is stuck behind Jack Hughes, the favourite to go first overall in 2019, and Alex Turcotte, another projected top-15 pick, on the depth chart for that stacked NTDP team. So Beecher might be getting overshadowed there and he may have been better off ripping up the USHL on a random club team in his draft year. But he’s getting a ton of exposure to NHL scouts every single game with the NTDP regardless of his role on that roster, and it seems the majority of scouts are liking what they are seeing in Beecher. Some see a Ryan Kesler type, which certainly wouldn’t be a bad pick in the back half of the first round. Beecher is a prospect that I’ll be keeping close tabs on throughout the second half and at the under-18 worlds in April assuming he’s on display there.
8) Michael Vukojevic (LD, Canada, Kitchener OHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 70
JANUARY RANKING: 117
ANALYSIS: Vukojevic has been falling hard for me (43, 60, 60, 70, now 117). He was just OK for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in the summer and has been much the same in the OHL — just OK, from the reports I’ve received and the little that I’ve seen. It doesn’t help Vokujevic that he’s been stuck on a bad team during his draft year, but his stock has been steadily declining and he’s been surpassed by a few of his OHL peers in recent months.
In saying that, Vokujevic is still my fourth-ranked OHL defenceman — behind Thomas Harley (33), Billy Constantinou (57) and Vladislav Kolyachonok (63) — and 117 is probably as low as he’ll go for me. That is likely a little too low, in all honesty, so don’t be surprised if Vokujevic finds his way back into my top 100 for February. Somewhere between 80 and 100 is my thinking, but maybe he’ll win me over at the CHL Top Prospects Game and wind up closer to the second round again. Unfortunately for Vokujevic, he just doesn’t have that ‘wow’ factor in his game.
9) Mads Sogaard (G, Denmark, Medicine Hat WHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 71
JANUARY RANKING: 95
ANALYSIS: Knight didn’t get to showcase himself for the many scouts in attendance at the World Juniors and Sogaard probably wishes he hadn’t in hindsight. It was a forgettable tournament from start to finish for Sogaard, who got absolutely shelled by Canada in the opener — allowing 11 of the 14 goals before leaving with an upper-body injury. Sogaard made several more appearances for Denmark but couldn’t save his country from relegation and ultimately got pulled in their finale after giving up two quick goals against Kazakhstan.
Perhaps he was still playing hurt, but Sogaard failed to rebound from that initial shellacking and never really flashed the stellar form he’s shown in the Western Hockey League as a rookie import with Medicine Hat. Well, outside of a couple highlight-reel saves in defeat for Denmark. But Sogaard has been great to date in the Dub — so consistently good that he made my list of risers for December — and thus we must remember not to draw too many conclusions from one short tournament where Sogaard was saddled with the impossible task of backstopping a clearly overmatched team with little hope of scoring, let alone winning.
Assuming he bounces back and continues to enjoy success with Medicine Hat, most scouts will give Sogaard the benefit of the doubt and his stock could start to rise again. He’ll be between the pipes for Team Cherry at the CHL Top Prospects Game with a much better team in front of him than Denmark, so that presents an opportunity for redemption in front of a lot of the same scouts from the World Juniors.
10) Tag Bertuzzi (LW, Canada, Hamilton OHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 90
JANUARY RANKING: 116
ANALYSIS: Bertuzzi may also get the benefit of the doubt based on his bloodlines — Todd is his dad and Tyler is his cousin — but his production or lack thereof no longer warrants a spot within my top 100. I kept him up there largely for that reason, the bloodlines, but Bertuzzi has been trending down in each of my rankings to date (38, 49, 86, 90, now 116). His steady fall has been similar to another OHLer with beneficial bloodlines in his new teammate and captain Matthew Strome, the youngest Strome brother who fell into the fourth round in going 106th overall in 2017.
— Hamilton Bulldogs (@BulldogsOHL) December 17, 2018
That change of scenery, from Guelph to Hamilton, could be a boost for Bertuzzi. He’ll still have his work cut out for him in earning a regular role and increased ice-time, but the move couldn’t hurt since Bertuzzi wasn’t gaining any traction in Guelph with only four goals and nine points through 29 games there. That would have translated to nine goals and 21 points over a full 68-game schedule, which isn’t the stat-line of a prospect likely to be picked in the top three rounds. Stats aren’t the be all and end all, and there is still plenty of time left in the draft year for Bertuzzi to work his way back up my rankings, but for now he’s a fourth-rounder for me.
NOTE: Here are 20 more fallers from within my top 125 for January. I should stress that I’m not actually “down” on some of these prospects, but it’s just the way my rankings shook out this month.
Daniil Gutik (LW, Russia, Loko Yaroslavl MHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 39
JANUARY RANKING: 49
Yegor Spiridonov (LW, Russia, Magnitogorsk MHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 40
JANUARY RANKING: 50
Tobias Bjornfot (LD, Sweden, Djurgardens J20)
DECEMBER RANKING: 42
JANUARY RANKING: 54
Blake Murray (LC, Canada, Sudbury OHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 49
JANUARY RANKING: 59
Marcus Kallionkieli (F, Finland, Sioux City USHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 60
JANUARY RANKING: 66
Dillon Hamaliuk (LW, Canada, Seattle WHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 80
JANUARY RANKING: 92
Vladimir Alistrov (LW, Belarus, Edmonton WHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 81
JANUARY RANKING: 98
Mikhail Abramov (RW, Russia, Victoriaville QMJHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 85
JANUARY RANKING: 103
Nikita Alexandrov (LC, Germany/Russia, Charlottetown QMJHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 86
JANUARY RANKING: 104
Marcel Barinka (F, Czech Republic, Halifax QMJHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 87
JANUARY RANKING: 105
Anthony Romano (RW, Canada, Sioux Falls USHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 95
JANUARY RANKING: 114
Ty Jackson (LC, Canada, Dubuque USHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 96
JANUARY RANKING: 144
Elmer Soderblom (LW, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
DECEMBER RANKING: 98
JANUARY RANKING: 118
Arvid Costmar (RC, Sweden, Linköping J20)
DECEMBER RANKING: 99
JANUARY RANKING: 138
Karl Henriksson (LC/LW, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
DECEMBER RANKING: 100
JANUARY RANKING: 119
Ryder Donovan (RC, USA, Team North High School)
DECEMBER RANKING: 105
JANUARY RANKING: 146
Judd Caulfield (RW, USA, NTDP U18)
DECEMBER RANKING: 109
JANUARY RANKING: 147
Andrei Pribylskiy (RD, Russia, Dynamo Moskva KHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 114
JANUARY RANKING: 130
Albert Johansson (LD, Sweden, Farjestad SHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 117
JANUARY RANKING: 134
Cole Moberg (LD, Canada, Prince George WHL)
DECEMBER RANKING: 124
JANUARY RANKING: 155
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.