- Fisher’s Top 217 for February
- 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
This month’s fallers include a few familiar names and a few power-forward types, plus a couple right-handed defencemen who might not fall at all but did as part of my latest reshuffling.
1) Vasily Ponomarev (LC, Russia, Shawinigan QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 20
FEBRUARY RANKING: 30
ANALYSIS: Ponomarev has bounced around my first round, making multiple appearances on these monthly riser and faller lists. He has been up and down 10 spots but has managed to stay within my top 31 (19, 19, 29, 22, 20 and 30 from preseason to present). This is as low as he has been to date, largely because I went with a run of eight straight defencemen from 21-28. Ponomarev didn’t have a strong showing in the CHL Top Prospects Game — perhaps not saddled with the best linemates for his skills to shine — but he was productive at the Hlinka and a standout at the World Junior A Challenge. Ponomarev looked like a first-round talent there, so this fall shouldn’t be seen as much of a slight. I’m still a fan overall and Ponomarev is still in the top half of my 23-42 tier — comprised of 20 legitimate candidates to crack my top 31 in the months to come.
2) Topi Niemela (RD, Finland, Karpat Liiga)
JANUARY RANKING: 23
FEBRUARY RANKING: 36
ANALYSIS: Niemela remains in that tier too, despite slipping out of my first round and out of that aforementioned group of defencemen that is eight deep in the twenties. Niemela debuted far too low at No. 101 but has since fluctuated throughout my bubble tier (39, 28, 31, 23, now 36). I like Niemela, but I also like the two Finnish defencemen on this month’s risers list — Eemil Viro (43) and Joni Jurmo (44) — so I’m trying to determine who I like more and the most among those three. Niemela still gets the nod for now — maybe because he is a more coveted righty and the other two are lefties — but that evaluation will be ongoing, with all three having the potential to reach my top 31 and hear their names called in the first round come June.
3) Kasper Simontaival (RW, Finland, Tappara Liiga)
JANUARY RANKING: 34
FEBRUARY RANKING: 45
ANALYSIS: Simontaival is no stranger to these monthly lists either, though he has mostly been trending down for me (16, 25, 19, 20, 34, now 45). This is a new low for him, being a smaller forward with average (dare I say suspect?) skating. But I still like Simontaival’s offensive instincts — he is a catalyst — and he reminds me of Aleksi Heponiemi, the Florida second-rounder (40th overall in 2017) who is having a difficult time adjusting to the AHL this season. I still have hope for Heponiemi as a promising prospect and likewise for Simontaival. I wouldn’t rule out Simontaival rising in my rankings again down the stretch, but I feel this is probably the right range for him in the present — grouped with similar forwards like Sean Farrell (46) and Daniil Gushchin (52), now in my 43-56 tier as strong bets for the second round.
4) Antonio Stranges (LW/LC, USA, London OHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 35
FEBRUARY RANKING: 48
ANALYSIS: Stranges has been another steady faller for me (14, 16, 26, 24, 35, now 48), following a similar path as Simontaival but for different reasons. Stranges is also a bit undersized but skating is his strength — particularly his 10-and-2 technique that can be mesmerizing at times. He reminds me a bit of Nick Merkley, though Stranges is also a shootout specialist with dirty dangles. Problem is, he is flash and dash without the production — call it substance — to match his skill level. I gave Stranges the benefit of the doubt for a few months — ignoring the red flags in terms of individualistic play, two-way deficiencies, and decision making (also known as hockey sense) — but I’m down on him in the present. This, despite the fact I felt Stranges performed well in the CHL Top Prospects Game — aside from some selfish decisions to shoot and a careless turnover that led to the empty-net goal sealing his team’s loss. The team that drafts Stranges will need to take the good with the bad, which is why I now see him as a second-round project regardless of whether he possesses first-round talent. And Stranges might fall even further than that, barring a surge down the stretch.
5) Jaromir Pytlik (RC, Czech Republic, Sault Ste. Marie OHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 38
FEBRUARY RANKING: 53
ANALYSIS: Pytlik is a safer pick but doesn’t have near the offensive upside of Stranges and Simontaival. Pytlik is a totally different player as a projectable middle-six forward that forechecks well and can backcheck too. He is responsible at both ends — safe, as I like to say — and could play up and down the depth chart, but I continue to question his offensive upside. Michael Frolik is a name that comes to mind — not just because their names rhyme, and even though Frolik is a winger and Pytlik is playing centre in junior. I could see Pytlik transitioning into a winger as a pro. If he stays at centre, his ceiling is likely Radek Faksa in a third-line role. Faksa is probably the better comparable, given their similar size and skill-sets. Worth noting, both Frolik and Faksa were first-rounders and top-15 picks — Frolik went 10th overall in 2006 and Faksa was 13th overall in 2012 — but this is a deep, forward-heavy draft class and thus Pytlik is likely to slide into the second round. He could definitely be taken in the top 50, and if a team sees or senses more offensive upside than I do currently, they might reach for Pitlyk closer to the first round.
6) Justin Sourdif (RW, Canada, Vancouver WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 43
FEBRUARY RANKING: 56
ANALYSIS: Sourdif simply hasn’t taken the step that many anticipated this season. I wouldn’t necessarily say his development has stalled, but he hasn’t taken off like some of his WHL peers. It has been a strange season for Vancouver in general, with many of their players underachieving coming off a run to the league final last season. That includes Sourdif, who has the potential to be a hybrid between Vancouver alums Evander Kane and Brendan Gallagher but hasn’t been bearing down or playing with enough of an edge in recent months to warrant those comparisons. His production is also down as a result — and thus his draft stock too. Sourdif didn’t rise to the occasion in the CHL Top Prospects Game and now finds himself as a faller in my rankings. Sourdif is a second-rounder for me as of today, but he could go either way from here. And when he does something like this — the night before my rankings published — I still tend to think he could trend back up.
7) Michael Benning (RD, Canada, Sherwood Park AJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 49
FEBRUARY RANKING: 59
ANALYSIS: Benning’s fall was through no real fault of his own and more of a reshuffling on my part. I separated Benning from his Sherwood Park teammate Carter Savoie (41), sensing I was a bit too low on Savoie and a bit too high on Benning. Both are still second-rounders for me, but Savoie moved up into my first-round bubble tier (23-42), while Benning dropped down into my second-round tweener group (57-80). I do like Benning and believe he has more offensive upside than older brother Matt of the Edmonton Oilers. I don’t think Michael Benning will be as dynamic as Cale Makar or Tyson Barrie but somewhere between them and his brother or a Troy Stecher type. Michael Benning has the instincts to be an NHL player and that is what he has in common with all four of those defenders — a feel for the game that should get him to the highest level.
8) Will Cuylle (LW, Canada, Windsor OHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 53
FEBRUARY RANKING: 69
ANALYSIS: Cuylle could be the next Tom Wilson or the next Mitch Moroz. Who? Look him up — Moroz was a second-round pick for Edmonton in 2012 — but that is the wide range of possibilities for this budding power forward. I’m leaning more towards the latter lately, with Cuylle looking more like Zack Stortini than Zack Kassian in my viewings. I could be way wrong since Cuylle does have the basic tools to develop into a Wilson or a Kassian, though his skating and footspeed need much improvement to catch up to them. Cuylle looked slow and a step behind in the CHL Top Prospects Game despite still managing to be a physical presence with a couple big hits and a decisive win in his fight. He showed his strengths in that regard, but I’m not convinced Cuylle can keep up with the pro pace and I don’t know whether he has enough skill to be effective offensively even if that quickness comes in time. I’m projecting Cuylle as a bottom-six forward and thus I wouldn’t advise taking him in the second round.
9) Luke Tuch (LW, USA, NTDP U18)
JANUARY RANKING: 56
FEBRUARY RANKING: 67
ANALYSIS: Tuch is another work-in-progress power forward, but I see more upside in him than Cuylle. Truth be told, I quite prefer Tuch — even though they are so close in my rankings — and he is more likely to be a riser for me again in the months to come. Tuch may not be as tough as Cuylle, but he is a superior skater and significantly more skilled from what I’ve seen. Tuch has a better chance of becoming a top-six forward. He is a lot like his big brother Alex in Vegas. That is probably the best comparable, albeit the easiest. I would be pretty shocked if Tuch was available into the third round. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes in the top 50, but Tuch is stuck in my second-round tweener group (57-80) for the time being.
10) Patrick Guay (LW/LC, Canada, Sherbrooke QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 85
FEBRUARY RANKING: 113
ANALYSIS: Guay was also a victim of some reshuffling in dropping down a round, though I’m not as high on him as I once was — as evidenced by falling just below my 81-110 tier. Guay is more of a mid-round pick for me now, no longer a contender for the top-three rounds despite playing well and scoring fairly consistently as of late for the top-ranked team in the Q. Guay is on the small side and I just don’t think he has big enough skill to bank on production as a pro — granted, he is built solidly for his size and doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects (as you can see in this recent fight). Guay is certainly worth drafting, but I would hold off until the fourth round.
NOTE: Here are 13 more double-digit fallers from within my top four rounds.
Brady Burns (LC, Canada, Saint John QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 86
FEBRUARY RANKING: 112
Charlie Desroches (RD, Canada, Saint John QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 88
FEBRUARY RANKING: 111
Maxim Groshev (RW, Russia, Reaktor Nizhnekamsk MHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 91
FEBRUARY RANKING: 106
Leo Loof (LD, Sweden, Farjestad J20)
JANUARY RANKING: 97
FEBRUARY RANKING: 127
Matej Kaslik (LC, Slovakia, Malmo J20)
JANUARY RANKING: 103
FEBRUARY RANKING: 116
Theo Rochette (LC, Canada/Switzerland, Quebec QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 104
FEBRUARY RANKING: 117
Simon Knak (RW, Switzerland, Portland WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 105
FEBRUARY RANKING: 118
Marko Stacha (LD, Slovakia, Dukla Trencin)
JANUARY RANKING: 108
FEBRUARY RANKING: 119
Marek Blaha (RD, Czech Republic, Sparta Praha U19)
JANUARY RANKING: 107
FEBRUARY RANKING: 120
Ben Schoen (RC/RW, USA, Youngstown USHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 121
FEBRUARY RANKING: 137
Alex Gaffney (LC, USA, Muskegon USHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 122
FEBRUARY RANKING: 138
Alex Laferriere (RW, USA, Des Moines USHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 123
FEBRUARY RANKING: 139
Carson Bantle (LW, USA, Madison USHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 124
FEBRUARY RANKING: 140
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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.