We’re past the midway point of the draft year now and some prospects are clearly on the rise, while others have seen their stock steadily fall.
A select few are trending more rapidly, be it up or down, as evidenced in the sixth edition of my 2019 NHL Draft rankings.
So much has changed in six short months when looking back on my preseason rankings, published in late August following the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, but there continues to be plenty of movement from one month to the next.
Here’s a closer look at 10 fallers from my Top 217 for February.
1) Alex Newhook (LC/LW, Canada, Victoria BCHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 13
FEBRUARY RANKING: 24
ANALYSIS: Newhook continues to tear up the BCHL — he’s been named player of the week again since my February rankings were released — but he’s dropping in the big picture because he hasn’t been able to elevate his game in best-on-best situations. It started last summer when Newhook shockingly got cut from Canada’s under-18 team for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August. At that time, many scouts felt the Newfoundlander was a top-five overall talent for 2019. Since then, Newhook has also been mediocre at the World Junior A Challenge in December and at the CJHL Top Prospects Game in January. Those are the biggest scouting showcases against the best competition and Newhook has consistently disappointed on those stages. He might get one more chance, if he’s available and selected to represent Canada at the U18 worlds in April.
— BC Hockey League (@GoBCHL) February 11, 2019
Alex Newhook is so tough to figure out. Watching him with Victoria in the BCHL, he’s absolutely amazing out there, doing things few guys can with the puck. But as well as he is scoring, you’d probably expect more from such an incredible talent.#2019NHLDraft
— Ben Brown (@BBProspects98) February 10, 2019
Newhook has some high-end talent, there is no doubt. His skating and speed are elite. His puck skills are pretty special. He’s dangerous off the rush and in any 1-on-1 situations. For those who have been watching him on a regular basis in the BCHL — and some NHL teams scout that tier-two league much closer than others — it wouldn’t be surprising if they still had Newhook in their top 15. Perhaps even top 10 for a few of the 31 teams. Reality is, Newhook could be a huge steal outside the top 15 and especially into the 20s because he does seem to have star potential — that sky-is-the-limit upside — but there are certainly concerns over his inability to rise to the occasion when it matters most.
Is that confidence issue? Nervousness? Does he need more time to adjust and get comfortable at a higher level, to develop chemistry with new linemates? Or is Newhook simply not that good when matched up against the best in his age group? He can keep up, he’s still among the fastest players on the ice, but can he think the game at that pace? Is it a processing problem? So many questions, with teams hoping to get some of those answers at the draft combine.
Tyson Jost’s struggles thus far, as a top-10 pick coming out of the same league, could also hinder Newhook’s stock as one of several polarizing prospects projected for the first round of this year’s draft — including the likes of Philip Broberg, Vasili Podkolzin, Arthur Kaliyev and this next kid.
2) Anttoni Honka (RD, Finland, JYP Liiga)
JANUARY RANKING: 23
FEBRUARY RANKING: 32
ANALYSIS: Honka has been trending down for me all season for a few different reasons, but he’s fallen out of my first round for the first time in February — now the first pick of my second round, at No. 32. This, after starting out at No. 5 in my preseason rankings before slipping to 7, 15, 17, 23 and 32 through my six rankings to date. For the record, I’m still a Honka fan. I still find him a fun prospect to watch, with a pretty high-end skill-set.
— DobberProspects #NHL (@DobberProspects) January 7, 2019
However, Honka’s limited and sheltered role at the World Juniors certainly hurt his stock, and his brother Julius’ lack of NHL success as a first-rounder isn’t helping either. Also working against Anttoni Honka is the fact he’s one of the older prospects in this draft class — with an Oct. 5 birthdate, less than a month after the Sept. 15 cutoff. Honka isn’t producing much in Finland’s top professional league and although stats aren’t everything and never tell the whole story, it does appear he’s being surpassed by some of his younger peers. Honka hasn’t been progressing as much as others over the course of their draft year to date and thus he’s no longer in that top-10 discussion. And he’s not even in the next tier for me, which spans from 12 to 26 in my February rankings — all prospects that I consider locks for the first round as of today. Honka fell into my 27-45 tier, a group of 19 competing for the final five spots in my first round from one month to the next.
Honka does possess first-round talent and tools, and I don’t necessarily feel his development has stagnated, but he’ll need a strong finishing kick to crack the top 31 in June. It’s also possible that Honka is suffering from a bit of overexposure, but he has to find a way to ramp it up from here on out. A move to North America to play major junior next season — like Julius did with WHL Swift Current — might not be a bad idea if Anttoni doesn’t gain any more traction in Finland down the stretch.
3) Nathan Légaré (RW, Canada, Baie-Comeau QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 27
FEBRUARY RANKING: 38
ANALYSIS: Légaré is still within that 27-45 tier, so this fall isn’t as severe as it might seem. He remains in the mix for my first round and his physical tools were on full display at the CHL Top Prospects Game, but his footspeed and skating also stood out as something of a concern. Not a red flag per se, but worth mentioning here as part of the reason for Légaré dropping 11 spots.
Légaré will never be a speed demon and his playing style may translate just fine to the pro ranks — as it has for Carl Grundstrom, a somewhat similar prospect who was selected in the second round, 57th overall in 2016 — but the game isn’t slowing down and teams are putting more of an emphasis on quickness and finesse over size and strength. I’m not sure if that shift in philosophy among the masses will have Légaré getting overlooked in the latter half of the first round, but he’s probably not as sexy of a prospect as somebody like Phillip Tomasino (No. 30) or Bobby Brink (No. 31) right now.
4) John Beecher (LC, USA, NTDP U18)
JANUARY RANKING: 38
FEBRUARY RANKING: 54
ANALYSIS: Some of these prospects, like Honka, Beecher and a few more to come, have been frequent fallers and I don’t want to rip on them month after month. Beecher is a strong two-way prospect with debatable offensive upside. He’s drawn some favourable comparisons to Ryan Kesler, but Beecher’s production or lack thereof suggests he’ll be a second-rounder and more of a role player in the NHL. Beecher will probably go higher in my mock draft than in my rankings, which are more so based on potential. His ceiling isn’t as high, but Beecher strikes me as a safer pick.
5) Artemi Knyazev (LD, Russia, Chicoutimi QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 43
FEBRUARY RANKING: 58
ANALYSIS: I really like Knyazev, but he didn’t dominate the World Junior A Challenge competition the way I anticipated despite scoring twice in that tournament. He is a threat to score from the back end as evidenced by his QMJHL stat-line, though success in that league doesn’t always translate to the NHL — especially for defencemen. It’s hard to say how NHL scouts will interpret those numbers, but the eye test — from what I’ve seen — tells me Knyazev has tons of potential. Right now, Knyazev is part of a massive tier for me from 46 to around 90 in my February rankings, along with these next five.
6) Yaroslav Likhachyov (RW, Russia, Gatineau QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 52
FEBRUARY RANKING: 77
ANALYSIS: Another young Russian developing in the Q, Likhachyov has been more productive since my February rankings were released, and having been so high on him coming out of the Hlinka this past summer, I’m pretty sure he’ll be back on the rise for me in March. Again, this fall appears worse than it is — given the amount of movement between 46 and 90 in my rankings from one month to the next.
I still think Likhachyov could be a steal outside the top 50, considering he’s one of the younger prospects for 2019 (Sept. 2 birthdate) with so much room for growth in the North American game. That transition hasn’t been without growing pains, but Likhachyov seems to be gaining momentum in the present and his big breakout could come next season. An NHL team might reach for him closer to the first round in anticipation of that. A real tempting prospect, even if Likhachyov has been trending down in my rankings.
7) Drew Helleson (RD, USA, NTDP U18)
JANUARY RANKING: 55
FEBRUARY RANKING: 68
ANALYSIS: Helleson and fellow NTDP defender Marshall Warren essentially swapped spots in my February rankings, with Helleson dropping from 55 to 68 while Warren climbed from 78 to 53. There isn’t that much separating those two or another NTDP teammate in Henry Thrun (No. 52). I like all three and Helleson is certainly still a second-round candidate.
I more so felt Warren was worthy of trending up — he made my risers list for February — and there just wasn’t room for all three in my top 62 this time around, so Helleson became the odd-man out through no real fault of his own. But I would pick them in that order as of today: Thrun, then Warren, then Helleson. The margins between them are slim, though, as mentioned.
8) Blake Murray (LC, Canada, Sudbury OHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 59
FEBRUARY RANKING: 82
ANALYSIS: Like Likhachyov, and even more so, Murray has come on strong since my February rankings were released. I hadn’t given up on those two — or these next two — but their production no longer warranted second-round status amongst that large grouping from 46-90. Things can change quite drastically month over month, and Murray might be able to force his way back into my top 62 for March.
I highly doubt falling into the third round in my rankings was a motivating factor, but getting snubbed from the CHL Top Prospects Game seemed to light a fire under Murray. It sparked him for sure and now he’s filling the net the way I envisioned when I debuted Murray at No. 14 in my preseason rankings. He would have to really rip it up the rest of the way to get back into my first-round range, but I wouldn’t rule out Murray as a potential top-50 pick.
9) Josh Williams (RW, Canada, Edmonton WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 60
FEBRUARY RANKING: 70
ANALYSIS: Ditto for Williams, who has been showing up on the scoresheet with more regularity since his move from Medicine Hat to Edmonton at last month’s WHL trade deadline. Williams didn’t have a very strong showing at the CHL Top Prospects Game and thus continued his downward trend in my rankings, but he’s another kid that I can see high upside in his ability as a scoring winger.
Williams could go on to become a quality and clutch pro — perhaps along the lines of Carolina’s Justin Williams (no relation) — but his draft year has left a lot to be desired thus far. There is still plenty of time left for Josh Williams to rise up my rankings, much like Likhachyov and Murray. Those three are kind of in the same boat for me right now.
10) Luke Toporowski (LW, USA, Spokane WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 74
FEBRUARY RANKING: 94
ANALYSIS: Toporowski has turned it up a notch too and had a really strong game here in Kelowna shortly after my February rankings were released. It’s unlikely he was sending me a message with that first-star performance, but point taken — that Toporowski was too low in February, as the first pick of my fourth round.
— Spokane Chiefs (@spokanechiefs) February 7, 2019
Toporowski’s teammate in Spokane, Adam Beckman, is emerging as a riser — he’s pushing for the top 100 and outproducing Toporowski in goals and points to date — but Toporowski is still the better pro prospect in my opinion and should be closer to No. 75 again for March, even with some overagers sprinkled into the top three rounds for the first time in my rankings. More consistency in the second half could get Toporowski back into my top 62, having started out at No. 49 in my preseason rankings.
NOTE: Here are 20 more fallers from within my top 125 for February, though most these prospects aren’t necessarily falling in the big picture and could certainly be back on the rise for me in March.
Xavier Simoneau (LW/LC, Canada, Drummondville QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 68
FEBRUARY RANKING: 78
Jordan Spence (RD, Canada, Moncton QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 70
FEBRUARY RANKING: 81
Oleg Zaytsev (LC, Russia, Red Deer WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 75
FEBRUARY RANKING: 101
Vojtech Strondala (LC, Czech Republic, Kometa Brno)
JANUARY RANKING: 76
FEBRUARY RANKING: 86
Nolan Maier (G, Canada, Saskatoon WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 80
FEBRUARY RANKING: 96
Cameron Rowe (G, USA, NTDP U18)
JANUARY RANKING: 83
FEBRUARY RANKING: 123
Brady Meyer (LC, USA, Des Moines USHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 85
FEBRUARY RANKING: 104
Henri Nikkanen (LC, Finland, Jukurit Liiga)
JANUARY RANKING: 87
FEBRUARY RANKING: 105
Logan Barlage (RC/RW, Canada, Lethbridge WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 91
FEBRUARY RANKING: 109
Trent Miner (G, Canada, Vancouver WHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 96
FEBRUARY RANKING: 122
Alex Campbell (LW/LC, Canada, Victoria BCHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 101
FEBRUARY RANKING: 113
Brooklyn Kalmikov (LW, Canada, Cape Breton QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 102
FEBRUARY RANKING: 133
Marcel Barinka (F, Czech Republic, Halifax QMJHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 105
FEBRUARY RANKING: 141
Antti Saarela (LC/LW, Finland, Lukko Liiga)
JANUARY RANKING: 107
FEBRUARY RANKING: 135
Matias Mäntykivi (LC, Finland, SaiPa U20)
JANUARY RANKING: 108
FEBRUARY RANKING: 136
Travis Treloar (RC, Sweden, Chicago USHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 111
FEBRUARY RANKING: 179
Michael Gildon (F, USA, NTDP U18)
JANUARY RANKING: 113
FEBRUARY RANKING: 143
Anthony Romano (RW, Canada, Sioux Falls USHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 114
FEBRUARY RANKING: 128
Tag Bertuzzi (LW, Canada, Hamilton OHL)
JANUARY RANKING: 116
FEBRUARY RANKING: 132
Elmer Soderblom (LW, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
JANUARY RANKING: 118
FEBRUARY RANKING: 134