Hey folks, welcome back to yet another edition of Dobber’s Fastest Rising Forward Prospects, where I’ll have a deeper look at some of the players making positive strides on Dobber’s rankings…whether or not we agree on them (this is called foreshadowing). With this month’s rankings being the first release since the World Junior Championship in Vancouver, I’m sure you can bet where we’re going to kick things off…
Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars | NOV 2018 – 138 | DEC 2018 – 138 (+0) | NOW – 41 (+97)
Strong contributions to the American’s World Junior Championship cause resulted in a 97-spot jump for Niagara Ice Dogs forward Jason Robertson. Although the Americans were ultimately unsuccessful in their bid for gold, Robertson’s tournament proved to be a success in and of itself.
For those unfamiliar with Robertson up until this point in his prospect story, let’s recap…
The 6-2 left-winger was selected by the Dallas Stars 39th overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft. At the time, the draft was widely considered to have a lower ceiling, but deep through the first two to three rounds. Early indications, with the exception of Elias Pettersson showing us that there was in fact some high ceiling to be had, the narrative checks out. Robertson had just wrapped up a team-leading 81- point slate with the Kingston Frontenacs including 41 goals. In addition, his 18 playoff points led the Fronts by a wide margin of seven through their 11-game challenge. Until this November, Robertson remained with the Frontenacs as a leading contributor both at even strength, as well as on the power play. His hand-eye coordination is a major asset and makes him an effective net-front presence. In addition, he does an excellent job moving the puck through the neutral zone and creating opportunities on the rush.
Prior to being selected to represent the Americans at the 2019 WJC, Robertson was traded by the Frontenacs to the Niagara Ice Dogs. Niagara sacrificed a package of 11 total draft picks in the swap, indicating a commitment to push for the Memorial Cup.
In his first opportunity to truly compete in a best-on-best peer-to-peer competition, Robertson proved to be highly worthy of the challenge. The World Junior Championship in Vancouver presented an opportunity to Robertson that had never been available to him previously. The opportunity quickly cascaded into a center-stage audition when Robertson delivered four primary assists versus the Kazakstan. Although any production versus a recent relegation squad should be taken with a grain of salt, the American’s eight tallies ended up being double what all other teams were capable of, with the exception of the Slovakians.
Robertson will have the opportunity to challenge for a roster spot in Dallas next fall, but will more than likely end up spending at least one season with their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars. Despite the immediate change that he has undergone in Dobber’s rankings, don’t assume that this is a temporary “flash in the pan”. At 41 on Dobber’s list, Robertson has simply undergone a correction, and is certainly worth considering adding to your reserve list.
Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes | NOV 2018 – 169 | DEC 2018 – 120 (+49) | NOW – 52(+68)
The Coyotes rookie is almost certainly a player that many of us have been sleeping on until very recently. The former Moncton Wildcat super-forward who had been knocked for his size has overcome his NHL competition with a tenacious work ethic and resilient skull.
His constant progression in Dobber’s rankings has largely been driven by his proven contributions at the NHL level. Despite mediocre contributions with Tucson in the AHL, Garland has found the right linemates in the NHL, allowing him to reach a level of play that many thought had been left in New Brunswick.
Although Garland has shown he is capable of contributing in the NHL, his production should be monitored closely. The former 129-point scorer in the QMJHL had primarily been recognized in the assist column until this year. Through 19 games in the NHL, his goal-scoring has heavily outweighed his assists, leading some to believe that his scoring rate is inflated. In contrast to the doubt, however, Garland had begun this season in the AHL with a much heavier goal scoring portion than was typical in his short professional career.
In any case, he certainly appears to have the hot hand, and should remain at a slight discount until we can nail down what to truly expect from the 22-year-old. If you’re looking for a slight gamble with great upside, this Yote rookie could be your guy.
Sammy Blais, St. Louis Blues | NOV 2018 – 128 | DEC 2018 – 127(+1) | NOW – 83(+44)
Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure that Dobber and I are on the same page with Blues’ forward Sammy Blais – with that being said, I’m also not sure we’re that far apart. Despite his significant rise in the rankings, Blais, aged 22, has had a relatively cavalier first half of the season spent between the Blues, and AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage. Neither team has been on the right side of things this year, which perhaps has been a contributing factor in Blais’ lack of confidence and therefore production.
The organization appears to have a fair amount of faith in Blais, who’s been deployed in a relatively sheltered but unproductive approach. His once formidable offensive ability has been stunted in his current deployment, likely leading to a lack of confidence.
Next fall he will no longer be exempt from waivers, forcing the Blues to make the decision of whether or not they truly believe he will become a core part of their organization’s future. Currently, the answer to that question is very much up in the air and the team seems to be stumbling through the steps to determine what their future identity is with or without Blais. Ultimately, his game just doesn't currently appear to be at a level where he is pushing for his potential ceiling. Consistently favorable deployment could play a factor in allowing him to revive his offense, while consistently unfavorable deployment could just as easily help in stunting it further. In any case, the next ten months will be critical in the forwards future with the Blues, or with someone else.
Thanks for tuning in to brush up on some of the trending players around the site. Make sure to check back in next week when I’ll have a look at a few of the defensemen making strides. As always, I’d love to hear comments and feedback here or on Twitter @olaf1393.