This article is part of our Prospects Analysis series.
With the vast majority of the 2016-17 college, junior and minor league seasons complete, it's time to identify 10 prospects who have failed to live up to their billing this year. Even superstars have seasons in which they struggle, so I have attempted to identify players who I think will continue to have issues moving forward for a variety of reasons.
Paul Bittner, LW, CLM
Acquired: No. 38 overall pick (2015)
Other than one impressive junior season in which he scored 34 goals for WHL Portland, Bittner has never lived up to his potential. He's dealt with numerous injuries, and although there was talk that he was a potential first-round pick in his draft year, he fell to 38th overall. Bittner is a big body (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) who has a cannon for a shot, but he struggles to get into scoring position in the offensive zone, and there are long stretches during which he makes no impact on the game whatsoever. He has the size and skating ability to be an effective role player if he isn't scoring goals, but he's never been committed to playing that type of hockey. At this point, it appears that Bittner may be a career minor leaguer.
MacKenzie Blackwood, G, NJD
Acquired: No. 42 overall pick (2015)
There are multiple goaltenders on this list, which isn't a surprise given tht it's probably the most difficult position to master at the professional level. Blackwood is still eligible for the OHL, so his struggles aren't as big of a concern as some of the other players mentioned here, but he's had a rough season, posting a 2.96 GAA and .897 save percentage in 23 games for AHL Albany. Blackwood moves really well for a kid who's 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. With Cory Schneider in the fold, the Devils don't need Blackwood to have an impact at the NHL level anytime soon, but he's had a rough first pro season nonetheless. Although he has delivered some quality performances this year, I would have liked to see a bit more consistency.
Michael Dal Colle, LW, NYI
Acquired: No. 5 overall pick (2014)
Dal Colle is by far the highest-profile player on this list. A top-five selection in 2014, his stock has been dropping rapidly over the past couple seasons. Given the quality – or lack thereof – of some of the players the Islanders dress on a nightly basis (Alan Quine, Shane Prince, etc.), I would have expected Dal Colle to crack their lineup by now. His numbers this season in AHL Bridgeport (11 goals, 29 points in 53 games) aren't horrendous, but by all accounts, he has played poorly. Dal Colle was also dreadful for well over half a season in the OHL last year, so this isn't the first time he's disappointed. Pure snipers with Dal Colle's natural ability don't come around very often, so it would be a huge mistake for the Islanders to dump him for an inferior player, but I think there is a strong chance (probably about 50-50) that he turns into a massive bust.
Alexander Dergachev, C, LAK
Acquired: No. 74 overall pick (2015)
Dergachev lands on this list through no fault of his own. He was getting so little time for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL that he was eventually shipped down to their version of the AHL. 6-foot-5 forwards with good hands don't grow on trees and Dergachev was one of my favorite sleepers of the 2015 draft, but he just isn't getting enough playing time against high-level competition to improve his game. With former NHLers like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk as well as established Russian stars like Nikita Gusev and Vadim Shipachyov on their roster, it's no surprise that Dergachev isn't seeing any reasonable amount of ice time. He has no goals and just three assists in 29 games for SKA this season. He signed an extension just over a year ago that will keep him in the KHL through at least next season.
Zach Fucale, G, MON
Acquired: No. 36 overall pick (2013)
Because he played on some of the best junior teams of the past decade, Fucale gained an undeserved reputation as a top-flight goaltending prospect. He played very well in leading Halifax to a Memorial Cup in 2012-13 and Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Juniors in 2015, yet the common denominator among both of those teams is that they had the puck for extremely long stretches of time throughout the course of games, thus limiting Fucale's workload. He's been dreadful as a pro, with this year's 2.92 GAA in the ECHL (where he's spent most of the season) representing his finest mark since 2013-14, when he was in his third year of juniors. The 21-year-old has been lapped on the depth chart by fellow goaltending prospects Charlie Lindgren, Hayden Hawkey and Michael McNiven, so Fucale is a non-prospect at this point.
Robin Kovacs, RW, NYR
Acquired: No. 62 overall pick (2015)
A shifty forward with blazing speed and a good handle, Kovacs was brought over by the Rangers from his native Sweden this summer with the intention of having him spend the majority of the year in the AHL. He scored in the Wolfpack's opener, but he has just a single goal since then despite being 54 games deep into the season. Hartford is a bad team and Kovacs has spent a good portion of the season playing with fourth-liners and career minor leaguers, but even when you take that into account, he's still generated stunningly little offense. Before the year began, I thought there was an outside chance the 20-year-old would be able to help the Rangers late in the season, but that clearly isn't the case. The Blueshirts need to pray that his struggles are simply the result to getting used to playing on a smaller ice surface; not all hope is lost yet, but he'll need to see a major offensive uptick next season.
Chad Krys, D, CHI
Acquired: No. 45 overall pick (2016)
Krys turned in an inconsistent freshman season at Boston University, which led to him being left off the U.S. World Junior team this time despite the fact that he was on the squad as a draft-eligible player last year. Considering Team USA won the gold medal, it appears they made the right decision. Krys isn't a difference-making talent, but I thought he offered enough at both ends of the rink to be a serviceable defenseman at the NHL level. He's struggled with his decision-making all season long, which has surprised me. The Terriers have enough quality defensemen on their team that Krys doesn't have to play huge minutes, which makes his struggles even more concerning. He's also managed just nine points in 34 games.
Mason McDonald, G, CGY
Acquired: No. 34 overall pick (2014)
Although he was viewed as a long-term project at the time, McDonald was the first goaltender selected in the 2014 draft. Outside of a stellar Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament in 2014, he's been a major disappointment. He played on some bad teams early in his QMJHL career, and by the time his teammates had improved, McDonald was nowhere to be found. He may stand at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, but he never learned to use his size to his advantage. Stuck in the ECHL all year, McDonald has a 2.78 GAA and .894 save percentage in 24 games, so he has "career minor leaguer" written all over him. That's a shame because he's a good kid.
Alex Nedeljkovic, G, CAR
Acquired: No. 37 overall pick (2014)
It seems quite clear that Nedeljkovic still has far more long-term potential than McDonald or Fucale, but the odds of him ever developing into a useful NHL piece have fallen below 50-50. In a day and age when big goaltenders are en vogue, the 21-year-old is undersized at 5-foot-11. He's super athletic, but there are times when he just can't make up for his lack of size in the crease. The Ohio native's AHL numbers were so bad that the Hurricanes shipped him to the ECHL for three starts, and while he was better there (.921 save percentage), his numbers for Charlotte are brutal (8-13-0, 3.20 GAA, .888 save mark). The lack of goaltending depth in Carolina's system appears to be the only reason Nedeljkovic is still highly ranked within the organization.