Prospect Ramblings: Leafs add key players, Black Aces, Calder Nominations

Peter Harling

2016-05-02

Nikita Zaitsev

The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has been making plenty of news as of late. The headline news of winning the draft lottery has Toronto fans buzzing but that’s not all that’s happening.

Today the Leafs signed free agent Nikita Zaitsev out of the KHL to a one year contract worth $925,000

{source}<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">As has been widely speculated, <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Leafs?src=hash">#Leafs</a> sign UFA Nikita Zaitsev out of KHL to a 1 year contract via <a href="https://twitter.com/generalfanager">@generalfanager</a> <a href="https://t.co/PnJPlv757P">pic.twitter.com/PnJPlv757P</a></p>&mdash; Peter Harling (@pharling) <a href="https://twitter.com/pharling/status/727203502037078017">May 2, 2016</a></blockquote>

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Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello told TSN 1050 they believe Zaitsev who is 24 years old and has plenty of pro experience already will play in their top four next year. Zaitsev is a right handed point man and won the Championship last year, went to the finals this year and has World Championship experience as well. Dobber has his fantasy impact on Zaitsev signing in Toronto here

Andreas Johnson - Photo Courtesy of PensionPlanPuppets.com

The Leafs have also brought one of their top ten prospects over to the Marlies. Andreas Johnson has finished his final season in the SHL and is practicing with the Marlies. No doubt he will get in some playoff games to help the Marlies pursuit of a Calder Championship as well as help gauge if he is ready for the NHL next season, or will see further development time in the AHL. Keep an eye on Johnson who should be widely unowned unless you are in a deeper keeper league as he has top six offensive upside.

With the Erie Otters falling to Mitch Marner and the London Knights, Travis Dermott has also been assigned to the Marlies where he will get his first taste of pro hockey. Dermott recently finished second behind Mikhail Sergachev (2016 draft eligible) as the OHL top defenceman.

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. The finalists are Shane Gositsbehere, Connor McDavid, and Artemi Panerin

{source}<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Your Calder Trophy finalists are…<a href="https://t.co/yIjEHJSI0l">https://t.co/yIjEHJSI0l</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHLAwards?src=hash">#NHLAwards</a> <a href="https://t.co/o3boV75ZIy">pic.twitter.com/o3boV75ZIy</a></p>&mdash; #StanleyCup Playoffs (@NHL) <a href="https://twitter.com/NHL/status/727292966507786241">May 3, 2016</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>{/source}

This is a very deep rookie class with players such as Max Domi, Sam Bennett, Jack Eichel not being able to earn a nomination. It would be very easy to make a strong argument for any of the three finalists; Panarin was the leading scorer, McDavid scored the most points per game, while Gostisbehere was red hot in the second half of the season and carried the Flyers into a playoff position.

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A fantasy prospect scouting tip I have been using for years is to pay close attention to the players on the Black Aces during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Black Aces is a taxi squad of reserve players who practice with the team and are available to be added to the roster on short notice in case of injury or if the coach needs to make a change. These players are often viewed as the next in line and could become regulars as soon as next season. While some of the franchises have both their NHL and AHL affiliates still competing the teams who are playing in the Stanley Cup with their AHL affiliate season concluded are the teams to watch.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are carrying several prominent prospects on the Black Aces squad including Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo did not see any NHL games in his rookie pro season and was a healthy scratch as a Coach’s decision nine times this season. Despite his off-ice issues, his 43 points in 69 games as a rookie demonstrate his fantasy upside and his experience watching and learning from NHL veterans could pay dividends and help fast track him to the NHL.

Matt Peca is an interesting addition, the AHL rookie is an under the radar prospect and the Lightning are really high on the undersized centre. This promotion suggests he will be a top line player with Syracuse Crunch next year and is playing his way into the NHL.

Slater Koekkoek and Adam Erne may be the two players closest to cracking the NHL. Koekkoek will almost certainly be a regular next year but with limited fantasy value. Erne has added value in leagues that score peripheral stats as his crash and bang style lends to hits and penalty minutes.

The Bolts third round pick from 2014 Brayden Point finished his junior career as captain of the Moosejaw Warriors and was Team Canada Captain at the WJC and scored 88 points in 48 regular season games with 16 more in ten playoff matches. He has also been added to the Black Aces and while it is unlikely he sees any games it will be excellent experience as he looks to turn pro next year full time. Point has excellent fantasy upside but could still be a year away.

The San Jose Sharks have added Paw-velski to their Black Aces squad. The lucky cat joins some impressive must own prospects in Nikolay Goldobin and Micro Mueller. Goldobin is in his rookie season and played in nine NHL games. He is very close to NHL ready and has significant fantasy potential. Mueller played in 39 regular season games but was in the press box on a regular basis. He needs to play games to develop either in the NHL or the AHL.

The New York Islanders added several players from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after they were eliminated. The most notable player is former fifth overall selection Michael Dal Colle, who will turn pro next year. Dal Colle played in the final three regular season games and three playoff games but only managed one assist and was relatively ineffective. He will benefit from his time with NHL players and should play in the AHL full time next season.

The Islanders found a gem in the fourth round of the 2015 draft in Parker Wotherspoon. Since last years draft, he has produced a 56 point regular season, was recalled to Bridgeport for six regular season games and the post season and has been added to the Black Aces roster with the New York Islanders. Today he signed his Entry-Level contract and is a prospect on the rise. Add him to your roster if he is available or keep him on your watch list.

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The CHL announced today that the 2017 MasterCard Memorial Cup will be held in Windsor ONT. The Spitfires have several prominent prospects eligible for the 2016 NHL draft including Logan Brown, Mikhail Sergachev, and Logan Stanley. Assuming those players all return for another year of junior as well as Arizona prospect Christian Fischer the Spitfires will have a solid veteran core. The Spitfires also have 2017 NHL draft eligible prospect Gabriel Vilardi who was selected second overall in the 2015 OHL draft. Vilardi is another big 6-2 centre and he impressed in his rookie season with 38 points in 62 games.

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Boston Bruins prospect Alexander Khokhlachev may be heading back to Russia. The Russian prospect has had four years of seasoning in the AHL and has been one of the most offensively productive prospects in that time. Yet he has been quite public in his disappointment in the opportunity he has received from the Bruins at the NHL level. He has only seen a total of nine NHL games and with being a restricted free agent, he will likely head to the KHL next year.

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The World Championship Tournament begins this week and TSN will be broadcasting the games showcasing the last chance to see top 2016 draft prospects Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine compete head-to-head. Leafs and Jets fans will be glued to this series as they hold the first and second overall selections. Laine has played his way into the conversation for the first overall selection and this tournament could be the tipping point.

The IIHF is running a World Championship fantasy hockey challenge with some pretty cool prizes on the line including tickets to the Gold Medal game. Play here

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