It seems like every night, there is an NHL game or two featuring some 19-year-old putting on a show. Now more than ever, an astute fantasy hockey GM needs to have a firm grasp of the upcoming talent pool. And to assist with that never-ending mountain of homework, each month I will open a thread in the DobberHockey Prospect Forum and attempt to answer any and all of your fantasy hockey prospect conundrums.
Let’s get to some questions!
Question: “Who will be the contenders for the Calder next year?”
Answer: I think we will see a bit of a changing of the guard in the 2017-18 Calder race. Usually there are one or two top prospects from the previous’ draft and then an older player who sneaks in. I’m going to go off the board a bit and give you three players to watch that won’t be high picks in the ’17 draft crop.
Thomas Chabot: An already polished defender who will be 20/21 next season and has shown the ability to take over games at the junior-level even against the very best in the world (see: WJC). He made Ottawa out of camp last fall as a 19-year-old and should stick around for real next year.
Clayton Keller: In my opinion, Keller is the best potential fantasy player outside of the NHL. There will be growing pains for a player his age and size finding his footing against NHL defenders, but he sees the ice and anticipates plays at an extremely high level. There is no guarantee that he leaves Boston University after his freshman campaign as Arizona may want to shelter him from another likely losing season, but if he turns pro he will turn heads in the NHL immediately.
Charlie McAvoy: Another defenseman (and BU Terrier) to grace this list. Normally defenders take longer to develop than high-impact forwards but both McAvoy and Chabot are extremely polished at both ends of the rink. Boston is a team in need of an infusion of top talent on the back end and there is little doubt that the former 14th overall selection from 2016 will turn professional at the culmination of his NCAA season and be in a Bruins uniform this spring.
Wild Card: Nikita Gusev: The man affectionately known as ‘Goose’ is a soon-to-be 25-year-old who destroyed the KHL regular season to the tune of 71 points in 57 games – good for fourth most in the league. A former seventh round pick of the Lightning, he’s under contract with SKA through the completion of next season, but if he decides to buy himself out of his deal and join his good buddy Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay, he could have a Panarin-like impact right out the gate.
Question: “What are your thoughts on Matthew Phillips? He lit up the WHL as a 17-year-old rookie last season and he's doing it again this year as an 18-year-old. What are the odds that he becomes an NHL player?”
Answer: I’m fortunate enough to live in Victoria, so I’ve gotten to watch Phillips quite a bit the last two seasons. He is an extremely agile, and skilled player who thrives off the rush. His edge work and anticipation skills have allowed him to flourish in a league filled with players who average four-plus inches and 40-plus pounds on him. He’s consistently the Royals best player on a given night.
Whether he has an NHL future depends on a how he fills out and how he can handle defensive zone assignments at the next level. Being just 5’7 is already a pretty damning stat, but he’s as slight as they come and is often listed as under 150lbs. If he can put on substantial weight over the course of the next two junior seasons and use that to improve his defensive play, he’ll have a shot at producing in the AHL and then who knows.
He does think the game at a high level so he can defend simply by being smarter than his opponents, but in the professional ranks he’ll need to be strong enough to hold the wall on breakouts and pick up back checkers. That’s where the work will truly lie.
Question: “What are your thoughts on Huskies teammates Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura? How close are they to seeing NHL action? What are their upsides?”
Answer: As the scout for the Vancouver Canucks on DobberProspects, I’ve watched plenty of film on Gaudette and by extension, his line mate, Sikura as well. Gaudette has been one of nicer surprises the last 14 months of NCAA hockey. After a slow start to his collegiate career, Gaudette blistered through the back-half recording 25 points in the back 23 games of the 2015-16season. He has continued that dominance and them some in 2016-17 by charging up to the fifth most points and point-per-game output in the nation with 49 points in 31contests – a 1.58ppg.
Gaudette is a shoot-first centre who offers strong skating ability, defensive acumen, a very heavy and accurate shot and a motor that seems to never quit. He currently leads all of Division I hockey with 143 shots on goal – good for 4.6 shots per game; an incredible output.
He is the youngest player in the top seven scorers and is a beast on the man advantage as evidenced by his 14 power play markers, which also leads the nation.
It is very likely that the former fifth round selection from 2015 will turn professional at the end of his Northeastern team’s season. Spending time in Utica of the AHL will be necessary and crucial to see if he can continue to accrue points in a more difficult league, but his outlook has risen dramatically since being drafted and looks more like a potential middle six centre than a longshot to make the NHL.
The Canucks may dangle a contract to the big club for the end of this season as incentive for leaving school early and thus burn a year of his entry-level contract. Something to watch for.
As for Sikura, he’s taken a more tempered approach in his offensive development. A very slight winger with some nice hands and strong vision, he does well to create time and space to set up teammates. I question whether he has much of a future in the NHL but his first step will be signing with Chicago and plying his trade against bigger, stronger opponents in the AHL.
Question: “I'd like to know how would you compare Chabot versus a top 3 player from the upcoming draft.”
Answer: If I’m holding one of the top two selection in the draft next year, I’m taking Patrick and Hischier before Chabot. They both have offensive upside that trumps Chabot. After that, however Chabot would be a safe choice over selecting a player like Mittelstadt, Vilardi or Tippett who own exciting raw potential but are going to be a longer wait.
I may gamble on Mittelstadt myself, as I love to take a homerun swing, especially if you can afford to wait or parlay his hype around the draft into an already established player via trade.
Question: “San Jose holds opportunity for a few young guys. Hertl, Meier, Labanc, Goldobin. Please rank them for a points only league considering them when they are in their stride.”
Answer: This is a tricky one as I like all these players but will separate them into tiers.
Tier One: Meier and Labanc
Tier Two: Hertl and Goldobin
I see Labanc and Meier as players who look destined to fill top six roles and produce quality points there. Labanc as a silky-smooth playmaker with an underrated shot and Meier as a more power up-and-down winger who can beat you in a lot of ways.
With 223 NHL games under his belt, Hertl is flirting with being the player he is. He’s missed numerous stints due to injury and that has hindered his development. I can see him still elevating his game into a more prominent role, but 2017-18 will be a big year for him with the influx of young forwards pushing for spots and his ability to slide down into a third line centre role and end up staying there.
Goldobin is a player who shows plenty of offensive acumen but struggles with consistency and keeping his feet moving in the defensive end. If things fall right, all four of these players could be fantasy relevant but I’d say Goldobin may have the hardest route to get there.
Question: “In a points only keeper league. If you had the first or second overall pick, with a good offer on the table, would you trade it away? Are Patrick and Hischier that far ahead of let's just say Mittlestadt?”
Answer: The simple answer is yes, Patrick and Hischier are ahead of players like Mittlestadt, Tippett, Rasmussen, Vilardi… That said, it doesn’t mean in three or four years those players won’t have caught up and potentially passed them.
Mittelstadt is a very interesting case, as he has a ton of raw skills that just make you dream of what could happen when he refines them and it comes together in a man-sized body. He has the potential to be the best offensive player in this class.
The question of whether I would deal one of the top two picks in this draft, is also yes – so long as the package is of value. Both Hischier and Patrick appear to be good bets to become likely first line talents but they are not going to be generational or even players who could contend for an Art Ross during their career. This is a great draft to try and yield proven stars for high picks if your opponents are expecting another Matthews/Laine combo at the top of the first round.
Question: “Who is a player that most people seem high on but you’re not so enamoured with and vice versa?”
Answer: This is a difficult one, as players that most people are high on, they’re high on them for good reason. That said, maybe a player like Taylor Raddysh who has garnered a ton of attention for gaudy junior totals this year could fit that bill. I’m not sure we’re looking at a future top six winger. Skating, more specifically acceleration, has remained a concern with him.
On the flip side, a player that people are now probably starting to take notice of but slipped in his draft year is Cliff Pu. Pu was a Swiss army knife for the London Knights in his draft campaign but has taken significant strides this season to go along with his tremendous play in all situations. He’s currently seventh in OHL scoring with 72 points in 51 games. Buffalo snagged a good one in the third round.
Question: “After Matthews, Laine, Puljujarvi, and Tkachuk from the 2016 draft class – who do you see making the NHL next year and having the most fantasy impact?”
Answer: This conversation starts and ends with Clayton Keller. We’ll need to wait and see if he in fact turns pro at the end of BU’s season but if he does, he has the potential to be fantasy producers right out of the gate.
Others to watch from the 2016 class are: Alex Nylander, Mikhail Sergachev, Charlie McAvoy, Alex DeBrincat and Sam Steel. The latter two players will need a great deal of help to crack their NHL lineups but if they do, expect them to be in quality offensive situations; otherwise, what’s the point?
Question: “Joel Eriksson-Ek, what’s your expectation for next season and where do you see his realistic ceiling being?”
Answer: I think Eriksson-Ek could have stayed the NHL for the entirety of this season and done just fine. That said, sending him back to Sweden to develop and get a chance to be a major part of the World Junior team was the right decision. I see him making the Wild lineup next season and spending time all over the lineup.
He’s a natural centre but can play the wing as well and that may be a good spot to ease him into the league. There aren’t a ton of roster spots up for grabs but we’ll see if the Wild re-sign impending restricted free agents, Jordan Schroeder and Erik Haula.
As far as what his realistic ceiling looks like, I’m not the only one who sees a future top line centre in him. He possesses a very strong two-way game to go along with sneaky good offensive skills. The 20th overall selection from 2015 has produced 12 points in 18 SHL games while seeing tough matchups and has earned a lot of confidence from his coaches over there. He’s a quality fantasy option and should be expected to have a solid rookie season in 2017-18.
Question: “Who are the top 3 goalie prospects in the upcoming draft?”
Answer: I’ll preface this by saying that goalies are voodoo! That said, I like Jake Oettinger, Michael DiPietro and Ukko-Pekka Luukonen coming into this draft.
Keith Petruzzelli is a monster at 6’6 and has a ton of raw potential; could be the second goaltender selected in June behind Oettinger.
I’m pretty high on Oettinger though – for a goaltender prospect – he’s played stupendously for BU as a true freshman on a good but not great team. His .926 save percentage is good for 10th best in the nation and while there are three freshmen ahead of him on the list, all three are 21-year-old first year players. He’s the youngest player in the top 15.
I think a team with good depth amongst their skaters could take him in the back third of the first round (#21-#31).
That’s all for this month! I hope you gleaned some information from these answers and as always, feel free to follow me on twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I often give unsolicited fantasy advice that I’m sure at least someone is listening to.