Aleksi Heponiemi (Swift Current Broncos)
These are the golden days of fantasy hockey. Granted we won’t ever see the 200-plus point campaigns with ten or more players cracking triple digits like we had in the 1980s and early ‘90s, but never have we witnessed such immediate impacts from teenagers in the NHL.
(I wrote last week about the ridiculous quantity of U20’s cracking their lineups)
However, that could be changing soon.
With Pierre LeBrun recently reporting that the NHL is once again considering moving the age for draft eligible players from 18 to 19, it’s time we sat down and had a serious discussion about how this may affect you as a fantasy hockey GM.
First, let’s get a base of knowledge established:
The current design – one that has (mostly) been in place since 1980, outlines a draft-eligible player as an any North American player aged 18-20, while non-North Americans may be drafted as 18-year-olds and remain eligible after the age of 20.
The cut-off sits at September 15th of the draft year, meaning those born after that date (September 16 – December 31st have their draft years pushed back a cycle.
Here are some excerpts from the current CBA:
Article 8.4 Eligibility for Claim.
“(A) All Players age 18 or older are eligible for claim in the Entry Draft, except:
a Player on the Reserve List of a Club, other than as a try-out;
a Player who has been claimed in two prior Entry Drafts;
a Player who previously played in the League and became a Free Agent pursuant to this Agreement;
a Player age 21 or older who:
(A) has not been selected in a previous Entry Draft and
(B) played hockey for at least one season in North America when he was age 18, 19, or 20 and shall be eligible to enter the League as an Unrestricted Free Agent pursuant to Article 10.1(d); and
(v) a Player age 22 or older who has not been selected in a previous Entry Draft and shall be eligible to enter the League as an Unrestricted Free Agent pursuant to Article 10.1(d).
(b) During the first season next succeeding the draft of an age 19 Player or a Player who reaches his 19th birthday between September 16 and December 31, inclusive, of the year of the Entry Draft, the Club he signs an SPC with must first offer him to the club from which he was claimed before it may Loan him.
Now, enough with the legality behind the current system, what does a shift to a 19-year-old draft mean for the upcoming crop, and those born after September 15th?
Firstly, this move would all but taint an entire draft class. If the NHL decided to enact this change leading up to the 2018 Entry Draft, forget about Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov and Adam Boqvist. Almost the entire crop of first-round talents would be pushed back until 2019, thus making a SUPER DRAFT CLASS that would also feature current 2019 hopefuls (but early birthdays), such as Nolan Foote (that's right another Foote).
Jack Hughes, Ryan Suzuki and the like would all be shifted to the 2020 crop.
Back to 2018…
Teams would be jostling to select the rare elite talents that are late 1999 birthdays, like Filip Zadina, Quinton Hughes and Brady Tkachuk. While likely top 60 picks like Milos Roman, Jakub Skarek, Ryan McLeod, Nando Eggenberger and Evan Bouchard would instantly become top slots in this new system.
For you as a fantasy general manager, you need to be keenly aware if your potential lottery pick next fall is going to give you a chance at a premier talent like Svechnikov, or a more-likely second line talent like Eggenberger.
You can use this information to your advantage by parlaying an early pick into a now player before others fully understand the potential ramifications of a change in draft age – don’t worry, it’s not underhanded if an opponent isn’t’ as informed as you, it’s called competitive spirit!
You may also look to deal your 2018 picks for 2019 when there will be an abundance of top talent versus a lack thereof for this upcoming group.
There could certainly be stipulations where a top five selection could be used on a ‘traditional’ 2018 pick such as Svechnikov or Dahlin – as Corey Pronman suggested in his Athletic article, but knowing the NHL and CHL it’s likely they simply move to a January 1st– December 31st draft cycle which encompasses all the players who will turn 19 in that period.
Keep your ears to the ground for any rumblings of this potentially occurring and then prepare yourselves for many player agents and even the NHL Players’ Union taking legal actions to ensure their clients and members don’t lose a year of their earning power.
The play in the WHL has been lights out so far, this season. The Victoria Royals suffered their first loss (OT) of the season bringing their record to 7-0-1 and a spot at the very top of the CHL Top 10 Rankings. Meanwhile, Tyler Steenbergen and Aleksi Heponiemi have been destroying the competition for Swift Current and are without a doubt the most dynamic duo in the league, perhaps even in the entire CHL.
The shoot-first centre, Steenbergen has popped 15 goals and four assists in his last six games, while his pass-first winger, Heponiemi has contributed four goals and 16 helpers over the same time frame.
Steenbergen is no stranger to goal scoring. After being passed over in his draft season, he went on to score 51 goals in 72 contest last season – good for a share of tops in the league. That earned him a fifth-round selection by Arizona. Steenbergen isn’t the fleetest of foot so it’ll be interesting to see how he progresses at the next levels, but one thing is certain, he knows how to find soft areas on the ice and exploit goaltenders with a pro-level release.
Players of a similar mold have found success as long as they can keep pace – Mark Stone being the most recent fifth rounder to accomplish such a feat (albeit he was never passed over in a draft)
Meanwhile, Heponiemi was the 10th overall pick in the CHL import draft back in 2016 and landed in the first round of my personal draft board heading into last June’s Entry Draft. The 5’10, 145lbs Fin slipped due to size concerns and a lack of an explosive first stride, but his vision, playmaking and IQ are absolutely through the roof.
The Florida Panthers may have found themselves a gem at 40th overall.
Top 10 WHL Scorers
LA Kings’ defensive prospect, Kale Clague was named the WHL and CHL player of the week after recording five goals and three assists over three contests. The 19-year-old second round selection netted hockey’s version of ‘the cycle’ for his first career hat-trick against the Oil Kings popping one at even-strength, one on the man-advantage and a short-handed tally for good measure.
Vegas first rounder, Nick Suzuki was the OHL player of the week after recording three goals and four assists through two games, while Anthony Poulin of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada was the QMJHL star of the week with seven points (4+3) in three contests.
Carolina prospect and former OHL playoff MVP, Warren Foegele was named the AHL player of the week after the 21-year-old scored a pair of goals in his pro debut and followed that up with two more goals – both shorthanded, in game number two.
The 2014 third round pick is a versatile left-winger who plays all situations and seems to elevate his game next to highly skilled players. He should mesh well with the Hurricanes young core moving forward.
Continuing to chase the pro circuit with an eye towards prospects, former Lightning’ pick and now Golden Knights’ asset, Nikita Gusev was named the top forward in the KHL this week after rattling off five goals and eight points in three games for SKA – including a four-goal outing.
He’s up to 13 goals and 30 points in 21 contests to lead the league in points. Turns out he doesn’t miss his centre, Vadim Shipachyov as much as many thought he would. (Although it surely doesn’t hurt that he plays on the same team as Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, and former Canucks’ prospect, Sergei Shirokov –now a KHL star.
And finally, for the fourth time this season, Eeli Tolvanen was named Rookie of the Week after skating nearly 17 minutes per contest and adding two goals and an assist over the three games.
Just look at that release… drool worthy.
Eeli Tolvanen 8 goals in 12 games / KHL 2017-18
Speaking of Tolvanen, here is your weekly update:
The Finnish sniper has been doing his (historic) thing with Jokerit in the KHL. His seven-game point streak ended Thursday morning in which he had accumulated seven goals and 12 points to go along with 35 shots on goal.
It’s just the sixth game this season where he didn’t record a point.
Tolvanen sits ninth in league scoring with 20 points in 17 games and his 1.18 points-per-game rank fourth best in the league. He also sits fourth in shots per game with an average of 4.3.
That’s all for this week! 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.