Before I joined the staff of DobberProspects, one thing I was always searching for when reading the Ramblings was little known prospects that are worth knowing for my deeper fantasy leagues. Finding these hidden gems is getting harder and harder with more spotlight being shone on the junior and minor league levels these days but I was able to come up with a few names most of you may not know, but should.
In researching for my CHL DobberProspects Radio fantasy league I needed to replace Samuel Girard and Victor Mete, who I believe will be sticking in the NHL. I quickly decided to add Kale Clague, easy choice but needed to do some research on OHL defense scoring leader Sean Durzi of the Owen Sound Attack. Is his 17 points in nine games simply a product of playing on a team with offensive players like Nick Suzuki (VGK), Jonah Gadjovich (VAN) and Kevin Hancock? After a little research it became clear that he is not dependent on his forwards to convert easy points for him. Here is a scouting report from Brock Otten from his Final 2017 NHL Draft Rankings
Believe it or not, among draft eligibles, Durzi was actually one of the better performers from the backend in the second half. In the final 51 games of the year (including the playoffs), Durzi had 41 points. That's impressive production for one of the better teams in the OHL. After splitting time between forward and defense last year as a rookie, the late '98 Mississauga native emerged as a top 4 defenseman for the Attack this year and moving forward. He's got a good point shot, even if the 2 goals this year doesn't suggest it. Does a great job with the puck in his own end too and really makes a good first pass. Skating is good, but he does lack elite speed that would make him a major factor as that "dynamic" sort of puck rusher. And without elite size, he relies on good positioning and smarts in the defensive end. Similar to Thilander, I see Durzi as a potentially dependable defender at the next level, but I'm just not sure what potential he has to develop as a dominant force at either end.
Here is a snippet from OHL Writers scouting report by Dominic Tiano
At 5’11”, Durzi doesn’t have that big size on defence, but he makes up for it with his skating. He moves up and down the ice with ease but doesn’t have elite speed. He is strong on his edges with very good lateral movement and an ability to beat opponents one-on-one. He picks his spots to jump into the rush or pinching at the blueline, almost always making the right choice.
Durzi possesses a very good shot and is adept at walking the line and getting himself into position to fire it on goal. But he shoots with a purpose and usually puts it in a spot for a teammate to tip the shot or create a rebound. His ability to move also opens lanes and has good enough vision to setup his teammates.
See the full report here
Looking at his stat line and reading these review made adding him to my CHL fantasy roster an easy decision, but looking at my NHL fantasy leagues where do I see him? Good question. Durzi was passed over in his first NHL draft after not being selected in Chicago. If his offensive production is sustainable all season long (I believe it is) he could get some looks from scouts for the 2018 Draft in Dallas. Until he is signed or drafted he remains on my players of interest list.
A lot of people have been asking “Who will be the next Pittsburgh Penguins prospect to come from nowhere and become a hot fantasy prospect?” A lot of people were looking at recent NCAA free agent Zach Aston-Reese, but he was assigned to the AHL and was recently scratched in favour of some guy named Gage Quinney. The Las Vegas native played his junior hockey in the WHL and in three seasons he played on three teams recording a career 119 points in 182 games and was WHL Champion with Kelowna in 2015. He played his first pro season in the ECHL last year with Pittsburgh’s affiliate the Wheeling Nailers and after training camp was signed to an AHL contract for the 2017-18 season. He made his AHL debut against Syracuse on Sunday on a line with Daniel Sprong and Garrett Wilson and recorded a goal and two assists. The 5-11 22-year-old forward had a good training camp and was impressive in the rookie tournament as well. For now, he only has an AHL contract so he is another watch list player to keep tabs on. His first AHL game, as it was was just one game so we need a larger sample size before jumping to conclusions.
Sticking with the AHL and sorting through the rookie scoring leaders and some names caught my eye. Matthew Highmore (CHI) was signed as an undrafted free agent and played his junior hockey in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs. In his first three pro games with Rockford, Highmore has three goals and five points. He may not project as a top six offensive forward, but he certainly has offensive upside and this early offensive output bodes well for his ability to translate his offense to the NHL level. Besides scoring you can count on Highmore to produce decent peripheral stats in hits and blocks as well. Warren Foegele (CAR) was named the AHL player of the week last week after scoring four goals (two sorthanded) and eight shots in two games. He now has four goals in four games. Finally 21-year-old defenseman Sami Niku (WPG) who comes from Liiga in Finland has made a strong first impression as an AHL rookie, leading the AHL in rookie defense scoring with four points (assists) in four games. The good impressions started in the summer as he was a Jets standout in the Penticton tournament and training camp where his skating ability and puck management were on display. Here is a scouting report from Shane Malloy in an article from Jets Nation
“Niku is a smart dependable puck managing defender that makes a quick first pass to forwards at speed. He handles the forecheck well. He defends by taking away time and space using an active stick and body position while keeping his feet moving.”
Niku is only 2% Fantrax owned and could be a great value add.
Last week Kevin LeBlanc had this season debut College Hockey Roundup which got me looking at some NCAA players off to a hot start. Each year there is a lot of interest in what NCAA free agents might be getting NHL scouts watching and who may be this year’s big free agent target. Two early favorites could be Colt Conrad and Zach Solow. Conrad is in his junior season and had a mini breakout last year posting 13 goals and 29 points in 40 games with Western Michigan University. The 20-year-old 5-10center is off to a hot start with three goals and nine points in five games to lead the entire NCAA in scoring. Zach Solow is in his freshman year and was passed over in the 2017 draft after playing in the USHL where he posted 69 points in 56 games. Solow is a late birthday (November 6, 1988) and is now 18-years-old. The rookie has three goals and seven points in his first three games, not bad!
Another NCAA prospect that is rising fast is Chicago Blackhawks prospect Dylan Sikura who has three goals and seven points in his first three games with Northeastern in his senior year. This being his final year of NCAA hockey he will potentially become a free agent in August unless the Hawks can sign him before that. To increase their leverage they recently signed his brother Tyler to avoid a potential Jimmy Vesey situation.
Speaking of Chicago, here is a line to my latest MY NHL Trade rumors post, Chicago Blackhawks Top Ten Prospects
Check out My NHL Draft site as well where you can find my initial 2018 NHL Draft Rankings along with Bob McKenzie, Craig Button, Steve Kournianous (Draft Analyst), Hockey Prospect, Mark Seidel (NACS) and more.