Happy New Year and I hope you all had a great holiday. Im just getting back into some hockey coverage after a busy Christmas season of work and family so lots to get caught up on.
The Kingston Frontenacs made a blockbuster trade acquiring Kingston native Gabriel Vilardi (LA Kings) and defenseman Sean Day (New York Rangers) from the Windsor Spitfires in exchange for the Fronts 2017 first round pick Cody Morgan and a bevy of second round picks. Day is in his final season of junior eligibility and it is expected that Vilardi will have an opportunity to crack the NHL next year with the LA Kings, meaning these are likely rental players for Kingston. Kingston is far from a powerhouse but sits at fourth overall in the Eastern Conference and is on track to the playoffs. Adding Vilardi gives Kingston a bonafide elite centre to line up with Jason Robertson for as good a top pairing combination as you will find in the Eastern Conference. The forward depth in Kingston consists of Finnish import winger Linus Nyman, who went undrafted in the 2017 draft, and is only two points behind Robertson on team scoring with 43 points in 36 games. 2018 draft eligible prospect Nathan Dunkley is third in team scoring and has been enjoying a breakout season which should see him move the needle on his draft rankings as the second half of the season plays out. Dunkley has 33 points in the first 31 games. Another player having a breakout season in Kingston is big 6-4 Tyler Burnie. Burnie also passed through the 2017 NHL Draft unselected after posting only six points in 52 games in his rookie season with Kingston. This year he has an elevated role and has responded with 15 goals and 26 points in 33 games. Yet another player undrafted in 2017 from Kingston is the speedy Brett Neumann who may not have the eye-popping stats, but he passes the eye test for me with flying colours. Neumann is a speedy two-way center that pushes the pace of play well, forces turnovers, is strong on draws and in many ways reminds me of the player Kingston traded away to acquire him in Warren Foegele. The addition of Day solidifies the Kingston defense as Day will bring some more offensive punch to a blueline anchored by Toronto pick Eemeli Rasanen and Nashville pick Jacob Paquette.
While the World Junior plays out, Matthew Phillips who was cut from Team Canada despite having 28 goals and 59 points in just 39 games this season got a good start to 2018 by signing his ELC with the Calgary Flames. Phillips is such a dynamic offensive player who would be a blue-chip prospect if he were more than his 5-7, 141 pound frame. But given the success undersized offensive players are enjoying in the NHL, don’t sleep on Phillips. His signing his ELC deal is an indication that Calgary sees him in their future. Phillips was selected by the Flames in the sixth round of the 2016 draft and is in his final year of junior eligibility and likely sees at least one season of pro-development in the AHL next year. You will need to hold onto him in your prospect bench for another year or two, but at just 4% Fantrax ownership he is a player you may want to look into.
World Junior Round
I have all the games on my PVR to date as I write this on new years day and am slowly making my way through all the games. So I have not seen all the action as of yet, but here is what has been standing out to me so far, heading out of the round robin and into the quarter finals.
Lias Andersson of Sweden has been a real glue guy and two-way player for Sweden. I can see his game translating well into the NHL, but in a way with less fantasy value than NHL value. Andersson hurt his shoulder and is going to be a game time decision for the first game vs Slovakia. Sweden should be able to win this game with or without Andersson so look for him to get the game off or see limited duty. Plenty to like about Team Sweden as sniper Elias Pettersson has been as good as advertised. Vancouver fans are over the moon about the year he is having in the SHL and for those of us in North America who don’t get to see many SHL games are getting to see what all the hype is about. His offensive skills are outstanding, he has a NHL shot and release, has NHL puck skills, and NHL vision. Where he needs work and why he isn’t in the NHL alreadys is his size, strength, and play away from the puck. As soon as he develops those competencies to an acceptable NHL level, he will become a top fantasy performer.
Rasmus Dahlin is also as advertised as he has been outstanding as a underaged, draft eligible player in his second WJC, and what a difference a year makes. Last year at 16-years-old; Dahlin was impressive and at times Sweden looked to him to make an impact on the game offensively. This year he is playing a regular shift for Sweden with special team minutes and is dominating at times. Despite Sweden also boasting NHL drafted defensemen such as Timothy Liljegren, and Erik Brannstrom Dahlin has been great. During the TSN broadcast Craig Button stated that Dahlin will be the first overall pick in the 2018 Draft and there really isn’t any question about it. I agree and I would also suggest that he is also the top fantasy prospect in the draft as well.
Speaking of Fantasy Ranking the 2018 NHL Draft, I will be looking into getting contributions from our regular contributors as that article is a very popular read every year. You can get a sneak peek as well in the Dobber Mid-Season guide as well)
Other 2018 draft eligible prospects in the WJC making an impression include Filip Zadina from the Czech Republic. Zadina has been tearing up the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads and has been one of the best players for the Czechs in Buffalo. Zadina has a tremendous shot, it is very accurate, quick and he can get off one-timers and has a deadly release. I have been impressed as well with his vision, both in making pays and in finding open ice to receive passes.
It’s a little early, but look for an updated 2018 NHL Draft ranking coming up on the DobberProspects Draft Rankings Page and don’t be surprised to see Zadina ranked in the top three.
Team USA has a pair of impressive draft eligible prospects as well in Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes. Tkachuk is having a great tournament offensively posting two goals and six points in four games as well as bringing a lot of grit, and sandpaper. In fantasy leagues where you have multi-cat’s such as PIM’s, Hits look for Brady to have an impact in the NHL next year similar to what his older brother Matt had for Calgary. Keep in mind, Brady missed being eligible for the 2017 Draft by one day as a September 16th birthday, making him one of the oldest players in the draft.
Quinn Hughes has played well for the US despite not having eye-popping stats with just two points so far. Still two points in four games for a underage defenseman is not bad at all and he has not looked out of place at all.
Another player for USA that has impressed me is undrafted defenseman Scott Perunovich. To be honest, I had not heard of him until this tournament so I did a little research on him. He is an undersized offensive defenseman at 5-9, 159 pounds and is playing as a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth where he has four goals and 16 points in 19 games. Perunovich is a 19-year-old that has been passed over twice in the NHL draft. He played last year in the USHL where he scored 21 points in 56 games. So it’s no wonder why I had not heard of him until now, but this late bloomer has caught the eye of USA Hockey and his inclusion and performance in the World Junior has him on my fantasy radar as well.
As the tournament is being played in Buffalo it seems only fitting that the Sabres fans there are being treated to some impressive performances by their top prospects. Casey Mittelstadt is leading the tournament in scoring after the round robin with four goals and nine points in four games. He has been a driving force for the Americans offensively and continues to prove to be a big game player. One of the big knocks against him in his draft year was he played high school hockey. But he has simply dominated at every level he plays, be it high school, top prospect games, internationally and now at the World Juniors. He is a player. Alex Nylander is putting in another strong performance in his third WJC with six points in four games. That production pace has him slightly ahead of where was last year with seven points in 12 games.
Looking ahead at the QF schedule which begins Tuesday January 2nd.
Finland vs Czech Republic, 12 p.m.
Denmark vs Belarus, 2 p.m.
Canada vs Switzerland, 4 p.m.
Sweden vs. Slovakia, 6 p.m.
USA vs. Russia, 8 p.m.