The 2018 Winter Olympics are coming up fast, and like it, hate it or even if you are indifferent to the fact that NHL players will not be participating in the event this year, it will lend an opportunity to do a little fantasy hockey prospecting.
With NHL player and AHL players under NHL contract exempt the majority of the players selected are veterans and highly unlikely to be on any NHL teams radar. The average age of the Canadian roster is 30.5 years and the players have a combined 5544 career NHL games played already.
So who is worth looking at you ask? There will undoubtedly be some prospects and young player looking to use the Olympic stage to capture the attention of NHL scouts and GM’s and some more obvious players on the cusp of turning pro.
So who are the players that could become relevant to your fantasy hockey roster in a year or two and possibly looking to sign NHL free agent contracts?
Let’s look over each team and try to highlight the names you want to keep you fantasy hockey scouting sights set on.
As I noted above the average age of the Canadian roster is 30.5-years-old. Emphasis on the “Old” All the players are either has beens or never will be so there really is nothing to see here. Honorable mention to Chris Lee, the oldest player for Canada and he has never played an NHL career regular season game. A late bloomer and one I am still holding out hope will see the NHL. This Olympics will be full of inspirational stories like Lee’s
Lee is a story of perseverance. Never drafted into the NHL, he played four years of college hockey in the NCAA before starting his pro career. Lee played 249 career AHL games posting 115 career points, good but not great. Good enough to sign a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but not good enough to get called up from Wilkes-Barrie to play in a NHL game. After four years in the AHL, Lee left to play in Europe in the 2010-11 season and in the 2016-17 season playing for Metallurg in the KHL, Lee had his career year scoring 14 goal, and 51 assists for 65 points in 60 games. Remember Lee is a defenseman. His production did not go unnoticed as he was named to Team Canada at the 2017 World Championship, where he played in seven games scoring two points. Last spring he was invited to try out for the Los Angeles Kings on a PTO, but was not offered a contract. Now getting a opportunity to play for his country in the Olympics, this will likely be the pinnacle of his career.
The youngest player for the Czech is LW Dominik Kubalik. Somewhat of a late bloomer, Kubalik was a first round pick in the CHL Import Draft by Sudbury and played 126 career games for Sudbury and Kitchener scoring 120 points. He was passed over in the NHL Draft and returned to play in Europe. Since then he has played in 162 career games in the Czech league scoring 120 points and was the league leading scorer for the past two years. Still only 22-years-old, the 6-2, 179 pound winger is a player that could parlay a strong Olympic performance into a NHL contract.
Miro Heiskanen and Eeli Tolvanen are the obvious players to watch. They are two of the top players not in the NHL and both could have a fantasy impact playing in the NHL next year.
Heiskanen is having a strong season playing pro in Finland, but struggled with Finland at the World Junior to produce the level of offence some were expecting with only two assists in five games. Heiskanen and Finland will be seeking redemption after two brutal World Junior Championships.
Tolvanen took the KHL by storm as a rookie and has been named the KHL Rookie of the Week six times and Rookie of the Month for September and October. The 18-year-old has 17 goals and 34 points in his first 47 games and was a bright spot for Finland at the World Juniors scoring two goals and six points in six games. Look for Tolvanen to be a force for Finland.
A sleeper to watch is Julius Junttila. The 5-10 winger plays in the Liiga for Karpat and is having a breakout season with 12 goals and 51 points in 48 games. The 26-year-old is the leading scorer for Finland and could garner some attention with a strong offensive showing. I will be watching!
Not much to see here. The player you may want to look for is Dominik Kahun, a 22-year-old forward. Kahun has helped EHC Munchen to the last two DEL Championships and is having a career year with 12 goals and 40 points in 41 games. Germany will be looking to him to provide their offence.
The Russians will be the team to beat. Loaded with star players their average age is just over 27-years-old and they have some of the top prospects.
First, you will recognize Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk so no need to discuss them.
The players you really need to watch are the super prospects that if they come to the NHL, will have huge impacts.
Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild) is arguably the top prospect outside of the NHL. He has been lighting the lamp in the KHL and at international hockey for Russia for a few years now. He has term on his contract in Russia for the next two years, so be prepared to bury him on your prospect bench and wait patiently.
Nikita Gusev (Vegas Golden Knights) now 25-years-old is another prolific scorer with 22 goals and 62 points in 53 points this year in the KHL. Again the big concern here is will he ever come to the NHL? Originally drafted by Tampa Bay, they were unable to lure him and gave up moving him to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. Given the experience and comments Vadim Shipachyov had to say about his time in Vegas don’t count on the Goose.
Two more prospects that will be competing for ice time are goalie prospects, Igor Shestyorkin (New York Rangers), and Ilya Sorokin (New York Islanders). These two prospects are competing for the best goalie prospect outside of the NHL and the Olympics will go a long way in establishing market value in the fantasy landscape.
I had a hard time digging up nuggets on these players as I don’t watch a lot of Czech league games and a lot of the online info isn’t in English. The Slovakian goalie Patrik Rybar may be a player to watch. 24-years-old and at 6-3 he could get some NHL scouts looking if he can reproduce the stats he has posted with his club team of 1.58GAA and a .937 svs%.
The marquee player in the Olympics will be the player that will be selected first overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, Rasmus Dahlin. The hype train is in full motion with this kid, and for good reason. He is a dynamic player and as I pointed out in my recent 2018 NHL Draft Rankings article he reminds me of the great Bobby Orr in the way he can carry the puck and make the defenders look like they are in slow motion. Scouts and analysts are making comparisons to NHL players like Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman and Nick Lidstrom and saying he could be as impactful as Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. Look for the hype train to fly off the rails when he dominates the Olympics.
The next youngest player on Sweden is 24-year-old Ottawa Senators defense prospect Mikael Wikstrand. The 6-2 defenseman likely won’t be a first pairing defenseman or a power play regular, but he has a good shot at playing in the NHL.
Pius Suter is a player I have wrote about previously and spoke about on DobberProspects Radio. Suter caught my eye while in the OHL with the Guelph Storm as a undersized sniper that lit the lamp 43 times in his final season in the O. Undrafted, he also played for the Swiss at the World Junior scoring three goals and four points in six games and then again last year at the World Championship with three points in eight games. The 5-9 21-year-old was invited to the Ottawa Senators camp on a PTO at the start of this season but was not signed. This year with ZSC Lions he has 11 goals and 38 points in 33 games.
There are several prospects on USA that I will be watching very closely. First, the World Junior hero Troy Terry will be there should any of the games go to a shootout. Terry helped USA win the Gold with his shootout heroics and also helped lead Denver to a NCAA Title that same year. He is having a dominant season again with 11 goals and 32 points in 28 games. Look for the Ducks to sign him after this season to start his pro career.
Jordan Greenway of the Minnesota Wild won World Junior Gold and represented the USA again at the World Championship in the same year. The Boston Terrier forward is in his junior NCAA season and has nine goals and 24 points in 27 games. The 6-6 and 227 pound hulking winger is a strong bet to play pro next year.
William Borgen of the Buffalo Sabres is a far less know (and owned) prospect as he is only 2% Fantrax owned. Borgen may not see much ice time in Pyeongchang, but it certainly looks good on his resume being named to the team and adds to his fantasy trade value.
Ryan Donato of the Boston Bruins has had his stock rise since joining Harvard in the NCAA. Drafted late in the second round of the 2014 draft, his freshman season was impressive with 13 goals and 21 points. Now in his junior season the 21-year-old is having a career year with 21 goals and 30 points in 22 games. Donato is another player that will look to use the Olympic performance to vault his career into the pro level next year, possibly in the NHL.