It’s difficult to put a figure on the number of times I’ve been asked to rank my top 10 fantasy prospects heading into the 2018-19 campaign. It has to be well into the triply-digits. Mittelstadt or Pettersson? Tolvanen or Svechnikov? What about Rasmus Dahlin? Filip Zadina? Martin Nečas?
“Who the hell do we pick in which spot?!”
Well, fret not. I will now begin a series that will pit two (or three) players against each other and see who should land where. Since we’re dealing with players from wildly varying leagues, positions, age, etc.. I’ll focus a great deal of the research on a points-only scale. I’ll mention the proclivity of a player who may shoot a ton, add a propensity for hits or penalty minutes, but the statistical output will be the primary concern.
We’ll start with a pair of centres who each experienced a taste of NHL action last season and are looking to make a full-time impression in 2018-19.
The 12th overall selection from 2017 was a surprise to crack the Hurricanes lineup to begin last season. Drafted out of the Czech top league, Nečas was in the enviable position to suit up basically anywhere he wanted outside of the ‘amateur’ NCAA system. He came to camp, showed his great speed and playmaking ability and was given a spot on the main roster.
After sitting in the press box for a week or so, the then 18-year-old played a single game versus the Oilers where he saw just six minutes of ice. After which he was sent back to HC Kometa Brno where he flourished.
Providing offensive punch in a top European league is difficult for many, let alone a teenager. After a bit of a slow start, Nečas managed to produce nine goals and 17 points in 24 games for his club team. He added another four goals and nine points during 14 playoff contests. His squad won the league championship for the second consecutive year.
His 0.71 points-per-game during the regular season was the most by a U19 player since Jiri Hudler produced 46 points in 30 games back in 2002-03. To say the league has changed since then is an understatement. The rate of scoring has diminished substantially through the 80’s ‘90’s and early 2000’s. The 61 total points that led the league in 2017-18 represent the 61st most the last 39 years.
Where Nečas shone most brightly though was on the world stage. At the World Junior Championships, his eight assists led the tournament and his 11 points in seven games was good for a share of the tournament lead with Casey Mitteltstadt. Necas was named a top three player for his squad and helped the Czechs to a fourth-place finish. The nation hasn’t medalled since 2005.
He followed that up by producing three goals and five points in seven contests for the National squad at the 2018 World Championships. Providing offense from a reduced role on a Czech squad that surprised during Round Robin play but was ousted in the Quarters.
The Curious Case of Henrik Borgström. Dubbed “The Artist” during his time terrorizing oppositions as a member of the University of Denver, things weren’t always so rosy. As an August birthdate, he was very young for the 2015 Entry Draft. He wasn’t considered a serious NHL prospect and spent the entirety of his draft-eligible campaign in the second-tier junior league in Finland. He failed to hear his name called on draft day.
Borgström moved up the Jr. A SM-Liiga in 2015-16 and produced 29 goals and 55 points in 40 contests – strong but not otherworldly numbers. His tall but lanky frame coupled with slick playmaking ability and a penchant for the spectacular had him as a highly ranked re-entry option. He was slotted to be selected somewhere in the 45-60 range.
The Panthers would see to it that he wouldn’t have to wait nearly that long. Florida jumped up and took him with the 23rd overall selection and had the building buzzing with what appeared to be quite the off-the-board selection.
All Borgström has done since is establish himself as one of the premier prospects outside of the NHL and a tantalizing fantasy asset. 45 goals and 95 points spread across 77 NCAA contests. His 52 points last season were fourth-most in the nation – five more than any other first or second-year player. He was named a First-Team All-star both seasons, NCHC Player of the Year (2017-18), a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (2017-18) and his Denver squad won the National Championship in 2016-17.
The now 21-year-old turned pro at the conclusion of his sophomore campaign and suited up for four contests with the Panthers. He played around 12 minutes a night from the bottom six and recorded one goal. He took a few faceoffs but was mostly playing the wing.
GM, Dale Tallon spoke of the desire that opposing clubs to relieve the Panthers of their top prospect at the deadline last spring and his refusal to do so. The organization is extremely high on the Finnish Magician, and for good reason.
Nečas is a pro. He blends terrific speed and strength with diligent defensive work. He possesses quick and creative puck skills and makes those around him better. Just ask Filip Zadina about their time together at the WJC.
He’s competing in a lineup that is ripe for the picking. Carolina’s depth chart down the middle includes Sebastian Aho – who was drafted as a centre but looks very strong on the wing as well; Jordan Staal – a consummate third line pivot; and Victor Rask – another player who is better suited to the bottom six. A job on the second line next to some real talent and an opportunity to see power play duty immediately will accelerate his development and his production.
There’s a decent chance that the club welcomes Andrei Svechnikov into the fold and locks the two rookies together on a line with a veteran such as Michael Ferland or Brock McGinn. That’s the type of insulation and opportunity that could produce strong first-year numbers. He’s also 18 months younger than Borgström for those who like to look deep into the future.
Meanwhile, Borgström’s position in the Panthers’ lineup is murkier. He’s trapped behind Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck down the middle and will be for some time. He may be utilized as a winger to begin his career and that should afford him further offensive opportunities. However, the team will want to maximize his ability long term and that will come from playing centre.
The power play will be another tough nut to crack. As it stands, the Panthers have Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Yandle and one of Dadonov or Hoffman on the top unit. That leaves Borgström to work the remaining 35 seconds with Hoffman/Dadonov, Bjugstad, Ekblad and.. Matheson? Not nearly as juicy.
Borgström’s skills are unquestioned. He has the size, speed, and skill necessary to produce tremendous fantasy results. It’s a matter of carving out a spot in the top six and amongst the top power play options. That will prove difficult.
Opportunity reigns supreme in fantasy and Nečas appears to have the easier path to success. As such, I’m taking Nečas here but it’s close. If they swapped teams, I could justify going the other direction.
Puck Skills: Borgström
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