Hockey leagues around the world have now surpassed the halfway mark and are coming down the homestretch towards the playoffs. The World Junior Championship has concluded and a number of NHL prospects have etched themselves into the collective memory of fantasy GMs everywhere. Most likely, an onslaught of free agent pickups have transpired in your keeper leagues as fantasy GMs try to position themselves for the tough road ahead.
This month, I’d like to take a look at some names from last year’s 2018 NHL entry draft that are beginning to make a name for themselves and are players that you should quickly add to your watch list depending on how deep your keeper pool is. I’ll be using PNHLe (you can find an explanation at the bottom of this article) as a tool to identify players that have outscored their draft positions and are showing signs that they are quickly surpassing their cohort. That also means that many of the players outlined below may not be on your competitor’s radar yet, and you can do some more investigating to see if these young men are worthwhile pickups.
Akil Thomas (C)– 51st overall in 2018 by the Los Angeles Kings – PNHLe: 67
Thomas has shown steady improvement over the past three seasons in the OHL for the Niagara IceDogs. His present PNHLe places him fifth overall combining all prospect forwards currently playing outside of the NHL. Last year, players that finished in that range were a who’s who of top end prospects: Robert Thomas, Kristian Vesalainen, Morgan Frost and Jordan Kyrou, only to name a few. I’m doubtful that he’ll be able to continue the pace he’s set based on recent additions to bolster the IceDogs’ line-up, which may steal valuable ice-time away from Thomas.
The fact that he’s in an NHL organization that is in desperate need of players of his ilk suggests that his road ahead may be more wide open compared to similar prospects. However, the Kings have a handful of other young studs that are more highly rated at the centre position; Gabriel Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Rasmus Kupari are higher on the depth chart, but if Thomas can continue this progression he may end up the best prospect of the bunch.
Nicolas Beaudin (D)- 27th overall in 2018 by the Chicago Blackhawks – PNHLe: 63
The second of two rare Blackhawks first round picks in 2018 was used to select an offensively gifted defenseman that has posted a remarkable 40 points in only 33 games for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL. Beaudin was one of the last defensemen cut from Canada’s World Junior Championship team, but he’s steadily improved from one season to the next, and continues to get better each and every game. His PNHLe last year, placed him 12th amongst all draft-eligible prospects, and this year he’s ranked 13th including all defensemen playing outside of the NHL.
The Blackhawks have focused on developing their back end as part of a quick rebuild, but Beaudin has the luxury of not having to duel it out with the likes of Adam Boqvist, Henri Jokiharju or Ian Mitchell on the right side of the blue line. Instead, he’ll wind up racking up points next to them.
Trey Fix-Wolansky (RW) – 204th overall in 2018 by the Columbus Blue Jackets – PNHLe: 59
76 points in 45 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings is surely making a lot of teams wonder why they passed on the type of player that is starting to shine in the ‘New NHL’. Sure, he’s only 5-foot-7, but if there is any time to take a shot at an undersized prospect, that time is now. He doesn’t have the same pedigree as many of the other players that share a similar PNHLe, but he’s shown three consecutive years of second line NHL ability, and is now beginning to show first line offensive potential. Fix-Wolansky seems to use the fact that he was undrafted in the WHL and wasn’t invited to any of Canada’s World Junior selection camps as motivation to put the puck in the back of the net and he currently sits third in all CHL scoring.
Tyler Madden (C) – 68th overall in 2018 by the Vancouver Canucks – PNHLe: 58
The Northeastern Huskies (NCAA) took a huge hit last year as their three top scorers moved on to the professional level. Madden has stepped in as a freshman and provided offensive production that had been decimated since Dylan Sikura, Adam Gaudette and Nolan Stevens’ departure. This entire season has been a revelation for the son of former Selke winner, John Madden. Not only is he leading the Huskies in scoring, he used his stellar start to the 2018-19 season to catapult himself into the running for one of U.S.A.’s last World Junior roster spots and was a dominant force by the end of the tournament stealing quality ice-time from some higher ranked prospects. He ended up scoring three goals and four points during the World Juniors and took home a silver medal in the process. Madden is a versatile player, plays on both special teams units, and is a first line pivot whose sky is the limit.
Mathias Emilio Pettersen (C)– 167th overall in 2018 by the Calgary Flames – PNHLe: 57
The young Norwegian has been on scout’s radar for a very long time but last year a disappointing season in the USHL in Muskegon scared NHL teams away from drafting him. Calgary took a chance in the sixth round and it looks like it’s paying dividends big-time. Emilio Pettersen sits second in team scoring, which is an amazing feat for a freshmen, especially on the perennial powerhouse Denver Pioneers (NCAA). The last Pioneers to do that as freshmen were: Danton Heinen, Dylan Gambrell and Henrik Borgstrom. During the winter break, he played for Norway in the Division 1A World Junior Championship, and picked up six points in four games, which wasn’t enough to promote Denmark into the top division.
The jump in offensive production is a welcomed sign, but one that comes with a word of caution – first year players in the NCAA generally slow down in the second half of the season as the competition gets tougher and playoff stats aren’t distinguished between regular season point totals. If Emilio Pettersen is able to maintain or improve his production, he’ll be one of the fastest selected prospects in deep fantasy pools.
Riley Damiani (C) – 137th overall in 2018 by the Dallas Stars – PNHLe: 54
Unintentionally, I’m noticing a theme to the players in this article: most are undersized – even in today’s standards – but have fantastic hands, coupled with high offensive IQ and vision. Damiani is no exception. At 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds he is currently second on the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) in scoring, but has played 10 fewer games than overager Greg Meireles. Damiani is quickly becoming the go-to weapon for the Rangers on a team that is getting substantially outscored, resulting in a fight for a final playoff spot in the OHL.
Brandon Kruse (LW) – 135th overall in 2018 by the Vegas Golden Knights – PNHLe: 50
A surprise selection two picks earlier than Damiani, the 155-pound winger was drafted as a 19-year-old and has improved steadily since his breakout freshman season with Bowling Green (NCAA) and currently leads the WCHA conference in scoring. 28 points in 25 games has garnered enough attention that he earned a nomination for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award – the NCAA’s top individual award given for most outstanding player. There are legitimate concerns about his weight and height, but if he can continue to progress as a top end scorer, I’d fully expect Vegas to sign him at the end of next season (2020), before a couple of years of pro conditioning in the AHL. He’s a long way away from hitting any NHL fantasy potential, but a name that should be put at the bottom of your list at this juncture.
This article will be a monthly feature here at DobberProspects, so please let me know if there are specific players you’d like to see profiled.
If you are interested in seeing other player profiles, a prospect’s progression and how their PNHLe stacks up against other prospects, every profile is available in a completely free iOS app that I’ve created specifically based around fantasy hockey. If you have an iPhone or iPad you can download it here.
If you have Twitter, please give me a follow @NHLRankKing.
You can read up more on the PNHLe stat, where it comes from, and the methodology behind how the algorithm was created here.
Thank you, and I hope you enjoyed.
Akil Thomas’ image: Credit to Jon Rosen – NHLKingsInsider