Fantasy superstar prospects come out of every league in the world. I’ll admit, however, that when it comes to estimating which players will have an NHL impact in the near future, I have a bias towards prospects with AHL experience, especially ones who have seen success there. I’ve never actually evaluated this inherent respect I’ve had for young AHL standouts, so now’s my chance. I’ve looked back at the last several winners of two notable AHL rookie honors, to see if they have been a reliable gauge for “top prospect” status. Naturally a player has potential and upside for a few years just by even being nominated for these awards, but I’m talking about figuring out just how good we can expect future winners to be within a year or two.
AHL Rookie of the Year
2018: Mason Appleton (10 points in 36 NHL games since winning the award)
2017: Danny O’Regan (0 points in 1 NHL game since winning the award)
2016 (tie): Frank Vatrano (18 points in 36 NHL games the following year, career-high (so far) of 39 points in 2018-19)
2016 (tie): Mikko Rantanen (38 points in 75 NHL games the following year, 84 in 81 the year after that)
2015: Matt Murray (13 NHL games the following year, plus 21 playoff starts. 49 starts the year after)
2014: Curtis Mackenzie (5 points in 35 NHL games the following year, career high of 16 points in 53 games in 2016-17)
2013: Tyler Toffoli (29 points in 62 NHL games the following year, career-high 58 points in 2015-16)
2012: Cory Conacher (29 points in 47 NHL games the following year, his career-high)
Being AHL Rookie of the Year certainly doesn’t guarantee NHL success. The sole goalie on the list went on to immediate NHL success and never looked back, which is interesting. The most successful names on the list (Rantanen and Toffoli) both had one “okay” NHL season before becoming big scorers. The two most recent winners still have not received a real shot in the big league.
AHL All-Rookie Team
Ville Husso (0 NHL games)
Filip Hronek (23 points in 46 NHL games the next season)
Sami Niku (4 points in 30 NHL games the next season)
Dylan Strome (57 points in 78 NHL games the next season)
Mason Appleton (10 points in 36 NHL games the next season)
Daniel Sprong (23 points in 63 NHL games the next season)
Casey Desmith (14 NHL games the next season, 36 in 2018-19)
Devon Toews (0 NHL games the next season, 18 points in 48 games in 2018-19)
Kyle Wood (0 NHL games since award)
Mark Jankowski (25 points in 72 NHL games the next season, 32 in 79 in 2018-19)
Danny O’Regan (0 points in 1 NHL game since award)
Jake Guentzel (48 points in 82 games the next season, 76 in 82 in 2018-19)
Juuse Saros (21 NHL games the next season, 31 in 2018-19)
Brandon Montour (6 points in 27 NHL games the next season, 35 in 82 in 2018-19)
Robbie Russo (0 points in 19 NHL games the next season, 0 NHL games since then)
Austin Czarnik (13 points in 49 NHL games the next season, 18 in 54 in 2018-19)
Frank Vatrano (18 points in 36 NHL games the next season, 39 in 81 in 2018-19)
Mikko Rantanen (38 points in 75 NHL games the next season, 87 in 74 in 2018-19)
On average, one of the All-Rookie team each year has become a really good fantasy own (Rantanen, Guentzel, and now possibly Strome and/or Hronek). Both the 2016 and 2017 goalies (Saros and DeSmith) have solid backup careers currently, with potential for more. These teams are clearly a good gamble for fantasy value, but once again not nearly as successful on average as I expected. Both 2016 and 2017 featured names that don’t appear poised to see the NHL again (or at all).
Overall, I think my AHL success bias has been stifled. That’s not to say I’ll stop drafting players who show promise, but I’ll need to take more time to evlauate the context of a player’s success (or lack thereof) rather than blindly trusting awards to represent a player’s future career. Anyone who tracked Rantanen’s play through Finland and then the AHL knew he was destined for big things, regardless of whether he won that award or not. Matt Murray is an excellent goaltender, but his success in the NHL was obviously worth a fantasy gamble in advance given the strength of the Penguins. Do your research and things will work out for you.