Photo courtesy of the Canadian Hockey League
With the recent news of the NHL and NHLPA agreeing upon a return-to-play format, it comes with the hope that certain timelines will follow in the near future. That means an increase in the amount of pre-draft hype that will circulate most social media platforms, where any avid fantasy hockey participant will have their eyes peeled to the trends that will help in preparation for their own drafts.
At this point in time it is still too early to say what format the NHL will take in outlining a lottery system for those seven teams that will not be playing in the 24-team playoff format: Detroit, Ottawa, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, New Jersey or Buffalo. It is also still a possibility for teams that will participate in the play-in round may also be allowed to be a part of the lottery.
Here are some things to keep in mind that the NHL is still trying to iron out with respect to the entry draft:
- One of the biggest issues concerning the time the draft is held is that certain NHL teams are in a position to trade players and picks to set themselves up for future years. For instance, the Montreal Canadiens have 14 picks (the Ottawa Senators have 13) in this year’s draft and could package those for a roster player in the 2020-21 season. If the draft happens prior to the 2020 playoffs, will trading for players be allowed?
- Draft-eligible prospects want to know which team drafts them so that they can better prepare for 2020-21 training camps. Although there are only a handful of players that may make the cut and play in the NHL next season, players would prefer instruction from their respective NHL team in terms of workout regimes and a small percentage of players that can decide which league to participate in.
- If the draft is held prior to the resumption of NHL play, will drafted players be eligible to play in the 2019-20 playoffs? That seems unlikely, but it is still on the table at this point in time.
- A small percentage of NHL scouts will have the contracts they signed with NHL organizations expire in the next month. How will that work if/when the expiration date happens prior to the draft? Could the contracts be extended for a brief period of time?
- I have heard musings whether a draft can be done in segments. Would it be possible to allow the seven teams that will not be participating in the 24-team format to hold their draft at a different date compared to other NHL teams? It would allow the NHL to take the center stage multiple times throughout the next several months and give hockey writers and journalists much to speculate about in the meantime.
- Some leagues – primarily the Russian MHL and KHL – start earlier than others and may require contract obligations from draft-eligible prospects. This could increase the ‘Russian factor’ perspective for certain players.
I will not try to speculate the outcomes of these bullet points but let those at the NHL-level take on the task and responsibility that comes with that. It is impossible to make every player, team executive, and hockey fan happy, but as long as the NHL has the player’s and associated worker’s health as their top priority, then I think it is up to us to go with the flow.
On a personal note, I am starting to do some research for my own fantasy leagues and the Dobber Fantasy Report that will be coming out once the NHL finalizes some dates. I wanted to take a look back at last year’s top-50 rankings to see which prospects I was highest and lowest on, and perhaps come up with a rationale (or lack thereof) explaining why I had projected a player away from the consensus. It is a difficult task trying to remember what I was thinking at the time more than a year ago, but I will do my best to come up with some type of reasoning.
To make it onto the top-50 prospects list a player cannot have played in a single NHL game, and either have their rights owned by an NHL team or be draft-eligible this year.
In ranking the players, defensemen are ranked where every goal counts two points, and an assist only one. Forward goals and assists are each worth a single point.
My strategy for creating my overall list is fairly simple: in a one-for-one fantasy trade based on that scoring system, who would I rather have on my team.
Players I Ranked Higher Than Consensus
Mathew Boldy – Consensus: 31, Myself: 20 – Call it a hunch, but I think when this year’s Dobber Prospect Report comes out, I will once again be significantly ahead of the consensus in rating Boldy compared to his peers. Anyone that looks solely at Boldy’s offensive point production will be missing the full picture, and that can certainly give you a leg-up on your competition. An uncharacteristically slow start saw Boldy pick up only a single point in his first 13 games. However, ask anyone that watched a significant amount of his time on ice – including his coach – was shocked that his on-ice play did not translate to the scoresheet. Then something clicked. In his final 14 games, Boldy picked up 20 points.
Ryan Merkley – Consensus: 33, Myself: 14 – Out of the 15 writers that contributed, four did not have Merkley ranked inside their top-50. The warts that resulted in his drop during his draft year before eventually being taken by the San Jose Sharks have not left the aura that surrounds him, but his offensive upside is nearly unparalleled. Granted, I think the fact that both Karlsson and Burns are locked up for quite some time certainly hinders the probability that he will earn a top power-play spot with the Sharks for the foreseeable future. However, Merkley’s trajectory reminds me a lot of Tony DeAngelo’s and any fantasy GM that was willing to be patient with his progress ended up with a player that finished top-four in NHL defensemen scoring this year. It would not surprise me in the least if someday we look back and say the same about Merkley. It also would not surprise me if he leads the league in scoring… in Europe after never playing an NHL game. Merkley is the definition of a boom or bust fantasy prospect.
Akil Thomas scoring the gold medal-winning goal at the World Junior Championships. Photo courtesy of NHL.com
Akil Thomas – Consensus: 46, Myself: 33 – One of the most difficult aspects of Thomas’ trajectory as a future NHLer is that his rights belong to the Los Angeles Kings, an organization whose prospect pool is arguably the best in the entire NHL. In a year that saw him star on two different OHL teams after a trade sent him from Niagara to the powerful Peterborough Petes, and also play a significant role on Canada’s World Junior Championship gold medal-winning team. 84 points in only 49 games played suggests he could eventually become a top-six contributor but will have an uphill climb battling against some other fantastic prospects in an effort to claim a roster spot. Amazingly, his personality may outshine his offensive point potential, and he is a player that is hard to cheer against.
Here is a list of players I had ranked inside my top-50 that did not make it into the final consensus ranking: Josh Norris (32), Jared McIsaac (34), Kale Clague (37), Philip Broberg (40), Josh Brook (42), Bode Wilde (45), Bobby Brink (46), Evan Barratt (48), and Cam York (50).
Players I Rated Lower Than Consensus
Kirill Kaprizov – Consensus: 6, Myself: 16 – I suppose I probably had some of the ‘Russian Factor’ figuring into my decision to have Kaprizov fall outside of my top-10. Interestingly enough, last year I drafted Kaprizov in every dynasty pool where he was eligible to be selected. I will not make the same mistake twice in my final rankings and I believe he will make an immediate impact with the Wild. I do not think his long-term potential will be as high as a fellow countryman, Artemi Panarin, but it probably is not too far off.
Nick Suzuki – Consensus: 8, Myself: 18 – This was a clear miss on my part. Ranking a player 18th overall probably should not be seen as a slight, but the dynamic nature of his ability warranted at least a top-10 rank. Perhaps I thought Vegas had some insider knowledge which decreased his value and resulted in trading him as a part of a lop-sided package to acquire Max Pacioretty. Who knows? Suzuki followed up a fantastic junior career and made a remarkable transition to the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens. Sadly, I watched Suzuki live several times during the OHL championship and should have been higher on his electric playmaking ability.
MONTREAL, QUE.: NOVEMBER 30, 2019 — Montreal Canadiens Nick Suzuki protects the puck from Philadelphia Flyers Travis Sanheim during first period of National Hockey League game in Montreal Saturday November 30, 2019. (John Mahoney / MONTREAL GAZETTE)
Nikita Gusev – Consensus: 12, Myself: 22 – After years of pumping the tires of Gusev, I came in lower than most other prognosticators. Probably for similar reasons as to why I had Kaprizov lower in the rankings, however, Gusev’s skating was a question mark prior to making the transition to the NHL. At 27, I still see a very productive NHL career for Gusev, but I do not see top-line talent. In retrospect, I think I would still stay with the same range.
Grigori Denisenko – Consensus: 17, Myself: 31 – You may be noticing a theme with some of the players I rated lower than the consensus. Maybe it is years of getting burnt with the Shipachev, Paigin, and Cherepanov’s of the hockey world? Where to place Denisenko in this year’s ranking will be a tough decision to make. More than likely he will wind up in a similar position despite the fact he has now committed to coming over to North America this upcoming season. It was expected he would explode during his draft-plus-two season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL, but simply put, that did not happen. It is clear he has a high-end upside, but it will be up to the Florida Panthers to make strides in terms of his development; something they do not have a solid track record of.
Aleksi Heponiemi – Consensus: 18, Myself: 28 – After setting a blistering pace in his final year in the WHL, Heponiemi followed it up with a fine year in Finland’s top league (Liiga) and took a significant step back when he made his way back to N. America in the AHL. 14 points in 49 games is a serious red flag for a team that, as mentioned above, has not had a ton of success developing players. I would not write Heponiemi off yet, but I would be surprised if he makes his way into the top-50 consensus player rankings when the prospect report comes out.
You will have to purchase the guide in order to see the entire list, but this is a glimpse at some of the hits and misses I made last year.
If you made it this far, it is time for a shameless plug of my own in plugging the NHL Rank King app that I created. If you have an iPhone or iPad you can download it here. For Android users, you can download it here. There is a ton of new content and features being updated all the time. The newest of those is a full lottery simulator and ability to participate in the first round of the mock draft.
You can also follow me on Twitter @NHLRankKing and I do my best to update content as much as life allows.
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.
In the meantime stay safe and look out for each other!