My oh my, we have hockey coming back again.
Assuming everything goes to plan, we are gearing up for a funfilled few weeks. In just a few day’s time, we will be blessed with one of the greatest tournaments on the planet (WJC). Directly followed by NHL training camps, which will then bring us right into NHL regular season hockey on the 13th of January.
Saying that this season will have a different vibe would be criminally understated. Not only will it look different, but I think it has the potential to be one of the most entertaining seasons to date. The realignment is something we have yet to see, and likely never will again. From an all-Canadian division to Western and Eastern Conference teams becoming division rivals – It’s just full of storybooks.
If you missed it, here are the revised divisions.
So, let’s talk ”Taxi Squads”. Each team will be allotted extra space for a maximum of six additional players, and a minimum of one extra goaltender for the season (full info below). When placed as a member of that taxi, players will no longer be eligible to take part in AHL activities – this is interesting to me.
Yes, this should allow for various prospects, who otherwise would have remained in the AHL for another year, a chance. But, does it? Or are we going to experience a slight case of development purgatory among the club’s pipelines? Is it beneficial to have a developing prospect take a seat in the press box, only to be used in practices and suit up in extreme circumstances? Will they lose an entire year of development if not utilized properly?
On the other hand, perhaps it works both ways. Perhaps a team stashes away a contracted AHL veteran among their taxi, only to allow a younger prospect (with higher upside) to remain in the AHL to cover top-line duties? I, for one, am very interested to see how teams navigate this new option and what it will mean for development.
Here are the full details on how it works.
Speaking of the 2020-21 season, the official announcement should have many of you scrambling in your respected fantasy pools to get your draft going. With that in mind, I will continue from my post last week, where I covered the list of multi-positional (Fantrax) prospects. This week, I will be heading out east. Here are the rules:
To qualify for this piece, the prospect has to have played less-than 60 (combined) NHL games and can not be over the age of 24. This week, I cover the West.
Immediate Impact Players
Nicholas Robertson, C, LW, Maple Leafs
Given the makeup of their top-heavy roster, Robertson may run into a wall with regards to heavy deployment. Although, I do expect him to provide a strong case for himself to be on the roster, likely on the club’s third-line. Following a dominant 55-goal campaign in the OHL last year, we were given a small sample size of what “NHL Robertson” has to offer and it certainly warranted excitement.
He wasn’t a game-changer, by any means. Yet, he looked comfortable and did not shy away from utilizing his main weapon – his shot. He brings exciting energy and holds true capabilities of becoming a producer at the NHL level in just a few short seasons.
Joel Farabee, LW, RW/ Morgan Frost, C, LW, Flyers
Both kids should test for a spot this season, especially with the addition of the taxi squad. The pair were given glimpses last year, and both took full advantage. Despite playing in just 20 games, Frost was given auditions with the heavy hitter on a line with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny and played 46.2% of his stay alongside the duo. Farabee was cast in a primarily third-line role but provided eight goals and 21 points.
While they are both strong players, and certainly good picks in any dynasty formats; if you are looking for higher point-production, go Frost. If you are in search of a few additional categories, with solid (not elite) point production, Joel Farabee is a close second.
Emil Bemstrom, C, RW/ Alexandre Texier, C, LW, Blue Jackets
Here is another duo who should slip into a role on the starting Blue Jackets roster. Both are coming off somewhat lackluster rookie campaigns – in Texier’s defense, the majority was spent on the IR – and will be looking to bounce back and live up to their expected potential.
With Gustav Nyquist out (with injury) for the foreseeable future, there should be room for one of the two to feast among a top-six role and my guess would be Texier. Both need some touch-ups, especially in the consistency department, but both continue to hold solid fantasy value. This year should serve as a good indication of where their true upside will lie.
Filip Zadina, LW, RW, Red WIngs
We got a glimpse of what the young Czech could do last year, and as advertised, we could have a special team’s cash cow on our hands. Over a 28 game span, he picked up 15 points, with seven of those produced on the man-advantage.
His deployment was tossed around the lineup at even strength, so it would be refreshing to see him in a consistent role. If he can get that, we could be blessed with the Zadina every one had envisioned during his draft minus-one year.
Drake Batherson, C, RW, Senators
Go on, I dare you to guess what the starting roster for the Senators will look like out the gate…
That’s right, your guess is as good as mine. However, one thing is for sure – it’s going to predominantly made up of kids and Drake Batherson will definitely be among that crop. He has been an above-average producer at the AHL level for two years now and has certainly stepped up to the plate when promoted to the big club. I am fully expecting him to be one of the better Sens throughout the season.
On the cusp
Ryan Poehling, C, LW, Canadians
Jumping into the league with a hat-trick out the gate may have set the bar too high. Since his epic three-goal NHL debut, Poehling has dropped back to reality and is currently struggling to recreate that instant success. He has but one goal in 27 NHL games since that night, and just five at the AHL level.
He will need to prove that he can remain relevant as a professional player, and according to various sources, is on the right track in doing so during the off-season. He is a player who falls in the category mentioned above – will he be an extended player who rides the pine for half of the season, or does he stay down and eat up minutes in Laval?
Morgan Geekie, C, RW, Hurricanes
Speaking of high expectations, Morgan Geekie currently sits with a points-per-game average of 2.0, which trumps Wayne Gretzky (1.92) for the league’s all-time list. It won’t last long, but it’s probably been a good conversation piece for him.
After two NHL games, he sports three goals and four points. Of course, none of us should expect that production to stick.
If he is to draw into lineup out of camp – which he has a solid chance to do so – he likely slides in among their bottom-six as a role player, capable of chipping in on the scoresheet from time-to-time. A nice pickup in leagues that sport a variety in regards to categories.
Jesper Boqvist, C, LW, Devils
Through 35 games as a rookie for the Devils, Boqvist did not perform up to his previous standards, contributing just four assists during his stint. Being a primarily offensively driven player, his bottom-six deployment is proving to be a clear challenge for him – one that he must learn to embrace. With the team only getting stronger up top, his chances of performing up to his true upside are sliding away.
Given their roster, there is a chance that he slides up the line-up for stretches this season, but he will need to provide consistent production should he want that to become a permanent option. If placed in the right environment, he can certainly score goals.
Kieffer Bellows, LW, RW, Islanders
Bellows, a 2016 first-rounder, has endured some off-ice issues, all-the-while struggling to find his game on the ice. While he hasn’t been a complete bust, his 50 points through 125 don’t exactly scream “positive transition”. His dash-36 is certainly not defending his poor numbers, either.
Being left off this summer playoff bubble squad sets off red flags for me, but he should be given a sniff with the big club for the 2020-21 season. He has certainly slid down the pipeline’s totem pole since being drafted but could be worth a high-risk/decent-reward pick in the ladder portion of your drafts.
Nicholas Merkley, C, RW, Devils
Merkley is having himself a nice COVID stint in Finland, suiting for Assat (Liiga). Through 19 matches, he’s fired home four goals and 13 points, with 33 PIMS to boot.
With a history of producing, he carries the potential to find touch at the NHL level. Although, I wouldn’t count on him being a powerhouse, by any means. He carries a relentless motor, with the makings of a middle-six pivot and 40-50 points as his (likely) cap.
Alexander Volkov, LW, RW, Lightning
The Lightning are in a bit of a cap crunch, which could trigger movement within the roster and result in some new faces taking spots on cheap ELC deals. Volkov is certainly a prospect worth noting. With 123 points over three years with the Syracuse Crunch (AHL), Volkov has proven himself to be a strong contributor among the club’s less-than-potent prospect group.
He does not carry a particular high upside but should slot in as a serviceable bottom – perhaps even middle – six player. He will be battling names like Alex Barre-Boulet for a spot, which will certainly give him a healthy dose of competition.
Otto Koivula, C, LW, Islanders
Otto is one of the youngsters currently making Bellows’ come up look bad. Considered a power forward with an otherwise limited offensive touch, Koivula’s numbers at the pro level are surprisingly strong. Not only does he sport 68 points through 102 (AHL) games, but it’s his added intangibles that make him valuable as a bottom-six asset to the club. In 12 games with the big club, he provided 12 hits and was decent in the face-off dot while skating just 7:55 (average) a night. Those will all improve, don’t worry.
He’ll provide a nice mixed bag of categories.
Robert Mastrosimone, C, LW, Red Wings
He has his fair share of intangibles to work on, but projects to be a middle-six winger. He has a non-stop motor and works his way onto the scoresheet through relentless effort. He’s committed to Boston University, so he will not be in contention for fantasy benefits this year, and will likely be stewing in your system for a few before making any splash at the NHL level.
Patrik Puistola, LW, RW, Hurricanes
At 19, he still a few seasons away. Yet, he is a natural goal-scorer, to the point where he holds top-six potential. He will need work on other aspects of his game if he is to live up to that upside but certainly has NHLer status in his future, regardless of where that may be in the lineup.
Givani Smith, LW, RW, Red WIngs
A fringe forward with a solid track record for peripheral benefits. He will likely serve as a taxi squad member but could squeeze onto the Red Wings bottom-six rotation.
Rasmus Asplund, C, RW, Sabres
This year’s Taxi Squad should benefit Rasmus Asplund, who made his NHL debut last year with the Sabers. He has some names to take over in the depth charts, but he’s an all-around solid player who will chip in on the bottom half of the line-up.
Jeremy Bracco, C, RW, Hurricanes
Bracco was having a hard enough time making a name for himself in Toronto, and things certainly don’t get any easier within the Hurricanes depth chart. He has been a strong contributor in the statical department everywhere he has played, but clearly holds characteristics that seem to hold him back. Long shot alert.
- Tyson Foerster, C, RW, Flyers
- Jan Mysak, C, LW, Canadiens
- Lucas Raymond, LW, RW, Red Wings
- Tim Stutzle, C, LW, Senators
- Yegor Chinakhov, LW, RW, Blue Jackets
- Theodor Niederbach, C, RW, Red Wings
- Shane Pinto, C, RW, Senators
- Ty Smilanic, C, LW, Panthers
Enjoy the first few days of World Junior action!
Follow me on Twitter @hall1289 for prospect news.