Prospect Ramblings: Flipping Goalies; WJC Effect on the Swedish Trio; Ufko, Stankoven, Haight

Ben Gehrels

2022-12-08

Cover image photo credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Although Aliaksei Protas (WSH), 21, likely will not be rosterable in fantasy for several seasons still, he has the best relative Corsi For% on the Capitals by a mile right now. Along with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, Protas is part of a crucial shutdown line that faces other teams’ best players—of that trio, Protas is doing particularly well driving play.

The Caps tried him on the top line at times last year but he is clearly being shifted into a more defensive role in 2022-23 and thriving. Aside from a strong Draft+1 a couple years ago with Kaiden Guhle in the WHL (80 points in 58 games), Protas has never shown a ton of scoring prowess at lower levels, including the AHL and KHL. Looks like his niche may turn out to be on the defensive side of things.

Plays like this one do show great spatial awareness in the offensive zone, though. In the midst of a breakaway, he recognizes that his ability to cut back on the goalie has been limited by the defender’s stick and that an unimpeded teammate is following up on the play. Beautiful assist.

In case you have been wondering, yes, goal scoring is up again in 2022-23.

If graphics are not your thing, NHL teams are averaging 3.2 goals per game so far in 2022-23, up from 3.14 in 2021-22 and 2.94 in 2020-21. As a parallel to this, you have probably noticed that even many of the “proven” fantasy options in net have disappointed over the first quarter of the season. You’re not wrong, and these two trends might just be connected.

The main fantasy takeaway here is that Zero G continues to gain credibility as a draft strategy, as does the idea of using prospect goalies exclusively as trade bait—yes, even S-Tier types like Jesper Wallstedt and Yaroslav Askarov. If the prospect goalie is good enough and the elite forward and defence options are already off the board, the strongest move value-wise might be to take the elite goalie with an eye to flipping them later. Unfortunately, the upcoming 2023 crop does not appear to have a Wallstedt or Askarov. But there are many prospect goalies out there who could be the next to pop, and poolies are always jockeying to hold the reins. Dangle the potential and reap the more certain assets at forward and defence.

This tweet by former Dobber writer Cam Robinson (now over at EP Rinkside) caught my eye recently because Hunter Haight (MIN) was another late target in drafts for me last June—in the same tier as Julian Lutz, who I gave an update on last week. 

I was just starting to mentally consider him droppable. Ahead of the draft scouts agreed that Haight had an intriguing skill set, but his Draft year production (41 in 63 OHL games) underwhelmed. He came out of the gates slowly again in 2022-23, producing at a similar rate to the year before (nine points in 20 games)

But this trade to Saginaw seems to have been just the ticket. The sample size is tiny but this is the level of production the Wild clearly thought he was capable of when they spent a second-round pick on him. If he can maintain anywhere near this pace moving forward, his name will start popping up in prospect circles and his stocks will increase. 

Grab him now if you can afford the stash but it will be a long wait—best case scenario he might see a few NHL games in 2024-25 and ramp up from there.

In leagues where I don’t own Logan Stankoven yet, I’m doing everything I can to acquire his services before he explodes to even greater heights at the upcoming World Juniors as Team Canada’s likely top center. I have recently described Cole Perfetti and fellow Stars prospect Wyatt Johnston as “unstoppable.” I think it’s time to say the same about Stankoven. 

This kid will just not be denied. Multi-cat keeper and dynasty owners take note.

Speaking of the World Juniors, it would be a savvy move to load up on any prospects who have received invites to their country’s camps and are available off the wire in your leagues. It’s the WJC effect: casual fantasy managers may be hearing about and watching many of these players for the first time. All you need is for a competitor in your league to watch a few games and suddenly develop a burning need to own an emerging star on their nation’s roster. Pay up, baby.

Loads of articles have already been written breaking down each country’s inclusions and snubs, so I thought I would highlight a few lesser-known players who may see a WJC value spike.

Jack Matier, a fourth-round pick in 2021 by Nashville, has been invited to Team Canada’s camp after a blistering hot start to the OHL season for the Ottawa 67’s. Although his profile to this point has been firmly on the “defensive defenceman” side of things, his 26 points in 25 games so far suggests he may have added a new dimension to his game. As happened to many OHLers, Matier was a victim of the cancelled season in 2020-21. Returning to the ice last year, he posted pedestrian numbers (just under half a point per game) but has turned over a new leaf this year as the top D option on a team devoid of high-end talent.

Sean Behrens (COL) and Ryan Ufko (NAS) are both smaller-framed, high-upside offensive defencemen playing in the NCAA circuit who have played in the shadow of shinier college defenders like Luke Hughes (NJD) and Owen Power (BUF). Both hummed along at around a 0.80 ppg pace last year, and while Behrens has had a slow start in 2022-23 with the departure of several top UDenver stars, Ufko has pushed even closer to a ppg pace.

Both Behrens and Ufko have been invited to Team USA’s camp and should be locks to make the roster. Ufko in particular looks poised to become a high-end fantasy asset, even though he will have to deal with the Nashville factor. As usual, grab him now before his name recognition catches up to the potential.

On Team Sweden’s camp roster is their familiar trio: Noah Ostlund (BUF), Liam Ohgren (MIN), and Jonathan Lekkerimaki (VAN). After ripping up the J20 Nationell league together in their Draft year and all being taken in the first round of the 2022 NHL entry draft, the three Swedes have transitioned to the Djurgårdens IF Allsvenskan team this year. 

My sense heading into the tournament is that poolies generally value Ostlund the most, followed perhaps by Ohgren and then Lekkerimaki—the opposite of how they were generally valued last June and also how they have performed so far in 2022-23. With the caveat that these are still 19-year-olds in their first season of a professional men’s league, their early numbers do not jump off the page: Ostlund is sixth on their team (11 points in 19 games), Ohgren is seventh (10 in 24), and Lekkerimaki is tied for 13th (five in 20).

Part of Ostlund’s appeal is the exciting youth movement in Buffalo. With their 9-4 drubbing of the Blue Jackets tonight, the secret is out about the Sabres for fantasy. The Wild have a similarly dynamic young core but Ohgren has always been billed as more of a two-way force. Lekkerimaki has the elite shot but increasingly seems to lack the IQ and vision of the other two. Ostlund offers a blend of speed, compete, and playmaking and may just have the highest NHL upside of the three.

If Ostlund is pricy in fantasy right now, Lekkerimaki might come relatively cheaply. Canucks fans are hoping this tournament helps get their 15th-overall pick fired up and back on track. He scored an incredible 15 points in six games at the last World Juniors (U18). If he has another big tournament, his value in fantasy could rebound in a hurry. It might be worth sending a trade offer to his owner in your league. 

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @beegare for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.

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