Historically, one of my most common faults in assessing the immediate future of prospects in the fantasy arena is expecting production from rising prospects, who simply may not have an opportunity. If you’re a regular reader, you might’ve noticed that recently, I’ve begun to put an enormous amount of emphasis on discussing what opportunity will be available to prospects in the fall. The reason for that is simple – if an organizations’ NHL lineup does not project to have a hole in the lineup, a prospect’s opportunity can sometimes be very narrow.
All too often, we apply expectations based solely on a player’s individual performance, entirely forgetting the situation that they may be coming into. In many respects, the opportunity a player has is a more important factor than his individual achievements or ability when evaluating his short term potential. With that in mind, today I want to discuss several prospects who will enter the 2020-21 season at various levels, with high expectations. We’ll discuss what other factors are at play that could impact their success, and whether or not their high expectations are justified and can be counted on.
First and foremost, Alexis Lafreniere will emerge from the CHL with arguably higher expectations than any other rookie. Upon kicking off his rookie campaign, Lafreniere will be approaching 19 years of age. He is physically mature and has a high aptitude in almost every trait that could be expected of a modern NHL forward. Unfortunately, with the official date of the NHL Entry Draft unconfirmed, the most important factor remains unanswered. Thankfully it’s relatively safe to assume that Lafreniere will be given every opportunity possible to have productive success at the highest level. Regardless of whether or not the roster which he is added to has holes in their top-six forward ranks or not, Lafreniere will have the leverage to force his way into an opportunistic and productive role.
Perhaps the prospect with the next highest expectations at the NHL level coming into next season is Minnesota Wild forward prospect Kirill Kaprizov. The long-anticipated arrival of the Russian winger has kept fantasy owners intrigued in his file for what seems like forever. Since his emergence, the NHL has been exposed to various players with a similar development path, and results seem to vary. Not only is there a stigma associated with Russian players who’ve spent the majority of their development in the motherland, but the inconsistent transition of those who have has instilled caution in fantasy owners. Nikita Gusev, Vadim Shipachyov, Ilya Mikheyev, Ilya Kovalchuck and Artemi Panarin have each garnered relatively positive expectations upon their over-aged arrivals – the results, however, have been inconsistent.
“Guerin has been in almost constant contact with prospect Kirill Kaprizov, who could sign a two-year, entry-level contract with Minnesota any day now.” #MNWild | #KHL | #HockeyTwitter https://t.co/ERVDRiBHLb— MN State of Hockey News (@MNWildSOHNews) May 20, 2020
On the other hand, Kaprizov seems to be at least a half tier above most players in that group, with the exception of Artemi Panarin. The natural sniper showed indications of elite skill at a much younger age than any of them and has shown few signs of plateauing.
On the topic of opportunity, some portion of his deployment could hinge on what the Wild decide to do with the cap hit currently being occupied by Zach Parise. While the 35-year-old hasn’t lost much of a step yet, he could quickly become a candidate for a compliance buyout if the league takes steps to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19 on organizations. Should the top-line left-wing slot become vacant by those means or any other, Kaprizov would quickly become the favorite to take over. In such a case, the highest of expectations that have been bestowed upon him would seemingly become infinitely more possible. Something to the tune of a 25-goal, 80-point rookie season would not be out of the realm of possibilities for a physically mature, 23-year-old.
Otherwise, the current contractual commitments in St. Paul leave a slightly less favorable position available for the incoming Kaprizov. Unrestricted expiring contracts are limited to veteran captain Mikko Koivu, and the relatively recently acquired Alex Galchenyuk. Despite producing at a mere 0.5 point per game pace, it’s unlikely that the Wild will be keen on allowing Galchenyuk to walk this offseason. It goes without saying that if Parise remains a Wild, Kaprizov’s immediate future with the team could be vastly different. As a green head coach with plenty to prove, Dean Evason could default to the experienced, reliable, and still productive American, over the young, inexperienced and unknown Russian. In any case, I believe Kaprizov is bound to have a decent rookie season in North America, but the dominos that are at play could have an impact on the scale of his immediate production.
In the cases of Lundkvist, and Robertson, I would preach extreme caution to fantasy owners who are looking for an immediate bump. Lundkvist is coming into into extremely competitive pool in Manhattan, and while in many ways he has been dominant in his career leading up to the NHL, he isn’t facing a clear path to an opportunistic role in the big leagues. The Rangers retain the rights to at least six experienced NHL defensemen heading into the offseason, and they aren’t likely to rush a third U23 defenseman into a lineup that is attempting to rebuild a strict culture of success.
Nicholas Robertson has gone on record to say that his sights are focused exclusively on the NHL after an extremely successful D+1 campaign in Peterborough. The feisty forward made a bit of a pivot in terms of style as an 18-year-old, that extruded the true offensive ability in his game. The flexibility that comes with a player such as Robertson will likely pay dividends for the Leafs in many ways in the years to come. This being said, I don’t believe that there is much of an opportunity for the young Bud prospect to get into the NHL lineup this fall. If you’re okay with holding for a few years, Robertson should prove to be a savvy fantasy investment, but unfortunately, the time to buy is not now.
To wrap things up on a positive note, two players who I think are worth taking a shot on for the upcoming season are Josh Norris and Trevor Zegras. Considering the current predicaments of both their organizations, you’d have to be a fool to not be begging for an infusion of dynamic young talent such as these two players – Zegras especially. In either case, the organizations boast plenty of cap and roster flexibility, with little to lose by giving these prospects the utmost opportunity to open the season. While their expectations are high, there’s little reason to believe it’s not justified, and I would encourage you to pursue them in your fantasy leagues.
Thanks for reading and stay safe! @olaf1393
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