Last week Zachary Devine posted the Top Ten Western Conference Impact Prospects to help you get ready for your fantasy hockey drafts which are coming up soon. This week I take a look at the Eastern Conference and ten prospects who are poised to start making an impact on your fantasy team.
1. Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs used the first overall pick on Matthews who is expected to be the teams next first line franchise center since Mats Sundin. Matthews will step straight into the NHL and begin challenging for the first line job in October. He may need some time before he can take that job from Nazem Kadri, but don`t be shocked if it`s his job by Christmas. Not all first overall rookies make a significant and immediate impact. Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin and Joe Thornton come to mind. Yes Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin did but they were in a better environment with support players like Evgeni Malkin and Nick Backstrom. The best projection in my opinion is John Tavares, who had a poor supporting cast, and was made the franchise player immediately. He was physically mature at 18 and plays center as well. Using Tavares as a comparison for Matthews, Tavares scored 24 goals and 50 points in his rookie season. That is certainly fantasy relevant and a possibility for Matthews.
2. William Nylander – Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs tried to take the slow approach with Nylander and play him in the AHL all year, but his play commanded he be in the NHL. After a strong first half of the season he was dominating the AHL scoring despite having missed significant time with a concussion suffered at the WJC. He was given a NHL call up down the stretch and played too well for the Leafs to send him back to the Marlies. His NHL career will be full time going forward as a top six forward. The Leafs finished 28th overall in goals for last season, but help is on the way with the kids and Nylander should eventually flirt with a point per game pace.
3. Ivan Provorov – Philadelphia Flyers
Last year Ghost Bear took the NHL by storm and seized a Flyers top pairing job while he carried the team on his back to the post season. It would be easy to label Gostisbehere and Mark Streit as the top two on the back end. But don’t sleep on Provorov, with Mark Streit closing in on 40-years-old not only is it reasonable to expect the Flyers top prospect to jump from junior to the NHL, but to do so and usurp Streit in a top pairing role; he is that good. Don`t be shocked if the Flyers can boast back-to-back Calder nominated defencemen.
4. Sebastian Aho – Carolina Hurricanes
Don`t look now but Carolina has one of the richest and deepest prospect pools in the NHL and were recently ranked 4th overall by the Hockey News in the Future Watch. Aho is the crown jewel of their prospects and one of the hottest and fastest rising prospects in the world. He simply had a huge breakout season where he dominated at every level; playing pro in Finland, at the World Junior and even at the World Championship. He is ready for prime time.
5. Zach Werenski – Columbus Blue Jackets
Werenski scored at a point per game pace at the NCAA level as a defenceman with 36 points in 36 games and proved he was ready for the pro game. After a slow start in the AHL where he adjusted in the final seven games posting a single point, he had a breakout playoff with Lake Erie en route to a Calder Cup Championship where he was a key player scoring 14 points in 17 games. He proved he can play at the AHL level and excel; now he needs to show it at the NHL level. He should crack the Jackets out of camp, he won`t score close to a point per game there but ten goals and 20 assists is not unrealistic and as a rookie defenceman is outstanding fantasy value.
6. Mathew Barzal – New York Islanders
The Islanders have plenty of talented forward prospects in Michael Dal Colle, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang that will all turn pro this season. All will compete for playing time in the NHL and have good shots at getting a spot on the Islanders, but put your money on Barzal getting the lion’s share of the games and minutes. Barzal gets the edge because he has international experience with Canada and played well against the elite of his peers. He is a versatile forward and should transition to pro quicker than the rest.
7. Anthony Mantha – Detroit Red Wings
After a disappointing begin to his pro career, Mantha turned the corner last season and was rewarded with a ten game NHL audition scoring two goals in that time. Don’t get crazy and expect him to start scoring at a goal-a-game pace like he did in his final season of junior, but the big power forward has a high ceiling and as a rookie could post a 20 goal season. There is a changing of the guard happening in Detroit and Mantha is a key piece of the future.
8. Frank Vatrano – Boston Bruins
The Bruins hit a home run when they signed the undrafted Vatrano as a free agent. The undersized winger turned pro last year and in his rookie season he scored 36 goals in 36 games for Providence in the AHL. That prolific goal scoring prowess demanded the Bruins give the speedster a look at the NHL level and he was impressive there as well scoring 11 points in 39 games. The 22-year-old will play the full season in the NHL provided he continues to produce offensively.
9. Pavel Zacha – New Jersey Devils
Zacha will make the NHL this year but likely as a third line center. He has NHL size already as a 19-year-old and plays a mature two-way game as well. As he gains experience in the NHL his offence should improve and his ceiling is high. In his rookie season temper expectations and hope for a 20 goal, 45-50 point season, but expect 10 goals and 30 points. Either way he has fantasy value and in a keeper league he is a must own.
10. Mike Matheson – Florida Panthers
The Panthers have been waiting on Matheson for a long time as he developed in the NCAA and the AHL. After an impressive rookie pro year in the AHL scoring 20 points in 54 games, he capped it off with three games in the NHL and a strong showing for Canada at the World Championship. The Panthers will have a new look back end with the departures of Brian Campbell, Eric Gudbranson, Dmitri Kulikov and the arrival of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers but when the dust settles count on Matheson not only cracking the roster, but the top four playing big minutes for a rookie and producing relevant fantasy offence in the 20+ point range.
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