Prospects Mailbag: January Edition

by Cam Robinson on January 25, 2017

We’re back again for another round of fantasy prospect related Q&A. With the increased responsibility being put on young players on their entry level contracts, now more than ever an astute fantasy hockey GM must have a firm grasp on the youth movement coming forward and can dig a little deeper to find those diamonds in the rough.

Without further adieu, let’s get answering some questions.

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Question: “Heard mixed reviews on Scott Wedgewood recently. Care to share your thoughts on him? Thanks!”

 

Answer: Wedgewood was dealt a pretty big blow as he is out for the remainder of the season thanks to shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old was playing fairly well early on this season in the American Hockey League with a .912 save percentage through 10 games before being shut down.

Missing such a large chunk of time during such important developmental time won’t help him as he attempts to carve out at least a secure spot behind Cory Schneider as an NHL regular and I question whether he will have it in him to ever become a legitimate starter at the NHL-level.

 

Question: “What are your thoughts on David Quenneville? His junior numbers right now are crazy. Do you think he'll be able to overcome his obvious lack of size and become an NHL player?”

 

Answer: When considering a 5’8 defenseman, even top-level offensive skills won’t be enough to get you into the NHL alone. Just look at a player like Jordan Subban; he posted terrific seasons in the OHL – often on poor teams, and he is still attempting to crack a very shallow Canucks’ roster.

That said, Quenneville is built sturdy at 187lbs and isn’t afraid to play bigger than he is against WHL opponents. His offensive capabilities are without question, as he can run a power play and boasts a very quick, hard and accurate shot to go along with great skating ability – all things that NHL teams look for in a puck-mover.

He’ll need to be able to prove capable of handling much larger opponents at each upcoming level and maintain defensive zone positioning.

For every Torey Krug, there are dozens of stories of guys who light up junior only to end up in Europe to ply their trade. At this point, it’s unclear whether Quenneville will be able to be the exception rather than the rule.

 

Question: “Clayton Keller.. does he ditch College and head straight for that #1 line in ARI?”

 

Answer: I’ve long believed that Keller is a prime candidate to be a one and done college player. His offensive instincts are light years ahead of most players outside of the NHL; he’s quite an accomplished penalty killer and boasts strong defensive zone awareness – attributes that will help him transition to the NHL sooner.

That said, Arizona is likely to be a bottom-feeder once again next season so it will be interesting to see what John Chayka and company feel is the best course of action for Keller. Do they want him to spend another season at BU where he can play on the weekends, build up strength in the gym during the week and play in a winning environment? Do they want him in the NHL where they can have complete control over his development and manage his ice time alongside the other host of future young stars?

At this point, either option is viable, as is his turning pro and then heading to the AHL for a stint as Kyle Connor is currently doing in the Jets’ system after demolishing the NCAA competition as a freshman a season ago.

Long term, Keller is one the very few prospects out there who can realistically claim to have a ceiling that could surpass a point-per-game output. His skills are unquestionable but what’s even more impressive than that is his mind. He sees the game as few others do and that allows him to create plays despite his size and produce bushels of points.

He is a premier fantasy asset even if the wait time is another season or two before he starts to contribute to your fantasy squad.

 

Question: Pierre Luc Dubois

Rough start to the season in the Q (18 points in 20). Underwhelming performance in a short tournament over the holidays but still managed 5 points in 7 games on a line that lacked any sort of chemistry.

Since being traded in the Q he's absolutely lighting it up with 15 points in last 8 games now.

Thoughts on him next season? Does he stick? What line? Who does he displace? Hartnell, maybe? How many points does he put up? Thoughts?”

 

Answer: Dubois is an interesting case. His fantastic draft-eligible season was culminated with the surprise selection at third overall. To me, he parlayed a terrific back half into some added expectations. He remains a player with a tantalizing skill set, but to me, he has always looked like a player destined to be a winger rather than the potential top line centre that some scouts saw in his play down the middle last season.

I can see Dubois cracking the Blue Jackets’ roster out of camp next season in a bottom six role and chipping in a little bit here and there. Another more likely scenario sees him back playing in the Quebec league and truly dominating – hopefully as a returnee for Team Canada at the WJC as well.

With a crowded forward group in front of him in Columbus and with players such as Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano ahead of him as wing options, I think his wait time is going to be a little longer than most third overall picks.

 

Question: “Even though goalie prediction is impossible, please slot each of these into (1) starter (2) backup, or (3) not likely to stick in the NHL.

Joseph Woll (1/2)
Philippe Desrosiers (2/3)
Alex Lyon (2/3)
Vitek Vanecek (2/3)
Nick Ellis (2/3)

Thank you.”

 

Answer:  I highlighted my predictions for each but hedged my bets as it is incredibly difficult to project young goaltenders as some players can leap forward in their early twenties while others who look like sure bets can fall off a cliff.

That said, I like Joseph Woll the best of these options. He’s been displaying great poise and structure as an 18-year-old in the NCAA and boasts good size for a goaltender at 6’3. He has the size, confidence and structure to potentially end up as a starter in the NHL down the road. Key here is down the road; as it will likely be four or five years before we see that occur and a lot can happen during that time.

 

Question: “Where do we think Jeremy Bracco fits in with the Leafs young forwards?”

 

Answer: This a great question and one that is difficult to answer right now. Bracco has been enjoying an incredible draft plus-two season in Major Junior hockey. After leaving Boston College for the OHL, he’s been a dominating offensive force, but at just 5’9 he will need some more strength and development than some other prolific junior scorers.

Adding to the challenge is that the natural right winger is stuck behind a long list of talented young players. Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Seth Griffith, Kasperi Kapanen are all right wingers in the organization and are all ahead of Bracco. He or one of them may end up on the left-side or centre but there also may be many moves before that need to be considered.

A couple of seasons in the AHL beginning next fall will be the first steps in Bracco’s quest to become an NHL’er and during that time, the picture should become more clear. What’s not cloudy now is he is a premier puck-distributing winger which a lot of teams covet. It would not surprise me to see him dangled in a package to land a more known-quantity asset in the coming seasons when the Leafs decide they are ready to load up for a playoff run.

 

Question: “A LOT of prospects in Arizona.. who will stand out? Will Duclair be a good NHLer? Or can he get pushed by the other youngsters”

 

Answer: I’m personally not a huge fan of Duclair as a fantasy asset. He produced fringe numbers last season as a sophomore but did so on the back of very unsustainable numbers. He will likely end up as a competent middle-six winger who can chip in 20 goals and 20 assists in most seasons.

As for who will stand out the most, my money is on the previously mentioned Keller and Dylan Strome. Those two will be the big players coming out of the desert for fantasy purposes, but guys such as Brendan Perlini, Christian Fischer, Kyle Wood and Christian Dvorak all have the potential to become secondary assets on your fantasy team with some room to grow.

Arizona has a bright future ahead; they just need to find their goaltender of the future now.

 

Question: “Not sure if you would count these guys as prospects. But do you see Vadim Shipachyov or Nikita Gusev coming over from the KHL next year?”

 

Answer: I believe there is a very strong chance that Shipachyov comes over for next season as his current contract with SKA expires this spring. There are several teams who would be willing to give the talented centre an opportunity and hope to catch lightning in a bottle with the 29-year-old – perhaps the Blues would want to give him a crack at passing the puck to fellow-countryman Vladimir Tarasenko?

As for Gusev, he has a contract that extends until the end of the 2017-18 season but there have been rumours that the soon-to-be 25-year-old may be willing to buy himself out from that deal – as has been done in the past, and come over to join his good buddy, Nikita Kucherov in Tampa Bay.

If Gusev does come over, it’ll be to play in the top six and be given ample opportunity to produce points. He has terrific skills but is sometimes reliant on his linemates to create which wouldn’t be too difficult for Tampa Bay to support with their host of talented forwards.

Keep an eye on both, and for keeper leagues, I believe Gusev is the real gem of the two.

 

Question: “What can we expect from Brock Boeser? Will he be back at North Dakota next season or turn pro?”

 

Answer: After a blistering start to his sophomore season despite a nagging wrist injury, Boeser was forced to miss the WJC to have the injury surgically repaired. He came back in the new year and produced six points in his first three games back only to now be on a run of three straight pointless contests. He didn’t suffer from any such droughts as a freshman, but that shouldn’t be too discouraging for owners as his team is less potent and he is the main weapon that teams game plan to shut down.

It is my belief that we will see Boeser finish his college season this spring and immediately sign a contract with the Canucks. At which point it will be interesting to see if they thrust him right into the NHL for the stretch drive or let him get his feet wet in Utica first.

Regardless of what occurs at the end of this season, Boeser is an A prospect and Vancouver’s most fantasy relevant young player. He should form a quick bond with burgeoning centre, Bo Horvat and hopefully create two thirds of the future first line.

Boeser owns a pro-level release right now and should be able to transition quickly to the NHL game. He has a very reachable 30 goals and 30 assists ceiling with potential for even more if he can be surrounded with the appropriate talent.

 

Question: “More Jake Guentzel talk, has he done enough to stay in the NHL for the rest of the season? What his ceiling?

 

Answer: Guentzel has continued to impress in his short time in the NHL and has amazed as a rookie in the AHL. That said, I do not believe he has done enough to stick for the remainder of the season… not just yet anyways.

Matt Cullen will return from injury in the next few weeks and at that time, the Penguins will need to make some roster decisions. Guentzel can certainly secure a spot by continuing to produce points alongside Evgeni Malkin and keep his energy level high by continuing to get in on the fore check and rack up hits as he’s done thus far.

It would be nice to see him shoot the puck with more frequency, but oftentimes young players will defer to the super star on their line and that is likely the case right now, as Guentzel owns a terrific shot that will hopefully be showcased more with increased comfortability.

Regarding his ceiling, I believe he will be a staple in the team’s top six starting next season, and in such a situation and with his skillset, 70 points isn’t unreasonable. Crosby or Malkin can turn 45 point players into 65 point guys, so if Jake can keep that chemistry going with those generational players and maybe even sneak onto the top power play unit, big things could be coming.

That top PP gig is key however, as it’s tough to rack up major points from the second unit.

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That’s all for this month! I hope you gleaned some information from these answers and as always, feel free to follow me on twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where I often give unsolicited fantasy advice and am happy to answer random mid-month questions.