Fantasy Hockey: Ranking NHL rookies, beyond McDavid and Eichel (Puck Daddy)
- Updated: August 22, 2015
Dobber Hockey launched in 2005 and Dobber and his staff have hitched their wagons to Puck Daddy to preach fantasy hockey to the Yahoo! masses since 2009. BY BRANDON ROSS Drafting your favorite NHL superstar and riding his production straight to your fantasy hockey championship is the pipe dream for all poolies but the realist in all of us understands there’s much more to hoisting the league trophy than just one player’s success. Hitting on the big names is easy in the opening rounds but the real challenge is filling out your roster with valuable depth players. Every poolie loves finding that young gem – it makes them look like a pure hockey genius so why not fill out depth spots with a few valuable rookies? [ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Hockey: Sign up and join a league today! ] The key is to ensure that your rookie selections are informed ones, and that becomes the biggest challenge. Even the best youngsters can be fickle fantasy producers early in their careers, so let’s break down which ones could be worthy of a roster spot. The Favorites Introductions can be thrown aside here because these are the freshmen that your grandmothers chat about during afternoon tea time… Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers – Wunderkind junior star Connor McDavid will step right into the Oilers’ young roster and challenge to lead the team in scoring and it wouldn’t be wise to bet against him. McDavid’s shown good chemistry with high-flying winger Taylor Hall in BioSteel camp so expect him to draw top-line minutes right out of the gates and be the first rookie to post 70-plus points since Patrick Kane did it in 2007-2008. Sorry, he’s not Sidney Crosby, because he’s destined to be better. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres – Sabres GM Tim Murray was bummed for a brief second after losing out on Connor McDavid but he then shook it off and realized that Jack Eichel is the NHL’s best consolation prize since Evgeny Malkin came second to Alexander Ovechkin at the 2004. With a chip on his shoulder to out-perform Connor McDavid, soon-to-be American hero Eichel stands to be the prime contributor on a rather pedestrian offensive Buffalo squad. Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes – There’s some Jekyll and Hyde in Domi’s game but when he’s on (flashback to the 2015 World Junior Championships), Max is as exciting as they come and that’ll be important in the offensively dry Arizona desert. Don’t expect Domi to come out guns-a-blazin’ but he’ll bring fans to the edge of their seats. Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers – Edmonton opted to send Darnell Nurse back for another year of seasoning in junior giving him the opportunity to etch his legacy in World Junior history with a star-studded performance. Producing points at the junior level was no problem for the smooth skating 6-foot-4 Nurse but many are still wondering if the production will follow as easily in the pro ranks. Either way, Nurse is the star blue line pillar that the Oilers are planning on building around. Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames – A shoulder injury (with no direct link to his inability to perform a pullup at the NHL combine) sidelined the pesky skilled Sam Bennett, nixing his chance to challenge for the Calder in 2014-15. He got a taste of NHL action late in the season and even scored seconds into his debut. Bennett’s unrelenting two-way game will be endeared by Calgary’s bench boss Bob Hartley and that’ll give him plenty of opportunity to post Johnny Hockey-like numbers in 2015-16. Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators – The Predators welcomed Filip Forsberg’s breakout season as he climbed to the top of Nashville’s scoring charts and he has help coming with the uber-skilled, and feisty, Kevin Fiala. Jumping into North American hockey with two feet, Fiala showed that his competitive drive and knack for finding offensive chances equates to fantasy value. Anthony Duclair, Arizona Coyotes – Dynamic speedster Duclair rattled off points quickly right off the hop in his first professional campaign before slowing down and eventually returned to his junior squad. He was a key member of Canada’s gold medal winning World Junior and now has the chance to create magic with WJC teammate Max Domi after he was traded to Arizona in the Keith Yandle deal. The 2015 Draftees Future fantasy lineups will eventually be littered with ’15 draftees as Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, Zach Werenski, Timo Meier and Matt Barzal are names outside of McEichel that are destined to be fixtures on their new clubs down the road. Here are a few players to watch with the potential to step into the NHL for a taste of action as soon as 2015-16… Dylan Strome, Arizona Coyotes – With improvements in his skating still needed, all signs point to the desert dogs returning Strome to the OHL to defend his scoring title but don’t be surprised with a brief NHL stint to start the year. Most importantly, Strome stands to be a go-to offensive option at the upcoming World Junior Championships before he enters the NHL full-time in the Fall of 2016. Noah Hanifin, Carolina Hurricanes – Boston College standout Noah Hanifin plays a composed two-way game and with his low-maintenance mobile style, it’s expected that he impresses enough to stick around for the year. Expect 20ish points and feel free to fist-pump if he passes 30 points on the Canes blue line. Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils – Physically, Pavel Zacha is arguably the most NHL-ready offensive forward from his draft class (outside of McDavid and Eichel). The problem lies in his offensive numbers, or lack thereof, with many folks needing to see these numbers climb before he steps into NHL action. On his side of the argument, Zacha is an excellent physical forward with loads of skill to offer and after excelling at shutting down Connor McDavid in post-season action, there’s two-way versatility as well. If he’s not in Jersey this season, expect a smashing debut in 2016. Lawson Crouse, Florida Panthers – Crouse demonstrated himself as one of Canada’s premier shutdown forwards as a WJC underager and managed to produced 29 games without much help in Kingston. Offensively, the best is yet to come from Crouse and his hockey sense, two-way acumen and physical advantage could see him force his way onto the Panthers roster this Fall but it’ll be tough with a crowded left side. Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers – Less than a year after Kimmo Timonen departed Philadelphia after years of valuable service, Flyers restocked their blue line with a similar intelligent two-way defender in Ivan Provorov. This extremely intelligent Russian isn’t large and lacks the flashiness of a Karlsson but his efficiency is reminiscent of a 10-year vet. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche – Every season there’s a non-Top 5 pick who steps directly into the NHL and makes an impact. Cue Finn Mikko Rantanen to fill that potential role. He’s got professional experience under his belt and with the aging Tanguay and Iginla, plus the inconsistent Grigorenko, on Colorado’s right side, Rantanen just needs to stick around long enough for an injury or frustration to strike for his opportunity. The Goaltenders Tough to pinpoint their arrival considering most NHL teams have their bona fide starters locked into place, the following are a few young netminders waiting for their opportunity to prove themselves… John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks – Flashing back to Summer 2014 and we were hearing John Gibson’s name being tossed around as a Calder Trophy favorite. Here we are again one year later and he remains in the conversation after suffering injuries and being supplanted by Frederik Andersen as Anaheim’s starter. The book on Gibson remains status quo – he’s an elite NHL prospect and should be coveted in every format. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets – Despite an outstanding AHL debut season and World Championship showing, Hellebuyck waits patiently as the third option in Winnipeg’s goaltending platoon of Pavelec and Hutchinson. He’s pegged as the Jets’ future between the pipes and simply needs the chance to showcase his stuff. Don’t be surprised to see Hellebuyck start stealing starts very soon. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning – It’s been a few up and down seasons for prized goaltending prospect Vasilevskiy but this young puck stopper already has played four, yes FOUR, seasons of professional hockey. After a long run by the Lightning Vasilevskiy has earned valuable big game minutes so the jitters should be long gone. The future crease will be home to Vasilevskiy and he’s only an injury to Bishop away from taking the starter job and running with it. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins – After capturing both Rookie and Goaltender of the Year honors in the AHL last season, Matt Murray has tightened the long leash on Marc-Andre Fleury because the organization now has a viable challenger for the starter’s position. He’ll concede the crease to MAF for now but he’s certainly fast tracking himself to the NHL quicker then everyone expected.