Every season there are rookies who make an impact in the fantasy hockey world. Not so much up near the top, as the Alex Ovechkin-esque 106-point season is rare indeed, but clustered in that 40- to 55-point range. Here are some candidates who are either worth drafting or worth taking quickly off the waiver wire.
I couldn’t fit them all into one column, so you can also find my East picks here.
Sami Vatanen, Anaheim – Despite missing a chunk of camp with a lower-body injury, Vatanen remains a strong dark horse for a decent fantasy season (think high-30s for points). This is thanks in large part to Sheldon Souray’s injury, as it opened up a roster spot – and a power play spot – for several months.
Sven Bärtschi, Calgary – The talented winger showed he was ready last season when he tallied nine points in his final seven games. He hasn’t exactly been lights-out in training camp (and rookie camp), but the Flames have little in the way of offensive options on the wing.
Sean Monahan, Calgary – The sixth overall draft pick this past summer has looked great in camp and is pretty much a lock to start the season on the team. Whether he gets past that nine-game mark is another matter, but it will be hard to send him back to junior if he’s producing.
Jeremy Morin, Chicago – Morin’s hustle and two-way talent make him a candidate to effectively skate on either the second or the third line. If he can stay healthy, which has been an issue at times, he could certainly surprise. He was a high-scoring Ontario League player and last season posted 58 points in 67 AHL games. Cut from training camp over the weekend, the wait on his recall will probably be a short one.
Brandon Pirri, Chicago – The first half of Pirri’s training camp was wiped out thanks to an injury and that probably cost him his roster spot (he was returned to the American League over the weekend). But the 2012-13 AHL leading scorer is ready to join the Blackhawks full time. Because the second-line center job is up in the air, Pirri could certainly work his way up. I liken him to Kris Versteeg in terms of what kind of damage he could do on the scoresheet as a surprise rookie. But for that to happen, his recall will need to happen in the month of October.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado – My personal favorite to win the rookie scoring race and the Calder Trophy. The only question in my mind is will he be your typical first-overall pick who posts in the neighborhood of 55 points? Or will he be that generational first-overall pick who comes along once every seven or eight years and flirts with 70 or more?
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas – There are draft years where Nichushkin would have gone first overall. But this was a deep, talented draft the likes of which many have never seen. So the 6-foot-4 winger slipped a few draft slots and then he slipped a few more because he is Russian and there are always “KHL fears.” So the Stars got him at 10, which is a steal because he’s NHL-ready and his upside is not unlike that of Ilya Kovalchuk.
Mark Arcobello, Edmonton – The small (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), undrafted player has improved each season in the AHL, in a way that reminds me of David Desharnais. However, Arcobello was still unlikely to make this team until Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner became sidelined. Suddenly, the Oilers can no longer deny Arcobello’s talent and hockey sense, even with the size issue. Don’t count this guy out.
Seth Jones, Nashville – Jones will make the Predators and contribute right away, but not on the first pairing and maybe not even the second pairing. However, he’s so good that he’ll work his ice time up to 18 or 19 minutes per game by Christmas. Offensively, I’d keep expectations at somewhere in the 20s, but the upside is there for a nice 35-plus season right off the bat.
Filip Forsberg, Nashville – Temper your expectations. Forsberg will be a great player, but then again – so will Colin Wilson. And how long have you been waiting for Wilson? While we should finally see Wilson contribute significantly to fantasy teams in this, his fifth NHL season, Forsberg is entering just his first. Patience, with this one.
Chris Brown, Phoenix – The budding power forward scored 29 goals in 68 games in his pro debut for Portland in the AHL last season. He did not look out of place when he was called up to the big club, either. He could be a 30-goal scorer down the road, but for the first several years I wouldn’t expect too much in terms of offense.
Tomas Hertl, San Jose – Hertl was likely to make the Sharks and after Raffi Torres suffered a serious knee injury the spot was all but sealed up. Hertl’s speed and accurate shot make him a top six candidate and so far he’s looked good there on a line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. The Sharks have a habit of bringing in a new impactful player each season and now it’s Hertl’s turn.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg – The long wait is finally over. After “almost” making the team as an 18-year-old, and again as a 19-year-old, Scheifele is a shoe-in this year. And although he’s penciled in on the third line, you and I both know that Olli Jokinen won’t hold onto his second-line spot for long. The added development time only helps and it wouldn’t shock me to see Scheifele among the top three rookie scorers.
Jacob Trouba Winnipeg – What a fantastic defenseman. And Trouba has oodles of upside. The problem is, the Jets already have Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Grant Clitsome and Paul Postma. Each of those rearguards would be on a power play unit on most NHL teams. So don’t expect Trouba to kick off his NHL career with a flourish. But he’s a great long-term prospect, no question.
Honorable mentions: Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin (St. Louis – already cut from camp), Taylor Beck (Nashville – already cut from camp), Peter Holland (Anaheim), Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles – already cut from camp, but was one of my favorite Calder candidates before this surprise development).
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Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.