The World Junior Championship is set to begin in just two weeks. Besides the great hockey, keeper league owners look at this tournament as one of the better ways to measure the talent level of a prospect they own or are looking at. Team Canada announced 38 invitees to their mini-camp, out of which a roster of 23 will be forged.
The following is a list of players you need to keep an eye on. These guys have excellent fantasy hockey potential in the NHL. These are in order of my preference (but it is tournaments like these that have the ability to completely rearrange this list).
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: A two-way surefire NHLer, he is probably about three years away from putting up decent points in the bigs. His upside is in the 80-point range, but it is the fact that he is such a certainty that makes him the top keeper-league prospect on this team.
Ryan O’Marra, New York Islanders: Another two-way forward with 80-point upside, his NHL potential is not quite as guaranteed as Toews, but more surefire than the rest of the team. He’s 2-3 years away.
Bryan Little, Atlanta Thrashers: A skilled offensive pivot, Little was compared to Chris Drury in a recent issue of The Hockey News. That being said, if you put a Chris Drury on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk, you have yourself 90 points. That is Little’s upside. With a void down the middle in Atlanta, he could sneak onto the roster within the next two years.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: A quick, small, shifty winger, Giroux has the potential to be a 90-point NHL talent in his future. With the Flyers seemingly in a rebuilding phase, look for him in the big league sooner rather than later.
Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks: Potentially an 85-point player in the NHL, Setoguchi has already made an impact with management after a strong training camp in 2005. An injury took him out of this year’s camp, but the young right winger aims to make up for it starting Dec. 26.
Steve Downie, Philadelphia Flyers: Downie is a gritty, physical player with the talent to produce in the 70s one day in Philadelphia. As with Giroux, Downie could get an early shot at the NHL if the Flyers do indeed decide to rebuild.
Andrew Cogliano, Edmonton Oilers: A highly-skilled, shifty offensive player, Cogliano has top-shelf scoring tools. Issues with consistency, combined with a college commitment, will likely keep him out of the NHL for the next three years. Otherwise, he would be a lot higher on this list.
Watching undrafted forwards John Tavares, Angelo Esposito and Sam Gagner (if any of them make the team), will also be a pleasure. All three are sure to land on a squad in your league soon.
Luc Bourdon, Vancouver Canucks: Bourdon has already spent several games with Vancouver, so you already know he is close. He has the tools to be a No.1 defenseman with the Canucks and lead their power play. A season of 65 points is not far-fetched, but it will be several years before you see anything like that.
Marc Staal, New York Rangers: This rearguard has all the tools Â– offense, defense, poise and physicality. The Rangers expect him to compete for a spot next fall. His upside is in the mid-50s.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins: Another blueliner who made his NHL squad out of camp, Letang was eventually sent back to the Quebec League for more ice time and experience. When he becomes a full-time NHLer, producing into the 60s is quite feasible one day.
Cody Franson, Nashville Predators: Nashville is pretty deep at the back end, so they can afford to wait three or four years for Franson to become a regular. When he gets there, however, he will be eventually become their quarterback on the power play. He has top-end passing and shooting skills.
This Wednesday, FPL will return to its usual fantasy fare. On Monday, Dec. 18 I will review Team USA.
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