This is the 10th off-season for Fantasy Pool Look and for the 10th summer in a row I’ll be analyzing each team’s outlook. I’ll have my fantasy hockey goggles on, of course. In keeping with tradition, I run through the teams alphabetically, but switch starting points each year. This year I began with Winnipeg and will eventually work my way to Anaheim. Contract information courtesy of CapGeek.com. Time to take a look at the Islanders and Devils.
Gone – Mark Eaton, Trevor Gillies, Micheal Haley, Milan Jurcina, Al Montoya, Jay Pandolfo, P-A Parenteau, Dylan Reese, Steve Staios
Incoming – Eric Boulton, Brad Boyes, Matt Carkner, Colin McDonald, Lubomir Visnovsky
Ready for full time – Actually, one player who would’ve been “full time” last year, but will probably not be this year is 19-year-old Nino Niederreiter. Under the agreement between the NHL and the Canadian League, he would have had to play in the Western League last season if he didn’t make the team. Unless I’m mistaken – and I’ve been unable to dig up information otherwise – Niederreiter can now be sent to the American League and I’m sure that’s what the Islanders will do. He was out of his element in both the NHL and the WHL last season – not ready for the former and far too good for the latter.
Another prospect poolies are eagerly awaiting is center Ryan Strome. I’d be surprised if he made the jump. He’ll get a long look, but he seems like a player who needs one more year of development. The Isles don’t want Niederreiter II.
Center Casey Cizikas didn’t look out of place at the end of last season and eventually he’ll develop into one of the best third-liners in the NHL. You heard it right here. He should make the team as a fourth-liner at the very least in 2012-13, with more to come later. Cizikas possesses great two-way skills and enough offense to contribute in a checking role.
After a season back in Sweden, big 6-foot-4 left winger Jesse Joensuu has signed with the Isles and should make the team. He found his scoring touch and confidence back in Sweden and will make a decent complementary power forward on a team. He’ll be a 20-point player with high PIM. But you can double that number if he sees any length of time with John Tavares.
Another signing that intrigues me is Colin McDonald. Did the Islanders find Matt Moulson III? I’m stating, of course, that P-A Parenteau was Matt Moulson II. These are players in the latter half of their 20s who have enjoyed success at the AHL. The Isles gave Moulson and Parenteau a chance and turned one into a three-time 30-goal scorer and the other into a 67-point player. McDonald had 35 assists in the AHL last season and 42 goals in the AHL in 2010-11. He’s far from a guarantee, but I’ll be watching him in camp.
Defensemen Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan will also get looks and one of them should make the team. Donovan is more of a power play type, while Ness is a two-way defenseman with some offensive potential that hasn’t really been seen yet. I don’t see fellow prospects Griffin Reinhart or Calvin de Haan making the team out of camp.
Versatile left winger David Ullstrom should make the team as a third-liner. He had 24 goals in 40 games for Bridgeport, so clearly he knows where the net is, but his long-term upside is on the third line.
And finally, between the pipes, Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro are the 1-2 goalies, which is basically stating that Nabokov is No. 1 and they need a No. 2. Unfortunately, DiPietro can’t stay healthy and has been undraftable in fantasy leagues for four years now because of it. The Islanders have three fantastic prospects in net who would make a few NHL rosters as a No. 2 this year. Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson and Mikko Koskinen will battle it out for the backup job that’s sure to be available. My money is on Poulin, who has 16 games of NHL experience under his belt and boasts a .918 SP in those games.
Fantasy Outlook – As you can tell by the extensive “ready for full time” section above, the Isles have a great future. Is the future now? Several things need to fall into place including goaltending, health, impact rookies as well as Tavares taking yet another step forward. I always caution my readers not to completely write off teams with a strong farm system. In 2005-06, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 29th. Most observers, including The Hockey News, predicted them to finish in the basement again the following year, only to see the Pens finish 10th overall. The point is, when the Islanders do put it together and make that transformation from basement dweller to future powerhouse, there won’t be a heads up. In a season where you predict the Isles to finish 20th, or even 25th, they might end up 10th. Whether it’s this year or next, I can’t tell you. It won’t be long now, though, and it will start happening when fans are still in mid-snicker. Fantasy Grade: B (last year was B+)
New Jersey Devils
Gone – Eric Boulton, Vladimir Zharkov, Zach Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Taormina, Petr Sykora
Incoming – Krys Barch… (crickets chirping)
Ready for full time – Speedy right winger Mattias Tedenby has bounced between the NHL and the AHL for two years now and 2012-13 will be more of the same. He has high upside in terms of offensive acumen, but he needs to dominate at the lower level before taking that game to New Jersey. This could happen with as little as half a season in Albany. But when he finally makes the jump for good, it will need to be in a top-six role. His creativity and lack of size would be misused on a checking line.
The undrafted Harri Pesonen was recently signed to a two-way deal. He’s a gritty two-way player despite his relatively small stature at 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds, but his 21 goals in 60 games for JYP of the Finnish League led the team. That’s ahead of the likes of former NHLer Eric Perrin, who scored 19, so use that as a frame of reference.
Fantasy Outlook – It was a great Stanley Cup run by the Devils, but a year ago not a lot of people saw it coming. Last year they were seen as a team with two superstars in Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, an aging star in Patrik Elias, a fading legendary goaltender in Martin Brodeur and a potential star defenseman in Adam Larsson. With that group, strong coaching and the emergence of clutch rookie Adam Henrique they were nearly able to bring a Cup home. That was against the odds. A year later and now short one of the two superstars, things are looking grim, both in fantasy hockey and in reality. They need another Henrique-type emergence from a prospect, though that seems unlikely. A healthy Travis Zajac helps, but I can’t see the Devils making the post-season this time. As far as fantasy hockey is concerned, the list of prospects with any value is a short one. It’s still early in the summer, but there are some big holes to fill. Fantasy Grade: D (last year was D+)
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.