It's the 11th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint. In keeping with tradition, I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I began with Anaheim and I’ll finish up with Winnipeg in early September. Time to take a look at the Kings and Wild.
Los Angeles Kings
Gone – Brad Richardson, Jonathan Bernier, Rob Scuderi, Simon Gagne
Incoming – Jeff Schultz, Ben Scrivens, Matt Frattin
Ready for full-time – Tyler Toffoli has been a dream fantasy prospect. He's in an organization in which the roster is tough to crack and yet with limited opportunities he has made it impossible for the Kings to send him back down. He had two points in his second NHL game and five points in his first six. In the post-season when Jarret Stoll or Mike Richards was hurt, Toffoli was the first guy in. And when the two players were back and healthy, the youngster remained in the lineup because he was consistently one of the Kings’ biggest offensive threats. T.T. will make the roster this year and he is an early Calder Trophy favorite.
Tanner Pearson was drafted 30th overall last summer and because he was nearly 20 at the time, he was also more mature than most of his draft class. It also meant he was eligible to play in the American League. As an AHL rookie he finished fourth on Manchester in scoring with 47 points in 64 games and earned himself an NHL game in the playoffs. He's close, but the Kings are too deep for him to crack the lineup out of camp. But that doesn't mean he won't be a full-time player by Christmas. Definitely one to watch.
Bud Holloway grew frustrated with Los Angeles’ depth and how difficult it was to make the big club. So in 2011 he joined his buddy Oscar Moller (another Kings' prospect) in Sweden. This past season he led Skelleftea HC in scoring with 71 points in 55 games. That also led the entire Swedish League, beating the likes of new Boston Bruin Carl Soderberg, who finished second, by 11 points. The Kings are reportedly in talks with Holloway to convince him to come back. My guess is that the sticking point is a one-way contract. I'm sure Holloway wants certain guarantees that the Kings may not be prepared to give. Fantasy owners should pay attention to how this situation turns out.
Fantasy Outlook – Although Darryl Sutter is a coach who preaches a “team system” (which is fancy talk for “defense”), there are still a handful of stars who can reach the 70-point mark (and Toffoli will join those ranks one day). There are at least 10 draftable players on the pro roster, which is more than most teams can boast, and the system has a handful of intriguing players with upside. The problem is, those players rarely get the opportunity that they would get in other organizations, making it tough to own Kings’ prospects.
Fantasy Grade: B+ (last year was B+)
Gone – Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Justin Falk, Tom Gilbert
Incoming – Nino Niederreiter, Jonathon Blum, Matt Cooke, Keith Ballard
Ready for full-time – Jason Zucker took the fantasy hockey world by storm last season. He went from one of about 50 NHL prospects to watch, to one of about five or six “must own” kids. His move from the college game to pro hockey went better than I've seen in a long time. The 21-year-old finished second on the Houston Aeros in scoring with 50 points in 55 games and would have led the team had he not spent so much time with the big club. No player on the AHL squad – not even Mikael Granlund – created offense with as much aplomb as Zucker. He'll make the Wild and by the middle of the season he will be on a scoring line. I wouldn't be shocked if he got 50 points as an NHL rookie.
Speaking of Granlund, he should be on the Wild when camp ends. Arguably the most-hyped prospect a year ago, Granlund delivered…in the AHL. In the NHL, it was a different matter. He struggled to put the puck in the net and the extra micro-second he took in his decision-making cost him almost every time. He'll be better prepared this time around, though the production won't come as fast as we had originally hoped. His upside is still the highest of all the prospects.
Nino Niederreiter is a dazzling winger who was acquired in the Cal Clutterbuck trade this summer. He has been disappointing so far as a pro, but in his defense he was rushed into pro hockey too quickly and he suffered an injury early on. The Wild will likely keep him on the roster to start, but will keep him on a short leash. He scored 28 goals for Bridgeport last season, so his confidence has returned, which is a good sign. He's still only 20 years old (he'll be 21 in September).
Darcy Kuemper was going to be the backup goaltender in 2013-14. This seemed even more certain when the Wild traded fellow prospect goalie Matt Hackett in the Jason Pominville deal. But the team re-signed Niklas Backstrom and so Kuemper is a No. 3 again. However, both Backstrom and Josh Harding have been prone to injury and Harding is also dealing with Multiple Sclerosis. If either one of them miss extended time, Kuemper should be picked up immediately in many fantasy formats.
Fantasy Outlook – This is an up-and-coming team that has built a solid stable of top fantasy-hockey prospects. The process was expedited last summer when the Wild added Ryan Suter and Zach Parise and today they are competitive both immediately and in the future. There will be no shortage of goals scored by these guys.
Fantasy Grade: A- (last year was B+)
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.