Keeper leaguers in rebuild mode are always looking for the next big thing. Actually, keeper leaguers in any mode are looking for the next big thing. Mid-season drafts are starting to hit (assuming they weren't cancelled with the shorter schedule) and poolies are turning their eyes towards prospects. THN's annual Future Watch issue is out and I would also invite you to look at my fantasy hockey themed prospects site – DobberProspects.com.
Continuing from my column last week, I'm taking a look at the prospects (forwards only) who appeal to me the most. The only criteria being that they cannot have played a single NHL regular season game. If you want a list of top prospects that includes those who have played a few games, I track a list every month right here. Otherwise, here are prospects ranked 10 through one…
But first, I want to give a shout-out to some “honorable mentions.” There are a few prospects I was oh-so-close to putting on the list, but shied away because the wait time on these guys is too long for my needs, or in the cases of Haula and Jaskin, are buried behind too many other studs:
Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary), Rocco Grimaldi (Florida), Erik Haula (Minnesota), Tomas Hertl (San Jose), Dmitrij Jaskin (St. Louis), Brendan Leipsic (Nashville).
10. Nicklas Jensen, Vancouver Canucks
After an impressive WJC tournament with Denmark, Jensen returned to the Elitserien (Sweden) where he leads his team (AIK) in goals, with 16 in 49 games. Blessed with a rare combination of size and speed, Jensen could be in the NHL within two years.
9. Teuvo Teräväinen, Chicago Blackhawks
Teräväinen is as “sure-fire” an NHLer as it gets when it comes to this Top 25 list. But being a lock for the NHL does not mean he's a lock for 80-point seasons. In fact, although “TT” could be in the NHL as early as next year, he will probably be plugging away on a checking line for a couple of years before eventually becoming a top-sixer. I see his upside in the 70s, not the 80s. But it's his “sure-fire” label that puts him so high on the list.
8. Danny Kristo, Montreal Canadiens
A teammate of honorable mention Rocco Grimaldi at the University of North Dakota, Kristo has 44 points in 32 games versus Grimaldi's 29. And unlike Grimaldi, Kristo is bigger than a Smurf, thus making him closer to NHL-ready. He's third in the nation in scoring at the NCAA level and could join the Habs in late March.
7. Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators
What I love about Stone is the fact he exceeds expectations at every level. A sixth round draft pick in 2010, his point production improved by 78(!) the season after he was selected by Ottawa. The Brandon Wheat Kings (Western League) watched him improve once again when he finished second in league scoring with 123 points in 2012, even though he took time off to lead Team Canada at the WJC with 10 points in six games. His American League debut season has been decent, but not great. The Sens will keep him down there next year, but will certainly give him a few looks with the big club.
6. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals
Kuznetsov would be No. 1 by a wide margin if there were certainty that he would come play in the NHL. But the only certainty for this potential superstar is the fact that he will remain in the KHL for 2013-14. And in fantasy hockey, that kind of certainty really sucks.
5. Nick Bjugstad, Florida Panthers
Bjugstad is 6-foot-5, 212 pounds, but his hands are reminiscent of Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk's. In fact, Bjugstad could be even better. He could still return to the University of Minnesota for another year, but I have a hunch he’ll turn pro for next season – and the Panthers will welcome him with open arms.
4. Ty Rattie, St. Louis Blues
After finishing third in WHL scoring last season, Rattie's numbers have taken a small hit this time around thanks in part to the loss of teammate Sven Baertschi, who is now enjoying time in the NHL with Calgary. But Rattie is still a top 10 scorer and has posted 194 points in his past 113 WHL games. St. Louis is flush with talent in their top nine right now, so expect Rattie to develop in the AHL next season before making the jump.
3. Filip Forsberg, Washington Capitals
Forsberg is a responsible player at both ends of the ice, which should ensure him of a roster spot next season with the Caps. Depending on what line he plays on, he could be a Calder Trophy finalist. He had a strong WJC tournament for Team Sweden, posting three goals and five points in six games.
2. Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
A two-time 50-goal and 100-point player in the Ontario League, Toffoli has made a huge splash in the AHL with Manchester. The team tried to bring him along slowly, but he kept scoring. His 27 goals in 52 games easily lead the Monarchs and there are whispers the Kings moved Simon Gagne and Andrei Loktionov to clear the way for a Toffoli promotion.
1. Ryan Strome, New York Islanders
High-end skill for sure, but is it “Robbie Schremp” skill? That's the only risk here, but the Islanders did well in letting him have another season to dominate at the OHL level. In fact, he'll probably start next season in the AHL, but if he does well there he'll be an Islander by mid-season. If he doesn't transition well the “Schremp” talk will pick up in fantasy circles. Very high reward and the highest upside on the list – but he carries some risk, too. But, then again, that's why fantasy hockey is fun, right?
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.