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You’re about to do your fantasy draft. You haven’t prepared much, and you’re starting to scramble a bit. You glanced briefly at the Yahoo rankings – they give an idea of who the top-end players are, but you’ve never heard of most of the players outside the top-50.
Consider this your competitive edge.
2014-15 NHL Fantasy Draft Guide – Part 1:
The Young and the Under-Rated
I’ve been doing a fantasy preview for the last few years, and friends have told me that they’ve won their pools simply by using this guide. I follow hockey as closely as just about anyone, and legitimately feel that I know as much as most of the experts in the industry with regards to fantasy hockey. I can’t promise that you’ll win your pool by reading this article, but I’m confident that you’ll finish somewhere in the money.
How do I win my pool?
Just like in real life, you must draft well in order to win. And while everyone gets excited about getting the first pick overall, and the chance to take a Crosby or a Stamkos, your early picks usually aren’t the ones that carry you to victory. (Although you may lose by making bad picks early.) Unless you’re in a pool with a very small group, it’s normally the mid-to-late rounds where you assemble a winning team – once the top 50-75 players are off the board, and you get Claude Giroux in the 12th round in 2010, coming off a 47 point season. (He got 76 the following year). Or Jakub Voracek in the 15th round in 2012, because he had yet to top 50 points. (46 in 48 in the lockout year). The middle rounds are where you can get Matt Duchene in 2012, coming off an injury-plagued, 28-point season (scored 43 in 47 games in the lockout-shortened year); Marty St. Louis in 2006, coming off a 61 point season. (Scored 102 points in 06-07); Patrick Marleau in 2008, fresh off a disastrous 48-point season under Ron Wilson. (Scored 71 the next season under a new coach).
Basically, winning in a hockey pool is like picking stocks – all you need to do is pick the companies (players) that are under-valued, and watch them return to their true value. Whether it be young, rising stars, or veteran players coming off a bad year, that’s how you win in fantasy hockey. When everyone else is taking Jonathan Toews and his ~70 points, you take Nicklas Backstrom – who rarely goes much below 80 points – with a later pick. When Drew Doughty – who rarely goes over 40 points – is the 3rd defenceman off the board, you laugh and take Alex Goligoski 5 rounds later, because he always gets 40 points anyway, and the Stars just added Spezza and Hemsky to an already impressive lineup.
I’m not saying that Toews and Doughty aren’t good players. What I’m saying is that someone else is going to take those guys higher than their stats would dictate. You need to make sure that you’re not the guy who passes up Jamie Benn’s 79 points last season in favour of Jeff Carter’s 50, just because Carter was more well known to most people at the time.
If you don’t follow hockey stats very closely, chances are that many of the players you’re familiar with
are the ones that are over-valued. Casual hockey fans are usually familar with the top players from the recent contenders – Pittsburgh, LA, Chicago, and Boston. In Canada, they’ll probably also know the big guys on Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, as well as the big names that have been around a long time – Thornton, Datsyuk, Nash, etc. After that, the casual fan’s knowledge takes a dip.
So here’s my first rule: Don’t draft the guys that every playoff hockey fan knows. Here is my list of players that will be drafted too high, along with a teammate that will go much later:
(1) Jonathan Toews – Chicago – 70-75 points
Great player, not a great fantasy resume. He’s only hit 70+ points once in his 6 seasons, and yet someone always takes him in the first 2 rounds. He will never drop to you in the 4th round, which is where he probably should be drafted in most pools. Instead of Toews’s 75 points in the 2nd round of your draft, you could take Tyler Seguin, or a great goalie, and then grab teammate Brandon Saad in round 8, who will probably get you 65 points.
(2) Rick Nash – New York Rangers – 30 goals, 60 points
Though he’s usually good for 30 goals, he’s never been a big point producer. Apart from 08-09 where he put up 79 points, his career high is 69. Last season he only had 39 points in 65 games. But he’s a big name because he has two Olympic gold medals for Canada. His centre – *Derek Stepan or Derick Brassard – will get about as many points, but will be drafted at least 5 rounds later.
*Stepan would normally be the top-line centre, but he’s out for a month with a broken bone in his leg
(3) Ryan Kesler – Anaheim – 25 goals, 55 points
Had two good years from 2009-2011, back when Vancouver was a cup contender (75 and 73 points). Since then, he’s been a fantasy cripple, maxing out at 49 points in the past three seasons. A change of scenery to Anaheim will help him get over 50 points again, but I’ll bet that teammate Kyle Palmieri will get almost as many points as Kesler, and won’t even be drafted in pools that go < 15 rounds.
(4) Milan Lucic – Boston – 25 goals, 55 points
Do you really need Lucic’s 55-60 points that bad? I mean, he’s good for it. But if your pool doesn’t include penalty minutes, let someone else grab him in the 4th round because they think it’s cool to have a big, power forward on their fantasy team. Reilly Smith broke out in his first full NHL season, scoring 51 points after coming over from Dallas in the Seguin trade. He’ll go at least 5 rounds after Lucic.
(5) Justin Williams – Los Angeles – 25 goals, 55 points
After winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, you know someone who only watched the playoffs will wonder how they managed to get him in the 3rd round. At that point, you can explain that Williams hasn’t scored more than 59 points in the past 7 years. His young teammate, Tyler Toffoli, is a younger version of Williams, only he’ll be available in the late rounds of your draft – as many as 10 rounds later depending on how knowledgeable your compatriots are.
(6) Jonathan Quick – Los Angeles
Great playoff goalie, but his regular season numbers suck – in large part because the Kings are so good that he barely gets any shots. His save percentage over the last two seasons is .910, which ranks him outside of the top-25 NHL goalies. Like Toews, his playoff notoriety is out of step with his regular season stats. If you’re in a pool that is based mainly on wins, Quick is still a good choice, but some pools depend on number of saves, and almost all use save percentage, for which Quick is not well suited.
(7) Zdeno Chara – Boston – 40 points
Big Z is 14th in points-per-game over the past three years, and yet he’s usually one of the first 5 d-men off the board. Torey Krug had the same number of points as Chara last year (40), and outscored him badly in the playoffs (10-to-4). Don’t make Chara the 5th d-man taken, get Krug much later. (Dougie Hamilton is another up-and-coming Bruins d-man).
Note: Don’t expect Chara to get a million PIMs either – he doesn’t anymore. He only had 66 last year, and hasn’t gone over 100 in the past 5 years.
(8) Jeff Carter – Los Angeles – 30 goals, 60 points
I’m not trying to hate on Kings players here, they just don’t post good regular seasons stats. Another well-known Canadian Olympian, Carter is good for roughly 30 goals per year, but like Rick Nash, he doesn’t usually get a lot of points. He had one great year in Philly – 84 points in 08-09 – but aside from that, his career high is only 66 points. He’s a good player, but don’t reach on him in the first 5 rounds.
(9) Drew Doughty – Los Angeles – 45 points
Doughty had one great season in the NHL – 09-10, where he scored 59 points. Since then, he hasn’t topped 40. In fact, over the past two regular-seasons, (really 1.5 because of the lockout), Doughty’s teammate, Slava Voynov, has the exact same number of points – 59. Voynov even outscored him in the playoffs two years ago – badly. (13-to-5). Strange that Voynov doesn’t get much attention.
(10) Eric Staal – Carolina – 65-70 points
Even when he was putting up 70-75 points a year, you always thought he could do more because of his monster season in 05-06, where he scored 100. He took a dip to 61 points last year, which is concerning because he’s got a lot of miles on him – this will be his 11th NHL season – and his team looks a bit hopeless. You don’t want older players on bad teams with nothing to play for. You want young guys on the rise – like his teammate, Jeff Skinner, who is as good or better, and will be available a few rounds later.
You win your pool by taking the guys on this list. Usually it’s young guys who are about to break out, but it could also mean taking a guy coming off an injury, or an otherwise off-year. Henrik Sedin is the perfect example of a vet who will be available later in your pool this year. He only managed 50 points under the tyranny of John Tortorella.
(1) Henrik / Daniel Sedin – Vancouver – 70 points (each)
Same team, but a new lease on life. New coach Willie Desjardins won’t have the twins killing penalties like his predecessor, and his calm, cool demeanor will be a breath of fresh air for two low-key guys that probably felt overwhelmed by Tortorella’s overbearing personality. Then add Radim Vrbata to the line – a winger who’s scored 20 goals in Phoenix virtually every year, without ever having the support of a creative centre – and you have a pretty nice combo. 70 points for Glen Coco – err, the Sedins’.
(2) Paul Stastny – St. Louis – 65-70 points
Stastny had a decent year in Colorado last season, scoring 60 points. Chances are he would have threatened 70 had he not missed 11 games. While Stastny had good linemates in Colorado, he didn’t always get prime ice-time, playing behind Matt Duchene. Now in St. Louis, he’ll play second fiddle to no one, and he’ll be paired with skilled wingers like Alex Steen, T.J Oshie, and Vladimir Tarasenko. If healthy, Stastny may be poised to get back to the 70-point plateau – a mark he hasn’t reached since 2009-2010.
(3) Patric Hornqvist – Pittsburgh – 30 goals, 60 points
Was the best winger in Nashville for the past few years, and consistently put up 20+ goals and 50+ points on a team whose most talented centre was David Legwand. (Ouch). Now he’s playing alongside either Crosby or Malkin, and will be a fixture in front of the net on the pp – expect 30+30.
(4) Brad Richards – Chicago – 60 points
Brad Richards is one of the better players to ever be bought. While he certainly underperformed on his contract of $6M+, he still had 51 points on a fairly low-scoring Rangers team last year. Now he ends up as the second line centre on an offensive juggernaut in Chicago, and will have linemates like Sharp, Hossa, and Saad. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t hit 60 points.
(5) Derick Brassard – New York Rangers – 55-60 points
Last season, Brassard put up 45 points, but he was also the team’s third line centre. But with Brad Richards gone, and Derek Stepan out for at least a month, Brassard will start the year as the top-line centre. Not only will he get more ice-time, but he’ll get to play with Nash and/or St. Louis. Expect a nice boost from him, probably in the neighbourhood of 55-60.
*Ales Hemsky – Dallas – 60 points (if healthy)
After playing his entire career in Edmonton, Ales Hemsky was traded to Ottawa last season at the deadline. There, he teamed up with Jason Spezza and rejuvenated his career, scoring 17 points in the final 20 games. When Spezza was dealt to Dallas, Hemsky followed in free agency. Playing with a great centre – which he never had in Edmonton – and out of the pressure of a Canadian city, Hemsky could flourish. You’ll see him back over 60 points this year if he plays a full season. (Though admittedly, staying healthy has always been an issue for Hemmer).
I love keeping track of the young players – especially some of the guys that fall under the radar. Here is a list of 30 youngsters – 20 forwards, 5 d-men, and 5 goalies, that you should keep an eye on – most in the mid- to-late rounds.
(1) Nate Mackinnon – Colorado – 75 points
Nate Mackinnon scored 63 points last year as an 18-year-old. To understand how good that is, you need to look back on the past 10 years of 18-year-old NHL’ers and realize that only Sidney Crosby has scored more points at that age. (Though Jeff Skinner did the same thing in 2010-2011). He got better as the year went along, and was incredibly impressive in the playoffs, where most rookies wilt after a long, pro season. With Stastny gone, MacKinnon is slotted perfectly in the lineup behind Matt Duchene, and should be good for 70-80 points this coming season.
(2) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Edmonton – 75 points
We keep waiting for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to break out, and thus far he has disappointed. Injuries have played a role, as his slight frame has led to shoulders problems, but he has bulked up a bit in the past year. Skill-wise, he’s easily capable of putting up a point-per-game, especially playing with one of the NHL’s top scorers – Taylor Hall – and another young talent, Jordan Eberle. Nuge should be good for 70 points this year, but if completely healthy, he might even blow that number out of the water.
(3) Vladimir Tarasenko – 30 goals, 65 points
Tarasenko is the most talented forward on the St. Louis Blues. He played only 64 games last season, but still managed 21 goals and 43 points in his sophomore season. He was easily the Blues most dynamic forward in last year’s playoffs against Chicago, scoring 4 goals in 6 games. Assuming he’s relatively healthy, you can bet on him scoring 30 goals, especially if he gets to play with a good playmaker like Stastny.
(4) Brandon Saad – 65 points
Saad is a very good young player in a great situation. It’s hard to say exactly where he’ll be slotted in the lineup, but it’s likely to be alongside Toews or Richards at centre, and P.Kane or Hossa on the right wing. Last season, he had 47 points during the season, but went crazy in the playoffs, scoring 16 points in 19 games, outscoring everyone except Kane (20) and Toews (17). He’s a good all-around player with very dangerous speed, playing on a deep, offensive team. I’ll be shocked if he’s under 60 points.
(5) Gustav Nyquist – 30 goals, 60 points
While it would be ridiculous to expect the same pace as last season – 28 goals in 57 games – Nyquist has clearly asserted himself as one of the Wings’ top offensive threats – perhaps on the same level as the veteran duo of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. He’s quick and elusive, with excellent finishing ability. He went silent in playoffs, with no points in 5 games, so it’ll be interesting to see how he starts the following year. Regardless, roughly 30 goals and 60 points are reasonable to expect.
(6) Evander Kane – 30 goals, 60 points
Only 23, yet entering his 6th NHL season, Evander Kane is ready to do more. He scored 30 goals in 2011-2012, but missed almost 20 games last season and only managed 19 as a result. Not only is he reportedly in great shape, but he’s also playing on the top-line alongside Mark Scheifele, and Blake last season’s leading scorer, Blake Wheeler. Expect Kane to bring 30 and 30 this year for the Jets.
(7) Mikael Granlund – 60 points
Probably the best young playmaker in the game, Granlund is like a mix of Saku Koivu’s elusiveness and Nicklas Backstrom intelligence and playmaking ability. Last season, he managed 41 points in only 63 games – his first full season in the NHL. He might have a new linemate this year too – assuming the Wild keep the line of Parise-Koivu-Pominville intact, Granlund might form a great duo with newcomer Thomas Vanek. Because of Granlund’s size, and lack of NHL experience, it’s hard to expect him to put up giant numbers right now. One day, he’ll be a 70+ point player, but for now, 60 is a good number for him.
(8) Craig Smith – 60 points
One of the most underrated wingers in the NHL because he plays in Nashville, Craig Smith has a lot of things going for him. Not only is he entering his prime at age 25, but his team just added the type of skill they’ve been lacking for at least 5 years by acquiring James Neal and Mike Ribeiro. Furthermore, many of their offensive defencemen are young and improving, like Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Seth Jones – not to mention Shea Weber. Smith already had 24 goals and 52 points last year, so with the new additions, and burgeoning young talent on the back-end, he’ll probably hit 60 this season.
(9) Jaden Schwartz – St. Louis – 60 points
With 56 points last season, it’s hard to call him a sleeper, but when you think of the Blues, you probably think of Steen, Backes, Oshie, Stastny, and Tarasenko before you think of 22-year-old Jaden Schwartz. But he’s very smart, skilled, speedy, and will only continue to get better. He’s also a great two-way player, (+28 last season), and will get you a few short-handed goals (3), which is often key in head-to-head pools where having 1 will win the category.
(10) Tomas Hertl – San Jose – 55-60 points
Remember the 4 goal game, topped off with the through-the-legs move? Or Joe Thornton’s defence of his “hot-dog” move? Good times. Hertl was a strong rookie-of-the-year candidate last year until a knee injury sidelined him for the last 45 games of the season. Still, he managed 15 goals and 25 points in only 37 games. He came back for playoffs and looked good, with 5 points in 7 games. If he sticks on Joe Thornton’s wing as he did through most of last season, you can expect 25 goals and 55 points from Hertl.
(11) Alex Galchenyuk – Montreal – 55 points
Drafted 3rd overall in 2012, Galchenyuk stepped into the NHL at 18, and had a very good rookie season. His sophomore season was a mixture of injury and inconsistency. Now entering his third NHL season, Galchenyuk is poised to take his game to the next level and become a consistent producer. 55 points may be a conservative estimate if he’s healthy.
(12) Jonathan Huberdeau – Florida – 45-60 points
Huberdeau was rookie of the year in 2012-2013, but he fell off the map last year as a very young group in Florida floundered in a long NHL season. The Panthers have a number of interesting players to keep on your radar as the season goes on – namely Nick Bjugstad, and Aleksander Barkov – but Huberdeau should be the offensive leader on this team. Because the team is so young, it’s hard to say exactly how the season will go, hence the large range of 45-60 points.
(13) Brayden Schenn – Philadelphia – 55 points; (plus Matt Read & Sean Couturier)
The Flyers are undeniably led by Claude Giroux, with strong support from Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. Now it’s time for Schenn, Read, and Couturier to step up their games. Matt Read had 24 goals and 47 points in his rookie year, but only 40 points in his third season. He can get to 50. Couturier is still just 22, but has already played 3 seasons as well. Last year, he hit 39 points, which isn’t bad for a young, third line centre who doesn’t get much time on the pp. He should get 45 points this year. But the main guy here is Brayden Schenn. Drafted 5th overall in 2009 – one pick after Evander Kane – the Flyers are expecting a lot more from him than 20 goals and 41 points. At age 23, I think he gets close to the 60-point mark.
(14) Nail Yakupov – Edmonton – 25 goals, 50 points
Have you heard of this guy? The 1st overall pick in 2012, we all know about his struggles last season, and tensions with rookie head coach, Dallas Eakins. But assuming he scores at roughly the same pace as his rookie season, he should get you 25 goals this coming year. He’s talented enough to score 30 right now, but the problem for him this season is that his centre will likely not be the Nuge, but will instead be a rookie (Leon Draisaitl), an AHL guy (Mark Arcobello), or a 4th line centre (Boyd Gordon).
(15) Tyler Toffoli – Los Angeles – 25 goals, 50 points
Tyler Toffoli never ceases to impress me. He was overlooked in his draft year despite good junior stats, then overlooked by fantasy hockey poolers, who probably don’t monitor AHL stats. If it weren’t for the Kings overwhelming playoff success of late, chances are no one would have a clue who he is. He only had 29 points in 62 games last year – his first in the NHL – but posted another 7 goals and 14 points in the playoffs. With his wicked release, I expect him to build on his playoff success and put up 25 goals.
(16) Valeri Nishushkin – Dallas – 40-55 points
Stepping into the NHL at 18 isn’t easy. What makes it slightly tougher is when you’re from a different country. And yet Nichushkin was able to do that and score 14 goals and 34 points. His combination of size, speed, and skill make it look rather ridiculous that he was drafted 10th overall in 2013, as he looks miles ahead of everyone picked after the big-4 (MacKinnon, Barkov, Drouin, Jones). Last year, he played a lot with Benn and Seguin, but even he is doesn’t play with them, he’ll still line up with Jason Spezza, so there’s really no bad spot for him. He’s still 19, so he’ll have his ups and downs, but he’s someone to keep a particular eye on in keeper pools.
(17) Nick Bjugstad (50) / Alexander Barkov (45) – Florida
Like their teammate Huberdeau, Bjugstad and Barkov also have very bright futures. Bjugstad is big – 6’6, 220 – and will be a frightening power forward once he fills out. He’s like a bigger, slightly more skilled version of David Backes. Barkov is also a load – 6’3, 210 as a teenager – but plays a smooth, Kopitar-ish style of game. It’s sophomore year for each of them, so you have to temper expectations a little bit, especially Barkov, who is still only 19. Bjustad is 22, so perhaps it’s realistic to expect a 50+ point season out of him. Regardless, with these two centres, Florida has a scary duo up the middle for as long as they stay together.
(18) Kyle Palmieri (25 goals) / Jakob Silfverberg (20 goals) – Anaheim
The Anaheim Ducks are in the fortunate position of having a nice mix of youth and experience. With Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler up front, it makes it a lot easier for youngsters like Palmieri and Silfverberg to produce without having the weight of expectations on them. These two are nowhere near as impressive as the Bjugstad/Barkov combo, yet they may out-produce that pair, as they’re both likely to get a shot playing with Getzlaf and Perry at some point. Both are primarily goal scorers, so don’t expect tons of points, but for Palmieri (23), and Silfverberg (24), it’s time to stop knocking on the door, and start walking on through.
(19) Tomas Tatar – 45-50
A part of the Wings’ resurgence of youth, Tatar isn’t quite Gustav Nyquist, but he’s not too far behind either. With 39 points in his rookie season last year, Tatar could benefit from playing beside the old vets, Datsyuk and Zetterberg. He plays a bit like former Red Wing, Jiri Hudler – small, but shifty and creative. He might hit 50 points this year.
(20) Charlie Coyle/Nino Niederreiter – Minnesota – 40-45 points each
This Minnesota duo will probably battle it out for the right to play with Mikael Granlund on the second line. Coyle has a slight edge to start the year, as he’s been with Minnesota longer and has developed some chemistry, but Nino has the better draft pedigree, going 5th overall in 2010. (Coyle went 28th in the same year). Both are 22-year-old power-forwards, and Minnesota is fortunate to have snagged each of them in smart trades over the past few years. Nino has more upside in the long-run, but Coyle has more of an edge, so that may also factor in, as the rest of Minny’s top-6 isn’t very big or aggressive.
*Cam Atkinson (45 points) / Boone Jenner – Columbus
I really like Cam Atkinson. He’s a small guy with great hands, and reminds me a bit of Steve Sullivan. But Columbus is a low-scoring, gritty team, and there aren’t too many players there to help him make or finish plays. Boone Jenner is a horse, and is going to be a great second line forward one day. But he’s out for the first 5 weeks of the season, so that’ll make it tough for him to build off a great rookie season, where he surprised everyone by scoring 16 goals. Definitely keep an eye on Atkinson in the late rounds.
^Cody Eakin – Dallas – 45 points – Might sneak into the top-6 on the left side with Spezza/Hemsky.
Rookies and others <1 NHL Season
Here are three guys to watch this year, and a few more to keep an eye on for keeper pools
(1) Evgeni Kuznetsov – Washington – may get a shot on the top-line with Ovy and Backstrom
(2) Jonathan Drouin – Tampa Bay – maybe top-line with Stamkos, but out a few weeks to start the year
(3) Johnny Gaudreau – Calgary – tiny guy with crazy skill – legitimately a young Marty St. Louis
Teuvo Teravainen – Chicago – very skilled, but no room in top-6 without injuries
Matt Nieto – San Jose – might make the top-6 now that Burns has moved back to D
Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay – could make some noise on the second line with Filppula
Mika Zibanejad – Ottawa – big, skilled, high draft pick, probably won’t have great linemates though
Brock Nelson – New York Islanders – might get some time on the wing with John Tavares…
Ryan Strome – New York Islanders – lit up AHL last year, may stick with big club this year
Reid Boucher – New Jersey – big goal scorer in junior, trying to make the big leagues
Emerson Etem – Anaheim – may one day get a shot with Getzlaf and Perry
(1) Justin Schultz – Edmonton – 45-50 points
Justin Schultz was one of the biggest college free agents in years when he came out of Wisconsin in 2012. Due to the lock-out, he started in the AHL, where actually led the league in scoring for a number of weeks, until NHL play resumed. (He led the entire league, not just defencemen). He had a very good rookie year, scoring 27 points in 48 games, and with Edmonton’s dynamic young core that includes Hall, Nuge, and Eberle, big things were expected last year. Sadly, the entire team faltered, and Schultz disappointed with only 33 points in 74 games. At 24 years of age, on a team that’s running out of excuses for their pitiful results, expect Schultz, Nuge, and company to put their best foot forward. He is their undisputed powerplay quarterback, and once he hits his stride, he’ll be one of the top-10 scoring defencemen in the NHL for as long as he stays on that loaded Oilers team.
Disclaimer: If your pool places a lot of emphasis on +/-, Schultz was -22 last year….
(2) Tyson Barrie – Colorado – 45-50 points
Tyson Barrie is lot like Erik Karlsson, only he was a third round draft pick. (Crazy). Incredibly skilled, and a great skater, he started to take over the Avs’ powerplay in the second half of last season. He ended the year with 38 points in only 64 games, which is 48 points if pro-rated to a full season. Like Schultz, Barrie’s plays with a dynamic, talented group that includes Duchene, MacKinnon, Landeskog, and O’Reilly. Barrie is also going to be a top-scoring defenceman for many years, along with the likes of Karlsson, Subban, Weber, Letang, Keith, and Pietrangelo.
(3) Roman Josi – Nashville – 40-45 points
This Swiss defenceman is easily overlooked because he plays in Nashville, and only arrived on the fantasy scene last season. That said, there isn’t much doubt that he’s arrived. He quietly scored 13 goals, and 40 points in only 72 games last season on a low-scoring Nashville squad. Yes, it helps that he plays alongside Shea Weber in most situations, but you don’t score 10+ goals as a defenceman unless you can jump up in the play and shoot the puck. While the inevitable emergence of Seth Jones is a bit concerning for Josi’s numbers, it helps that he’s a left-handed shot, and will continue to be a natural pair with Weber. (Weber and Jones are both right-handed). It also helps that Nashville has added some offensive firepower with Neal, Ribeiro, and a few others.
(4) Justin Faulk – Colorado – 35-40 points
Made the NHL at 19, and had a strong rookie season with 22 points in 66 games. He now heads into his fourth NHL season, coming off a year where he surprised many by being named to the US Olympic team. If he played on a better team, he’s be in the same category as Schultz and Barrie, by Carolina doesn’t quite have the offensive punch of Edmonton and Colorado. Nonetheless, Faulk is an intriguing blend of skill and smarts, and will run Carolina’s powerplay for as long as he plays in Raleigh.
(5) Tyler Myers – Buffalo – 35-40 points
Rookie of the year in 2009-2010 with a beastly 48 points, Myers looked like a future Norris Trophy winner. Instead, his career took the opposite trajectory, as did his fantasy value, where he’s been under 25 points for three straight years. It was a case of giving a young player too much responsibility with too little support, but he may be helped this year with the arrival of Josh Gorges as his defensive rock. It also seems like the Sabres have bottomed-out and can finally start to build their way up, so Myers may surprise people this year.
Waiver wire pick-ups in non-keeper pools
Sami Vatanen / Hampus Lindholm – Anaheim
Jared Spurgeon / Jonas Brodin – Minnesota
Patrick Wiercioch – Ottawa
Overhyped – Fantasy Wise
The following 5 guys are great young D prospects, but don’t draft them too early this year. Most of them were recently teenagers, and still need to figure out how to play basic defence in the NHL the appease their coach. Young d-men normally don’t put up huge numbers until they’ve played at least 2 or 3 years in the league.
Seth Jones – Nashville – 35 points
Undeniably a very talented young defenceman, there are two concerns with Jones – he’s 20, and most 20-year-old d-men don’t have much fantasy value (Doughty+Pietrangelo excluded), and he plays behind Weber, and probably Josi, which will limit his powerplay time. The pp is where d-men get their numbers; you won’t find many d-men who get 35+ points who don’t play a lot on the pp, and you don’t care about most defencemen that get under 35 points.
Dougie Hamilton – Boston – 35 points
Pretty much everything that applies to Jones applies equally to Hamilton, although Hamilton isn’t quite as talented, and he’s probably more firmly behind both Chara and Krug than Jones is behind Josi. That said, he has played 1.5 years in the NHL, so he has a bit of experience. He will be a big point producer one day, but I don’t think it’s going to happen for him just yet.
Jacob Trouba – Winnipeg 35 points
Trouba is an incredibly impressive young defenceman. As a Jets fan, you marvel at his skating and poise. That said, he doesn’t project to be a huge point producer as much as an overall, well-rounded d-man. If he ever plays on a high scoring team, his points will follow, ala Duncan Keith, but the Jets look to be middle-of-the-pack in terms of scoring this year.
Jake Gardiner/Morgan Rielly – 30-35 points
This is a tricky one – two young Leafs defencemen, both great skaters, both left-handed shots. Gardiner is more experienced, going into his third full NHL season, and has already put up 30 points twice. Rielly has better pedigree, after being drafted 5th overall in 2012, jumping into the NHL at 19, and putting up 27 points in his rookie season. Dion Phaneuf is a fixture on the pp, teeing off on one-timers on his off-wing (right side). Who plays the other side? My flat guess is Rielly, because he’s their future powerplay quarterback, but at the same time, he is only 20, so he may split duties with Gardiner. Will they both get 40 points? Probably not. My guess is they both increase a little – 35ish.
(1) John Gibson – Anaheim
The best goalie prospect since Carey Price/Tuukka Rask – who were actually drafted in the same year (2005). Gibson made his NHL debut in the 2014 playoffs and shut-out the eventual cup champs, the Kings. He’ll battle Frederick Andersen for the starting job; they may split time for much of the year, but sooner or later, he should win the battle.
Note: If you’re in a keeper pool, he’s probably one of your top-5 options, after Rask, Price, Bishop, and Lunqvist.
(2) Darcy Kuemper – Minnesota
Among the 4 goalies in Minnesota, Kuemper is probably the starter. He may not get a pile of starts given the backlog of goalies, but he should get 40+. Big, solid young goalie on a playoff team.
(3) Ben Scrivens – Edmonton
Had a pretty good save percentage (.916) on a terrible Edmonton team last season after being traded from LA. He also turned in a very memorable and impressive 59-save shutout of the Sharks.Edmonton will still give up a bunch of goals, but with a slightly improved defence, and better goaltending from Scrivens, they’ll win a few games too.
(4) Jake Allen – St. Louis
Probably the next-best goalie prospect outside the NHL last year after John Gibson. Happens to play on an excellent, defensively conscious St. Louis team. Will probably get 30 starts, but could get more depending on exactly how he and Elliot play. Like Gibson, he’d be great in a keeper pool, and a good guy to take in the late stages of your pool if you need a 3rd goalie for your bench.
(5) Alex Stalock – San Jose
Had excellent numbers as the back-up last season. Might wrestle the starting job away from Niemi at some point this year, as Antti is a free agent at year-end, and the Sharks are moving towards a younger lineup. Like Allen, he’d give you a lot of upside as your third goalie, but you’d probably want to have two established starters first.