Starting this season, I will be start a new column for Fantasy Hockey. From time to time, I will list out my favorite NHL players to have break-out seasons under various categories, this week I will start off with top prospects most likely still available in the FA pool for your to pick as keepers.
I will also be accepting questions on your Hockey Pool’s line-up, trade analysis or starter questions. Please write your questions under the comment section under any posts.
10. Dougie Hamilton
The 9th overall draft by the Boston Bruins, Dougie Hamilton will perhaps be forever tied to Brian Burke, Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel. Part of a two first round draft picks to land Kessel in Toronto, Burke has been highly criticized for giving up two top-10 overal picks for the move. Desperate for that N0.1 center, fans of the Maple Leafs can only imagine what their team would be like if they have Seguin in their line-up today. If Dougie Hamilton pans out as the highly-touted elite defenseman most expect to be, Burke’s trade may turn out to be the most lop-sided trade in recent NHL history.
Returning immediately after the draft to the OHL Niagara Ice Dogs, Hamilton scored an astonishing 72 points in only 50 games as a defenseman. If there was a lock-out, he would’ve surely joing the Bruins team out of the gate.
Coming into this training camp, captain and all-star defensman Zdeno Chara praised the young rookie as “…way better than (he) was at his age”.
Already playing alongside Zdeno Chara, Hamilton scored his first point of his career playing against the NY Rangers. As a 19-year-old, he’s already playing an average of 20:29 minutes per game and 3:39 PP minutes throughout the three games he’s played, and has been contributing to Bruins success during the injury to Dennis Seidenberg. So far he has 6 Hits, 2 Blocks and 9 Shot-On-Goals, you should use him as an Offensive D-Man.
It’s often more difficult for a young defenseman to win the Calder, and perhaps he’s not even the best rookie defenseman in the league this year, due to some new acquistion by the Oilers, he is a sure bet for deep fantasy pool format, and maybe already have decent fantasy value this season.
9. Mikhail Grigorenko
Heading into 2011′s Central Scouting Mid-Season Ranking, Mikhail Grigorenko was still the No.2 overall ranked draft-eligible player, behind Nail Yakupov. It made perfect sense, because Mikhail finished his season in the QMJHL with a whopping 85 points in just 59 games. Also on his resume was his 14 assists 18 points in just 7 games for the IIHF World U18 Championship, earning Russia a Bronze Medal.
But it’s his mediocre play (already close to 1 point per game production) during the playoff, 10 points in 11 games that lead to his huge drop in stock price during the draft. It was later revealed that he contracted Mononucleosis which caused the dropped in performance.
Buffalo Sabres were delighted to find Grigorenko still available at the 12th pick, and drafted the 6’3 200lb play-making center. Contrally to Dougie Hamilton, if there wasn’t a lockout, Mikhail is perhaps destined to return to the Quebec Ramparts for one more year of seasoning. But luckily, Mikhail picked up where he left off and scored 50 points in 32 games during his half season with Quebec before having another tremendous tournament at the World Junior Championship, scoring 6 points in 7 games, again winning the bronze for Russia. In fact, most would agreed that his offensive play was overshadowed by his defensive game, and is the best player on the team, even better than Yakupov.
Now with the big club for his 5 games try-out, Mikhail hasn’t been producing point-wise, but with the size-deficiency down the middle for the Sabres, and the lack of a creative centreman, Mikhail has an excellent chance of staying for the season.
Problem with Mikhail at this moment is ice-time, during the two games he’s played, he averaged just 12:06 minutes per game, playing alongside Steve Ott and Jochen Hecht, not exactly the most productive wingers. So he’s a long-shot for Calder at this moment, but from the flashes of his play-making ability shown so-far, and he previous track-record, look for him to break-out in February. His chances of moving up the roster is big considering both Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis were unable to stay healthy the past seasons.
Grigorenko may not have much fantasy value this season, but he will be amongst the top 20 centermen next season, so grab him if you are in a keeper’s league because Yahoo will rank him above 120 before next season begins.
8. Jakob Silfverberg
Drafted only in the 2nd round of the 2009 entry draft, Jakob Silfverberg was a 39th overall pick. Upon draft, he return to homeland Sweden to play for Brynas IF of the Elitserien. This turned out to be a smart move, as he produced 24 goals and 54 points in just 49 games, earning him the MVP for the SEL league. A 20-point jump from his 2010-2011 campaign quickly caught the eyes of the Ottawa Senators.
Quickly shipping him back to North America, Silfverberg played in Binghampton during the lockout which benefited him greatly in terms of adjusting to the smaller NA rinks. He was lost during the first few games, but quickly adjusted, earning a decent 29 points in 34 games.
His age will definitely benefit towards his chance of the Calder, being 22 yrs-old he’s more mature mentally and physically than the rest of the candidates. At 6’1 he is a combination of size and puck-handling skills. More of an assisting-winger, Silfverberg has never had more goals than assists during the past two seasons.
But perhaps the biggest bonus for Jakob is his linemates and playing time. So far this season, he has the second highest ice-time per game in terms of forwards, next only to Yakupov. Playing along Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek makes Silfverberg the only rookie this season to play on a team’s first line, so far. Jakob gets decent powerplay time as well, averaging 2:27 minutes per game.
Let’s be honest, nobody at this point in the season is expecting Silfverberg to win the Calder, he doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves, with Yakupov, Schultz, Huberdeau and Tarasenko around. But like the year Jeff Skinner won the Calder, nobody expected the 7th overall to become rookie of the year, the attention that year was all focused on Taylor versus Tyler, remember?
With around 8% ownership in the Yahoo pool, and an O-Rank of 261, he’s probably still available for your taking. Look for him to start producing this season, if he can still remain on the line with Spezza. He’s already scored his first goal in his second game, so Jakob is fantasy-worthy even in shallow leagues this season.
7. Sven Baertschi
Sven Baertschi played 5 games in the NHL last March, and scored in all three games which he played for more than 10 minutes of icetime. Crowned by Calgary fans as the next Messiah, the 13th overall pick in 2011 enters this season with the highest expectations.
As a scoring machine during his WHL days, Sven played in a total of 113 across two seasons, and produced 179 points, close to 1.6 points per game. He’s even stronger playoff contributer earning 61 points in 43 playoff games. During the lockout, Sven played with Calgary’s AHL club in Abbostford and earned 17 points in 19 games, not exactly jaw-dropping but decent enough to earn a starting roster spot.
However, with such a major roster change during the off-season, the flames are pretty packed up-front with Tanguay, Cammalleri and Cervenka playing important minutes over the young rookie. Perhaps the high expectation is getting to his mind, in the first 3 outings with more than 10-minutes of ice-time, he was held pointless and a -1. In fact, in the most recent games, he’s demoted to the fourth line playing only 5-minutes or so.
With the way things are going, there’s a slight-chance he won’t pass his 5-games trial. But the odds are still high for him to stay, and if he does, he’s way too good to be play bottom-six minutes. Matt Stajan, Blake Comeau, Steve Begin and Roman Cervenka are also zero points so far, so look for Baertschi to replace Lee Stempaniak on the 2nd line once he cools down, or if some one goes down with an injury.
Baertschi was owned by 30% of the teams on Yahoo, but have since dropped to around 13%, if you have an empty roster slot, claim him off waivers as a sleeper for this season.
6. Mikael Granlund
Mikael Granlund is the only rookie within this list to be playing top-2 center position right now. On a Minnesota team which is known to be weak in the Center position after Mikko Koivu, the 9th-overall pick of 2010 entry-draft is the best offensive prospect within the Wild system.
After his draft, Granlund returned to HIFK and played two more years in the SM-liga, earning 87 points in 84 games through two seasons. He’s part of the Gold-Medal winning Finnish team in the World Junior Championship of 2011, with a point-per-game performance through 9 appearances.
At this moment, Granlund has one goal and one assist through 5 games with the Wild, playing an average of 15 minutes per game as the second-pivot. He has some PP duty on the second unit, averaging 2:42 minutes of PP Icetime. He’s the third-best faceoff man on the team, winning 25 out of 47 attempts.
His wingers Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi aren’t your traditional high-scoring wingers, especially with Cullen playing no.2 center for the team in previous seasons; however, both are very experienced and highly-talented. With most team’s best D-pairing focusing on the big-3 in Parise/Koivu/Heatley, there should be some open-ice for the 5’10″ rookie to generate some points this season.
Started out with 24% of the teams owned on Yahoo, he’s since dropped to 19%. The bright side of Granlund is that he’s a sure bet to stay with the big club this season, and with 2nd-line minutes, some powerplay time and faceoff opportunity, he’s an excellent keeper with high potential. If injury starts to affect the team, look for Granlund for immediate fantasy value this season in deeper leagues.
5. Alex Galchenyuk
The highly-touted 3rd-overall pick of the most recent entry-draft, American-born Russian Alex Galchenyuk is best known as the playmaker for countryman Nail Yakupov with the Sarnia Sting. In their first year with Sarnia, the tandem was responsible for 184 points in only 60+ games. Galchenyuk dished out 52 assists and 31 goals in just 68 games.
However, an ACL injury the following season would limit him to just 2 games with zero production. Fortunately, he was healthy enough to play with the OHL club during playoffs and earned 4 points in 6 games. Most thought that it was too late, the damage to his ranking was done, but to everyone’s surprise, the Montreal Canadiens with their 3rd-overall pick didn’t choose the bigger, stronger russian center in Grigorenko, instead choosing 6’1″ 198 lb Wisconsis-born Russian.
Most related Galchenyuk’s production success to his ice-time with Yakupov, but so far in the 4 games he’s played with the big club, he doesn’t look a bit out-of-place. Starting off as a second-line winger, Alex has now moved back to the Center on the 3rd line, playing between Brandon Prust and fellow rookie Brendan Gallagher.
Galchenyuk scored his first NHL goal in his second game, against the Panthers, with just 11 minutes of icetime. And against the Devils on the 27th, he earned two more assists, again with just 11 minutes of TOI. With 26 faceoff attempts, Galchenyuk has a winning percentage of just 34.6%.
Every season, the top-three draft picks always have additional fantasy value. Teams tend to expect more from them, and rightfully so. Started with 21% of ownership across all Yahoo leagues, Galchenyuk’s stock price is currently at 15%, with an O-Ranking of just 250. Although he has high potential of winning the Calder this season, he’s probably a choice for keeper’s league, or very deep leagues in one-season format.
4. Vladimir Tarasenko
As of today, out of the 30 Rookies eligible for the Calder Trophy, Vladmir Tarasenko has the most points, with his 4 goals and 4 assists, giving him 8 points in just 6 games. This is even more surprising by the fact that his 1.33 point per game is earned with just 14 minutes of average icetime, in a third-line winger role.
Of course, the St. Louis Blues is the ultimate 4-line team in NHL today. But his wingers and centerman, Andy McDonald and Alex Steen are considered the most offensive player of the game, making his performance that much more amazing. With a league-high amongst rookier of +5, Tarasenko can easily win the Calder, if it was be awarded today. But we are just 6 games into the season, so most should expect the 16th-overall pick to cool down as the season progress.
Powerplay duty helps Vladimir’s production, but his 2:48 average PPTOI ranks just 10th amongst rookies. So with 2 PP points in 6 games, Tarasenko is very efficient.
However, because of his amazing start, Tarasenko, who started out with just 18% of ownership is now owned by 83% of the teams, so it’s not likely that he’s still available on the waiver wire. If he’s still an FA in your league, you are being a moron not to pick him immediately.
The Blues are an amazing team, but with Hitchcock’s coaching, there’s always a risk of under-playing his rookies, so despite his high value today, if he cools down a bit, don’t be surprised for the coach to reduce his job duties faster that you can pronounce his last name. Honestly, he’s still my top candidate for the Calder, but if someone is offering you a top player in return, my advice is that you should probably sell high now.
3. Justin Schultz
Undoubtedly the best defensman amongst this year’s rookier, or perhaps even within the league (depending on who you are asking), Justin Schultz will forever haunts the Anaheim Ducks organization if he continue as his current pace of production.
Utilizing a loop-hole in the last CBA, Schultz de-registered himself from his WCHA team, and because the Ducks never signed him to a contract since drafting him 43rd overall in 2008, Schultz became the youngest UFA to never played an NHL game. Imagine what he would’ve been for the Ducks this season, sorry Duck fans, this one will really hurt.
Signed with Oilers, the 22-yr-old offensive-defenseman was touted as the best D-man available in the UFA pool, but critics still wonder if he can truly translate his point-per-game WCHA production to the NHL level. Fortunately for Justin, his adjustments was made much easier due to the lock-out as he was able to play high-level hockey with his future teammates in Oklahoma City.
Playing along Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, Schultz had an amazing start in his AHL debute, producing 48 points in just 34 games, named as the AHL Player of the Month in November.
This honor might soon be a small footnote in his amazing fairly-tale story to the NHL, as he needs no additional adjustment at the NHL-level, with his 5 points in 4 games production so far. He plays top 2-D role night-in and night-out for the Oilers right now, with an average of 24 minutes per game.
If people are referring this Oiler team to the Great One’s version, then we are seeing the rapid development of another Paul Coffey.
Like Tarasenko, it’s probably impossible that Justin is still available in the FA pool, as 81% of the teams already own him in Yahoo. Add him if he’s still available, and use him every game in almost all formats, be it keepers or not.
2. Nail Yakupov
It’s hard to believe the last time a 1st overall pick won the Calder Trophy is already Patrick Kane in 2007. Superstar 1st-overall players like Steven Stamkos, John Tavares or even Sidney Crosby never won the Rookie-of-the-Year award. So perhaps Yakupov’s chance of winning the Calder isn’t that high.
However, no one will argue his amazing offensive talent, and as of today the Calder nomination is still somewhat biased towards forwards, Nail has the best chance of winning if we are counting point production.
The best advantage of Yakupov, when compared to the other nine rookies listed here is perhaps the team he’s playing on. The 1st-overall of 2012 is only the third best right-winger on his team, at this moment. Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky are both better players in many aspect, but mainly experience. The Oilers are the only team in recent NHL history to draft three 1st-overall forwards with three different natural position. It’s highly likely Oiler fans will soon see a “1st-overall line” of Hall/Nugent-Hopkins/Yakupov.
The insanely talented forward group makes team impossible to focus on just one or two players to stop. Although it took Yakupov his second NHL game to get his first goal, his second goal of his career is a simply amazing. But I highly doubt he’s concerned about the delay of his first goal, as it took his childhood idol Pavel Bure three games before registering his first point on an assist to Cliff Ronning in 1991.
Just thinking of his similarities with the Russian Rockets gives me chills. So it’s no surprise that I rank him second most likely to win the Calder this season.
Yakupov is playing decent minutes with the Oilers, with around 16-minutes per game on a line with Gagner and Hemsky. If this line sticks, look for Nail to have a point per game production in just his first season in NHL.
First-overalls are hard to find in keepers league, as they hold an even higher abstract fantasy value, but surprising Nail has a lower owner percentage with just 73% compared to 88% at the beginning of the season. His O-Rank is highest amongst this bunch, at 163. He has 10 Shot-on-Goals so far, with 4 Hits and 3 Blocks.
1. Jonathan Huberdeau
You are probably surprised at why I ranked the 3rd-overall in 2011 as the top candidate for this year’s Calder Trophy. Drafted just behind Oiler’s now-Super-center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Avalanche all-hitting-all-scoring youngest-captain Gabriel Landeskog, Huberdeau has the perfect mix of talent and experience as a rookie this season.
Huberdeau had an amazing pre-season performance even last season, earning 3 goals and 1 assist in just 5 games. But the decision of the club to send him back to Saint John for another year of seasoning is what makes him that much better this year.
In his first-ever NHL game, the highly-skilled center playing on the wing of Peter Mueller scored one goal and added two assists in just 14:25 minutes of icetime. He has since cooled down with no point production in his next four games. But with an increase in icetime and PP-icetime, we are seeing the development of the next superstar in the league.
Keep in mind that Huberdeau is not playing in his natural center position, as Kevin Dineen is simply easing him into top-6 minutes as the season progresses. The current mini-slump is simply him adjusting to the speed of the league, as one needs to remember his amazing offensive talent from his QMJHL days. In his second year with the Sea Dogs, Huberdeau scored an amazing 105 points in just 67 games, with 43 goals and 62 asssists. Even his latest stint with the club, during this year’s lock-out, Huberdeau scored 45 points in 30 games, with 48 PIMs.
In terms of fantasy value, amazingly he was only owned by 52% of the leagues in Yahoo, and only 49% today. With an O-Rank of 173, Huberdeau might still be available in your FA pool. Grab him while you can, he will be a stud in keeper’s league, and most likely a decent 3rd winger in deep leagues. Although he doesn’t contribute much Faceoffs at the moment, look for Yahoo to add LW eligibility to his status soon.
So this is my top ten candidates for the Calder, please do let me know what you think, and drop me any question about your fantasy hockey line-up.