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Lazar, Thrower, Sissons, Reinhart, and more - some future multi-category studs from 'The Dub'
Here are a number of impressive prospects from the WHL that are getting close to making an impact at the NHL level – either offensively or with other aspects of their game.
More and more fantasy hockey leagues are embracing hits and blocked shots as positive statistics. Why? Well, for starters, they are both recorded in every single NHL rink. The accuracy isn’t the same as a goal or an assist (the fluctuations in how these stats are recorded from rink to rink are quite pronounced, actually), but adding these statistics gives fantasy value to a wider net of players. It is widely known that the New York Rangers receive a significant home advantage when it comes to hit recording – the Madison Square Garden statistician is very trigger-happy.
If you learn which rinks tend to award hits more liberally, you can use that information to your advantage.
And it is a nice way to reward gritty forwards and defensemen who otherwise would get little to no attention in fantasy circles. Some leagues are also moving away from PIM (a subject that was debated here last year), as PIM are inherently a negative statistic. Debating aside, there is no arguing that including PIM, hits, and blocked shots in fantasy leagues makes it more challenging (and thus, more rewarding) to evaluate and rank players as draft day approaches.
Special thanks to Cody Nickolet of the Saskatoon Blades for helping put this list together.
Nick Walters - St. Louis Blues
Walters was picked in the 5th round by the Blues last summer. He's a rugged defenseman with some offensive upside, according to Nickolet. He had only one goal and 10 points in 35 games this season with Everett (along with 90 PIM). He was traded midseason to Brandon - he finished with nine points (all assists) in 29 games for the Wheat Kings.
Walters won't set any scoring records from the back end, but he could be a nice replacement for Barret Jackman in a few years. He played four AHL games after his junior season concluded, and that pro experience will give him a lot of confidence heading into next season.
At least two years, and probably three away. Walter is a guy who you should get on your radar. He is rugged and mean, and his fantasy value will really increase if and when he can start to put some more numbers on the board offensively.
Ryan Murray - Columbus Blue Jackets
Murray is kind of a household name already (thanks in large part to his draft position - 2nd overall last year). His best attribute is his impressive skating (which has garnered a few Scott Niedermayer comparisons), but he is also skilled offensively. He plays with an edge when he needs to, and he is a really good shot blocker, too. Murray played in only 23 games last season (17 points), but he may challenge for a roster spot this fall at training camp.
Murray will be a valuable fantasy hockey defenseman, even as a rookie. His offense will take a few years to arrive (especially with Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski seeing the prime PP minutes), but he will block shots, make hits, and move the puck well enough to put up some decent assist numbers.
If not this coming season, than very, very soon.
Griffin Reinhart - New York Islanders
The total package. Big, skilled and mobile – Reinhart can do it all on the ice. His offensive numbers took a bit of a hit this past season compared to 2011-12 (8 goals from 12, and 29 points from 36), but he was once again one of the best defensemen in the WHL. He is strong enough for the NHL game, and the Islanders have to choose whether to put him back in the WHL for one more year (he is ineligible for the AHL as he is too young).
As mentioned above, he can do it all. And that will translate over to a productive fantasy defenseman in many different categories.
The writers for Lighthouse Hockey (a fantastic Islanders blog) believe that the best course of action with Reinhardt is patience – and I don’t disagree. There is no sense in rushing him unless he has a spectacular training camp.
Henrik Samuelsson - Phoenix Coyotes
Samuelsson’s skating is a bit of a weakness, but he makes up for it with the consistent physical edge he plays with (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – his dad, Ulf, made a living playing on the edge).
He scored 33 goals last season for the Oil Kings, and he added 97 PIM. He had a very good postseason as well, scoring 11 goals in 22 games. He uses all 210 pounds of his body to punish opposing defensemen.
Samuelsson could be one of the better power forwards in the league in a few years. He doesn’t have to change his game to play with physicality – he seeks it out. Regardless of the state of the game – the rules, the valued attributes, and so on – there is always a premium placed on big forwards who can both hit and score.
Samuelsson could step in to the Phoenix lineup in two or three years and take over from Shane Doan. They aren’t too dissimilar in their playing styles.
Taylor Leier - Philadelphia Flyers
According to Nickolet, Leier is a "typical rugged WHL winger." He's not huge (5-11, 180 pounds), but he plays like he's 6-2 and 220 pounds. He had 27 goals, 62 points, and 63 PIM this past season for Portland. (Man the Winterhawks continue to churn out the talent, don’t they?)
He’s Portland’s multi-purpose guy, and he could serve that role for the Flyers in a few years.
"He's outstanding in many areas," Green says of Leier, a former Saskatoon Midget AAA Contact. "He plays the game hard. He plays the game the right way. He competes shift to shift. He's hard on pucks. He kills penalties. He plays the power play.
At least two or three years away from the NHL. Leier will probably spend one more year in the WHL before turning pro.
Colton Sissons - Nashville Predators
A big power forward winger in the Andrew Ladd mold (a comparison made by Nickolet). He's not overly big, but he plays a hard game (Pierre McGuire, eat your heart out). Sissons scored 28 goals in 61 games for Kelowna this past season.
The Predators could use a forward like him - strong, tough, and skilled. They haven't really replaced Scott Hartnell since losing him to the Flyers six years ago.
Sissons turns 20 this fall, and he will likely be playing pro hockey in the AHL. He has a very outside shot at the NHL this year, but he is probably a year or two away from regular minutes. At the very least, he will be a good role player who hits, scores the odd goal, and plays a responsible game. At the high end, a Ladd type of winger - versatile and skilled.
Dalton Thrower - Montreal Canadiens
Thrower was picked 51st overall by Montreal last summer. He's a hysical defenseman who has spent four years in the WHL (all with Saskatoon). Thrower's rights were recently traded to the Vancouver Giants, but he may be turning pro and joining Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton. Thrower is only 6-0 and 190 pounds, but he plays a lot bigger. In the mold of Chris Chelios in that regard.
He's both mean, and talented. Thrower was kicked out of the Memorial Cup this year for a head shot (on Mr. Leier, coincidentally). Thrower's 2012-13 season was a disappointment looking at the numbers, though. He finished with six goals, 27 points, and 89 PIM in 54 games. In his draft year, he had 18 goals, 54 points, and 103 PIM (and was touted by many as a potential first round selection).
It's time for Thrower to prove that Montreal got a steal at pick 51.
At the earliest, he could see some time in the NHL next season (spot duty, though). Look for him to crack the lineup on a full-time basis in Montreal in 2015-16.
Mitch Moroz - Edmonton Oilers
The next Milan Lucic? The Oilers sure hope so. They reached a bit to pick Moroz last year (at the beginning of Round 2). He is big and strong and talented, but he was pegged to go much later in the draft. Moroz had only 13 goals and 34 points this past season with the Oil Kings, but he did rack up 140 PIM (many of them earned the hard way).
According to some, Moroz' lack of offense at the WHL level is cause for concern. However, he does have a unique skill set, and one that the Oilers valued last summer. They need a player or two like him in their lineup, and he will get every opportunity to play NHL minutes within the next few years.
Moroz will likely return to the WHL for one more year before turning pro. At the very least, he's probably two or three years away from any sort of NHL action.
2013 Draft Eligible Players
Curtis Lazar - solid defensively, physical, very talented. Slated to be a mid-to-late 1st round pick
Kayle Doetzel - a shutdown defenseman who blocks a lot of shots and hits hard
Previous Columns from the Fantasy Preview Series:
- Clendening, Donovan, Corrado, Pysyk, and Krug – Five Defensive Prospects You Need to Know
- Beck, Armia, Jensen, Rattie, and Rajala – Five Forward Prospects You Need to Know
- Petrovic, Gaunce, Gudas, Cowen, and Borowiecki – Five Multi-Category Defensemen for 2013-14
- Maroon, Coyle, Latta, Abdelkader, and Panik – Five Multi-Category Forwards for 2013-14
- Cundari, Smith, Dillon, Stone, and Donovan – Five (More) Multi-Category Defensemen for 2013-14
- Biggs, McGinn, Anderson, Wilson, and Ross - Five OHL Multi-Category Forwards You Need to Know