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Calgary prospect John Gaudreau is one to watch in the long term.
This series has been published over the past few months, team-by-team, in the daily ramblings. In Part 1, we look at a short (next season) and long term sleeper for Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, and Calgary.
Since many of these writeups were done last month (or before), not everything will be completely up-to-date from a timing perspective. I went back and changed what I could, and hopefully nothing slipped through the cracks.
2013-14 sleeper pick: Sami Vatanen
Vatanen came over to North America with a lot of hype last fall. He made the top 10 defensive prospects list I put out last year. At the time, I compared him to the ageless Kimo Timonen, who is still going strong as he approaches 40. Vatanen is undersized, like Timonen, but he has a fantastic skater with elite mobility.
The transition to the North American game hasn’t been an easy one - he is still a bit of a defensive liability at the AHL level, but he has been a positive difference-maker on many nights for Norfolk as well. The 21-year-old has eight goals and 44 points in 56 AHL games - phenomenal production for a defenseman of any age.
We know that development is nonlinear for most young players - Vatanen still has high value because of his AHL production, but many hoped he would be a productive NHLer this season. Looking at Anaheim’s depth chart for 2013-14 - Souray, Fowler, Beauchemin, and Bryan Allen will all be around. Lydman and Lovejoy are free agents. Souray, Beauchemin, and Allen are all capable of logging tough defensive minutes, which should allow Vatanen the opportunity to earn a sheltered/offensive role as a rookie.
Long term sleeper pick: Steven Whitney
When the Ducks sign a college free agent, my ears perk up. This is the same team that has signed undrafted gems like Kunitz and Penner, and they have also found players like Dan Sexton, too. Whitney plays a lot like Brendan Gallagher - he is 5-7, 170 pounds, and very tenacious. He scored 26 goals this season for Boston College (the second highest total in the country), and will finish 2013 playing for Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk.
The Ducks have a number of talented wingers, and Whitney will be in tough to earn NHL minutes. Etem, Smith-Pelly, and Maroon are all ahead of him on the depth chart. Matt Beleskey has really found a home under Bruce Boudreau, as has Andrew Cogliano. I like Whitney’s chances to find his way as a 20-goal, energy winger in the NHL. There is some risk involved (size, competition for ice time), but don’t discount scrappy undersized wingers with offensive ability.
One quick note - the B’s are in great hands for the present and future with their goalies - Rask is elite now. In the AHL, Niklas Svedberg has been sensational, and Malcolm Subban is dominating the OHL.
Sleeper - Carl Soderberg
Who else? The big and skilled Swede forward makes his NHL debut, six or seven years later than most were expecting. Soderberg appeared content with carving out a career in the SEL, but Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli must have gotten to him. Soderberg plays a “Bruins” game - he’s big, skilled, and really hard to knock off the puck.
It is hard to say where he fits in for now (and next year). He can play in different roles, but his future is probably on the second or third line. On a few NHL teams he may have top line potential, but Boston is so good and so deep up front.
According to Darren Dreger, Soderberg’s deal is for three years. Not an entry level contract because of his age (and at $1 million per season - the rumoured deal - Soderberg will be a very cap-friendly option for Boston). On the third line, I could see him chipping in with 15-20 goals and 40-45 points. Bump those numbers up if he is given more offensive minutes (and something tells me he will find a way to earn them.
Long term sleeper pick: Seth Griffith
Boston is a tough team to find a sleeper or two on because they are so deep, and most of their core pieces are locked up for a while. I was thinking of putting Torey Krug here (he is going to be a productive NHL player), but there are a number of defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart.
Back to Griffith (who recently inked a pro contract). He’s a pass-first center who has average size. Good speed, great instincts. He played with Jared Knight (another B’s prospect) in the OHL. Griffith will spend two or three years in the AHL (similar to Ryan Spooner) before the B’s come calling - good teams are very patient with young forwards.
Boston is a team that develops players the right way, and because of that I’d always keep an eye on who they sign and/or draft. You may have to wait a bit longer, but it will usually be worth it.
He could develop into a solid second line center (50-65 points/season) if all goes well over the next few years.
2013-14 sleeper pick: Johan Larsson
Larsson is a well-rounded forward who was the centerpiece of the Jason Pominville trade. The Wild were comfortable moving him because of their other prospects (they boast depth that most other teams could only dream of).
Back to Larsson. He scored his first goal with Rochester after the trade the other day, but the Amerks have been gutted with all of Buffalo’s defensive woes/injuries. I could see Larsson stepping in to a second or third line role next year – the Sabres need some two-way stability up the middle, and he could be one of the guys to help provide that.
Long term sleeper pick: Joel Armia
Armia is a guy who I have gotten asked about a lot over the years (especially in my weekly/monthly mailbags). Big winger with offensive upside, but he has taken the long route with his development.
He’s had three really strong seasons over in Finland, and it sounds like he is ready to make the jump over to the North American ranks. His offensive ability is really impressive for a 6-3 forward – I could see him making quick work of the AHL and playing big minutes for the Sabres really soon.
2013-14 sleeper pick: Max Reinhart
What Reinhart lacks in size, strength, and speed, he makes up for in hockey IQ. He isn’t small, but he does need to get bigger and stronger this summer (he’s still pushed off the puck rather easily at this level). He’s a really smart player and could hold down a third or fourth line spot while getting acclimatized to the NHL game. With skilled linemates, he could be a 40-50-point guy one day.
Long term sleeper pick: John Gaudreau
The pint-sized forward will return to Boston College for at least one more year. Gaudreau is extremely talented and a lot of fun to watch. He plays with a ton of confidence and isn’t afraid to try “practice” dekes and moves in game situations. His lack of height/size is a concern, but guys his size have had long and successful NHL careers before. He’s a guy you may have to wait on for a few years, though.
Previous Columns from the Fantasy Preview Series:
- Biggs, McGinn, Anderson, Wilson, and Ross - Five OHL Multi-Category Forwards You Need to Know
- Sissons, Lazar, Thrower, Reinhart, and more - 10 WHL Multi-Category Prospects You Need to Know