- Category: z-Archives (other articles)
A look at some short and long term sleepers from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Jose, and Tampa Bay.
This series has been published over the past few months, team-by-team, in the daily ramblings. In Part VI, we look at a short (next season only) and long term (next three or four years) sleeper for the Flyers, Penguins, Blues, Sharks, and Lightning.
Since many of these write-ups were done over the past few months, 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 - Erik Gustafsson
For a team with issues breaking the puck out of their own zone, the Flyers will need all of the puck movers they can get this season. Gustafsson is exactly that – he won’t score a ton of goals or make the highlight reels with a big hit, but he’s a steady and mobile two-way defenseman who doesn’t cost a lot of money against the salary cap. When the inevitable injury hits Andrej Meszaros again, there could be a top four spot with his name on it. He had three goals and eight points in 27 games with the Flyers in 2013. Very respectable production for a rookie defenseman.
The Mark Streit signing will take away from some of Gustafsson's power play ice time, but he should still find a way to chip in offensively as a regular.
Long term sleeper pick - Jason Akeson
Akeson is older than most prospects (23), but don’t hold that against him. He led the Flyers AHL affiliate in scoring in 2012-13 with 20 goals and 53 points, and as the team looks to get younger and cheaper, he could find himself in the top nine this season. The offense may not come right away, but that is his game and the Flyers will put him in a position to produce.
2013-14 sleeper pick - Beau Bennett
Bennett is an obvious choice here – it isn’t likely that Morrow/Iginla/Dupuis will all be back (and in fact only Dupuis returned), which opens up a top six spot. Bennett is a talented young winger, and he acquitted himself nicely as a rookie this year. He was well ahead of where many had expected him to be at this point too. He makes only $900k per season, which will help Pittsburgh’s cap situation tremendously (especially if they can slot him in on L1 or L2).
Long term sleeper pick - Brian Dumoulin
Dumoulin was acquired from Carolina in the Jordan Staal trade. He is a very talented two-way defenseman with offensive upside. And he isn’t far off from the NHL, either. The Penguins have Martin/Orpik/Letang/Niskanen all signed through next season. Only Martin has more than one year left on his current deal, though (updated: and of course Letang's contract was extended after I wrote this).
There are a lot of good young defensemen for Dumoulin to compete with – Bortuzzo, Despres, Maatta, Scott Harrington, and Derrick Pouliot. However, Dumoulin may be the best fit for Pittsburgh within the next year or two – his skating is NHL calibre already, and he had a productive AHL rookie campaign (six goals, 24 points).
2013-14 sleeper pick - Ty Rattie
Some guys, regardless of size, height, speed, or whatever, are simply great hockey players. Rattie is one of them. He thinks the game at an elite level. He has magic hands, and a knack for scoring big goals (he reminds me a lot of Jordan Eberle).
Without slotting guys into the right linecombinations, the Blues have Backes, Oshie, Perron, Steen, Tarasenko, Schwartz, and Sobotka under contract for next year. That is seven top-nine forwards.
Will there be enough ice time to go around? I think Rattie finds a way into the lineup – it may be in December or January, though.
Long term sleeper pick - Jordan Schmaltz
Schmaltz and Schwartz may one day be teammates (too bad goaltender Marek Schwarz is no longer in the organization…). Schmaltz is a skilled puck moving defenseman who needs to get bigger, stronger, and better defensively before taking the next step to pro hockey. He had 12 points in 42 games as a Freshman at North Dakota – expect him to spend at least three years in college.
San Jose Sharks
2013-14 sleeper pick - Tomas Hertl
Hertl has NHL size and strength, and he has spent the past two years playing against men in the top Czech league, too. He had 30 points in 43 games in 2012-13 for Slavia Praha. He's ready for the NHL and should be among the most impactful rookies across the NHL this season.
Long term sleeper pick - Matt Nieto
Nieto is the total package offensively – he can score, skate, and make plays. He probably needs one AHL season (at least) before making the Sharks, but he isn’t too far off. His final two years at Boston University were fantastic, and he had a solid AHL debut in 2013, too (six points in 11 games).
Tampa Bay Lightning
2013-14 sleeper pick - Richard Panik
Panik is the total package – he’s big, skilled, and gritty. The Lightning really like his game, and his strong AHL postseason will bode well as he enters an important offseason for his development. If he reports to camp and performs well, there is a second line spot in Tampa Bay with his name on it. He’s a great skater for someone who is 6-2 and 220 pounds – he’s physically more than ready for NHL hockey.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a 15-20-goal, 45-point season as a rookie in Tampa Bay next year.
Long term sleeper pick - Vladislav Namestnikov
Namestnikov is nearly two years younger than Panik, and he isn’t as polished or ready for NHL action. But his upside is much higher. He isn’t as big (6-0, 175 pounds), but he has elite puck skills and is a terrific playmaker. He probably doesn’t offer enough for the Lightning to give him a look on one of the bottom two lines, and Stamkos and Lecavalier and Valtteri Filppula will be around for a while. Expect Namestnikov to spend at least one (and probably two) more seasons in the AHL.
He will be worth the wait, though.
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