There is a certain invulnerability that comes along with being young. That feeling of unlimited potential, that the rest of your life is a blank canvas filled with endless opportunities and possibilities. It’s a nice feeling to be sure, and it often creeps up into the world fantasy hockey.
This season I’ve been incredibly impressed with the performance of many players under the age of 21. San Jose’s You Tube sensation, Tomas Hertl, managed seven goals in his first seven games; 18 year old Nathan MacKinnon has been a consistent point per game player to start his career; and in only his second season Canadians eventual franchise centerman Alex Galchenyuk looks ever more comfortable in a top six role.
As a result of these strong starts it makes sense that these three have been involved in a ton of fantasy trades. While some have been well balanced transactions, I have been shocked by the value some poolies are getting in deals, specifically with Tomas Hertl.
Coming into this season Dobber had Hertl ranked as the 37th most valuable prospect. As of August 10th he was all the way back in the 59th spot. Certainly his play over the first couple weeks has warranted a jump in his ranking, but we’re still considering a sample size of only 10 to 14 games. In some trades I’ve seen Tomas garnering more interest than Yakupov or Galchenyuk in keeper leagues.
I empathize with everyone; properly assessing the value of young players with limited NHL experience is one of the more daunting tasks in fantasy. Ultimately it’s a bit like being at the roulette table. You really don’t know if that ball is going to come to rest on red, black or even green. With players under the age of 22 you’re essentially wagering a bet and watching the ball go round and round, hoping that it comes to rest in your favor.
The emergence of Hertl, MacKinnon and Galcehnyuk got me thinking about the early part of the new millennium, when the NHL was undergoing a transition from the old guard to a new group of elite prospects.
In Dobber’s December 2002 fantasy rankings there was a lot of the names one would expect near the very top: Jagr, Thornton, Bure, Foresberg…etc. However, the top 15 also featured a couple kids making some fantasy noise - 20 year old Marian Gaborik and 19 year old Ilya Kovalchuk.
I wanted to examine these rankings closely to understand which young players never fully realized their potential and the ones that went on to enjoy fantasy stardom.
18. Brendan Morrison
19. Simon Gagne
20. Mike Comrie
35. Alexi Morosov
56. Olli Jokinen
In December of 2002 Brendan Morrison was in the midst of a 25-goal, 71-point season for the Vancouver Canucks. His superb numbers were of course driven in large part by skating on a line with Naslund and Bertuzzi. Morrison would never break the 60 point mark the remainder of his career.
Simon Gagne had a 33-goal season in 2001-2002 with the Flyers, which created a lot of expectations in Philadelphia. He would go on to score more than 40 goals on two occasions; however, he is best remembered in fantasy circle as “that guy that is always injured.”
My inclusion of Olli Jokinen in this list may be a bit unfair, since he did have 89 and 91 point seasons with the Panthers. I take umbrage with Olli as a fantasy player because he was never able to build on his early success. He moved onto more offensively talented teams like Calgary and New York, but was never able to repeat his Florida production.
Alexi Morosov – see Lemieux, Mario.
14. Ilya Kovalchuk
15. Marian Gaborik
41. Brad Richards
110. Jason Spezza
There are few things better than being the manager to nab Jason Spezza with the 110th pick in 2002, then watching him post point-per-game seasons for the next decade. As a former second overall pick in 2001 the expectations were always high for Jason. It wasn’t until after the 2004 lockout, where he amassed 117 points in the AHL that he was able to truly ‘arrive’ as a fantasy star.
Notwithstanding his unceremonious departure to the KHL Ilya Kovalchuk has been a top 10 fantasy player since 2002-2003 when he finished with 38 goals and 67 points. Surely his plus minus frustrated many of us, but he more than made up for it with great power play numbers and elite shot totals. Drafting Kovalchuk at number 14 in 2002 would have surely felt like a reach, although those brave enough to take a chance were certainly rewarded.
I’m not clear on where the term ‘band-aid boy’ originated, but I can guess that Marian Gaborik had something to do with it. The ultimate boom or bust draft choice Marian was emerging as an elite option in 2002. He finished that season with 30 goals, 65 points and 280 shots for Minnesota. Since that time he has suffered pretty much every injury you can fathom and it’s rumored that Hasbro based the original ‘Operation’ board game on Gaborik (Ok I may have made that up). Even with all the nagging injuries, when he is on his game there are very few fantasy players that possess his immense offensive ceiling. If you were able to take him around the 15th pick in 2002 you would have landed a 20 year old superstar winger around which to build your team.
The question that these rankings have brought to mind is how do we appropriately value youth? While landing a Zetterberg, Kovalchuk, or Gaborik comes with the most extreme of fantasy rewards there is also the downside – a Mike Comrie or Brendan Morrison. It’s difficult to discern between a player who is in the middle of a breakout campaign and one who is enjoying a career year.
If you are in search of the next young fantasy star my advice is to diversify. Rather than putting all of money on red, maybe spread it out - A couple dollars on black 33 and red 25 as well. When rebuilding look at drafting two or three young players with a high end potential.
If you have Galchenyuk, Hertl and Granlund on your roster you have hedged your bets. If one or two of them end up as the next Mike Comrie, hopefully the other looks a bit like Kovalchuk (minus the whole leaving in your prime for the KHL thing)
Darren is a fantasy hockey writer for DobberHockey and as you can see is still a little bitter about Kovalchuk deserting him and his keeper fantasy team. You can follow him @FantasyHockeyDK
Also by Darren Kennedy:
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