Find out how Valeri Nichushkin and Tyler Toffoli are progressing this season
When I first started out in fantasy hockey I generally didn’t put much credence in prospect scouting. My philosophy was that I’ll concern myself with ranking and projecting players once they were a couple seasons into their career and had accumulated some meaningful data at the NHL level.
Of course, this led to a number of issues. Not the least of which being that I was constantly bested by a couple of managers in our league who were always up-to-date. They would see players like Jamie Benn or Claude Giroux emerging an entire half or full season ahead of me. When we switched our league format from a single season to a dynasty pool, I knew it was time to educate myself.
What I have learned over the past few years of following prospects develop more closely is that at its core it’s an incredibly imperfect science. Outside of perhaps the top two or three picks each summer there are really no guarantees. Prognostication of prospects is a makeshift blend of statistical analysis, scouting reports, team opportunity and even a bit of blind luck.
Knowing this, what is the best way to learn about prospects and the “next” generation of fantasy stars?
Read, read, read, and when you are tired, read some more. You can never learn too much about a player and his development. However, it is important to be skeptical of every scouting report or projection, because ultimately, until a player has completed multiple seasons at the pro-level none of us really know for sure. The difference between a 25 goal 230 shot center and a franchise 40 goal 300 shot winger can sometimes be slim when they are 18 years old.
Each week I am going to tackle a couple of prospects and provide as much insight as I can on their production, physical tools, pedigree and team opportunity. I certainly won’t always be right, but hopefully it will give you some ideas to ponder as you start preparing for the next two to four years of your pool.
Onto this week's prospects…
Dallas Stars, Winger
6’4’’, 205lbs, 18 years old
Drafted 10th overall, 2013
I’ve gotten the opportunity to watch a lot of Nichushkin lately, having grabbed him off the waiver wire in a pool late last month. What I’ve seen has been a mix of elite scoring ability and offensive instincts met with the gaffs you might expect from a teenager.
Dallas fans have taken to referring to him as “The Man Child” and it is certainly warranted. His six-foot-four frame and sturdy build make him an imposing figure on the ice. What has impressed me the most is his skating ability. Each stride is long and powerful, allowing him to accelerate towards open space and create opportunities for himself. He’s also very adept at protecting the puck in the offensive zone; angling his body in such a way that defenders are unable to reach the puck. There are multiple times every game where a play will be extended on the cycle because Nichushkin has slowed the play down and held back a defencemen while his linemates get into position.
The player he most reminds me of is a young Rick Nash (that isn’t to say he’ll necessarily have the same level of production as Nash). Both players are big, strong, and capable of driving the net with possession of the puck. I would expect Nichuskin’s early career ratios to resemble that of Nash, a lot of goals, somewhat limited assists, and a decent amount of shots on goal.
If you were wondering about the potency of his wrist shot release, well, suffice to say it’s pretty good.
The major area Nichushkin still needs to improve is his puck handling and playmaking. There have been a couple occasions where the puck seemingly passes through his stick, sometimes leading to an odd man rush the opposite direction. This should improve over time as he matures as a player and makes more safe plays in traffic, but is something to watch out for.
From a fantasy perspective the biggest thing that will hold him back right now is opportunity. Lindy Ruff is understandably taking a measured approach with Valeri – limiting his minutes in some games and trying to protect him from the opposition’s best players.
His ice time has been fluctuating throughout the year, seeing a low of 9:22 and a high of 19:50. A lot of that has to do with his linemates, as at times he has skated with Tyler Seguin and Benn (a cushy spot for fantasy production) while in other instances he’s been on the ice with Erik Cole and Cody Eakin.
His production this year will likely be limited, falling in that 40 to 50 point range with limited shots on goal and power play production. Where his value will soar is in keeper leagues. Because Dallas isn’t rich with offensive talent I could certainly see him landing a firm spot in the top six and first power play unit as early as next year. That could mean over 20 goals and north of 55 points in 2014-15.
Los Angeles Kings, Center/Winger
6’1’’, 196lbs, 21 years old
Drafted 47th overall, 2010
If Toffoli had started the season with LA and posted six points and 14 shots in his first four games he would be receiving ‘Hertl-like’ media attention. Instead, he was an AHL call up and is available in 89% of Yahoo leagues while Tomas Hertl is available in only 21%. It is amazing the impact that media attention can have on fantasy value, but I digress…
Tyler is an interesting prospect in that his value sometimes dips as a result of perceived poor skating. While he is not an above average skater, it also doesn’t appear to be a hindrance on the ice. His style looks a bit unorthodox, which may turn some fantasy owners off, but he seems to get around the ice just fine and still finds the key scoring areas with regularity.
He was a prolific scorer in the OHL playing for the Ottawa 67s, tying for the league lead in points in 2010-11 with 108. He followed that up with 52 goals and 100 points in 2011-12. Last season, as a 20 year old in the AHL, he was able to produce with 28 goals and 51 points in 58 games. It is always a positive sign when a prospect is able to carry their scoring forward at each level.
Playing for the Kings is both a negative and a positive for his development. On the one side there is room in the top six forwards for him to land a spot almost immediately. The first line is set with Brown-Kopitar-Williams, however there is space for him on the second line alongside Mike Richards.
The unfortunate part of playing in LA is the overtly defensive style that Coach Darryl Sutter is known for; which is great for Toffoli’s overall progression as a hockey player, but does little for fantasy owners.
One intriguing development is how he has been utilized on the power play. In a game I saw earlier this week Toffoli was playing on the first unit with Richards and Koptiar up front. Through four games (an admittedly small sample size) he has been averaging over three minutes on the man advantage, resulting in two of his six points. It’s clear that the organization wants him to succeed in a scoring role and is avoiding sticking him in a more defensive third line position.
What can we expect moving forward?
There are a lot of positives for his value in multi-category leagues in the future. Last year in the AHL he fired 3.1 shots per game, which would translate to 252 over the course of 82 games. Yes, his shot pace will likely slow at the NHL level, but it is nevertheless a positive sign.
Playing for a team like the Kings, one that looks to contend for the next two-to-four years will no doubt be a positive for his plus/minus, which is more of a team barometer than an individual stat.
If Toffoli can maintain his spot in the team’s top six and average at least two or more minutes on the power play then his production could be that of a top 100 player as soon as next year. I would look for 25 goals and 30 assists with strong peripherals in both shots on goal and plus/minus. There is always the chance those numbers trend even higher if he creeps up to the first line with Kopitar.