This week the Prospects Report looks in on Tomas Hertl and Joe Colborne
We spend a lot of time scouting prospects; evaluating different skill sets, looking at development areas, and comparing them to existing NHLers. All of that is certainly important, but more and more I am wondering if ‘team opportunity’ matters just as much as a player’s physical abilities.
By team opportunity I mean the situation that a prospect is likely to find himself in once he lands on the big club. Is he going to skate in the top-six forward group immediately? What defensive pairing is he in? How is the first power play unit set up, does the team employ four forwards and only one defencemen?
In addition, we need to consider the personal that already play for a particular team. If Gustav Nyquist is slotted to play alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk at even strength, his value will be significantly different than if he’s stuck with Todd Bertuzzi and Danny Cleary (no offence to their fantasy owners!).
You can gauge where a player might play depending on the depth at each position. Had Nashville already possessed two or three top defencemen it’s unlikely Seth Jones would be paired with Shea Weber.
All of these questions help us build a case for how a player will be utilized in the first two or three years of their career. I find this to be an important exercise in keeper leagues where I’m always trying to predict when a prospect is close to ‘breaking out’. If you draft a player like Sean Couturier or Nazem Kadri too early you could be stuck waiting three or four seasons before the coaching staff uses them in an offensive role.
Conversely, if you wait a season too long on Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Valeri Nichushkin they could arrive as a top-75 asset and become unaffordable via trade.
The two players I am looking at this week both embody the importance of team opportunity and the effect it can have on fantasy value - even when the physical tools may not be elite.
Calgary Flames, Center
6’5’’, 213lbs, 23 years old
Drafted 16th overall, 2008
As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan I remember watching a lot of Alexei Ponikarovsky and every single year pundits and the coaching staff would rave about how he had finally “figured it out.” Well, outside of one career year in 2008 with 61 points he never did quite pull it all together and instead left fans all across the NHL wanting more.
I think part of the reason he was able to play on six different teams despite underachieving nearly everywhere was his size. General Managers always seem to look at big prospects and say “If only we had him, we could get more”.
Which brings me to Joe Colborne. After being drafted by Boston he was shipped to Toronto as part of the Tomas Kaberle trade and has now ended up in Calgary as a result of the Leafs’ cap crunch earlier in the season.
His ice time hasn’t been massive through 21 games, although there have been some games in which he skated in the top six. Colborne is averaging 12:30 a game overall with 1:14 coming on the man advantage. It is more consistent NHL time than he was ever receiving in Toronto.
The results have been a bit disappointing – two goals, three assists, and only 18 shots (less than one per contest). The question we are left to ask is if he can’t push for more ice time and production on a team like Calgary, then where exactly? More and more he is looking destined to play on a team’s bottom two lines; which is fine for his career earnings, but brings with it almost zilch in the way of fantasy value.
Watching him in-game there is nothing about his skill set that immediately catches your eye. At six-foot-five he has the size to carry the puck in the offensive zone, although at times he is too easily stripped of possession. The key for him is to get better at using his body to lean on players and shield the puck (I would be watching hours of Jaromir Jagr video).
His skating came across as a real positive, as he uses short choppy strides to accelerate relatively fast for a big man. He looks smooth when at full speed, something not all big men can say.
At this point I don’t think it’s likely he’ll become a relevant fantasy asset in the near future. Of course there is probably an NHL general manager sitting somewhere looking to prove me wrong.
San Jose Sharks, Winger
6’2’’, 210lbs, 20 years old
Drafted 17th overall, 2012
I was lucky enough to be in Chicago last weekend and got a chance to take in the Hawks-Sharks game at the United Center. Knowing that this post was coming up I made a point of watching Tomas Hertl closely; it’s amazing how much more you’re able to take in live as opposed to on TV. If only I had seasons tickets….sigh
What really struck me about Hertl was his physical frame, even at 20 years old he is hard to miss on the ice and can be an imposing figure to move in front of the net. He is adept at using that frame and reach when on the fore-check. There were a number of situations where he was able to battle for a puck along the boards and successfully emerge with possession.
I’m not sure how to measure a player’s hockey IQ, it feels a bit ineffable since there isn’t a specific stat you can attach to it (sadly this isn’t a video game). Saying that, Hertl seemed to be in the right position more often than not, a couple times springing into an open area and generating a quality scoring chance. My sample size was only one game, but I came away impressed with his understanding of the offensive game and how to give himself opportunities.
His skating probably represents the biggest developmental area. Hertl’s top end speed once he gets moving is close to average, the issue lies with his acceleration. The first few steps are far from explosive, forcing him to rely more on his body position and less on speed when trying to beat defensemen. Lateral movement is another area that needs improvement, as he doesn’t move side-to-side quickly and didn’t come across as overly fleet of foot.
These decencies are nothing that can’t be overcome and his positives seem to outweigh the negatives. They are however things that the coaching staff will have to keep in mind when putting together line-mates for Hertl and ensuring a diverse set of skills.
Speaking of line mates – is there a better place to start your fantasy career than skating alongside Joe Thornton? Even at 34 years of age he is still an absolute force on the ice; a rare mix of skating, soft hands, and size.
It is because of Thornton that I have remained very skeptical of the Beatle-like mania that has followed Hertl around in the early going. He is undoubtedly a strong player, but we’ve seen how impactful the Thornton effect can be in the past with guys like Jonathan Cheechoo and Devin Setoguchi.
The player that Hertl most reminded me of was Detroit’s Johan Franzen – a big, strong winger, with soft enough hands to capitalize on his opportunities around the net. If Hertl can produce at or near the level of Franzen then I think his fantasy owners will leave this season satisfied. Of course, if he sticks on Thornton’s line the next two or three years there is a chance his value vaults even higher.
Darren is a fantasy hockey writer for Dobber Hockey. You can follow him @FantasyHockeyDK