Last week we looked at a few players who have entered or will enter their “magical” fourth year next season. This may be a little bit early to prepare for next season’s draft, but this will still be useful in helping you prepare your keeper/dynasty team.
We’ll begin by looking at a fourth year candidate who was drafted in the 2002 NHL entry as the seventh overall pick, Joffrey Lupul. In 290 appearances in the NHL in his young career, Lupul has registered 76 goals and 83 assists for a total of 159 points. Lupul has bounced around in the NHL quite a bit in his young career, as he was initially traded from the Ducks to the Oilers in a blockbuster Chris Pronger deal in which he was supposed to be an integral part of the Oilers future.
With a sub-par 2006-2007 season, Lupul was quickly shipped out of Edmonton to Philadelphia for Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson. Lupul has enjoyed a bit of a bounce back season this year with 44 points in 53 contests and was fairly effective when he was healthy for the Flyers, but a variety of bad-luck injuries to him and his line mates certainly stymied what could have been a breakout year for him.
Lupul’s physique is similar to that of a younger Petr Sykora. Lupul is 6’1” and 205 pounds, very comparable to Sykora’s 6’0” 190 pound stature. Lupul’s wrist shot is very similar to that of Sykora’s when he was a young buck trying to break into the NHL in the mid-90’s with the Devils. Sykora started off his NHL career with 153 points in the first four years of his NHL career which is a comparable to Lupul’s 159 points. Both Lupul and Sykora experienced a few nicks and scratches early in their careers, which is another similarity that can be drawn between the two. Lupul and Sykora are not excellent in the physical aspect of the game, but their style of play and their prowess in the slot certainly will draw some close comparisons to each other. If Lupul and the rest of the young Flyers can stay healthy next season, Lupul should be in for a very big fantasy year.
Next, is a player that is on Pierre McGuire’s list of the biggest draft day steals which is the 17th overall pick in the 2003 NHL entry draft, Zach Parise. In 240 games played so far in his young career, Parise has 76 goals and 82 assists for a total of 158 points in three season’s seasons with the Devils. Parise has taken a bit of an expedited development curve where he surpassed the 60 point plateau in just his sophomore season, something rarely seen in this day and age in the NHL. He has consistently improved in each of his first three NHL seasons since entering the league in the 2005-2006 season and should break the 67 point plateau this season. A big positive that bodes well for Parise is that he has remained relatively healthy in his young NHL career. In a possible 241 games played, Parise has managed to miss only two contests.
Parise’s 5’11” and 190 pound frame seems to juxtapose a young Markus Naslund very nicely. They both also play a very similar free-skating style of hockey with a nose for the puck, which would certainly project Parise to have a similar offensive output as Naslund did in his prime in the NHL. Parise also has the added ability and willingness to battle in front of the net in search of all those loose pucks, which adds an additional dimension to Parise’s game that Naslund didn’t really possess.
Another positive for Parise is that the Devils are starting steer away from their traditional tight-checking trap defensive system to Brent Sutter’s open free flowing defensive scheme which might help cater towards Parise’s offensive abilities a bit more next season. It would not be a stretch to predict decent sized 15-20 point jump for an 80-85 point season total for Parise next season.
Let's turn our attention to a pair of players who are entering their fourth season that may never justify the position that they were drafted in the 2003 NHL entry draft. Panther’s prospect Anthony Stewart was drafted 25th overall in the very talented 2003 NHL entry draft. He has had numerous opportunities to regularly crack the Panther’s lineup but has failed to do so for three consecutive seasons. The power forward definitely has the size at 6’2” and the physique 221 pounds to become a solid NHL player, but it hasn’t panned out for him so far.
Stewart has demonstrated that he has some scoring ability when he scored 238 points in 248 contests in four junior seasons with the Kingston Fontenacs of the OHL. That offensive ability hasn’t yet translated in the professional level yet for Stewart as he has only scored 62 points in 123 games at the AHL level and only five points in 46 contests at the NHL level. With players like David Booth, Kamil Kreps, Rotislav Olesz and Shawn Matthias holding down roster spots next season, it’ll be unlikely that Stewart becomes a Panther regular next season either.
Another player that could possibly fall under the same category as Stewart is Oiler Marc-Antoine Pouliot. Pouliot was taken with the 22nd pick by the Oilers in 2003 NHL entry draft. He probably didn’t have as many opportunities with the Oilers as Stewart has had with the Panthers, but time is certainly ticking down on this speedy pivot. Pouliot will be trying to vie for a spot on the Oilers roster for the fourth consecutive year at the start of next season.
He has had the luxury of playing on the same line as Sidney Crosby with the Rimouski Oceanic during the final year of his junior hockey career, where he garnered 114 points in 70 contests that season. That impressive total shows that Pouliot does have some offensive flare. He’s enjoyed a little more offense on the professional level than Stewart has while registering 118 points in 148 contests in the AHL, and 18 points in 76 career NHL contests. The downside for Pouliot is that the Oilers are deeply entrenched in plethora of centers that it’ll be near impossible for him to make the squad as a centerman next season. The Oiler’s depth chart possibly has Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Kyle Brodziak, Robbie Schremp, Marty Reasoner (unrestricted free agent), Jarret Stoll (restricted free agent), Ryan O’Marra and Pouliot all competing for four centermen slots entering training camp next season. If the youngster does make the squad it will most likely be as a winger who will be accompanied with his fair share of healthy scratches and demotions to the Falcons along the way next season.
Let's look at a possible bright note for next season, which is the Captials Eric Fehr, who was the 18th overall pick in the 2003 NHL entry draft. Fehr hasn’t gotten his fair shot at playing with the big boys of Washington as he has only suited up for 45 games in three seasons since being drafted in 2003 for the Capitals. Fehr’s 6’4” 204-pound frame seems well suited to becoming a quality future NHL player.
He had a phenomenal final junior year as he lit up the score board with 111 points in 71 contests with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL. He’s also had great success in the AHL while registering 101 points in 151 AHL contests with the Hershey Bears. It’s just too bad that the skill hasn’t yet translated for Fehr at the NHL level as of yet, but next season could be his coming out year. Viktor Kozlov is still under contract with the Capitals for another year, but if Fehr can managed to beat out Kozlov for that coveted winger position on the right side of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, he certainly could experience a dramatic spike in his fantasy value for next season. A feasible alternative would be having Fehr man the right side of Michal Nylander and Alex Semin, which would also not be a bad place for Fehr to breakout from. If Fehr can receive ample playing time his upside certainly makes him a solid option as a breakout candidate next season.
Check in next week as the Maasquito buzzes off to think of a new topic to discuss.