This was originally submitted to and posted by The Hockey News, ESPN.com and MSN.ca on March 19.

 

For those of you who are kicking yourself for not snapping up this year’s premier dark horse (Colorado’s Paul Stastny) in last summer’s draft, here are three early candidates for next season: 

Robert Nilsson, Edmonton Oilers

Of the three, Nilsson presents the biggest risk. When he brings his ‘A’ game, the 22-year-old winger can be one of the most creative prospects in the world. The problem is, as Islanders coach Ted Nolan will tell you - he does not always bring his ‘A’ game. Accused of being defensively irresponsible at times, Nilsson now has a clean slate with which to make a different impression. He was part of the package at the deadline that sent Ryan Smyth to the Islanders.

Nilsson will one day be an 85-point player. Whether that will happen in the NHL or the American League remains to be seen. Next season he is a definite candidate to have a Stastny-esque 70-point campaign. He is also a strong candidate to be cut out of training camp. The 15th overall pick in 2003 scored a goal in his Edmonton debut last week. The Oilers hope that there is more to come. All you can do this summer is draft him and hope that this long shot pulls through for you.

Tomas Fleischmann, Washington Capitals

The 22-year-old Fleischmann was expected to crack the Washington roster this season, but after training camp it was felt that he would be best served with another year with Hershey of the American League. A left winger by trade, Fleischmann got some practice in at playing on the other side in the AHL, since that would be his best ticket back to Washington. Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have the top two left wing spots secured on the big club, so learning the right side is must.

A highly intelligent hockey player, Fleischmann has 85-point potential in the NHL. You may have noticed his four-point effort for the Caps on Sunday against the Lightning – he did that with less than 12 minutes of ice time. More of a sure thing in terms of making the big club next season than Nilsson is, Fleischmann will tally anywhere from 35 to 75 points. A big range to be sure, but it truly is dictated by how he establishes himself in training camp and how well he adapts to life as a right winger. You can probably expect him to gain momentum as the season wears on, much like Stastny is doing right now.

Callahan

 

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers

My personal favorite of the three to emulate Paul Stastny next year in terms of offensive production, Callahan would need a breakdown of epic proportions to not make this team in the fall. Judging by his career trajectory to date, this is unlikely to happen.

Drafted in the fourth round in 2004 (127th overall), Callahan improved dramatically in 2005-06 as an overage player for Guelph of the Ontario League. His number skyrocketed when it mattered the most, though – the playoffs – putting up nearly two points per game. That sort of progression is expected of a 20-year-old in junior hockey, but Callahan really took a step forward this season in the American League, compiling 55 points in 60 contests.

Steady improvement – that is the best measure of a fantasy hockey prospect when tracking him through the minor leagues. Callahan has done it, and should wind up being a 65, or even a 75-point right wing at the NHL level who will also give fantasy owners 100 PIM’s a season. Judging by his impressive, albeit brief, NHL effort (he scored twice on Saturday against the Bruins in his fourth big-league game), this could happen next year.


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