Schenn

 

The first edition of this list was put together last August, and it is something I am going to update at least once each season. I have a few general rules when it comes to building a team in a fantasy hockey keeper league. One of the more important ones is to not plan beyond a two or three year window. You are not building a real NHL club, and too often I see poolies place too much of an emphasis on youth and prospects instead of trying to add players who could help them win now. Using this rule, take a look at your team(s). Can you realistically say you will have a shot at winning the league at some point within the next two or three seasons? If not, time to scrap the rebuild and start adding proven NHL talent.

 

I very rarely rebuild. I tried to unsuccessfully in one of my keeper leagues this past month – there were many sellers, but not many buyers. My IR in that league is star-studded – Sidney Crosby, Mikko Koivu, Marian Gaborik, David Perron, and Alex Edler. I sat too long on a potential trade involving Martin Brodeur and a trio of young talents (Patrik Berglund, Kyle Okposo, and Zach Bogosian). Berglund decided to start producing, and the deal hit the skids.

 

Keeping the two-to-three-year window in mind, I have compiled a list of the top 10 keeper league forward prospects to own (assuming standard keeper league rules and scoring categories). Using the scope, the long-term upside of these players is balanced with their NHL readiness. The cut-off point for this list is 25 games played at the NHL level. Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner and Tyler Seguin are no longer eligible.

 

This list is in order, so I probably wouldn’t trade the fourth player straight across for the fifth player, and so on. However, unlike my previous lists, I haven’t broken down forward prospects by position, so positional requirements in a specific league may change the rankings. I didn’t split the forwards into centers, left wings, and right wings because many times prospects don’t play their natural position at the NHL level. Many times skilled players skate at center during college and junior because they excel with the puck on their stick, and playing center allows them to do that on a more regular basis. However, many of these players are too slow, too small, or not good enough defensively to play the position at the NHL level. Some recent examples include TJ Oshie (although he moves back from time to time), Zach Parise, and Jordan Eberle.

 

1. Brayden Schenn, Center, Los Angeles Kings

Schenn was recently named WHL player of the month for February after scoring 13 goals and adding 19 assists in only 13 games. He doesn’t have the same elite upside as others below him on this list, but he is about as bust-proof as it gets. The Kings will open up the second line center position for him next season, and he’ll have a wealth of talent on the wings (Dustin Penner, Justin Williams, and Dustin Brown are all signed through 2011-12). Schenn is a playmaker who uses his size to both get the puck and keep it.

 

Schenn isn’t an amazing skater, but he is very, very smart at both ends of the ice. He could have played a regular shift in the NHL this season, but the Kings smartly gave him one more year to dominate his age group in junior hockey and on the international stage.

 

Player comparison: Mike Richards

One year upside: 20 goals, 45 assists, 65 points

Three year upside: 25 goals, 60 assists, 80 points

 

2. Ryan Johansen, Center, Columbus Blue Jackets

Johansen combines size and offensive skills unlike any center in the Columbus organization. He’s having a fantastic season with Portland of the WHL. Through 54 games, Johansen has 34 goals and 74 points. He is high on my list for many reasons, but one of them is the lack of a true number one pivot in Columbus. Derrick Brassard has the upside but he is a certified Band-Aid Boy. Antoine Vermette and RJ Umberger are both very good complimentary players, but a contending club can’t have either of them centering a top line. The Blue Jackets are deep on the wing both in the present and in the longer term (Rick Nash, Jakub Voracek, and Matt Calvert to name three). Johansen is a bit grittier than Schenn, and should post respectable PIM totals once he gets his feet wet in the NHL.

 

Both Johansen and Schenn are so valued because they display traits of the prototypical NHL star center – puck protection, strong two-way play, puck distribution, and decision making.

 

Here is a very good read on Johansen developing into a leader this season in Portland.

 

Player comparison: Jason Spezza

One year upside: 15 goals, 40 assists, 55 points

Three year upside: 25 goals, 45 assists, 70 points


3. Vladimir Tarasenko, Center, St. Louis Blues

Because of his willingness to engage physically, Tarasenko has garnered comparisons to Alex Ovechkin. He is a natural leader and a reliable player in all three zones. He is a strong skater but not blazingly fast. He protects the puck like Sidney Crosby and Jeff Skinner – a low center of gravity and extremely strong legs do the trick. He has been playing most of the second half of his season in Russia with a shoulder injury (one he sustained and played through at the World Juniors back in December).

 

Our own Alessandro Seren Rosso believes Tarasenko will cross the pond to play in North America in 2011-12. Look for him to sign an entry-level contract very soon. He won’t need time at the AHL – he’s been playing against men in Russia for the past three years. The Blues are pretty deep up front but Tarasenko has more upside than anyone on the roster (save for Patrik Berglund).

 

Player comparison: Alexander Radulov

One year upside: 20 goals, 30 assists, 40 points

Three year upside: 35 goals, 40 assists, 75 points


4. Evgeni Kuznetsov, Right Wing, Washington Capitals

I am usually pretty cautious when drafting Russians for my hockey pool because of the fear factor associated with the KHL. I have ranked Tarasenko and Kuznetsov so high because their respective upsides are too hard to ignore. In Kuznetsov’s case, I also really like the fact that he was drafted by the Russian-friendly Capitals. Kuznetsov is the prototypical Russian winger – fast, smart, skilled, deceptive, and deadly with the puck on his stick.

 

Unlike Tarasenko, he will probably play at least one more year in Russia. He could use another year of development, as he still needs to get bigger and stronger in order to make plays against NHL caliber defensemen. He has seven more goals than any forward on his KHL team (and only trails veteran defenseman for the team lead).

 

He isn’t as complete as Tarasenko but he may have more offensive upside. I dislike player comparisons based solely on birthplace, but in hits case Kuznetsov eerily resembles his country mate (and potential future teammate).

 

Player comparison: Alex Semin

One year upside: KHL

Three year upside: 35 goals, 30 assists, 65 points

 

5. Mikael Granlund, Left Wing, Minnesota Wild

Granlund was an honorable mention last time around, but he has easily cracked the top 10 with an impressive 2010-11 campaign. He missed out on the World Juniors because of an injury, which is too bad as he undoubtedly would have been among the scoring leaders (unless you are trying to acquire Granlund from a competitor). He is producing at just below a point-per-game pace in the SM-liiga this season. Granlund isn’t very big nor is he a fast skater, but he is feisty and has unbelievably good hockey sense. Much like Saku Koivu, he plays a few inches taller and a few pounds heavier than he actually is.

 

Minnesota has a need for offense up front (even with the return of PM Bouchard, they are still pretty thin), and Granlund is showing all the signs of being ready to play on an NHL scoring line next season.

 

Player comparison: Patrick Kane

One year upside: 20 goals, 30 assists, 50 points

Three year upside: 30 goals, 45 assists, 75 points

 

6. Nino Niederreiter, Left Wing, New York Islanders

Niederreiter is a goal scorer. He is big, fast, and confident. He shoots the puck a ton, and with the potential linemates (the quickly-improving Josh Bailey and the somehow underrated John Tavares) in New York, he’ll get a lot of opportunities to finish plays off. Asked point blank if Niederreiter could make the jump to the NHL next season, [Portland assistant] Travis Green said, “I have no doubt that he could.”

 

The Islanders may be better off giving him one more year of development, as they appear to be in no rush with their rebuild. Niederreiter doesn’t have elite offensive upside, but he should develop into a consistent 25-35-goal top line winger who can play in all situations.

 

If you want any more information on Niederreiter, read Jeffrey Renaud’s piece from February.

 

Player comparison: Marian Hossa

One year upside: 15 goals, 25 assists, 40 points

Three year upside: 25 goals, 30 assists, 55 points

 

7. Jaden Schwartz, Center, St. Louis Blues

Schwarz is having a season to remember at Colorado College. He has missed time with an ankle injury suffered during the World Juniors, but his 1.5 points-per-game pace is good enough for third in the entire country. He’s probably two years away from making his NHL debut, but he will be well worth the wait. Feisty, incredibly skilled, and smart are all terms that describe Schwartz’s game. He needs to put on some size though, and the Blues are going to take their time with him.

 

The 2010 draft may be one to remember in St. Louis….

 

Player comparison: Jordan Eberle

One year upside: NCAA

Three year upside: 20 goals, 30 assists, 50 points

 

8. Brett Connolly, Center, Tampa Bay Lightning

With 39 goals, Connolly has lit the lamp 11 more times than anyone else on his team in Prince George. Connolly was the first player to score 30 goals as a 16 year old in the WHL since Patrick Marleau in 2008-09. He’s big and skilled. I could foresee a move to right wing once he moves on to the professional level, as the Lightning have a few centers you may have heard of ahead of him on the depth chart.

 

Player comparison: Peter Forsberg

One year upside: 20 goals, 20 assists, 40 points

Three year upside: 35 goals, 40 assists, 75 points

 

9. Matt Calvert, Left Wing, Columbus Blue Jackets

Matt Calvert has been overlooked many times during his hockey career. In junior, he was always the third wheel on a line with Schenn and Scott Glennie, even though he outscored both during his final year with Brandon. Calvert impressed at training camp in Columbus but was a fifth-round pick the team didn’t expect much from him off the bad and he was dispatched to the AHL. He was recalled to the big club a few months ago and hasn’t looked back. Calvert’s upside was pegged as a solid energy player who could fill in the top six in a pinch, even after his impressive 2009-10 offensive campaign in Brandon.

 

His NHL career has been short and the sample size is huge, but it isn’t what Calvert is producing, it is how he is doing it. He is using his speed, hockey sense, and tenacity to get after loose puck and to go to the tough areas on the ice. He needs to get bigger and stronger, but what rookie doesn’t? There are many honorable mentions listed below who have more upside than Calvert, but with him the risk is low and the upside continues to grow with each game.

 

This is a hunch pick of mine (I love to make them).

 

Player comparison: Zach Parise

One year upside: 25 goals, 25 assists, 50 points

Three year upside: 30 goals, 35 assists, 65 points


10. Chris Kreider, Left Wing, New York Rangers

Like Derek Stepan (who barely missed out on cracking the top 10 last August), the Rangers believe Kreider can make the jump into the NHL straight from college. The Rangers may appear to be deep at center, but upon further glance there is a long-term need for a scoring line center. After Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky (who may be better at the wing), Chris Drury (a third line center) and Artem Anisimov (upside is undetermined at this point) all may be better suited for other roles.

 

He has garnered comparisons to Eric Staal because of his shot, size, and speed.

 

Player comparison: Eric Staal

One year upside: 15 goals, 30 assists, 45 points

Three year upside: 25 goals, 40 assists, 65 points

 

Very Honorable Mentions:


Jeremy Morin – missed time with injury, should be a full-time Blackhawk next season.

 

Cody Hodgson – slowly getting career back on track, tough road ahead with Kesler/Sedin/Malhotra all signed long term.

 

Honorable Mentions:


Nazem Kadri – seems to be further away from the NHL than he was last year.

 

Zack Kassian – limited offensive upside but will bring a lot of PIM.

 

Jordan Schroeder – disappointing rookie season in the AHL for the pint-sized playmaker.

 

Kyle Beach – like Kassian, will bring a lot of PIM. Offensive upside is there but not close to NHL ready yet.

 

Gustav Nyqvist – Detroit will be patient with this college superstar

 

Ryan Howse – consecutive 45+ goal seasons in WHL. Needs to get faster/stronger.

 

Joey Hishon – small and skilled with lots of upside.

 

Charlie Coyle – San Jose knows how to draft and develop.

 

Brett MacLean – Rangy winger with NHL hands and shot.

 

Tyler Toffoli – tearing up the OHL this season, a year or two away at least.

 

Andrei Loktionov – strong rookie season derailed by injury.

 

Scott Glennie – has never wowed me, but has NHL upside with size/skill combination.

 

Jordan Caron – a lock to make Bruins next year. Big, smart, good shot.

 

Ryan Spooner – another solid Bruins pick – not as close to NHL as Caron though.

 

Jared Knight – see above.

 

Luke Adam – big and skilled on a team that needs both (Buffalo).

 

Louis Leblanc – projects to be more of a two-way player

 

Joe Colborne – move to Toronto great for his long-term upside, still a project. Disappointing season after cracking top 10 list last August.

 

Jacob Josefson – long term fit behind Zajac on second line

 

Beau Bennett – project pick has had inconsistent season

 

Taylor Beck – think of James Neal but slower

 

Tomas Tatar - Wings taking their time with him. Top six upside.

 

*****I have missed many from my honorable mentions list. In the comments section below - let me know who has slipped by me and why they deserve to be listed.*****


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Comments (26)add comment

Kyle said:

nyihater4life
Tangradi What about Eric Tangradi? You have him pegged with Sid in the near future.
March 08, 2011
Votes: +0

Noma said:

Noma
Pulkkinen I'd add Teemu Pulkkinen at least on the honorable mentions list. He has had even more impressive season in SM-liiga this year than Granlund in my opinion and is going to be a 30-35 goal scorer for Detroit in couple of years.
March 06, 2011
Votes: +0

SeaDawg said:

SeaDawg
My list My top 10 doesn't look much different. In fact, we have 9 of the 10 the same (slightly different order). I'd personally just have Hodgson in the top 10 and Kreider would drop out.

1 Schenn
2 Tarasenko
3 Johansen
4 Kuznetsov
5 Granlund
6 Calvert
7 Schwartz
8 Connolly
9 Niederreiter
10 Hodgson
March 06, 2011
Votes: +0

Isle B. said:

Isle B.
If you included the Class of 2011 Angus (or anyone else here),

Since they will likely be playing in the NHL as soon as anybody on this list, I was wondering where on this list you would put Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog and Couturier.
March 06, 2011
Votes: +0

Andrew K - Veritas0Aequitas said:

Veritas0Aequitas
My List Here's my list:

1. B. Schenn
2. V. Tarasenko
3. R. Johansen
4. E. Kuznetsov
5. M. Granlund
6. N. Niederreiter
7. B. Connolly
8. J. Schwartz
9. T. Tatar
10. J. Morin
March 06, 2011
Votes: +0

Andrew K said:

Veritas0Aequitas
Two more Zac Dalpe has been lights out in the AHL so far. I'm confident he'll be great at the NHL level.

Also Peter Holland looks more and more to me like the future 2nd line C for the Ducks.
March 05, 2011
Votes: +1

steve laidlaw said:

metaldude26
list I don't know that mine would be all that different. Maybe I'd change up the order a bit because I prefer wingers to centermen. Mainly though, I'd have Tatar and Hodgson in the top 10 and Calvert/Kreider out.

I get that you dig Calvert so I wouldn't dispute that one very much, especially not with him in the NHL and already making an impact. I do have a quibble about Kreider though, I don't think he has the hockey sense necessary to be in this top 10. All the physical tools are there but he just doesn't have the vision for the game. Maybe if he gets thrown on an elite line with say Gaborik-Stepan or Gaborik-Richards then things could take off for him but if not he'll struggle. He's also a LONG way from making an NHL impact. Physically he's ready but mentally I don't see it.
March 05, 2011
Votes: -1

Jeff Angus said:

angus
... Let's see some of your lists - would like to see some other opinions.
March 05, 2011
Votes: +0

Jeff Angus said:

angus
... Howden - doesn't have elite offensive upside. Just my take.

Seth and dukla -thanks for the heads up. I haven't seen Portland play in about six weeks and obviously the lines have changed. Johansen is awesome though - one of the best to come through the 'dub in a while.

Biggest step forward he has taken is physicality. Doesn't seek it out but he is a tough player on the puck.
March 05, 2011
Votes: +0

Martin said:

mapletreemarty
Howden?? Seemed to have a really good world junior for Canada and has posted some nice numbers in Moose Jaw this season, 38g, 73 pts. in only 52 gp. Where and when do you see him Angus??
March 05, 2011
Votes: +0

Seth said:

Fast Tony DeNiro
Portland Line Combos Was just at the Winterhawks game tonight against Seattle. Rattie is hurt so they've been jumbling lines a bit....Bartschi and Nino played together a bunch tonight, but when everyone is healthy, the lines are pretty much set. Nino-Johansen-Ross, Bartschi-Craig Cunningham-Rattie.

I worry about Rattie's NHL potential. The best comparison I can make is Marek Svatos, although Rattie will at least make an effort at defense. He's an incredible, fast skater who's incredibly talented. But there's just something missing that makes me think he'll never be a real impact NHL player.

Bartschi on the other end is legit in my opinion. Not the most physical player, but doesn't exactly have the size for that anyways. He's probably the most skilled player on that team, including Johansen. I would expect both him and Rattie to be 1st rounders this year, but they won't go 4-5 like Nino and RJ did last year.
March 05, 2011
Votes: +0

LeMatt said:

LeMatt
Stoa & Bowman? What about Stoa? He has a slow start in the AHL but has picked it up of late (AHL-wise that is, still not doing much in the bigs).

Bowman as well. Didn't he almost make the Canes out of camp a few years ago because of his "NHL ready shot"? I guess guys like Skinner and Boychuk have passed him on the depth chart
March 05, 2011
Votes: +1

DuklaNation said:

DuklaNation
... Its tough to make these lists. 2 names that I feel worth mentioning moreso than HM names already listed here. Zac Dalpe (PPG in AHL) & Quinton Howden (NHL size & speed). LPat Re:Nino, 33 G in 47 GP. Thats a much higher G/GP than his teammates. Thats 45+ goals over a full season. Their lines change a lot but usually its Nino/Ryan.
March 05, 2011
Votes: +0

Jeff Angus said:

angus
... Thanks for the feedback.

1) Filatov - wouldn't even be on this list if he were eligible.
2) Kabanov - red flag the side of Texas.
3) Bartschi could go in the first three rounds this year. Rattie is another really solid prospect. Brad Ross too, but his offensive upside is a bit more limited. I believe Bartschi is playing w/ NN and Johansen, taking Ross's spot from last season. I could be mistaken though.

4) Granlund could very well start off in the AHL. I think he's ready though.

5) Kadri - selfish, immature, plays a style of game that doesn't transfer to the pro game. I have never been a fan. Terrific skill set but after watching him a few times this year seems to be at best the same as a year ago.

6) Number 10 was the only real tough spot - Morin/Hodgson could easily be there too.
March 04, 2011
Votes: +2

fraser young said:

frazmo12
Kabanov He got off to a slow start with his new team (Lewiston) but he seems to be showing up on time and play well the last 2 months.
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

SeaDawg said:

SeaDawg
Schroeder You must mean disappointing rookie season in the AHL? You freaked me out there. I thought Schroeder as in the NHL but was doing so poorly that I had noticed him on the ice in any Vancouver games I watched this year and never once saw his name in any boxscores.
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

L Pat said:

lhp
Portland Good article Angus. Have really enjoyed watching Calvert in his brief stint this year.

As for Granlund, I don't see him making the Wild next year (sorry Long Beach). The Wild have a tendency to a) make questionable decisions, and b) exceed all my expectations.

Since you value Johansen so highly (and Niederreiter) I'd be curious to read what you think about Bartschi and Rattie who seem to be having better seasons than Nino. Does Johansen take all the credit for this? Do you know the line combos in Portland?
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

tradejunkie said:

tradejunkie
Nevermind... Forgot the 25 game limit you have... my bad.
March 04, 2011
Votes: +1

tradejunkie said:

tradejunkie
Filatov? Filly's totally lost all respect, eh?
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

Kris said:

4horsemen
Kadri Nazem will make you pay for this!

Why do you see him as being farther from the NHL? He's doing very well in the AHL and it might just be the best thing for him. I certainly see him in the NHL next year
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

long beach said:

blaclark
4/10 aint bad great article Angus. I hope you're right because I own #'s 1,3,5 and 10 in my keeper league plus Leblanc and Bennett. Do you really think Granlund will go straight to the big leagues without a stint in the AHL?
March 04, 2011
Votes: -1

Jerry said:

CallMeJerry
Granlund OK Angus, about 2 weeks ago I asked you to rank Tarasenko/Kuznetsov/Granlund in a points only keeper league. You said you liked Granlund best. Did something change? Does the points only make a difference here?
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

Ron Burgundy said:

Ron Burgundy
Pitlick? Seems to be having a nice season in the dub, and there's some room on the right side in Oil country (after, er, Hemsky and Eberle...). Hamilton to but the left is even more jammed. Wonder if either of them can win a faceoff.

Wasn't sure if your hon. mentions were also ranked, but I take it you would drop Colborne for anybody above him (many of whom are available in one of my leagues). What do you put Joe's 1/3 upsides at now?
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

Big Ev said:

Big Ev
... Maybe slight honorable mention to Bobby Butler? He can really snipe and ripped up the AHL as a rookie.
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

Austin said:

March 04, 2011
Votes: +0

steve laidlaw said:

metaldude26
Tatar Where is Tatar? He has to be on this list.
March 04, 2011
Votes: +0
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