One of the things many fantasy hockey general managers use to gauge a player’s talent is draft position. For a brief time, that can be helpful, but one thing you have to remember is that a draft position is only a snapshot in time.
It’s sort of like a high-school yearbook picture of that really cute girl on the cheerleading squad. You really wanted to be the guy who dated her in high school, but a few years later in university, you realize that other girls that you didn’t notice in high school are just as good looking – and maybe they have other talents that you have grown to appreciate.
With no offence to hockey players, and no literal comparisons, they’re the same way. Judging them on what they are at 17 or 18 can be misleading, especially if you don’t learn to change your opinion of them as they grow, mature, develop and learn new skills. A hockey player is not a finished product at that age, yet the NHL still has to draft them.
A guy I’ve been keeping my eye on for a couple of years is Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Dustin Jeffrey. Jeffrey was a sixth-round pick by the Penguins in 2007 – one year after he was first eligible to be taken.
This guy is the prototypical darkhorse candidate: drafted a year late and 171st overall. That’s like not getting asked to the high-school prom in your senior year and being asked to be a designated driver the next year. Ugh. He was overlooked in his draft year because he had major knee surgery but has since been injury free.
Motivated by not being drafted, Jeffrey had two statement seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. He put up big points, played big minutes, and produced on special teams. His last year of junior, he scored 38 goals and added 59 assists (average of 1.73 points per game) with 17 markers on the power play and seven short-handed.
Jeffrey does not have good speed, but makes up for it with excellent hockey sense. He is a great playmaker and can play both ends of the ice. He thinks the game well and gets himself in good position to pick up loose pucks and make good plays. That kind of anticipation is the hallmark of a good player.
Jeffrey’s unadjusted upside is not high -- think Craig Conroy, Mike Fisher, Brad Boyes, or Jason Williams. It’s actually lower than that if he plays as a centre behind the Penguins’ Big Three. But his adjusted upside – as a winger on one of Pittsburgh’s top two lines – is what makes him attractive as a prospect. Given he has the skill to play with Crosby and Malkin and the defensive acumen that will make Dan Bylsma comfortable, you have to readjust his possible ceiling.
Pittsburgh has experimented with moving Jordan Staal to the wing, but they are likely going to keep him at centre. Pittsburgh has several aging or unproductive wingers in Bill Guerin, Pascal Dupuis, Ruslan Fedotenko and Chris Kunitz who haven’t really been able to produce enough to excite fantasy hockey GMs.
Once considered a diamond in the rough by scouts, Jeffrey is showing in his second season as a pro that they were right. With Wilkes-Barre this season, he is taking the next step in his sophomore pro campaign. Jeffrey has scored 13 goals and 31 assists in his first 42 games and is leading the Baby Pens in scoring.
We’re all watching the likes of Luca Caputi, Chris Conner, Nick Johnson, Eric Tangradi and Casey Pierro-Zabotel and wondering who is going to ride shotgun with Sid and Geno. All of those guys are probably already owned in your league. One guy you could pick up cheaply is Dustin Jeffrey.
Let me tell you, there is nothing sweeter than rummaging through a bargain bin and finding a potential treasure.