With the dust of the NHL Draft and Free Agency having settled and the lull period of late-July and August beginning to set in before the World Cup in September, now seems like a great time to start taking a look at some of the impact rookies who could greatly impact your fantasy drafts this fall.
Different players have different views on rookies in fantasy hockey. In single-season leagues, many players will tend to wait on most rookies and draft them later on as more sleeper candidates. Whereas in keeper leagues, players will want to target rookies much earlier with the thinking that they will be fantasy relevant for the next decade.
We have seen it in the past, especially with players like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel last year. Despite being rookies both were being drafted relatively highly last season in fantasy leagues. In most standard leagues those draft positions were solid, but in keeper fantasy leagues you could easily have taken both about half as quickly. Some in fantasy keeper leagues were even taking McDavid as their first round pick.
While there are only a few rookies this season that will force players in fantasy leagues, standard or keeper, to draft them as high as they were drafting McDavid and Eichel last season, there are a plethora that will be on the fantasy radar for their consideration. We saw last year with the explosions of Artemi Panarin and Shayne Gostisbehere, the former not being drafted in fantasy leagues until the middle teen rounds despite playing with Patrick Kane.
This preliminary list will have 10 players on it and keep in mind this list will not be in any particular order. Some of the players on this list will have already seen action in either the NHL, AHL or both.
1 Through 5
- Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Dylan Strome, Arizona Coyotes
- Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
- Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
- Jimmy Vesey, Buffalo Sabres (own exclusive negotiating rights)
While this list is in no particular order there is no doubting that five of the most anticipated rookies going into this season are the five that are listed above. I put Matthews first because the conversation about fantasy rookies this season starts with him. A prodigious talent who has been touted for years as a future franchise center, Matthews opted to not go to Juniors or College last season and instead turned professional and played in Switzerland.
In 2014-15, Auston Matthews broke Patrick Kane's record for points in a season with Under-18 US NTDP with 117 points in 60 games.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) June 24, 2016
A prodigious talent who has been touted for years as a future franchise center, Matthews opted to not go to Juniors or College last season and instead turned professional and played in Switzerland. Even at the tender age of 18 Matthews proved he can play with the big boys. Projected as an offensive dynamo who is a great skater and can make all the plays, Matthews posted 46 points in 36 games this past year playing for the ZSC Lions in Zurich. In standard fantasy leagues he should be targeted somewhere starting around the seventh or eighth rounds with the uncertainty of the Leafs offense, but in keeper leagues drafting him somewhere in the fourth or fifth round range should be the norm.
Dylan Strome’s last 82 games in the OHL (playoffs included this year and last): 52 goals, 93 assists, 145 points.
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 8, 2016
Strome almost cracked the Coyotes lineup last season but the Coyotes wanted to give him some more time to develop. Now that he has added some size the 19-year old looks ready to make the jump to the NHL. Looking to join up and form the first line of the future in the desert with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, Strome, younger brother of the Islanders Ryan Strome, could be the best rookie in the NHL this year. He put up 240 points in his last two junior seasons, one playing with Connor McDavid in Erie and one without. Expect big things from Strome in the future and this year he should be targeted in the early teen rounds.
Laine battled fellow Finn Puljujarvi for the second overall ranking behind Matthews going into the draft. Both have incredible upside but Laine sealed the second spot with his performance in Finland and at the World Championships where he was the leading goal-scorer for the tournament. Playing against pro competition like Matthews, with a professional body frame of 6’4″ and 201 lbs, Laine posted 33 points in 46 games and followed that up with an impressive 12 points in 12 World Championship contests. Some have argued long-term he could be better than Matthews. In the short-term fantasy hockey players should be salivating about the possibility that he could play with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele this season in Winnipeg. Target him around the 10th round.
— NHL EXPERT PICKS (@NHLexpertpicks) January 5, 2016
From one highly touted Finnish prospect to another Jesse Puljujarvi fell into the laps of the Oilers at number 4 in the draft this year and they couldn’t sprint to the podium fast enough to nab him. His addition, along with Milan Lucic and Drake Caggiula this offseason, made the trade of Taylor Hall more manageable to beef up the Oilers defense. Much will be expected of Puljujarvi who, like Laine, possesses elite size for his age standing 6’3″ and weighing 205. He jumped into the top three of the draft conversation with his stellar performance at the World Juniors this season and should be seeing time in the Oilers top-six this season with either McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
And so ends the illustrious career of Harvard superstar Jimmy Vesey. 80 goals, 64 assists, 144 points.
— Crimson Sports (@THCSports) March 26, 2016
Perhaps the most talked about rookie this season, and some might argue for the wrong reasons, is Jimmy Vesey. The hockey world knows how the talented winger, who won the Hobey Baker award as the top player in college hockey this season, spurned the Nashville Predators and decided to pursue free agency instead of sign with them. The Sabres acquired his rights before the draft and have reportedly already made their pitch. Regardless of where Vesey signs, the list is reportedly short, he is NHL ready and should be penciled into any team’s top-six and well inside the top 100 fantasy forwards in the league.
6 Through 10
- William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Zach Werenski,Columbus Blue Jackets
- Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators
- Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
- Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Another very solid list of potential fantasy impact rookies, we have our first taste of players who have seen AHL or NHL action already. This pack is led by the most NHL-experienced player of the 10, Maple Leafs forward William Nylander. The young forward from Sweden spent the majority of the last two seasons in the AHL playing for the Toronto Marlies, putting up a combined total of 77 points in 75 AHL games. The Leafs gave him an extended look at the end of last season and he continued his solid play with 13 points in 22 games. He will see a full workload this season in the NHL with the Leafs and has a chance to form a dynamic pairing with Matthews and potentially Mitch Marner as well. More on Marner in a few.
Werenski, projected as a cornerstone defenseman of the future, was one of the best defensemen in college hockey in his two years in Michigan. In two seasons he posted 61 points in 71 games and after the Wolverines were eliminated this season in the NCAA tournament he turned pro and joined the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate. It took him a little while to adjust to the pro game with only one point in his first seven games in the AHL but he found his gear and posted 14 points in 17 AHL playoffs games to finish the season. The Blue Jackets are in a great position defensively with Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard and Jack Johnson on the roster already and that should only help Werenski produce quicker playing with players of that caliber and he should see some PP time as well.
Kevin Fiala was supposed to join Jimmy Vesey as part of the future of the Predators top-six rotation, but the trade of Vesey opens up a potential spot for Fiala in the Predators top-six this season and that bodes well for fantasy owners. Fiala was disappointed to not be in the NHL full-time last season but with his performance with Milwaukee in the AHL, it will be hard for Nashville to keep their top prospect in the minors. He broke out with Milwaukee this year posting 50 points in 66 games to lead the Admirals and earning five games in the NHL with the Preds where he posted a single goal. The Predators are set with Ryan Johansen, James Neal and Filip Forsberg in their top-six and the rest is up for grabs and Fiala is showing more promise than many of their options.
Mitch Marner’s last 82 games in the OHL (playoffs included this year and last): 64 goals, 111 assists, 175 points.
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 8, 2016
One of the most talked about junior hockey prospects in the world, and the third Leafs prospects on this list, is Mitch Marner. As evidenced by the tweet above he put up some prolific numbers in Juniors and has clearly outgrown playing against that level of competition. In his draft season of 2014-15 Marner posted a 44-82-126 stat line, incredible numbers, in 63 games and followed that up with 116 points in 57 games this past season. He added 44 points in 18 playoff games this season as well. He will be with the Leafs and as was said above he could easily find himself on a line with Matthews and Nylander and the trio could begin to form the future top line of the Toronto franchise. Fantasy owners should be pining for the chance to put all three together on their rosters.
Rantanen is the top prospect of the Avalanche and spent his first year in North America this past season in San Antonio of the AHL. He acclimated himself to the American game quickly from Finland and that is helped by his hulking frame. Standing at 6’3″ and weighing in at 212 lbs, Rantanen is more than physically ready for the NHL. He proved that this season leading the San Antonio and all AHL rookies in points with 60 in 52 games, and finished ninth overall in the league in scoring. With Jerome Iginla getting older and question marks in their top-six outside of Landeskog, Duchene and MacKinnon fantasy players should be targeting Rantanen for a breakout rookie year in Colorado.
With the assist on Nunn's goal, Mikko Rantanen is now the new franchise rookie points record holder with 51 points.
— San Antonio Rampage (@sarampage) March 17, 2016
Others Receiving Consideration:
- Matthew Barzal, New York Islanders
- Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets
- Pavel Zacha, New Jersey Devils
- Shea Theodore, Anaheim Ducks
- Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks
- Pavel Buchnevich, New York Rangers
- Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets
- Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers
- Nick Schmaltz, Chicago Blackhawks
- Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders
There are other prospects that could easily make this list, and maybe once we are closer to the season and get a better grasp of where certain teams might be looking with regards to their prospects playing in the NHL this list will change. Right now we can acknowledge that list is a deep list and that there are a lot of impact prospects coming soon that absolutely need to be on your fantasy hockey radar right now for years to come.
I’m a New York guy who grew up and has remained a huge Islanders fan. I have been writing for smaller sites for years about a myriad of sports. I focus primarily on fantasy hockey content and spent the 2014-2015 NHL season writing Daily Fantasy Sports content for DraftKings, Inc.