Lacing Up: A Fantasy World of Rookies and Goalies
Matt Paul: The season is creeping closer and fantasy hockey should begin to enter the minds of our readers soon, if it hasn’t already — or if they’re like the three of us, their draft has ended and they’re looking for free agency gems.
This week we’ll shift from risers and fallers of the fantasy world to rookies and goalies (of the sleeper variety, since we all know who the stars are). Once again, I’m joined with the two Joshes, both of FF and UPJFHL fame.
We’ll start with Nealer this time. Josh, who do you like in the world of rookies? Anyone in Pittsburgh intrigue you?
Joshua Neal: If we’re talking keeper leagues, there’s a glut of Penguins rookies that will doubtless pay dividends as we move forward. The easy answer to this question would be to throw out names like Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, or Scott Harrington. They’re going to be absolute studs – whether or not you make the assumption that they all stay in Pittsburgh to see their NHL time or not – looking at you, Joe Morrow.
But I’m going to go against the grain here and throw out another name: Matia Marcantuoni. Marcantuoni was by many accounts a steal for the Penguins in the 4th Round of the 2012 draft, as there were concerns about a knee injury. He’s an incredibly gifted skater with good hands, and was highly impressive in the Prospects’ Scrimmage. It’s not out of the question that his speed alone could get him a look in the lineup this year in Pittsburgh. He was actually once referred to as “the Usain Bolt of hockey.” So, there’s that.
Of course, if you’re in a transient, year-to-year league, I think that there are plenty of fantastic options out there as far as impact rookies go. No one is registering for me as a Penguin, other than perhaps Beau Bennett, who we have already discussed in our last piece. Once again, rather than going with some that I qualify as no-brainers (MacKinnon, Barkov, Jones) I’m going to go with Max Domi, the Phoenix Coyotes 1st Round Draft choice this year. Domi’s small stature make him a candidate to replace a playmaker like Ray Whitney or Steve Sullivan who have served that role for the Coyotes in the past. With a similar player like Mike Ribiero to mentor him in Phoenix, Domi could be a big impact rookie this year.
Josh, what other youngbloods have caught your eye?
Josh Endsley: Well Josh, when I look at potential rookie contributors, I tend to look to organizations on the rebuild. With that in mind, one team in particular stands out… the Calgary Flames. Now that the Jarome Iginla era is history, Bob Hartley will have to give quality playing time to younger players, starting with this year’s sixth overall pick Sean Monahan.
Unlike MacKinnon, Drouin or Jones, Monahan played for a dreadful team in the Ottawa 67s, and I think this may have caused some to undervalue just how good this kid is going to be. He could find himself in the 40-50 point range with an added bonus of faceoff wins, as long as he garners adequate playing time. As for the rest of the Flames, don’t sleep on wingers Sven Baertschi or Ben Hanowski – both have a little professional seasoning and could be poised to make an impact this year.
Looking around the rest of the league, I can’t help but recall the playoff performance of LA Kings forward Tyler Toffoli. In 12 games, Toffoli netted 6 points while playing a physical brand of hockey, though he averaged just 11 minutes per game. Considering that he produced a point-per-game clip in AHL last year, there’s no reason to think the 21 year old won’t build upon that performance. Quite frankly, if Toffoli finds himself in the Kings top six forwards, he could burst on the scene as a 60+ point player with strong totals for shots-on-goal and hits. I think we’d all take that on our teams this year.
You’re up next, Matt… As a big proponent of rookie fantasy players in the UPJFHL, I expect you to have some quality insight on this year’s rookie crop. Who do you got?
Matt: I’ll stick with those I know from my own team in the UPJFHL, as they’re the guys I’ve put my time and effort into “scouting.” The first two I’ll focus on are forwards, the third is a goalie, which should create a nice bridge to the second part of this week’s Lacing Up.
I’m a big fan of Tomas Hertl, who has the size, skill, and opportunity to step into a “last-hoorah” Sharks team. A center by nature, Hertl probably will have to crack the lineup as a winger with Joe Thronton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture ahead of him on the depth chart. But with little wing depth, Hertl could find himself playing a prominent role on a playoff-caliber team. A 40-50 point season sounds like a good low-end estimate, should he make the team.
Staying out west, let’s shift to Chicago, where Brandon Pirri is in a prime position to grab the bull by its horns and steal the second line center position. While Brandon Saad has NHL experience, Pirri has more skill and could be the perfect long-term replacement for the departed Dave Bolland. In 76 games in the AHL last season, Pirri tallied 75 points, and with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa as hie likely linemates, his point total could push 60.
Lastly, while he spent all of 2013 in the NHL, goalie Jacob Markstrom remains a rookie in my eyes, as he has just 31 games under his belt. The huge (6’6, 199 pounds) goalie is among the most promising young goaltenders in all of hockey and will be given the opportunity to start in Florida now that word has circulated that Jose Theodore will not be returning to the Panthers. His stats may not be overly impressive in 2013-14 due to the team in front of him, his long-term value and potential for sleeper value in deeper leagues should not be overlooked for the goalie who has drawn comparisons to former Panther netminder Roberto Luongo.
Josh, do you foresee any goalies being better sleeper candidates than Markstrom?
Neal: From a rookie standpoint, Markstrom certainly has the size and the pedigree to be very good – provided that the Panthers can begin to play a better game in front of him. From the rookie end of goalies, I’m going to look to the other Florida team and their newly acquired goaltender Ben Bishop. Though Bishop has already been moved twice, he has been a significant trade piece in whom teams obviously see a lot of talent – Tampa traded a potential Calder winner in Cory Conacher to snag him from Ottawa. Similar in stature to Markstrom (Bishop is 6’7”, 215) his situation is rather similar – if the Lightning can play some defense in front of him, he should begin to shine.
Delving into the goaltenders across the league who could have potential late-round value, I’m going to have to go out there and say that I expect James Reimer to win the lion’s share of the starting job in Toronto. Sure, the arrival of Jonathan Bernier is something that will cause a bit of a competition, but I feel that Reimer is a severely overlooked and underrated goaltender who has a pretty solid defense playing in front of him. In fact, if you remove about 8 minutes from Game 7 in Boston, that Toronto team is probably staring down a matchup with Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Finals, in some part due to the puck-stopping that Reimer provided throughout the series. If I’m going on a value-based draft-by-round, Reimer takes the cake over Bernier.
Josh, any other guys between the pipes that we might be sleeping on here?
Endsley: Call me crazy, but I am quietly optimistic about Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov’s ability to become a quality starter this year. He’s been wildly inconsistent over the past few years, though at times he has flashed the immense talent that earned him a first round pick in 2006. In my eyes, he’s been a goalie who has needed a certain amount of patience and structure to take that next step. Enter Patrick Roy and Francois Allaire. As a Varlamov owner myself, I could not have asked for better mentors to help push Varly add these elements to his game. If you’re looking for this season’s Sergei Bobrovsky, this is your guy. (Or so I hope).
Next up is Robin Lehner. I know Ottawa already has a strong starter in Craig Anderson, but all it will take is a slow start or an injury for the young Swede to take over. And if (or when) this happens, look out. In 31 games for Binghamton last year, Lehner posted a .938 SV% and 2.12 GAA – numbers that he’s practically replicated in his last 17 games played in Ottawa. At the very least, he’s the kind of backup who will net you excellent statistics in spot starts. Size, speed, and pedigree – he’s truly got it all. If he’s available in your free agent pool and you have a little patience, you’d be smart to scoop this guy up.