If you’re still competing for your Fantasy Hockey pool title, congratulations. It’s been a strange season with the condensed schedule thanks to the extended offense lockout in the National Hockey League. However, there have been plenty of impressive performances by the youngsters, who have acclimated well to the added pressures and demands of playing much more frequently. In fact, some have really thrived and grown as the season has worn on.
We’ll take a look at a bunch of rookies you are going to want to target in long-term keeper leagues. Some of them have already made a splash for Fantasy owners and might already be snapped up. Others won’t be high-impact players until at least next year, but should still be on your radar. At this time next season, they could be the guys helping you into the playoffs and beyond.
Nick Cousins, C, Philadelphia: Cousins was a third-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and he’ll be 20 years old before next season’s regular season opener. Cousins has a more difficult road to reach the NHL, as the Philadelphia Flyers system is chock full of offensive talent up top. However, it will be hard to ignore the 27 goals, 76 assists and 103 total points he posted with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this past regular season.
Marcus Foligno, LW, Buffalo: Foligno has posted five goals with 12 points in 40 games for the re-building Sabres. While that isn’t tremendous production, it is good on-the-job experience. It’s apparent that the future is now for Foligno and youngsters like center Mikhail Grigorenko in Buffalo.
Filip Forsberg, C, Nashville: In case you were wondering, Filip is no relation to fellow Swede and former Predators F Peter Forsberg, but he might remind plenty of the former NHL standout when he arrives in North America. His dad Patrik did play professionally in Norway and Sweden, however. Forsberg has been playing with Team Sweden and Leksands Idrottsförening of the Elitserien, the top-tier league in Sweden, and we should get a glimpse of Forsberg’s talent down the stretch for the Predators. He has a bright future, and next season he could be a Fantasy stud for a team desperately in need of offense.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal: Galchenyuk has potted six goals with 21 points and an impressive plus-11 rating given his age. He and teammate RW Brendan Gallagher give the Habs a solid young core for many years to come.
Brendan Gallagher, RW, Montreal: Gallagher, who has lit the lamp 12 times this season, is currently just one goal behind Florida Panthers C Jonathan Huberdeau for the overall rookie lead in markers. He also has 10 assists and an impressive plus-9 rating. With Gallagher, Galchenyuk and a host of other younger stars like G Carey Price, D P.K. Subban, etc., the Habs look like their days of a contender will last a while.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida: Huberdeau has remained a constant for a struggling Florida Panthers team this season, leading all rookies with 13 goals and 27 points. He has led, or been near the top, in points on his own team, too. With youngsters like Huberdeau, C Shawn Matthias, C Drew Shore, and C Vincent Trochek (see below), etc., the Panthers look to be set in the middle for many years to come.
Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago: Saad has made his Fantasy owners very happy recently, popping in five goals with two assists and a plus-6 rating in a seven-game span from March 31 to April 12. The youngster has continued his march up the rookie leaderboard, and his plus-14 rating is second only to Los Angeles Kings D Jake Muzzin (plus-15) among all rookies. Saad appears to have a very bright future, and he is especially useful to Fantasy owners in pools which discourage penalty minutes. He has just eight PIM in his 39 games.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis: Tarasenko got off to a bang this season, posting back-to-back multi-point games to open the season. However, he has had two points in a goal (two goals on March 28) just once since. Don’t be too concerned with the fact he has no goals and one assist over his past seven games, and is scoreless in eight of the past 10. He won’t help you right now, but is going to help a lot in the future.
Vincent Trocheck, C, Florida: Trocheck was a third-round pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, so he’ll be 20 years old before the 2013-14 regular season. He is likely to get a chance to win a roster spot in what should be a wide-open training camp for the young Panthers. Trocheck led the OHL with 109 points, potting 50 goals with a plus-49 rating splitting time between Saginaw and Plymouth.
Mika Zibanejad, C, Ottawa: Zibanejad sounds similar to the dictator of Iran, but he is actually Swedish. The No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has racked up six goals with 19 points and a plus-9 rating through 35 games this season. He will turn 20 years old April 18, so he is just getting started. The Senators have had some aging stars like RW Daniel Alfredsson tail off, or break down in the case of C Jason Spezza (back). They need young blood, and Zibanejad leads the wave of the future.
JUNIOR LEAGUES AND BEYOND…
Here’s a name casual fans might recognize. Center Max Domi, who played for the London Knights of the OHL, is draft eligible in 2013. He is expected to go high in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, too, as he is seen as a much more gifted offensive player than his famous tough-guy dad, Tie Domi. Domi posted 39 goals with 87 points and a plus-33 rating in 64 games for the Knights, and yes, he had 71 penalty minutes. … Another player with a more recent familiar name is defenseman Jordan Subban, who hopes to join his famous brother, Montreal Canadiens D P.K. Subban, in the NHL sooner rather than later. Subban posted 15 goals with 36 assists, sixth-among OHL rearguards, while playing for the Belleville Bulls. He is viewed as a second-round talent in June’s upcoming draft. … Lastly, right wing Anthony Mantha of Val d’Or Foreurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), is NOT related to former NHL blueliner Moe Mantha. But he will likely join his namesake in the NHL sooner rather than later, as his 50 goals and 89 points in 67 games in the QMJHL is expected to make him a first-round selection in June. And Mantha does have famous, albeit dustier, NHL bloodlines. His grandfather Andre Pronovost played on four Stanley Cup winners for the Montreal Canadiens.