Hockey News: Next Year's Sleepers

Updated: March 19, 2007, 1:01 PM ET
By Darryl Dobbs | Special to ESPN.com

For those of you kicking yourself for not snatching this year's premier dark horse (Colorado's Paul Stastny) in last summer's draft, here are three early candidates for next season.

Robert Nilsson, Edmonton Oilers

Of the three, Robert Nilsson presents the biggest risk. When he brings his 'A' game to the rink, the 22-year-old left winger can be one of the most creative prospects in the world. The problem is, as Islanders coach Ted Nolan would tell you -- he doesn't always bring his 'A' game.

Accused of being defensively irresponsible at times, Nilsson now has a clean slate to make a different impression. He was traded to the Oilers at the trade deadline in a deal that sent Ryan Smyth to the Islanders.

Nilsson will one day be an 85-point player. Whether that will happen in the NHL or the American League remains to be seen. Next season he's definitely a candidate to have a Stastny-esque 70-point campaign.

He is also a strong candidate to be cut out of training camp. The 15th overall pick in 2003 for the Islanders scored a goal in his Edmonton debut last week. And the Oilers hope there is more to come. All you can do this summer is draft him and hope this long shot pulls through for you.

Tomas Fleischmann, Washington Capitals

The 22-year-old Tomas Fleischmann was expected to crack the Washington roster this season, but after training camp it was decided he would be better served with another year with Hershey.

A left winger by trade, Fleischmann got some practice at playing right wing in the AHL, since that would be his best ticket back to Washington. Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have secured the top two left wing spots on the big club, so learning the right side is a must.

A highly intelligent hockey player, Fleischmann has 85-point potential in the NHL. You may have noticed his four-point effort for the Caps Sunday against the Lightning -- he did that with less than 12 minutes of ice time.

More of a sure thing in terms of making the big club next season, Fleischmann will tally anywhere from 35-75 points. A big range to be sure, but it truly is dictated by how he establishes himself in training camp and how well he adapts to life as a right winger.

You can probably expect him to gain momentum as the season wears on, much like Stastny is doing right now.

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers

My personal favorite of the three to emulate Stastny next year in terms of offensive production, Ryan Callahan would need a breakdown of epic proportions to not make the team in the fall. Judging by his career trajectory to date, this is unlikely to happen.

Drafted 127th overall in 2004 by the Rangers, Callahan improved dramatically in 2005-06 as an overage player for Guelph of the Ontario League.

His number skyrocketed when it mattered the most, though -- the playoffs -- putting up nearly two points per game. That sort of progression is expected of a 21-year-old in junior hockey, but Callahan really took a step forward this season in the AHL, compiling 55 points in 60 contests.

Steady improvement is the best measure of a fantasy hockey prospect when tracking him through the minor leagues. Callahan has shown it and should become a 65- or even 75-point right winger who will also give fantasy owners 100 PIMs a season at the NHL level.

Judging by his impressive, albeit brief, NHL stint -- he scored twice Saturday against the Bruins in his fourth NHL game -- this could happen next year.

Darryl Dobbs' Fantasy Pool Look appears every Monday and Wednesday only on The Hockey News.com. Want to speak with Darryl about fantasy hockey? E-mail him at dobber@dobberhockey.com.

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