- Sean Allen
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There is always a laundry list of players fantasy owners must get themselves acquainted with every season. If you don't play in a keeper league, there is little reason for you to have researched these names before now. Good news, we've done the sorting for you. Here are your fantasy-relevant rookies at forward, defense and goaltender -- all sorted by order of importance.
Nikita Filatov, Columbus Blue Jackets: And we start the list off with the only forward who is not a rookie by the technical definition. This incredibly shifty, speedy, scoring winger left for the KHL last season after coach Ken Hitchcock showed a preference for playing veterans. He potted 22 points in 26 games in the KHL and is back ready to light the lamp for the Blue Jackets under coach Scott Arniel. If he gets the ice time required, Filatov has the experience and skill to run away with the Calder, if he were eligible. He is a definite fantasy gamble but needs to be drafted among your starters if you want him.
Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers: He is a tenacious player and comes through in the clutch. Eberle destroyed the Junior-level Western Hockey League last season to the tune of 106 points in 57 games. He finished the season with the Oilers' American Hockey League affiliate, scoring 14 points in 11 games. Eberle's determination makes him ready for any level of hockey. He should walk on to the Oilers this season and start scoring from the get-go. The attention might be on Taylor Hall, but Eberle is where fantasy owners will find their value.
Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres: He's small, but Ennis is fast enough to make an impact at the NHL level. He showed his skills with nine points in 10 games in his debut for the Sabres last season and potted a further four points in six playoff games. While he is no lock for a top-six forwards assignment, Ennis will have to play his way off the Sabres' lineup card to begin the season. Ideally, he'll earn a role on the top line, in which case he would be one of the top threats for the Calder Trophy, as long as NHL defensemen don't get a book on him. If you are going to place a rookie in your starting roster from the get-go, Ennis is one of the few options that would make a wise choice.
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers: The overall No. 1 pick in the entry draft will surely be in an Oilers uniform this season. He has nothing left to prove with the Windsor Spitfires after two Memorial Cups and it's not as if the Oilers have talent to force him off the roster. Working in Hall's favor will be the availability of all the ice time he can handle, but that is offset by the possible lack of veteran leadership. Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky are as close as it gets to star linemates. Expect a similar rookie season to what John Tavares produced last season and Steven Stamkos the season prior: roughly 25 goals and 50 points total. He should definitely be considered as a final forward on your roster, but drafting him earlier than in the 10th round is jumping the gun.
Eric Tangradi, Pittsburgh Penguins: What Tangradi lacks in raw offensive talent he more than makes up for with size and opportunity. Tangradi uses his body to get an angle on the puck and can muck in the corners with the best of them. That is why the Penguins are looking to give him the opportunity to be on the wing for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. The points by osmosis that come with such an assignment would immediately make him draft-worthy. If he actually has chemistry with Crosby or Malkin, the sky is the limit.
Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: We will have to find out the hard way if Kadri is truly ready for an NHL debut. The Leafs' organization would face serious backlash from the Toronto media if it didn't put the young star front and center for the coming season. He has offensive instincts, no question, but whether he can take his skating and movement to the NHL level yet is debatable. There is little doubt Kadri will get the ice time to prove himself though, so don't hesitate to gamble on him. Talent and opportunity make fantasy hockey stars and Kadri will have both this season.
Brett MacLean, Phoenix Coyotes: MacLean not only knows how to shot the puck to score, but he shoots so often he is bound to score the odd garbage goal as well. It's quite the combination for this up-and-coming winger. He could easily find a role in the Coyotes' top six. The bigger question is whether or not the Coyotes can provide him the right type of linemates to open up the ice for him to realize his 25-goal potential as a rookie.
Michael Grabner, Florida Panthers: Grabner started to show off exactly how much an impact his speed on the wing could make before blowing out his knee early last season. He came back late in the season and still managed to produce points, but there was no room for him on the Canucks' depth chart other than as a third-line winger. Fast-forward to the approaching season and Grabner is on a Panthers team that shipped out its biggest offensive threat during the offseason. If Grabner can earn a spot on the top line, he could produce a ton of points finishing passes from Stephen Weiss. A big problem is that the Panthers' depth chart is boom or bust; if Grabner isn't with Weiss and David Booth, the consolation assignment to the second line is a big drop-off.
Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins: On one hand, Tyler Seguin would have great linemates if he managed to crack the Bruins' lineup. On the other hand, all the existing talent on the roster could be enough to convince Bruins management to give its prized prospect another year of development. Seguin's talent trails closely what Taylor Hall offers as far as ice awareness and scoring prowess, but even if he makes the team, his role and ice time will be limited by comparison. He should not be a big factor on draft day but is likely worth a late gamble in deep leagues.
Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames: Backlund is almost a lock to make the Flames' roster, but he'll need to move up the depth chart to have an impact. Given that the Flames have had trouble solving their pivot problems and the fact that Backlund can play the wing, odds of him moving up are favorable. The main factor that has held Backlund back has been ice time, so if he can improve his lot on the depth chart, all his numbers will go up.
Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders: Putting on a great performance as a WHL rookie, Niederreiter handled the transition from Swiss hockey to North America with ease. He plays a rather physical game and is a future candidate for a 40-goal season. It may be one year too soon to consider him a fantasy option, but he should be near the top of your list of players to keep an eye on in training camp, as the Islanders don't exactly have the deepest of depth charts.
Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens: Eller arrived from Sweden as an AHL rookie last season and proceeded to become a dominant force for the St. Louis Blues affiliate. He managed 57 points in 70 games and was a catalyst on offense. Now with the Canadiens, Eller may not be in the running for a top-six roster spot, but should make the third line for the Habs to start the season. His versatility and ability to play either wing can help him move up from there.
Mattias Tedenby, New Jersey Devils: He still hasn't competed in North American hockey, but Tedenby has speed to burn. His skill level is definitely at the right level for the NHL, but applying it in a professional game doesn't always translate right away. Also working against Tedenby is the Devils' depth chart. Its top six are, for the most part, established for the Devils and it would require an injury to open up room for him. The smart move for the organization may be to place Tedenby in the AHL for a season.
Magnus Paajarvi, Edmonton Oilers: Despite some dominant performances at the World Junior Championships, Paajarvi still has some holes in his game. He scored 29 points in 49 games in the Swedish Elitserien last season and still may need work in the AHL to adjust to the North American game. Paajarvi represents talent though, and if the Oilers decide to declare open season for prospects he could play his way into a decent role with the club.
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: Couture has more experience than many of the other rookies (mainly because he played one game fewer than the eligibility cut-off last season) and had the benefit of a playoff run with the Sharks. He has some two-way upside that is developing and offensive ability. The biggest problem facing Couture is the fact that the Sharks have an established and unlikely-to-change top six. Couture can do only so much as third-line player.
Scott Glennie, Dallas Stars: The biggest factor working in Glennie's favor is the lack of scoring wingers, outside of Loui Eriksson, in the Stars' organization. Even James Neal and Jamie Benn are out of their element acting as snipers on their lines. Glennie is a true goal scorer and would love to receive passes from Brad Richards around the net. He'll have to show his development is able to jump directly from the WHL into the NHL, though, which is a tall order for anyone.
Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, New York Rangers: This Norwegian free agent turned enough heads at the Olympic Winter Games to get a contract from the Rangers this offseason. Given the lack of depth for the Rangers, he has a better-than-average chance of earning decent ice time both on and off the power play. The ultimate goal will be ice time with Marian Gaborik and if that comes to fruition, Zuccarello-Aasen goes from interesting gamble to must-have winger.
p>Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils: Like many of his Windsor Spitfires teammates, Henrique has nothing left to prove in the Ontario Hockey League. But like many of his fellow Devils prospects, he looks to be a victim of the numbers game. There isn't enough room on the depth chart to give such a talented two-way forward the ice time he needs to develop. A season in the AHL looks to be in the offing. If he slides onto the roster somehow, he is definitely one to watch. Henrique has the talent and nose for the net to score a ton of goals and generate positive plus/minus for his linemates.
Drayson Bowman, Carolina Hurricanes: Bowman's stats took a nosedive in his rookie AHL campaign last season, but considering he bounced up to the NHL on occasion, 32 points in 56 games isn't terrible. The Hurricanes are likely to need his physical style of play more than qualities that other prospects may bring to the table, but making the roster doesn't guarantee him the ice time he needs. He would absolutely need to win a top-six role to be fantasy relevant.
Evgeny Grachev, New York Rangers: Grachev appeared to have taken a step back with the transition from OHL to AHL for last season. He went from an 80-point power forward in the OHL to a 28-point mild contributor in the AHL. He has the size and nose for the net to be a big factor down the road, but he needs to get his development back on track. If that happens sooner than later, he could have some fantasy value on an offensively shallow Rangers team.
Mathieu Perreault, Washington Capitals: Perreault will have to be as fast and skilled as Martin St. Louis or Brian Gionta to make an impact in the NHL because he is just as large as they are. This diminutive center has to keep his wheels moving at all time to stay ahead of the play, but he has developed the ability to do exactly that in the AHL. Perreault scored nine points in a 21-game debut with the Capitals last season and his production won't climb higher than that this season unless he cracks the top six. As much as the top six forwards seem pretty solidified for the Caps, there is always a chance the team decides to spread out the offense even more.
Zac Dalpe, Carolina Hurricanes: Dalpe jumped from the college route to the AHL late last season and showed he is more than ready to handle the transition. In 17 games both late in the season and into the postseason for the Hurricanes' AHL affiliate, Dalpe scored nine goals and 13 points. There isn't much room on the Hurricanes' depth chart and there are other rookies who have spent more time honing their games in the AHL, so Dalpe would have some hurdles to clear before making the NHL roster. And even then his ice time wouldn't be spectacular.
Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks: Hodgson lost all of last season to injuries and his stock has dropped in the Canucks' organization. He was the 2009 player of the year in junior hockey and has the talent to get back into the mix again, but it will likely take some time. Given the depth of the Canucks, there is no reason to rush Hodgson at all.
Brayden Schenn, Los Angeles Kings: Assuming his knee heels, Schenn is ready to earn a role with the Kings. The limitations of that role will dictate his fantasy value and pending the injury of a player ahead of him on the depth chart, Schenn is unlikely to earn the ice time required of a fantasy commodity. He has the talent and the style of play to put up a point per game as a first-line player down the road, but as a likely third- or fourth-liner this season there isn't much upside.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: With Andrei Markov expected to miss the early part of the season, Subban has every opportunity to claim dominance as the Canadiens' top blueliner. He played huge minutes for the club during last season's Cinderella playoff run and potted eight points in 14 postseason games. Subban is a more than adequate power-play quarterback and may continue in that role even after Markov's return (the two may share the blue line). Putting a basement of 40 points on Subban is not unreasonable.
John Carlson, Washington Capitals: Could Mike Green have a protégé? John Carlson was the hero for the United States with a Green-style overtime winner at the World Junior Championships. Carlson scored 39 points in 48 AHL games last season and potted six points as the sixth defenseman for the Capitals in 22 games (plus-11). The problem is that the Capitals cannot possibly play Carlson and Green together or it would be like having five forwards on the ice. Still, Carlson can be a lesser version of Green for the Caps' secondary attack. As with Subban, 40 points is the basement for Carlson's rookie season.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: Though not a rookie by definition, Pietrangelo has been hanging around as the potential breakout player for the past two seasons and it's hard to imagine the Blues not giving him a fair shake this season. He played fewer than 10 games for the Blues to start the past two seasons before being shipped back to the OHL. This past season he had 29 points and a plus-20 in 25 games for the Barrie Colts -- just ridiculous numbers. There will be no benefit to keeping Pietrangelo out of the NHL this season. He also has the most offensive skill of any defenseman on the Blues' depth chart.
Jamie McBain, Carolina Hurricanes: McBain was a hit with the Hurricanes after a late-season call-up. He posted 10 points in 14 games and provided a strong presence on the power play. However, things have changed from last season. Joe Corvo and Anton Babchuk will now pull rank on McBain for ice time, not to mention Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason. While he may be a 40-point defenseman waiting to happen, McBain has too many hurdles to hit that height this season without some outside influence (like injuries to players ahead of him on depth chart).
Kevin Shattenkirk, Colorado Avalanche: Shattenkirk has developed properly, with his defensive awareness taking priority over his offensive output. But make no mistake: His offensive output is above average. The Avalanche's offense and goaltending are both making strides and Shattenkirk could be the factor that allows the defense to catch up. He could easily skip past every other defender on the depth chart if he can prove he is ready for the NHL. The biggest stumbling block will be the transition straight from college hockey to the NHL, but that always goes a bit smoother for defensemen than it does for forwards.
Jakub Kindl, Detroit Red Wings: While Kindl doesn't offer a heck of a lot of offensive upside, his potential for mild offensive contribution combined with plus/minus and penalty minutes makes him interesting to fantasy owners.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes: He has all the tools to be an offensive defenseman in the NHL; he just needs to put them all together as he makes the transition to the North American game. While the Coyotes have lots of better-than-average players on the blue line, they have no true standouts. That is as wide as the door will get for Ekman-Larsson heading into this season. While the talent is definitely there, the opportunity doesn't appear to be. He would have to surpass Ed Jovanovski, Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris and Keith Yandle on the depth chart. Even Sami Lepisto offers decent upside and experience, so Ekman-Larsson has his work cut out for him.
Bobby Sanguinetti, Carolina Hurricanes: If there isn't room for Jamie McBain to put up strong numbers, then Sanguinetti is really in trouble. While his offensive upside is better, he lacks McBain's defensive awareness and he can be somewhat of a liability on the ice.
Thomas Hickey, Los Angeles Kings: His development has slowed after he lost most of last season to injury, but Hickey has the talent to quickly right the ship in the right circumstances. He is unlikely to start the season with the Kings, but could be a quick addition at the first sign of weakness on the blue line. He is definitely a puck-moving defenseman and would complement an all-around talent like Drew Doughty quite well. He is a gamble in fantasy drafts who might not pay out any dividends.
Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks: The departure of Scott Niedermayer opens up the opportunity for Fowler to transition to the NHL. There are still a number of players ahead of him on the depth chart and his youth will work against him, but Fowler's upside is better than that of most other options the Ducks have on defense. In deep leagues, he should probably be on a roster until the Ducks cut him.
Jonathan Bernier, Los Angeles Kings: Bernier is a name that has been around for a while, but he didn't start to put it all together until last season. The Kings threw him to the wolves in 2007-08 when he was drafted, but ended up back in junior that season. He then spent the past two seasons in the AHL. Things snapped into place last season when Bernier put up the best numbers in the development league. With a 2.03 goals-against average and .936 save percentage, Bernier showed he is ready to take the next step. While Jonathan Quick was adequate for the Kings in his stead, he doesn't have the game-changing upside Bernier does. Bernier could well steal the starting job before the season begins.
Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals: The Capitals are leaving the netminding to the kids this season. Semyon Varlamov gets first crack at the starter's gig, but Neuvirth will be right there if he buckles under the pressure. Neuvirth has almost as much regular-season experience as Varlamov and has comparable numbers. Neuvirth put up a strong 2.24 goals-against average in the AHL last season and is almost as likely as Varlamov to catch on as the starter. He makes a must-handcuff to Varlamov.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks: There doesn't need to be a case made as to why Cristobal Huet is not a reliable starter. That is where Crawford comes in. He has been developed slowly and steadily by the Blackhawks' organization and still boasts the upside of an NHL starter. If (when) Huet stumbles this season, Crawford will be there to pick up the pieces.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here
Sean Allen introduces all the first-year (and a few slightly more experienced) players you need to know for the 2010-2011 fantasy hockey season.