Here's the final edition of our fantasy hockey primer. Thanks to Dobber Hockey for the insight!
The sleeper pick is the ultimate fantasy owner move. Grab a player late in the draft who nobody else was even considering and he does great? Well that could win your league. And the ultimate sleeper pick is a rookie. Other than the top three or four picks in the latest NHL Draft plus a couple of the 'hyped' favorites, the average poolie has very little idea as to which rookies are close to landing a spot, let alone wasting a draft pick on them.
Luckily, I'm here to break it all down for you.
Even Johnny Casual knows about these fellas…
Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues - Brian Elliott has his hot weeks and even hot months. But he always hits that inevitable wall. If that happens early enough in the season, Allen well have a Calder-type campaign.
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers - The only 2014 draftee practically assured of an NHL roster spot, Ekblad is by far the best defenseman in this year's rookie class.
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks - Frederick Andersen will likely take the starting role in October, but if he misses time with another injury, Gibson will take over and it may be tough to get him to let go. On a strong Anaheim team, that's potentially a ton of W's.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals - Mature, responsible at both ends, can hold his own playing with weaker linemates or he can hold his own playing with the likes of Alex Ovechkin.
The 2014 Draftees
Besides Ekblad (above), there are several other quality picks from the recent draft who will make a splash this season if they made their respective NHL teams. But therein lies the risk.
Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames - The Flames just had Sean Monahan make the team as an 18-year-old, so the precedent has been set. If Bennett does make the squad, look for a similar impact.
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers - The Oilers were pretty quick to move Sam Gagner after drafting Draisaitl. On the other hand I get the sense that this team will be patient with their teenagers going forward.
Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres - Two words: Mikhail Grigorenko. The Sabres won't bring another teenager into that mess again. Will they?
While Allen and Gibson are the obvious ones with legitimate shots at seizing the No.1 role by Christmas, there are others who warrant consideration as they are just a key roster injury away from making the jump…
Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets - Welp, he's behind Ondrej Pavelec (aka "the train wreck"). So…yeah.
Martin Jones, Los Angeles Kings - Jonathan Quick is still recovering from wrist surgery, again. If those problems persist, you know Jones is going to fill the void with some kickass numbers.
Antti Raanta, Chicago Blackhawks - If Corey Crawford struggles with inconsistency and injuries again this season, Raanta will pile up the W's by default.
The Next Wave
Whether they make a splash this year or not, their time is coming. These prospects are safe bets to have a bright NHL future sooner rather than later
Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators - The Preds will be pushing offense a little more this year and Forsberg is probably in the top three among forwards in the organization when it comes to offensive skill.
Kevin Hayes, New York Rangers - Hayes was a superstar at the college level and he has the size, strength and skill that few other players boast - all at the age of 22.
Calle Järnkrok, Nashville Predators - After Nashville acquired him from the Red Wings, Jarnkrok put up nine points in 12 games. The team rewarded him by loading up at center (Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy). If he's not pushed out of the mix, he'll make his mark.
Anders Lee, New York Islanders - Lee has 10 goals in 24 career NHL games. He's 6-2, 225 pounds and at 24 he's more than ready for the NHL. He's on the shortlist to play with John Tavares and if that happens, watch out.
Tanner Pearson, Los Angeles Kings - Pearson is a staple on the second line with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. Assuming that line picks up where they left off in the postseason, Pearson will be a 45-point guy at the very least.
Ryan Spooner, Boston Bruins - With Carl Soderberg having moved back to center, Spooner could be in tough to make the team. But if somebody is moved to the wing (perhaps Spooner himself), then the 22-year-old could make a splash.
Sooner or Later…
Here are a few potential stars who may not make the team this year but when they finally do - wow. Most of these guys are sure to appear on this list next year and if they don't it's because they were already nominated for the Calder Trophy.
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames - Small (5-9, 150) and immensely talented, Gaudreau is coming off a tremendous season with Boston College where he tallied 80 points in 40 games playing on a line with Hayes (noted above). The performance won him last year's Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the NCAA.
Scott Laughton, Philadelphia Flyers - Laughton nearly made the Flyers as an 18-year-old and is coming off of a 40-goal season with Oshawa (OHL). Now AHL-eligible, he'll probably be back and forth between the Flyers and Lehigh Valley.
Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings - Good or bad, the Red Wings have a policy of holding prospects in the minors for a long, long time. Gustav Nyquist, for example, would have been on most pro rosters two years ago. So even though Mantha led the QMJHL with 120 points last year, he's still in tough. But if he makes it, it won't be as a penalty killer.
Derrick Pouliot, Pittsburgh Penguins - Pouliot underwent shoulder surgery early in the off-season and was expected to be out until December. He seems to think he'll be ready for October and if that's the case he makes a great dark horse. His vision and puck-moving talent rate through the roof.
Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators - An underrated winger throughout his career (drafted 178th overall in 2010), Stone continues producing at whatever level he plays. His problem since turning pro has been staying healthy.
Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks - A future star who could force his way onto a deep roster whether the Blackhawks like it or not. The team is afraid that with his slight frame he'll be susceptible to injury, but he may be too good to hold down.
Vince Trocheck, Florida Panthers - Trocheck didn't play his first NHL game until March 7, but he impressed so much that he quickly became a regular on the top line and ended up averaging 18:53 per game. The Panthers rewarded him by signing what seemed like two dozen forwards in the offseason and his two-way contract sticks out amongst a sea of one-way deals like a sore thumb.