Once all of the Crosbys, Ovechkins, Malkins, Stamkoses, Sedins, Staals, Girouxs, Kessels, Kovalchuks and Spezzas are claimed, fantasy hockey owners are advised to seek supplementary scoring through the NHL’s still-blossoming stars.
Depending on what counts in a given league, the ideal team assembles forwards and blueliners who will swell up their scoring line and plus/minus, centers who will win faceoffs and goaltenders who will pile up assertive victories. Those are best achieved by way of established, proven players in their respective positions.
Any remaining slots after that ought to be filled with budding producers, those whose output is relatively easy to project even while they have yet to set a precedent in other stat columns.
The slight discrepancy in experience from the aforementioned makes the top first-, second- and third-year NHLers a little less of a sure thing to saturate one’s fantasy scorecard. With that said, their promising prospects and, in some cases, their undeniable upward trend put them somewhere between the most worthwhile risk and hardly a risk of any sort.
In alphabetical order, the top 15 fantasy prospects with no more than two full years of NHL action on their transcript are as follows.
Within his third professional season and second full NHL campaign with the San Jose Sharks, the still-ripening Logan Couture matched his 65-point output from the previous two years. He will vie to reach a new personal height at the age of 23, with a third consecutive 30-goal season hardly in doubt and the 70-point range both perfectly reasonable propositions.
Besides his growing maturity, Couture’s individual productivity should also benefit from his rebounding from a bit of an off-year and reclaiming the Pacific Division crown with triple-digit points in the standings.
In spite of a depleted defense and the offseason exits of Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk, the Philadelphia Flyers should still pick up and stash its fair share of scoring chances. The sophomore Couturier ought to be ready to embrace a bigger role as he tries to help replenish some of what was lost with the aforementioned transactions.
Assuming he re-signs with the Buffalo Sabres—or even makes an unlikely conversion to a new team with little missed action—Ennis should be ready to recompense an injury-plagued 2011-12 season. If he can do that, his NHL numbers should be elevated to the range of his first and only AHL season (23 goals, 65 points in 69 games in 2009-10).
No level lower than the NHL can do much more to challenge Emerson Etem as he has virtually graduated the major-junior ranks on the heels of scoring 61 goals in 65 games for the Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada's Medicine Hat Tigers.
If all goes according to plan for both parties, the Anaheim Ducks will reap a respectable rookie season out of Etem as part of an upgrade on the exported Jason Blake. In turn, they will smoothly transition the aging Teemu Selanne’s shared grip of the torch with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to the Long Beach native.
Carl Hagelin split his first professional campaign between the New York Rangers and the AHL's Connecticut Whale and ultimately played the bulk on Broadway, earning his stay with a 14-24-38 scoring log.
Granted, Hagelin fizzled in the postseason with merely three assists in 17 games. But head coach John Tortorella ought to stoke enough of a competitive fire to make the Swedish sophomore either a legitimate top-sixer or a top-six-caliber third-line striker.
Fantasy owners looking to bank on a best-case scenario that falls within reasonable boundaries of probability can go with Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Hall.
The top draft pick from 2010 and the rest of the returning big four (soon-to-be big five) of the Oilers’ offensive youth movement are coming back raring to prove they are a year older and sharper. For Hall in particular, the most enticing question for his third NHL campaign ought to be, “What can he produce if he plays in about 80 games instead of just 65 or 61?”
A healthy breed of conviction ought to be residing in New Jersey Devils' Adam Henrique’s psyche as he is coming off a not-so-shabby freshman playoff with a 5-8-13 transcript and two series-clinching overtime goals.
At least in terms of offensive production, it is not a stretch to expect Jonathan Huberdeau to have a rookie year with the Florida Panthers reminiscent of Gabriel Landeskog’s with the Colorado Avalanche. The team’s all-around modicum of firepower might slow him down to an extent, but he can still jut out of the shallow pond with an irreproachable output in the 20-goal, 50-point range.
Using his uncanny combination of size and speed, Chris Kreider got more than one should have logically expected when he joined the New York Rangers fresh out of Boston College in time for last year’s playoffs.
Rather than merely get his skates wet as a practice taxi, he put in 18 appearances over the three rounds and charged up five goals and two assists.
That was enough of a symbolic leap as he has literally and figuratively skipped over the AHL's Connecticut Whale and could be a top-sixer for the Blueshirts and a Calder Cup candidate in 2012-13. If nothing else, delving into his first regular season after that springtime introduction to The Show should amount to a natural increase in his production rate.
Whether or not his Colorado Avalanche can be much better in the coming year, Gabriel Landeskog need not generate much fear of dropping off too far from the 22-30-52 scoring log and jutting plus-20 rating that got him the 2011-12 Calder.
Like teammate Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ought to have joined Jordan Eberle in the 70-point range at the top of his list of new season’s resolutions.
And as it is with Hall, that should be attainable if he does not miss significant time. Nugent-Hopkins totaled 52 points in 62 games as an Edmonton rookie and, as his team as a whole, should be adamant about trending upward.
Not unlike Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn will be asked to do a little more as the Philadelphia Flyers enact a little bit of a youth movement to sustain its exceptional offense.
Not unlike New Jersey's Adam Henrique and New York's Chris Kreider, he should have more confidence in the wake of his first NHL playoff run. Playing in roughly one-fifth as many games as he had in the regular season, he turned in half as many points over Philadelphia’s two-round ride.
A few intermittent sophomore slumps slowed down Tyler Seguin’s sophomore surge from 22 points as a rookie to a team-best 67 in 2011-12. The Boston Bruins' coaching staff, front office and fantasy owners alike should expect nothing but additional ascension in production over his third season, possibly cracking the 80-point plateau.
Each of Nail Yakupov’s four immediate predecessors as the No. 1 overall draft pick went on without delay to post points in the high 40s or 50s as a rookie. If he at least hits that range, it might not constitute a breakout year per se, but it will make him a worthwhile depth player on one’s fantasy team.