Here we are winding down on yet another year on fantasy hockey. Some of us are in single-year leagues and looking ahead at the playoff weeks to come. Then there are some of us who are simply left with no words except, "I swear I thought Steven Stamkos was going to have a huge year!"
But then there are some of us involved in an illustrious keeper league.
While keeping your eyes on matchups, monitoring injuries, and figuring out how to stack your roster for postseason domination is highly recommended, there is another issue that should be on your mind during the final weeks.
Keeper league prospects can single-handedly change the face of your fantasy organization in the blink of an eye, and there are a handful of guys that need to be on your radar heading into next season. Depending on the amount of keeper players your league allows for, one, or even a few of these young guys could give you a nice added spark in 2009-10...
Derick Brassard – Center, Columbus Blue Jackets
I had to lead off with this young guy because in my opinion, he is the top rookie keeper prospect.
Brassard’s rookie season came to a halt after he suffered a dislocated shoulder back in December, which required him to undergo season-ending surgery. At the time of his injury, he had already posted 25 points and a plus-12 rating in 31 games, which put him atop the rookie-scoring list. It was very disappointing to see his season end, as he could of rivaled his own teammate, Steve Mason, for this year’s Calder trophy.
Derick is a guy who caught on to the NHL’s style of play very quickly, and he made himself noticed when he moved up to the Blue Jackets first line between Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius.
You can bet he’ll be back at the start of next year, ready to make up for lost time. I feel very comfortable saying he’s a safe bet to put up at least 60 points next season. It would behoove you to strongly consider this guy as one of your keeper prospects.
Erik Johnson – Defense, St. Louis Blues
This guy found himself in a sophomore slump before he even had the chance to take the ice this season. In an off-season team golf outing accident, Erik tore both his ACL and MCL.
Not exactly what the Blues were hoping for from their first overall pick in the 2006 draft.
Despite being hampered by a foot injury during his rookie campaign, Johnson put up 33 points in 69 games played during the ’07-08 season.
As long as he stays healthy, and stays far away from the golf course, Erik is a young defenseman who will be hungry to take charge in 2009-10. He reminds me a lot of another former Blues D-man, you may know him as Chris Pronger. Not only because they are both giants, but because he has great speed, and he has a great ability to control play at the blue line.
If you want to give your team a head start in defense next season, make Erik Johnson one of your keeper selections.
Blake Wheeler – Right Wing, Boston Bruins
Scored a goal in his first NHL game, recorded his first hat-trick just a month later, and was named MVP during the 2009 NHL Young Stars game.
Quite the impressive resume for the breakout rookie winger.
Blake has put himself on the hockey world’s map this year, and after posting 38 points in 67 games, there’s no reason to believe his offensive trend won’t continue in the years to come.
I definitely see this guy placing himself ahead of Marco Sturm on the B’s top line alongside Marc Savard and Phil Kessel next year. In a position like that, he could explode and take his game to an all-star level. If not already taken, I would add this guy to your roster right away before someone else snags him up and reaps the benefits.
Jonathan Bernier – Goaltender, Los Angeles Kings
In the opening game of the 2007-08 season, Bernier showed us just a little of how good he could be. Unfortunately, he also showed another side of his game, which caused him to be sent down to the Kings AHL affiliate.
It’s no mystery that the Kings have struggled to find a consistent starting goaltender all year. After Jason LaBarbera was sent to Vancouver, the team needed to evaluate their remaining options. Erik Ersberg stepped in and posted decent numbers, but couldn’t find a spark of consistency to maintain the starting gig. Jon Quick was next in line, and has actually played very well for an up and coming LA team.
I do believe though that Jonathan Bernier is still the future of the team. He’s young, he’s gaining much needed experience in the minors, and if the Kings can put together a solid defensive core, Bernier could be very successful in the NHL. Look for him to challenge Jon Quick going into to next year’s training camp.
If you want to be the owner who takes a shot on a young guy before he hits star status, take a chance on Jonathan Bernier. You could be handsomely rewarded.
Nikita Filatov – Left Wing, Columbus Blue Jackets
Is it just me, or do the Blue Jackets have THE most impressive group of young stars in the league?
Well they do, and Nikita Filatov is next in line for Columbus.
There are big things in this kid’s future. He has a great overall sense for the game, he has great speed, and he can score. He’s played 8 games with the Jackets this year, and in those games he has 4 goals including a hat-trick performance against the Wild. Not too shabby for an 18 year-old.
He’s been seasoning himself with Syracuse in the AHL for a majority of the year, but he should absolutely earn himself a spot on the Blue Jackets roster next season. He could even find himself in their top 6 forwards mix. Put him next to Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek, and you could have a lethal young line.
It wouldn’t surprise me if we see this guy catch on quickly and start to make a significant impact. In a few years we could even see him putting up numbers similar to other top Russians in the league such as Pavel Datsyuk.
Forgive me for sounding like I’m campaigning him for office, but...Nikita Filatov in ’09-10.
There are other keeper prospects to consider such as James Neal, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn, and, of course, Stamkos. Look for the five aforementioned gentlemen, though, to be your top keeper prospects heading into the 2009-2010 season.
And that’s your Red Alert.