Like most things in life worth attaining, becoming an NHL star isn't easy. The path to a place among the elite of the game is often a tough and rocky road, even for the most talented young players.
For every top prospect that succeeds, many, many more fail. Despite these huge odds, fantasy hockey enthusiasts try every offseason to predict which of the many “can't miss” prospects are ready, willing, and able to make the leap from phenom to true NHL star.
Here's our picks, in no particular order, for the 15 NHL prospects most likely to take the next step towards realizing their potential in the 2008-09 season.
If you're a smart general manager in a fantasy keeper league, you should try to get at least a couple of these players on your roster—if you don't already have them.
Bobby Ryan, RW, Anaheim Ducks—The Ducks have been very patient with Ryan, and finally their patience will be rewarded in 2008-09. A prototypical power forward, Ryan has been dominant in the American Hockey League but has struggled in his chances in the show. Expect 20 goals and 45 points this season, and 40 goals some time in the future.
Bryan Little, C, Atlanta Thrashers—The small but super talented Little played in 48 games for the Thrashers in 2007-08 and appears ready to make a bigger splash this season. Like all play-making centers, Little's ultimate fantasy value will depend to a great extent on who he has for wingers. Expect 40 points this year and more if he plays with Kovalchuk.
David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins—A player who continually gets the most out of his talent, Krejci did an admirable job at the end of last season filling in for the injured Marc Savard. A spot in the Bruins top six forwards should be available this season. With the right line-mates, he could easily double the 27 points he produced in 55 games last season.
Jack Skille, RW, Chicago Blackhawks—It was easy to overlook Skille's development last season in an organization that has Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the fold, but the young power forward is looking like a top six forward in the not too distant future. Look for a minimum of 40 points in 2008-09 for the Calder Trophy eligible winger.
T.J. Hensick, C, Colorado Avalanche—Hensick had 11 points in 31 games last season, but is definitely ready for a larger role. Depending on the status of Av's captain Joe Sakic, the former Michigan Wolverine could find himself centering one of the top two lines in Colorado this season. 40-50 points is a virtual guarantee, with more possible if the cards fall in his favor.
Nikita Filatov, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets—The sixth overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft has signed a contract with the Jackets and should be a force from day one of his NHL career. A Calder Trophy nomination is a definite possibility, if he gets the opportunity. Filatov's elite skills should produce 50 points in year one, with a 50 goal season a possibility in the future.
Derick Brassard, C, Columbus Blue Jackets—Columbus has so many great prospects, we couldn't just choose one. Brassard, a silky smooth play-making machine, is touted by many as a leading Calder Trophy candidate for the coming season. Long-term, a first line of Brassard, Filatov, and Nash would cause great excitement for both Blue Jackets fans and fantasy owners.
Fabian Brunnstrom, RW, Dallas Stars—Brunnstrom, often compared to Senator's captain Daniel Alfredsson, has speed and elite hands, but his production in 2008-09 may have more to do with who he plays with than his unquestioned talent. If a rumored partnership with center Brad Richards and left winger Sean Avery occurs, the 22-year-old Swede could be a Rookie-of-the-Year contender.
Shawn Matthias, C, Florida Panthers—You know you have the goods when you're centering the team's top line in your second NHL game. That's how highly the Panthers think of the talented power forward. With Olli Jokinen out of the picture, look for Matthias' opportunities to increase this season. 50 points should be a realistic projection with more in the future.
Jonathan Bernier, G, Los Angeles—The Kings have been handling Bernier with kid gloves and would really like to give the young net-minder a years seasoning in the AHL. But the 19-year-old might have other plans. If Bernier makes the team, look for him to gets lots of work and put up respectable numbers for a rookie. Kind of like Carey Price without the wins.
Kyle Okposo, RW, New York Islanders—The Islanders believe the Jarome Iginla clone could be the superstar the club so sorely needs, and his initial efforts (five points in nine games) did little to change their opinion. Whether he ever becomes the 40-goal sniper some scouts project remains to be seen, but 25 goals and 50 points in 2008-09 is not out of the question.
Kyle Turris, C, Phoenix Coyotes—The latest in what seems to be an endless string of Coyotes' prospects, Turris could turn out to be the best. The 18-year-old keeps impressing, dominating at both the World Juniors and in college hockey, before an impressive three game trial with the big club at the end of the season. The Calder Trophy favorite in the eyes of many observers.
T.J. Oshie, C, St. Louis Blues—Oshie has elite vision and hockey sense with the only question mark, in the past, being his size. Fortunately, Mother Nature has taken care of that and the young center man now stands 6'0”. Considering the Blues' existing center-ice talent, Oshie could be the team's number one pivot as early as this season. That could be big news for fantasy owners.
Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues—Perhaps the most NHL ready of the bumper crop of defensemen in this year's draft, Pietrangelo should make an impact in 2008-09. Highly-skilled and a great passer, Pietrangelo could quickly find himself on the Blues' top power-play unit with fellow-phenom Erik Johnson. He has the potential to lead all rookie defensemen in scoring.
Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning—Could we be saving the best for last? Blessed with a complete arsenal of offensive skills and surrounded by a group of veteran forwards in Tampa, the 18-year-old should get a chance to contribute offensively in his rookie season. 50 points in year one should be expected with more a real possibility if all the stars align correctly.