- Sean Allen
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While there are certainly many fantasy owners poring over the results of the NHL draft to plan their keeper team for future years, the majority of fantasy owners are concerned with what some of these prospects can do for them right away.
There is good news for both types of fantasy owners. The 2013 NHL entry draft is stocked with prospects for now and for later. Remember, not many prospects make the jump and have an immediate impact. Last season, we got to see Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk finish in the top 5 among rookie scorers. The season prior, only Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made a real impact, with Sean Couturier and Adam Larsson contributing in a smaller way. Keep in mind that while there will be several players listed here with potential to help your fantasy team in the 2013-14 season, not all of them will make it through training camp or the nine-game trial before their NHL contract kicks in (and thus returning to juniors).
Then there is the unpredictability that sometimes goes along with projecting which prospects will make the jump. After the 2010 NHL draft, Jeff Skinner was not at the top of most lists as the impact rookie to own in fantasy leagues. But Skinner had more opportunity and assistance than Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin did that season and outshone them both. That is why you will find the third overall pick at the top of this list for fantasy impact rookies out of the draft.
Jonathan Drouin might not be the complete package that Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones are, but he has the right skill set for what his team needs. Drouin is slick with the puck and can score goals. The Tampa Bay Lightning need another skill player for their top six who can help get more pucks on Steven Stamkos' stick or finish plays on another line and draw off some of the attention that Stamkos will get. Therefore, from a fantasy perspective, it is easy to like Drouin for the coming season. The Bolts also just freed up some room on their scoring lines by buying out Vincent Lecavalier's contract. All the stars are aligned for Drouin to break camp next season with the Lightning. Is Drouin the most skilled player of the draft? Probably not. Does he have the most long-term fantasy value? Certainly not. But is he in the right place to succeed immediately? Absolutely, yes.
Prospects for now
Jonathan Drouin, F, Tampa Bay Lightning: As stated already, Drouin is the third overall pick in the draft by the Bolts. He was a linemate of fellow top draft choice Nathan MacKinnon with the Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads. Drouin finished second in scoring during the regular season with 105 points in just 49 games (Ben Duffy led the way with 110 points in 68 games) and led all players in postseason scoring as the Mooseheads took home the QMJHL title with 35 points in 17 games. There is plenty of room on the Lightning depth chart for Drouin, even more so with the buyout of Lecavalier. Whether he slots in on a line with Stamkos and Martin St. Louis or spells them on the second line, expect plenty of production from Drouin right out of the gate.
Seth Jones, D, Nashville Predators: Jones has it all and is as NHL-ready as prospect defensemen tend to get. Why he slipped to the fourth overall pick of the draft is a question the Predators don't want anyone to ask. Scoring 56 points in 61 games for the Portland Winterhawks last season certainly showed off his offensive acumen, but his defense is just as solid. It will be tempting to put Jones with Shea Weber on the blue line to form one of the most potent pairings in the NHL on paper. Don't forget the fact defensemen tend to come out of the gate a little slower in their NHL careers and may need an extra season or two before becoming fantasy darlings. That said, Jones is in a solid situation with the Predators and couldn't ask for a better mentor in Weber. If you are betting on a defenseman to beat the odds and have fantasy value immediately following his draft season, Jones is as good a bet as any.
Nathan MacKinnon, F, Colorado Avalanche: Coach Patrick Roy is already on record with MacKinnon opening the season on the Avalanche's third line with Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie (fantasy owners are going to like Roy). That doesn't mean this total-package player stays on the third line all season, but there is quite a bit of talent ahead of him on the depth chart. Playing in only 44 games, MacKinnon nabbed 75 points for the Mooseheads in the regular season. He got better when it mattered most, with 33 points in 17 games in the postseason. He then really turned it up a notch on the biggest stage with 13 points in four games, including a hat trick in the championship final, of the Memorial Cup. While it may be the third line in name, MacKinnon, McGinn and Downie have offensive talent and grit to spare among the three of them. Fantasy owners may end up appreciating MacKinnon more for what he does to McGinn's and Downie's value.
Sean Monahan, F, Calgary Flames: Someone has to play on the Flames' top line this season, so it may as well be Monahan. No stranger to adversity, Monahan performed well for an Ottawa 67's team that won just 16 games last season by scoring 78 points. But he is used to winning, as well, as Monahan managed to score 78 points in the season prior when the 67's finished first in their conference. Making the Flames' opening roster will be no easy task for Monahan, though. The team looks like it is in no position to compete this season, making it debatable where Monahan is best suited to play. That said, his size and puck skills may make it difficult not to let him on the roster if he earns it in training camp. It's just a question of who is going to help him earn appropriate fantasy value on a Flames team populated with other young prospects trying to make their mark.
Aleksander Barkov, F, Florida Panthers: Shoulder surgery late in the season aside, Barkov has the talent to play in the NHL right now, evidenced by his dominance of the Finnish elite league as a 17-year-old. He became the youngest player to collect a point in that league when he earned an assist in his debut in October 2011. The question with Barkov is whether the Panthers have the space to afford him a roster spot in 2013-14. Depending on what happens with restricted free agents like Shawn Matthias, Peter Mueller and Jack Skille, or prospects like Nick Bjugstad, the Panthers may or may not have a spot for Barkov on a scoring line. Of course, he has a chance to make up the team's mind for them in training camp, but with his shoulder preventing a proper offseason regimen, that is no guarantee.
Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers: With plenty of pounds left to add to his 6-foot-4 frame, Nurse doesn't project as a fantasy-impact defenseman immediately. However, the situation needs to also be considered and the Oilers need his help sooner than later. A smart and talented blueliner, Nurse had a solid 41 points and a telling 116 penalty minutes for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds last season. Certainly, the Greyhounds are hoping he'll be back next season, naming him team captain just last week. Most likely, the Greyhounds are right to expect him back. While there will be some pressure to rush him into the NHL, Nurse's arrival will be marked much stronger given another year of seasoning in the OHL.
Bo Horvat, F, Vancouver Canucks: The player the Canucks drafted with the pick they got from the New Jersey Devils for starting goaltender Cory Schneider, Horvat is amongst the NHL-ready prospects of this draft class. He is a two-way player in the mold of Ryan Kesler and may very well get to emulate Kesler while playing on the Canucks' third line this season. Word of caution here, as new coach John Tortorella rolls into Vancouver. Nothing is sacred for Tortorella when it comes to making up his lines, which could benefit or hurt Horvat depending on the situation. With Tortorella, it is always a wait-and-see approach when it comes to his line combinations. Horvat doesn't look like he'll score as many points as a lot of the other players in the draft class, but he is the type of player who can fit in well with talented linemates and score while making them better. Depending on his role with the Canucks, he could have value.
Prospects for later
Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dallas Stars: Some of these players were difficult to sort into the now or later group, Nichushkin among the most difficult among them. On one hand, he has asked to be bought out of his KHL contract to come play in North America. On the other hand, he has stated that will only be the NHL and not the AHL or OHL. So what happens? Well, luckily for the Stars, Nichushkin is likely more than talented enough to be on their roster right away. The reigning KHL rookie of the year has all the right elements in his game to adapt to any linemate. Nichushkin makes an excellent future winger for Jamie Benn, and depending on how things go in August and September, that future may be now.
Hunter Shinkaruk, F, Vancouver Canucks: For a Canucks team that proved to be awfully thin after the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler last season, Shinkaruk is still a long shot to break camp with the team. Playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers, Shinkaruk is an absolute goal scorer, tallying 86 in 130 games over the past two seasons. The Canucks have a lot of options to piece together their scoring lines under coach John Tortorella, but a lot of those options have flaws in them. All Shinkaruk needs is to push on the door when it opens a crack during training camp. However, he is far from a lock to be a fantasy asset this season.
Elias Lindholm, F, Carolina Hurricanes: Already contributing to his team in the Swedish elite league at the age of 18, Lindholm is a great passer and plays with a physical tenacity. After not scoring a point during a 12-game tenure with his Swedish team last season, Lindholm scored 30 points in 48 games this season to finish third on the team in scoring. If the Hurricanes didn't have so many forwards, Lindholm would be a sure thing to arrive in the NHL next season. But the Hurricanes do have a lot of forwards to choose from and it would be easy to let Lindholm have another season of development before bringing him into the fold. That said, the Hurricanes had a lot of forwards to choose from when Jeff Skinner forced his way onto the roster in 2010.
Anthony Mantha, F, Detroit Red Wings: Mantha could easily conjure up images of Johan Franzen or Tomas Holmstrom. Mantha led the QMJHL with 50 goals by fighting his way close to the net, being aware of the puck and using a quick wrist shot. Franzen and Holmstrom have made a living off a similar style of play for the Red Wings, and Franzen is still around to share trade secrets. Any mention of him makes sure to note questions about his effort, but the Red Wings are good at developing prospects. That is why Mantha, despite his potential for goals, isn't necessarily a fantasy asset for the coming season but is a far better long-term option.
Ryan Pulock, D, New York Islanders: Pulock is noted for his shot from the point, as its speed and release are among the best of the draft class. That bodes well for the Islanders in the future, as having a solid presence on the blue line to accompany the team's improving offense is sorely needed. Pulock missed some time with the Brandon Wheat Kings this past season, so his 19 goals in 2011-12 still stands out as his best campaign. But near 20 goals from a blueliner anywhere in the CHL is something to highlight for fantasy owners. Pulock may not break camp this coming season with the Isles, but when he does he will be worth taking a look at.
Max Domi, F, Phoenix Coyotes: As offensively talented as he is diminutive, the son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi has the kind of talent his father was paid to protect on the ice. At 5-10, there is the question of his size being a factor in the NHL. But size is only a factor if players don't adapt their game to it. Domi hasn't had to learn to adapt his game yet because his offensive skill is so dominant in the OHL for the London Knights. He will have to make adjustments when he comes up against bigger and better opponents. If he does, the Coyotes have a true talent on their hands. But it is going to take some patience.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres: Already playing more than 20 minutes a night for his team in the Finnish elite league, Ristolainen is a superb passer from the blue line and looks like a future steady fantasy defenseman. However, he is going to need some time to develop his game and adapt it to the NHL. Expect at least one more season in Europe for this 6-4 puck-moving defenseman before he joins the Sabres to try to help fantasy owners forget about Tyler Myers.
4hBy Ian O'Connor