15 East rookies to watch
Aleksander Barkov was taken second overall by the Florida Panthers at the draft this past summer. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
15 East rookies to watch
Every season there are rookies who make an impact in the fantasy hockey world. Not so much up near the top, as the Sidney Crosby-esque 102-point season is rare indeed, but clustered in that 40- to 55-point range. Here are some candidates who are either worth drafting or worth taking quickly off the waiver wire. I could only fit one conference into the column, so you'll have to return Monday to get the West.
Torey Krug, Boston - In the spring, Krug posted six points in his first seven games - playoff games - and had the fantasy world buzzing (not to mention Boston fans). But he cooled off after that. It was a nice glimpse into what his future could hold, but I would be surprised if he topped 25 points in his rookie season.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo - He played 25 games last season but is still considered a rookie. Barely. People often ask me if I prefer Cody Hodgson's or Tyler Ennis' upside. When Grigorenko comes into his own, nobody will care about that question anymore.
Joel Armia, Buffalo - Grigorenko isn't the only blue-chipper in the Buffalo system. Armia can skate and score goals. He has a projectable frame that will make him hard to stop when he fills out.
Ryan Murphy, Carolina - The Joni Pitkanen injury solidified this spot for Murphy, who is arguably the defenseman on the Hurricanes with the most offensive upside. If he can handle the power play responsibilities at 20 years of age, the points in 2013-14 will surprise. But that's a big if.
Boone Jenner, Columbus - Jenner is definitely one to watch, but also one to be cautious about. He wasn't drafted to be a scorer, but rather a leader and a gritty two-way guy. His offense has really picked up steam over the past 18 months or so and now he's showing chemistry on a line with Marian Gaborik. But pre-season lines fizzle out quickly - the legend of Brandon Bochenski should serve as a stark reminder to poolies forever.
Ryan Murray, Columbus - This 19-year-old is an all-round defenseman with no glaring weakness. Generally that means modest point totals for a few years before he finds his way, but still a solid keeper league option.
Aleksander Barkov, Florida - Speaking of all-round games with no glaring weakness, that kind of sounds like Barkov. Of the top three forwards taken in this year's draft, the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Finn might be the safest bet. He doesn't have the upside of a Nathan MacKinnon, but he doesn't really have a downside either. And he can probably produce fantasy-worthy numbers right away - I have him pegged for the mid-50s.
Brock Nelson, N.Y. Islanders - After a successful two years in college, Nelson played his first full pro season last year and led Bridgeport in scoring. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds he has the size to hold down a spot on a checking line until he's ready to contribute on a scoring line in three or four years.
Ryan Strome, N.Y. Islanders - If I were to guess, I would lean towards Strome not making the team this year. That being said, he could make the Islanders and if he does he is one to watch. At this point in his career, his game is all about offense, so fantasy owners can't wait.
Chris Kreider, N.Y. Rangers - Remarkable, but true. Kreider is still a rookie. Last season he played 23 games, while the season prior he played zero regular season games (though 18 in the playoffs). Without researching this (what do I look like, a librarian?), he has to be among the all-time leaders in games played by an eligible rookie. New coach Alain Vigneault has been using him in key power play situations, planting him in front of the net.
J-G Pageau, Ottawa - The underrated Pageau caught the attention of the fantasy world when he scored a hat trick during a playoff game. The Senators are a deep team up the middle and he'll have a tough time just getting in - but he'll succeed because he's given the Sens no choice. He's been that good. In fact, although Pageau will start the season on a depth line, his talent and work ethic will move him up to a scoring line by January. Look for his numbers to get better as the year goes along.
Michael Raffl, Philadelphia - The 24-year-old undrafted star out of Sweden is probably competing for the final roster spot with Scott Laughton. More of a waiver-wire option than a draft option, Raffl could surprise not unlike the way Matt Read did two years ago.
Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay - Everyone's favorite fantasy rookie, even over MacKinnon. I've seen the polls and read and interacted with poolies in my forum and on Twitter. Fantasy owners love Drouin. Not just because of his talent, but also because of the chance he’ll play with Steven Stamkos. Personally, I prefer MacKinnon because Drouin's potential is too drastic. He could set the world on fire if he clicks with Stamkos all year, or he could be sent down after nine games.
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay - Last year's American League-leading goal scorer and MVP, Johnson has done nothing but impress since being signed as a free agent in 2011. In his first year, he was on the AHL all-rookie team and last year when he was called up, he posted six points in his first five NHL games. Not to be counted out and he has the potential to get off to the kind of start that Cory Conacher did last season.
Radko Gudas, Tampa Bay - One of the best dark horses in multi-category leagues, Gudas has the potential to post 20 points, 150 penalty minutes and a positive plus-minus rating this season. A must-draft in rotisserie formats.
Honorable mentions: Mark Pysyk (Buffalo), Connor Carrick (Washington), Scott Laughton (Philadelphia), Tom Wilson (Washington), Nick Bjugstad (Florida) and Cody Ceci (Ottawa).
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