Aaron Ekblad. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
Is your keeper league team ready to rebuild? Here are 20 players to target who can give you a nice return at a reasonable asking price.
Some GM posts that subject header on many a fantasy league message board around this time every year. Most standard regular season pools have roughly six weeks remaining, meaning plenty of teams are eliminated from contention.
Hey you, bottom dwellers. If you play in a keeper or dynasty format, it isn't time to take your ball and go home yet. Start advertising your veteran assets in search of building blocks for next season and beyond. Who are the best keeper-league players to target if you don't have them? The answer should be "no" to at least two of the following questions:
1. Has he reached his peak value? Tyler Seguin, in a sense, makes a phenomenal keeper. He's 23, and he's in the running for a scoring title. If he's not on your team right now, however, you aren't likely to get him. Any team that has Seguin this year is probably contending for a league crown. You won't see Vladimir Tarasenko or Filip Forsberg on this list for the same reason. All the power to you if you can get one of these three guys, but keep in mind it'll cost you a fortune. So will a big-time brand name like Nathan MacKinnon, even on a down year. This list focuses more on sneaky adds.
2. Is his developmental path blocked? John Gibson, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jake Allen, Zach Fucale, Malcolm Subban. All outstanding prospects in net. None has a clear path to unquestioned starter status anytime soon. They're still quality bench stashes as they can succeed if given the opportunity, but they're not worth surrendering your best trading chips for. Even Allen, who has the closest path to starting of that quintet, shares the crease with a goalie who just went to his second All-Star Game in Brian Elliott.
3. Is he still a couple years away from his true breakout? Players like Sam Reinhart and Max Domi have bright NHL futures, but they don't top my keeper league buy list just yet. How long do you want your rebuild to be in a hockey pool? You can trade vets for these blue-chippers but may not get the return you want for a couple more seasons. It's better to target players who already have some extensive NHL experience and are closer to spikes in production.
With that, here are 20 keeper buys to consider.
20. John Klingberg, D
I'm not convinced the window to buy Klingberg has closed, despite the fact he's been so good as a rookie with Dallas. Would you know him if he walked past you on the street? He doesn't have massive name recognition yet. Some Klingberg owners might part with him at the trade deadline thinking they're selling high, but he can anchor a fantasy team blueline next year.
19. Seth Jones, D
Jones makes for a great acquisition if you prefer the long, realistic rebuild that lasts multiple years. Jones will become a high-end offensive blueliner, but big fellas like him take time to find their scoring touch more often than not. It wouldn't be a surprise if Jones' explosion comes in 2016-17, not 2015-16. So don't go nuts trying to get him.
18. Morgan Rielly, D
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in turmoil, but things shape up nicely for Rielly next season. He's pretty much the lone untouchable asset on the active roster and, with Cody Franson and maybe even Dion Phaneuf gone next season, Rielly's minutes will increase. He should set career highs across the board – and here's betting he costs little to acquire in your league.
17. David Perron, LW/RW
Who says every keeper prospect must be brand-new to the NHL? Perron's surface numbers for the season – 31 points in 53 games – make him look like waiver fodder. He has eight goals and 12 points in 15 games with the Penguins, and he's under contract another year. He's not so obviously hot that a contender wouldn't part with him in most pools, and he's someone I'd be happy to stash for next season. He'll continue playing with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
16. Teuvo Teravainen, C/LW
There's a nice discrepancy between Teravainen's production and potential, making him a low-risk, high-gain purchase. A "buyer" team has little use for a youngster with four points in 14 games, but Teravainen could unseat Brad Richards as Chicago's No. 2 pivot by next year. Try and trade for him or simply add him off the wire if he's available and your keeper team's out of contention.
15. Jacob Trouba, D
His offense arrived ahead of schedule last season, when he produced 10 goals as a rookie blueliner. This season has disappointed by comparison. Still, Trouba is just 21 and a huge part of Winnipeg's future.
14. Mika Zibanejad, C/RW
The Swede has great size and speed. He's looked comfortable since moving up to center Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur on Ottawa's top line, and he's a decent bet to stay there going forward, as he has better raw physical tools than Kyle Turris. The Senators want Zibanejad to win the job.
13. Jonathan Drouin, LW/RW
Drouin has massive long-term potential, given his creativity with the puck and the team he plays for. The problem is playing for Tampa works against him in the short term. He just can't crack the top six of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, and none of those guys is going anywhere.
12. Dougie Hamilton, D
Zdeno Chara inches closer to his twilight every day. The Bruins blueline will gradually become Hamilton's show to run, and he's shown great potential already, with 28 points in 53 games. He's poised to become a high-end fantasy D-man for years to come.
11. Aleksander Barkov, C
The hulking Finn went ahead of Jones and Drouin at the 2013 draft for a reason. Barkov has a sky-high ceiling, and he's overshadowed by young teammates Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau. A few years from now, though, Barkov may carry the most fantasy value of the lot. A bust-out season is coming, and he's really heating up playing with Bjugstad (who is also a fine keeper buy).
10. Sami Vatanen, D
Young Ducks defensemen Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm have better all-round games than Vatanen. But we're talking fantasy pools, here. All Vatanen does is score. The stocky power play specialist has 12 goals and 33 points in 54 games on an elite team. He doesn't get the fanfare of a North American prospect like Hamilton, however, and may come cheaper in a deal. Go get Vatanen.
9. Ryan Strome, C/RW
He's a high-end prospect who can score and is virtually guaranteed good linemates on an Islanders team with an extremely deep forward corps. Strome's mean streak can also produce a spike in penalty minutes next season.
8. Johnny Gaudreau, LW
The good news: Gaudreau has been every bit the winner we expected him to be, putting himself squarely in the Calder Trophy conversation. The bad news: the secret is very much out on him – he graced a recent cover of our magazine – so 'Johnny Hockey' won't come as cheaply as many of the other guys on this list.
7. David Pastrnak, RW
He's capable of a Gaudreau-like breakout next season and will cost far less to acquire, if he's even on a roster in your pool. That the Bruins have tried Pastrnak on their first line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, less than a year after drafting Pastrnak, says a lot about their confidence in his long-term role.
6. Brandon Saad, LW/RW
Post. Hype. Sleeper! Saad hasn't broken out the way some of us predicted, but he's been solid and his role in Chicago's top six will only grow as wingers Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp climb deeper into their 30s. Heck, Saad's already on the first line with Hossa and Jonathan Toews.
5. Mikael Granlund, C
It was a swing and a miss with Granlund, whom I pegged as my No. 1 sleeper pick for 2014-15. All that means is he's nicely undervalued for next year. He remains Minnesota's first-line center of the future and should cost far less than he did at the start of this season.
4. Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW
Galchenyuk's fits and starts can be frustrating, but the consistency will come. He's a special player, and his offense has improved quietly. He's reached career highs in goals, assists and points already.
3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/LW
Snatch him before it's too late. Kuznetsov always had star potential, and he's flashing it right this second, tallying eight points in his past eight games. He's also shown he can create offense on his own, spending his hot streak between Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera. It's not like he's racking up second assists on line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
2. Tomas Hertl, LW
Remember Vladimir Tarasenko before this season? He was uber-talented, still needed to learn a bit more two-way responsibility and teased before missing some time with an injury. Remind you of anyone? How about Hertl? He has the same type of first-round pedigree and stupendous natural goal-scoring talent. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see Hertl pull a Tarasenko and bust out next season. And Hertl can be had for a fraction of the price in a keeper-league trade.
1. Aaron Ekblad, D
The kid just turned 19, and he's two points off Florida's scoring lead. He has all the makings of a generational talent at his position thus far. Because he's a defenseman playing in an obscure market, however, his trade value might not be astronomical. He's someone you have to kick the tires on if you're eliminated from the playoffs in your pool. Ekblad is already good enough to lead a fantasy team's blueline.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin