The Coming Thing
By Andrew Fiorentino, RotoWire Writer
There's nothing like the intimate connection between a fantasy owner and his prospects. Whether been carefully drafted, picked up as free agents, or sneakily tacked onto the back ends of trades, once an owner falls in love with a prospect, they can become inseparable. Ah, love.
Of course, it's easy to be in love with a kid who's tearing up college or juniors or the Swedish league, and it can be just as easy to fall out of love if he doesn't make an immediate impact at the NHL level. But that's the game we play with prospects, isn't it? One day you're the next Sergei Fedorov, the next day you're still Patrik Stefan.
Anyway, it's Valentine's Day, so let's talk about a couple of prospects you don't hear about too often who I'll love forever - or at least until they break my heart.
Let's start with Anton Rodin, a second-round pick of the Canucks in 2009. A standout at last year's WJC with 10 points in six games, Rodin is now in his second season with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League. So far, he has a not-particularly-impressive seven goals and 18 assists in 47 games; however, that production looks a bit more impressive when you consider that he was 19 at the start of the season in a league that's full of veterans and favors veterans. He's also heated up lately, recording points in five straight games. Rodin's skating and handling of the puck are already elite; with his speed, magical moves and shooting ability, he's got everything it takes to be a highlight-reel scorer in the NHL.
One note of caution: he needs to add some strength before he crosses the pond, as it's not uncommon to see him get bounced by bigger, stronger guys in Sweden, and that'll only be worse in North America. Still, even as a smaller guy, Rodin isn't afraid to take the body. As long as he can keep up with the physical game over here, the kid is going to do great things.
If we're talking about true love, though, we've got to talk about 19-year-old Vladimir Tarasenko, the 16th overall pick in this past draft. The Blues traded their first-round pick the previous year, David Rundblad (a spectacular offensive defense prospect in his own right), to Ottawa for the chance to draft Tarasenko, who was considered at one time to be the top European prospect in the draft, but whose stock fell due to concerns that he might remain in Russia. His point totals in the KHL aren't exactly off the charts - 24 in 42 last year, 19 in 42 this year (which has been injury-shortened; he's currently out with a shoulder) - but the KHL is a veteran-dominated league where point totals for kids that young simply aren't relevant. Just ask Alex Ovechkin, who went from 27 points in the KHL to 106 points the very next season in the NHL. If you like points, though, Tarasenko piled up 11 of them in seven games en route to Russia's WJC gold this year - and he was the team captain.
With Tarasenko, it's the skills that matter, and boy does he have a ton of skill. Strong and fast with perhaps the best and quickest shot among all prospects and the playmaking ability to go with it, Tarasenko has perhaps the best chance of any NHL-owned prospect at making an instant star-level impact in the NHL the way Ovechkin once did. The Blues are thin up front on the wing, as neither Brad Boyes nor David Backes is a true first-liner, so Tarasenko could step into a great situation for him next year and absolutely take off.
Plenty of movement this past week, so let's get down to business.
Jerome Samson, RW, CAR - As a guy who already had three full AHL seasons under his belt before this year, Samson seems to be easily written off as a quad-A guy; the question is, why? If someone tells you, without naming names, that a 22-year-old kid put up 37 goals and 78 points in the AHL last year, you should say, “Can I get him on my fantasy team?” Now 23, Samson is pulling a point per game in the AHL for the second straight season, which just goes to show you that in NHL front offices, pedigree is everything; if a kid taken in even the third round of the draft did the kind of things that Samson has done in the minors, he'd be in the NHL by now, easily. The undrafted Samson, however, just played in his eighth NHL game on Sunday. There's serious skill here, but the Hurricanes, with all their forward depth, are just about the worst team for a guy like Samson to be on.
Zac Dalpe, C, CAR - Dalpe has been discussed in this space a couple times by now, and here he is again. Like Samson, he's got massive offensive talent, but is going to be stuck on the depth lines for the time being. Unlike Samson, he has draft pedigree as a second-round pick. Still love him long-term.
Spencer Machacek, RW, ATL - A self-described grinder, Machacek has had a very good year for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, recording 42 points in 49 games, good for a tie for third on the team. He fits in well with a Thrashers team that needs some help defensively from its forwards, but is another guy who's stuck with fourth-line minutes for the time being. Machacek is scoreless in seven career games at the NHL level, five of them this year. He has the ability to be the sort of gritty player who can do enough dirty work to score 50 points, if the Thrashers can find him the minutes.
Cameron Gaunce, D, COL - It's strange to see the unproven Gaunce in the NHL at 20 years old and without much production to speak of in the AHL, but the talent is there, as he averaged nearly a point per game from the blue line in juniors two years ago. He slumped the next year, though, and doesn't seem to have recovered. The Avs called up Gaunce due to Jonas Holos' injury, so he's a short-timer. And speaking of Holos…
Jonas Holos, D, COL - Holos had just been called up and played one game, then missed the next one with an undisclosed injury. He's not a serious fantasy prospect, as his offensive ability is limited.
Johan Harju, LW, TAM - Harju got off to a red-hot start with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals this year, racking 24 points in his first 18 games, but a December call-up seemed to throw him off his rhythm, as he collected just two points in seven games with the Bolts, then was returned to the Admirals, where he managed just 11 points in 21 games since. Now the 24-year-old Swede is back with Tampa Bay, but still skating fourth-line minutes. He has the size and skill to succeed in the NHL; as with many others, it's a matter of opportunity.
Jesse Joensuu, RW, NYI - I'm obliged to mention Joensuu here because once upon a time, he was a second-round draft pick. The 23-year-old Finnish winger has great size at 6-4, but doesn't really play that big and is somewhat lacking offensively, as he has good stick skills, but subpar speed and shooting ability. He's bounced between the NHL and AHL this year and been hurt some as well. It's still possible that Joensuu could become a productive power forward, but the Islanders are hardly an ideal situation for him.
Jordan Caron, RW, BOS - The Bruins' first-round pick in '09, Caron is a sniper who's shown a willingness to engage in physical play that leads to more offensive chances, but that play style has cost him dozens of games thanks to injuries in every season of juniors. He's stayed healthy this year and bounced between AHL Providence (17 points in 27 games) and the Bruins (7 in 23). Unfortunately, Caron is still stuck on the fourth line, as the Bruins are stacked up front. His long-term worth depends on whether he can keep himself off the IR.
Cody Hodgson, C, VAN - The 10th pick in 2008, Hodgson was considered a top prospect entering this season, but really hasn't lived up to the billing. The young center, who turns 21 in four days, was a two-time 40-goal scorer and a star in the 2009 WJC, but he hasn't been able to establish much consistency for Manitoba of the AHL, potting 11 goals and 17 points in 30 games - not an elite prospect's numbers. Almost the entire Manitoba team has underperformed, and Hodgson is part of the reason. He's another guy who's had trouble with injuries over the last couple years, which is a big reason for his slowed development. Hodgson still has top-six upside, but it could be a couple years yet before he realizes it. Vancouver is also set in its top two center spots with Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, which doesn't help.
Zach Hamill, C, BOS - Back down goes Hamill, who managed an assist in three games with Boston. This stint didn't make me believe in him any more than I did last week.
Nick Leddy, D, CHI - Leddy managed just one goal and no assists in 14 games of action between January and February and was sent on down to the AHL to further refine his game. I still don't know what he was doing in the NHL at 19 years old, but Leddy still is a good prospect with the upside of a top-pairing defenseman. The Blackhawks would do well to leave him in the AHL for all of next year; no need to rush him.
Bobby Butler, RW, OTT - Like Harju, Butler seemed to be thrown off kilter by his shuttling from AHL to NHL and back; if that's the case, this past week certainly couldn't have been kind to him, as he was called up, then sent right back down again. On November 20, Butler had 21 points in 19 games in the AHL; now he's got 33 in 47, and just six in his last 15 AHL games. I do have a soft spot for undrafted players, though, and you still have to like Butler's ability to finish. It's all about finding the right situation for a guy like him, and playing for Ottawa is tough right now.
Robin Lehner, G, OTT - Lehner did about as well as you can ask from a 19-year-old Swedish rookie filling in at the NHL level, which is to say that he didn't do extremely well, but just the fact that he was able to hold his own on a bad Senators team is promising. Lehner is still one of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL.
Michal Repik, RW, FLA - The Panthers' 2007 second-rounder, Repik has seen a little NHL action, but mostly played in the AHL the last three years. The results have been good, including 53 points in 60 games last season. He hasn't been able to make that translate to the big leagues, thanks in large part to averaging less than 10 minutes per game in his 33 NHL contests. This has been something a down year for Repik even in the AHL, though, as he's got just eight goals in 48 games this year - but he does still have 40 points. The speedy Czech has top-six talent and, all things being equal, is probably the Panthers' best forward prospect. He deserves a legit shot by next year.
The Future to Come
Every week in this space, I'll feature one college player and one junior player who are making their mark.
This week's college prospect is Carl Hagelin, a Swedish left wing playing in his senior year for the University of Michigan. A sixth-round selection by the Rangers in '07, Hagelin has evolved into a consistent offensive threat in college, improving his scoring every season until he posted 50 points in 45 games last year as a junior. This year, he's pulling 38 in 32, numbers that had him in the running for the Hobey Baker Award. An exceedingly speedy skater with plus shooting and playmaking skills, Hagelin also isn't afraid to just park himself next to the crease and knock home rebounds, which makes him a great fit for John Tortorella's Rangers.
Our junior prospect of the week is center Alexander Khokhlachev of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. Get used to hearing and pronouncing the name (coke-luh-chev) because the 17-year-old is eligible for this year's NHL draft and he sure looks like he's going to be a good one; I'd be mighty surprised if he's not a first-round pick. His first year in American juniors has been a massive success, as the young Russian import has 32 goals and 65 points in 52 games for Windsor. His shot is spectacular, his skating is superb, his ice vision is great, he's good at faceoffs - the kid's got it all working for him. Does he have moves? Do you need to ask? This guy has star written all over him. If you're looking for the coming thing, here he is.
If you have any players you'd like me to discuss in next week's column, please direct all inquiries here, or feel free to discuss them in the comments.