NHL talent scouts are mighty good at what they do. Theirs is a grueling life, spent traveling, staying in hotel rooms and visiting the local arenas where tomorrow's NHL stars ply their trade, but by and large, they're able to identify talent for their NHL teams to draft and deploy.
Still, some slip through the cracks for one reason or another. All-time NHL stars like Peter Stastny (father of Avs standout center Paul Stastny), Dino Ciccarelli and Ed Belfour went undrafted for one reason or another. Quite a few current players - Martin St. Louis, Andy McDonald, Rene Bourque, Dan Girardi, Chris Kunitz, Sergei Bobrovsky, Antti Niemi, Mark Giordano, Jonas Hiller, Zbynek Michalek and Niklas Backstrom, to name a few - have enjoyed big-time careers (or the beginnings thereof) despite never having their name called on draft day. Sometimes, it just takes talent time to develop.
Because they often come so cheaply, undrafted players can be some of the most rewarding prospects to own in fantasy - just ask anyone (like me) who drafted Bobrovsky or Anders Lindback in the back end of a dynasty draft before last season. So let's talk about a couple undrafted players you might want to pick up in your keeper format.
Matt Fraser plays left wing for the Dallas Stars' AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars. In four seasons with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, Fraser never put up more than 74 points (which he did in his age-20 season), as he took on more of a chippy role, racking up more than 100 PIM in each of his last three junior seasons. However, something happened to Fraser last season - not just the career high in scoring in the regular season, but also an inspired playoff campaign in which he largely ditched the fighting and racked up 17 goals and 27 points in only 19 games. Those are star-caliber stats.
Signed to an entry-level contract by Dallas, Fraser impressed in the preseason, but was sent to Texas to skate first-line minutes on the wing. There, he's delivered a whopping eight goals and 11 points in only nine games - plus, of course, 21 PIM. Now all of a sudden Fraser is a 21-year-old pulling more than a point per game in the second-toughest league in North America. Hockey's Future has compared him to David Backes, but since he's a Star, here's a comp that hits closer to home: Brenden Morrow.
Some kids have bigger breakouts than others. Tyler Johnson, an undersized center for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, came into last year with three pretty solid seasons behind him - nothing special, but he'd been just under a point per game in his second season and built on it in his third, putting up 71 in 64. Then came the 2010-11 campaign, and Johnson just exploded, tearing the league apart for 53 goals and 115 points - good enough to lead the league in goals and come in second (by one) in points. He scored nine more points than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - although he's three years older than the reigning first overall pick.
That was good enough to earn a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who has given Johnson plenty of minutes with AHL Norfolk to start the year, and he's rewarded them with four goals and three assists through nine games thus far. The Lightning, you have to believe, know undersized talent when they see it - after all, this is the organization that took a chance on that undrafted St. Louis kid. Not to say that Johnson is Marty come again, but those who have seen him play don't seem inclined to bet against it.
We now continue with your regularly scheduled programming.
Erik Gustafsson, D, PHI - Speaking of undrafted players making good, Gustafsson signed on with the Flyers last year after three solid seasons at Northern Michigan University and surprised everyone by showing offensive ability in the AHL exceeded that which he'd flashed in college. Gustafsson scored only five goals (still more than he'd ever put up in a college season), but picked up 44 assists in 72 games last year with AHL Adirondack as a 21-year-old. So far this year, the Swedish-born dishmaster's been at it again, picking up five helpers in eight games for Adirondack. Gustafsson has played 16 minutes in each of his first two games since being called up and remains without a point in five career NHL contests (he got into three last year). He'll stick around as long as injuries keep the Flyers' blue line in flux, but is probably going to see more minor-league time this year.
Nick Bonino, C, ANA - Bonino was only barely drafted - that is to say, the Ducks invested a sixth-round pick in him and sent him off to college, where he turned out three very fine seasons at Boston University before continuing to the pro ranks. Bonino has yet to make an impact in the NHL - he was scoreless in 26 games (averaging only 9:48 of ice time, but still, you'd expect something from that) and has just two total points in 35 games - but he's been a major playmaker in the AHL, where he put up 45 points (33 of those assists) in 50 games last year and has started out this season with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in nine games. So he'll get another chance to strut his stuff on a Ducks team that could use his skill on the third line.
Gustav Nyquist, C, DET - The 25th-ranked prospect on the top-100 list that I'm long overdue to update, Nyquist crossed the ocean from Sweden to the University of Maine, where he put up 112 points in 75 games over the last two seasons before coming over to the pro ranks. The transition's been a clean one for the extraordinarily talented 22-year-old, a fourth-round pick back in 2008, who's got five goals and four assists in nine games so far this year. He's a little on the smaller/lighter end, but Nyquist never gives up on a play and is entering a great situation on a Detroit team that's struggled on offense so far and could certainly find room for him in the top six if he earns it. His NHL debut is scheduled for Tuesday.
Nikita Filatov, LW, OTT - Filatov showed a little scoring touch down in AHL Binghamton, scoring four goals and adding an assist in seven games, but you certainly could have asked for more from everyone's favorite 21-year-old post-hype prospect. He skated just 5:16 in his return to the lineup. At this point, it's clear that Filatov is going to need to find another gear to be a successful NHL player. I wouldn't be surprised to see him bolt for Russia sometime in the next couple years.
Robin Lehner, G, OTT - Lehner got recalled with Sens backup Alex Auld hurting and picked up a start and a win on Sunday, stopping 23 of 25 against Toronto. Craig Anderson is entrenched as the starter for the red-hot Senators, but the 20-year-old megaprospect has been coming on by leaps and bounds this year, having posted a .927 save percentage in his six AHL games thus far. He's clearly the future there, but he'll need an Anderson injury or ineffectiveness to clear a path in the present.
Matt Calvert, LW, CLM - Calvert, whom I discussed here just last week, got the call back despite going scoreless and minus-4 in four AHL games - possibly stemming from a lack of confidence due to his inability to stick with the big team. He did pick up an assist Sunday against Anaheim, his second game back, but is still seeing limited minutes.
Zach Boychuk, C, CAR - With Zac Dalpe on IR, the 'Canes turned again to Boychuk, who's been riding the train from Charlotte to Raleigh with regularity. I've talked more than enough about the 2008 first-rounder's high-end skill, and I continue to remain stunned that his pedigree and performance haven't resulted in more NHL minutes. He had six points in seven games in the AHL and is scoreless in three since his call-up, but has seen fourth-line minutes and no power-play time.
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR - Once again, Kadri couldn't stick, as he received decent playing time for three games with Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly hurting, but delivered only an assist and two shots on goal despite close to five minutes of total power-play time. So back goes the seventh overall pick in '09 to the AHL, where he's scoreless in two games thus far this year. Kadri remains one of the top prospects in all of hockey, a playmaker of wonderful skill who may still need to add some muscle.
Vyacheslav Voynov, D, LOS - It's not often you see anyone score two goals and an assist, then get sent down before playing another game. It's even less often that you see that happen to a defenseman. The extraordinarily talented Voynov was only in the NHL while Drew Doughty was hurt, though. Terry Murray was reportedly considering keeping Voynov on after the three-point explosion, but ultimately the Kings returned him to AHL Manchester to play more minutes. Voynov's got a goal and an assist in two AHL games so far, and as someone who owns him in multiple keeper leagues, I'll be waiting with bated breath for him to be called back up.
Tim Erixon, D, NYR - Erixon played solid hockey over nine games for the Rangers despite not recording a point, but the 20-year-old is clearly a bit over his head yet, so New York sent him down to the AHL to receive more seasoning and more minutes. Despite being born in New York, the son of ex-Ranger Jan Erixon never played in North America before this year, as he'd spent the last few years playing in Sweden. The former first-rounder (23rd overall by Calgary in '09) remains an excellent long-term prospect.
Justin Faulk, D, CAR - Up came Faulk in time for last week's column, and down he goes in time for this week's without getting into a game. The 19-year-old blueliner went minus-3 in all three games he appeared in for Carolina, so clearly he has some adjustments to make. He has, however, been very successful offensively both in college and in the AHL, where he's picked up five points in six games. Expect to see Faulk bounce around, but own him in any long-term keeper.
David Savard, D, CLM - A popular breakout pick after a shiny 11-goal, 43-point effort in the AHL last year, Savard held his own despite somewhat limited ice time in a seven-game trial this season. Just recently turned 21, the former fourth-rounder does have two assists, but hasn't been hugely impactful, and with the Columbus blue line getting healthy, the Jackets were able to send him down to gain more AHL experience. He's got four assists in three AHL games so far, so all's going well there.
Ryan Thang, LW, NAS - How can a column called The Coming Thing not note the movement of The Coming Thang? At 24 years old, the 2007 third-rounder isn't a big prospect, especially after failing to follow up his impressive freshman season at Notre dame (41 points in 42 games) in the following years, as he never exceeded 32 points thereafter and only totaled 42 points in his junior and senior years combined. After a season-plus of middling play for AHL Milwaukee, however, Thang may have turned the light on again. He went off for 13 points in 13 games in the AHL playoffs last year, and then started out this year with five goals, an assist and a plus-8 rating in just seven games so far. Thang got called up and sent down without seeing game action, but he'll be one of the first call-ups for the Preds if they need a forward.
Brett Bulmer, LW, MIN - Bulmer inexplicably made the Wild out of camp despite not exactly being the most heralded prospect coming out of juniors, as the power forward prospect (I'm being optimistic here) has never averaged a point per game in juniors and went scoreless in eight games in his pro debut in the AHL playoffs last year. He did pick up three assists, make 19 hits and go plus-1 in his nine-game trial with the Wild, and the hope is that he'll take that experience back to the Kelowna Rockets and show us some more - okay, a lot more - on offense.
Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT - Sent back to Sweden after a nine-game trial, Zibanejad will look to build on last season's nine-point output with Djurgardens. That shouldn't be too hard, now should it? Zibanejad is a solid defensive player, but his offense needs work, and that's what we'll be looking for as he plays out the season in the SEL. I'll keep you updated on his progress and that of the other junior send-downs as the season progresses.
Kaspars Daugavins, LW, OTT - Up and down went Daugavins, an intriguing 23-year-old Latvian who put up 54 points in 73 games for AHL Binghamton last year and got off to a fine start this year, putting up six points in seven AHL contests and getting himself called up to the big leagues, where he managed a goal in five games. Not particularly big, Daugavins still has right about average NHL size and has a combination of strength and finesse that could play well in the NHL one day. He was playing solidly and averaging nearly 15 minutes of ice time for the Sens, culminating in scoring what turned out to be the game-winning goal Sunday against Toronto before his send-down. Even though it was a bit of a softie, Daugavins still flashed a very nice, accurate shot.
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 Chris Kreider, a junior at Boston College and a first-round pick (19th overall) by the Rangers in '09. This is a bellwether season for Kreider, whose ice time was limited last year by the presence of Cam Atkinson and other older forwards, pushing Kreider to BC's second line for much of the season. He considered going pro this year, but my feeling was that it would have been a mistake - Kreider simply hasn't played enough minutes and gotten a chance to show how truly dominant he's capable of being yet, and I felt he needed the development time. Thus far, things have gone as well as the Rangers could possibly ask - Kreider's off to a great start, putting up 11 points (six goals, five assists) in eight games, and he's been unafraid to mix it up, tallying 20 PIM as well. His combination of speed and strength seems to have him destined for NHL stardom. I can only hope.
Our junior prospect of the week is center Sean Monahan, who's teamed with megastud prospect Tyler Toffoli on the Ottawa 67's top line, a little combination that's resulted in Monahan sitting on the fifth spot (with Toffoli sixth) in the OHL's scoring race with 28 points in just 14 games. The best part? He just turned 17. Yes. Seventeen. His birthday is Oct. 12, 1994, meaning that he isn't even eligible for the NHL Entry Draft next year, as you must turn 18 by Sept. 15 to be eligible. When Monahan does come out in 2013, though, he's setting himself up to be quite a hot commodity, as he's building on last year's 47-point, plus-24 effort (as a 16-year-old!) in leaps and bounds. He'll be the youngest player on the Team OHL roster for its Subway Super Series exhibitions against the Russian Selects. Assuming he stays healthy and on track, you heard it here first: Monahan will be a top-10 pick in 2013.
Something to ask? Something to say? Prospects you're dying to hear about? You can contact me here.