Young Guns - Tidal Wave of Youth
By Janet Eagleson, RotoWire.com Hockey Writer
The NHL really is a young man's game - seven of the league's top-10 scorers in 2011-12 were 25 or under. The year before? Seven of those same 10 were 30 or over.
That's a seismic shift.
OK, so I lied - there were 11 guys in the top 10; there was a tie for tenth. Still, the top three were all young - Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux - followed by Phil Kessel at six, James Neal at seven, John Tavares at nine and Erik Karlsson in a tie with Patrick Elias in that tenth spot. Among the over-25 set, only Jason Spezza, Ilya Kovalchuk and Henrik Sedin infiltrated the top 10. And only Sedin and Elias were over 30. Youth really has been served.
This shift changes the face of fantasy, especially standard Yahoo! leagues. Do you rely on a grizzled veteran to get you 50-55 points? Or like most NHL teams, do you throw young guys into the mix and simply pray? Those grizzled vets just aren't getting the same opportunities, or points, these days.
So grip your toes on your board and ride the wave ... at least as far as skaters go. Just don't go too young for your twinetender - the very best are still in their late-20s and in their thirties. Cripes, a couple of them could be “dad” to some of the guys on this list.
Now let's take a look at some of the up-and-comers. Please note - anyone 26 and older is not part of this list. Sorry guys, you're just not that young any more.
(Standard, 12-team leagues have 24 active centers. Last season, the 24th best center scored 55 points, down from 57 last year and 61 the year before that. Maybe center isn't quite as good any more?)
Matt Duchene, C, Colorado - Duchene took a huge step backwards last season. He played through injury - he sprained his ankle just after returning from a knee injury - and delivered an abysmal four points in his last 21 games. The Avs brought in P.A. Parenteau to dish Duchene the puck and that should result in a 30-goal, 65+ point rebound this year.
Sam Gagner, C, Edmonton - Say what you will about this guy, but that eight-point game last February showed off his elite skill. Will he reach his potential in Oil country? Probably not. But he will skate with Nail Yakupov and Ales Hemsky on the second line and that has to deliver almost 60 points.
Mikael Granlund, C, Minnesota - Granlund is a world-class talent - he won the 2011 Finnish hockey Player of the Year award and finished sixth in SM-Liiga scoring with 51 points in 45 games last year. He has a tantalizing package of hockey IQ, agility and skill, and he enters 2012-13 as the Wild's second-line center. And one of the preseason Calder trophy favorites. Sixty points are a distinct possibility.
Adam Henrique, C, New Jersey - Watch this guy - he could easily channel a Brad Richards-like career path. I'm not kidding. The Devils will be a bit unsettled this season, but Henrique will soon be one of the key stabilizers. And 60 points will arrive.
Cody Hodgson, C, Buffalo - Is this Cody's year? At 22, he's been “on the cusp” for what seems like forever. But he didn't exactly knock the jocks off Sabres' fans after he arrived in the land of fires last year. He's penciled in as the team's top center and that means a gig between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Hodgson can dish; those two can score. And that could deliver 60-65 points.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida - Huberdeau is an elite talent who should make a big NHL impact almost immediately. Not only will it be hard for the Floridian kitties to keep him off their roster, it will be hard for them to keep him out of their top six. Really - is Marcel Goc the answer for the second-line center job? Huberdeau has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-like creativity and could come close to delivering RNH-type totals this year.
Derek Stepan, C, NY Rangers - I made a mistake last year and left him off this list; I won't do that again. Sure, he didn't knock anyone's socks off last season, but that may have been a by-product of the Rangers' defensive system. Still, I see slow and steady improvement yet again for this talented pivot, particularly skating with Ryan Callahan and speedy rookie Chris Kreider. Or depending on how the Rangers stack their top line ... yep, Rick Nash or Marian Gaborik on occasion.
Almost on the list? Bryan Little (24), Patrik Berglund (24), Kyle Turris (23).
No-brainers? Steven Stamkos (22), John Tavares (21), Anze Kopitar (24), Sidney Crosby (25), Jonathan Toews (24), Nicklas Backstrom (24), Claude Giroux (24), Logan Couture (23), Jamie Benn (23), Jordan Staal (24). Oh ya - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (19). What a list.
Sleepers? Opportunity may knock for Mikael Backlund (23) and Cody Eakin (21); Sean Couturier (19) will get 40 points in a defensive role.
Don't overrate - Ryan O'Reilly (21), Colorado [his rise last year came when Matt Duchene was hurt; his plateau came when Duchene was healthy]; David Desharnais (25), Montreal [tiny pivot was protected by Max Pacioretty and Eric Cole - will that happen again or will Tomas Plekanec rebound?]
(Standard, 12-team leagues have 24 active left wingers. Last season, the 24th best left winger scored 55 points, up three points from last year and four from the year before that.)
Tyler Ennis, LW/C, Buffalo - Derek Roy is gone; Buffalo now belongs to Ennis and Cody Hodgson. Ennis missed 34 games last year with an ankle injury and finished with just 34 points in 48 games. But look what he did in his last 26 - 11 goals and 16 assists. If Hodgson doesn't click with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, Ennis certainly will. And if that happens, you can count on close to 60 points.
Evander Kane, LW, Winnipeg - This Kane is able. And pretty soon, it's this Kane - and not the Chicago Kane - that I'll be snagging early in my drafts. This guy has it all - he skates like the wind, snipes like a star and hits like a truck. And this year should see a jump from 30 to almost 40 goals. And to think he just turned 21 in August.
Brad Marchand, LW/C, Boston - Marchand is an agitator with talent who trashes with the best. He's quick to get under the skin of opponents and then frustrates them even more with his skill. And it's that combo that should deliver 30 goals, 60 points and close to 100 PIMs.
Jamie McGinn, LW, Colorado (24) - Which McGinn will show up this season? The uber stud that showed his face in Colorado or the lunch-bucket boy from San Jose? He has a good all-round game and clearly has offensive upside. And with any luck, it's the former and that should result in 45-50 points.
David Perron, LW, St. Louis - If he's healthy, this skilled speedster should deliver 60-65 points. His 2010-11 was wiped out by a concussion and he only played 57 games last year. But the 24-year-old produced 42 points in those 57 games and could deliver 30 goals beside Patrik Berglund on the Blues' second line.
Brayden Schenn, LW/C, Philadelphia - I wasn't really a Brayden Schenn fan when he toiled as a pivot - his own zone game just didn't add up. But his switch to wing lets Baby Schenn focus on what he does best - score. He should carry his playoff performance into this season and ring in a 50+-point season on the second line.
James van Riemsdyk, LW, Toronto - To be honest, I was torn on including him here. The Leafs are intent on trying him at center between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, but the guy hasn't skated there since college. He was dinged by injuries last year and delivered just 24 points in 43 games. He has something to prove, but his new supporting cast isn't nearly as deep as it was in Philly. He's still just 23, but he needs to show me the money. He could give you 55 points, but he could also deliver 40. Just saying.
Colin Wilson, LW/C, Nashville - Wilson has size, skill and speed, but his development curve has been slow. The Preds need someone to score, though, so this 21-year-old will get his shot at the second line and power-play time. And that should result in 50 points by season's end.
Almost on the list? Benoit Pouliot (25) is clearly a late bloomer; playing with Vinny Lecavalier will help.
No-brainers? James Neal (24), Jeff Skinner (20), Taylor Hall (20), Gabriel Landeskog (19), Bobby Ryan (25), Max Pacioretty (23), Milan Lucic (24).
Sleepers? Is there anywhere to go but up for Peter Mueller (24)? Sven Baertschi (19) is beloved in Calgary and is supremely talented. Josh Bailey (21) will quietly continue to get better on the Island. Mikkel Boedker (22) should finally show off his offense.
Don't overrate - Chris Kreider (21) [he was a revelation in the postseason, but the slogging will get tough by Christmas - collegiate guys almost always slow down in the 35-40 game range.]
(Standard, 12-team leagues have 24 active right wingers. Last season, the 24th best right winger scored 54 points, up two points from last year and three from the year before that.)
Marcus Johansson, RW/C, Washington - The sky is the limit for this 21-year-old. He delivered 27 points in his rookie year and followed that up with 46 points last season. At minimum, he'll be the Caps' second-line right winger and skate beside Mike Ribeiro. At best, he'll see time with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. The guy can dish - 50 points should be a breeze.
Kyle Okposo, RW, NY Islanders - Baby Jarome has to deliver at some point, right? Well, the time is now for this 24-year-old - he should start the season beside John Tavares. That should be good for 55-60 point ... right? We can only hope.
Andrew Shaw, RW/C, Chicago - What a debut. Shaw - then 20 - delivered 23 points and 50 PIMs in 37 games last year in mostly a defensive role. Will Marian Hossa be ready to start the season? If not, Shaw could slide onto the second line. I like him for an increase in output any way, but in that scenario, he could deliver 45-50 points and 120 PIMs.
Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa - Who? Only the Swedish Elite League's regular season AND playoff MVP, that's who ... and just 21, no less. He could easily line up with Jason Spezza on the Sens' top line this year and deliver 45-50 points. You'll soon hear comparisons to fellow countryman, Daniel Alfredsson. I'll match that and raise you a few - he's going to be even better.
Wayne Simmonds, RW, Philadelphia - I love this guy. He can flat out fly and he absolutely pulverizes opposing defenders on dump-ins. And last year, he also scored ... to the tune of a career-best 28 snipes. He might not deliver that many goals again, but he should still find twine 20+ times and deliver 45 points and 100+ PIMs. And that combo is gold in standard leagues.
Craig Smith, RW/C, Nashville - On December 15, 2011, Smith looked like a star. He had 24 points in 31 games and was arguably the most impressive offensive force in Tennessee. But he really fell off in the second half - long schedules will do that to most former collegiate players in their first year. Still, he has great skills and can slot into center or wing. And he could come out of the blocks this season just like last year. Just get ready to trade him in early January before he tires again.
Chris Stewart, RW, St. Louis - Is he as bad as he was last season? No way. Is he as good as he was in Colorado? Probably not. But if this hard-hitting, power winger can deliver 45 points and 100+ PIMs, he has a place in your standard league.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis - Tarasenko is an elite talent, but the transition to the NHL will be a challenge for this 20-year-old. I'd put him ahead of Nail Yakupov and Jonathan Huberdeau on pure talent alone. But he was left off Team Russia at the 2012 World Championships because he was way out of shape. And that was just a few months ago. I hope he delivers 50 points this year. And he'll get every chance to do that on the Blues' second line.
Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia - Welcome to the top line, Jakub - you'll look great beside Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. Sure, he needs to work on his finish, but he has the size, speed and skill to be an absolute force on that line ... particularly after he upped the ante in the postseason last year. This will be the 23-year-old's first 60+-point season.
Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton - Yakupov is the complete package - skill, speed, vision, intelligence, creativity - and at 18, he'll force his way onto the Oil's second line this season. He will channel his best Pavel Bure and deliver 50+ points this season. And compete with Mikael Granlund and Jonathan Huberdeau for the Calder. Man, the Oil is stacked.
Almost on the list? Matt Read (26) - I cut him some slack; it's only his second year. Zach Kassian (21).
No-brainers? Phil Kessel (24), Patrick Kane (23), Jordan Eberle (22), Tyler Seguin (20), Blake Wheeler (26).
Sleepers? Emerson Etem (20) might win a second-line job in Anaheim; so might Brandon Saad (19) in Chicago. Charlie Coyle (20) will some day be the first-line winger in Minny.
Don't overrate - Steve Downie (25) [where have all the PIMs gone? Without them, he's a shell of his former fantasy self]
(Standard, 12-team leagues have 48 active defensemen. Last season, the 48th best defenseman scored 27 points, down two from last season and three from the year before that.)
Zach Bogosian, D, Winnipeg - Is this the season Bogie takes off? He has improved his own-zone play significantly and now it's time for the offense to show its face. He won't get top power-play time, but he should be the go-to guy on the Jets' second unit. And that should result in 35+ points; maybe even 40.
John Carlson, D, Washington - Carlson played shutdown maestro last season, but this year, he'll show off his pure offensive talents. Dennis Wideman is long gone so it's Mike Green and Carlson who'll lead the way. And with that front-line group on Capitol Hill, Carlson could threaten 50 points, and Green's hold on the top offensive defender on that squad. Yep, you read that right.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Phoenix - OEL is just 21 and he's done nothing to tarnish his high-end rep. In fact, there are folks who see him in the same light as a young Niklas Lidstrom. I'll hold off on that for a couple more years - Nik is Nik, after all - but this guy will top 40 points this year and might even flirt with 10 more. Next year? He's a no-brainer.
Stefan Elliott, D, Colorado (21) - Elliot should not only make the Avs over Tyson Barrie, another top blue line prospect, but he should also slide right into top power-play time with Erik Johnson. Deployed in the right way, Elliot could top 35 points.
Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville (21) - Ellis is pure offense. But at 5-10, he'll struggle with the every day existence of an NHL defender. Still, his talents on the power play are legendary - at least at the junior level - and he should net more than 30 points with ease. And maybe come close to 40.
Jake Gardiner, D, Toronto (22) - Gone are the thoughts that this fleet-footed 22-year-old can't think the game at an NHL level. Gardiner has poise, talent and patience, and is already the best defender on the Leafs' blue line. He'll come close to matching Dion Phaneuf's total points ... and maybe even goals, too.
Roman Josi, D, Nashville (22) - Bye bye Ryan Suter, hello Roman Josi. Shea Weber is about to get a new partner and my money is on Josi, an intelligent defender with offensive upside. He won't make you forget about Suter right away, but his 35 points will be worthy of a daily roll.
Dmitry Kulikov, D, Florida - Kulikov started last season red hot, but tailed off as the weight of the season - and defensive responsibility - mounted. But this year, he should assume the top-pairing role vacated by Jason Garrison and that means better looks, more opportunity and 35-40 points. Not bad for a 21-year-old defender.
Nick Leddy, D, Chicago - You would have said I was nuts last year if I'd said Leddy would deliver more offense than Brent Seabrook. But he did. And he will again this year. He won't give you Seabrook's all-around play - PIMs, hits, blocked shots - but he will top 40 points, particularly with his role on the top power play unit, and improve his plus-minus, too. The 21-year-old is seriously underrated.
Jamie McBain, D, Carolina - McBain is slowly growing his game and at 24, he should take another step forward ... particularly with the increased talent on the Carolina front end. Joni Pitkanen is still the top dog on the power play, but has he ever played a full season? You know the answer to that - get McBain and get 40 points.
Tyler Myers, D, Buffalo - Last year was absolutely forgettable for this 22-year-old behemoth - there was the broken wrist and then reduced offensive responsibility with Christian Ehrhoff in the fold. But that will make him overlooked on draft day and you'll still get 35 points if you take him.
Almost on the list? Ryan McDonagh (23) will slowly continue to get better and better. Ditto Slava Voynov (22), Adam Larson (19), Justin Faulk (20), Jared Spurgeon (22) and Victor Hedman (21), who should all flirt with 30-35 points. Brendan Smith (23) won't replace Niklas Lidstrom, but should flirt with 25-30 points. Ditto Philip Larsen (22). Travis Hamonic (22) will rebound; mark my words. And Jeff Petry (24) is a lot better than I thought. Lastly, if Dougie Hamilton (19) makes it past nine games, he'll hit 25 points.
No-brainers? Erik Karlsson (22), Alex Pietrangelo (22), Drew Doughty (22), Kris Letang (25), Keith Yandle (25), Kevin Shattenkirk (23), P.K. Subban (23), Michael Del Zotto (22), Jack Johnson (25).
Don't overrate - Cam Fowler (21) [40+ points are great; his plus-minus over two seasons is a painful minus-53. I won't be buying in again until I see some growth there.] Erik Johnson (24) [talented, but NOT the guy the Blues thought he was when he was drafted.] Justin Schultz (22) [sexy, but the Oilers will continue to struggle; he won't save them - or your fantasy squad - this season.]
(Standard, 12-team leagues have 24 active netminders. Last season, the 24th best win total by a goalie was 23, the 24th best goals-against average was 2.42 [eliminating all goalies with fewer than 10 wins] and the 24th best save percentage was .916, again eliminating those with fewer than 10 wins. Goalies are by far the most challenging selection because it's hard to get great numbers in all three categories, particularly after the studs leave the board.)
Braden Holtby, G, Washington - How many 22-year-old goalies truly excel? Holtby is very, very good, but he's not the Ken Dryden playoff messiah that some thought he was last year. He'll be good, but the weight of a full season will prove problematic at times. He'll hit 25 wins with a good GAA and save percentage. But is that enough to carry your squad?
Michal Neuvirth, G, Washington - That heat Braden Holtby feels on the back of neck is coming from Neuvirth, who could turn the Caps' crease into a platoon. Holtby will still start more - and win more - games. But Neuvirth could deliver 15-18 wins, too. Watch him very, very closely.
Ondrej Pavelec, G, Winnipeg - OK, so the guy is a dork - what else explains his offseason stupidity? But he's talented and can dominate in stretches. And best of all, the Jets' defense is only going to be better. Thirty wins will be his; his GAA and save percentage will also be improved.
Kevin Poulin, G, NY Islanders - I really like this guy. And with the number of injuries in the Islanders' crease, Poulin could find himself in the blue paint ... a lot. He's the heir apparent to Rick DiPietro and could actually challenge Evgeni Nabokov for playing time this season. He's that good.
Tuukka Rask, G, Boston - He's talented, but he can be flighty. But who cares? He's not as crazy as his predecessor. The Boston system will provide the pillows to soften the blow of a few clunkers, but count on 35 wins and exceptional numbers. Just keep an eye on the injuries - he did miss 24 games last year with a groin yank.
Semyon Varlamov, G, Colorado - He's just 24, but he's already been in sick bay way too many times for my liking. He's the top dog in Colorado, but there will continue to be growing pains. He will likely deliver 30 wins with better GAA and save percentage than Pavelec. Just watch sickbay.
Almost on the list? Ben Bishop (25) is very good and Craig Anderson can be streaky, just saying. Jacob Markstrom (22) is elite; he might get a chance this season if Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen falters or gets hurt. Matt Hackett (22) has proven he can play in the NHL; he will get that shot if Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom gets hurt.
No-brainers? Carey Price (25). Yep - just one.
Don't overrate - Anders Lindback (24) [talented, but he's never carried the mail. He'll start well, but fade.] Sergei Bobrovsky (23) [he was great two years ago and clearly has talent. But he can't carry that horrific Columbus team alone.] James Reimer (24) and Ben Scrivens (25) [both are good enough, but they could end up in a platoon if the Roberto Luongo trade doesn't occur.] Jonathan Bernier (24) [won't get enough time as a back-up to be of any value.]