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The Coming Thing: The Undrafted Are Coming

Andrew Fiorentino

Andrew Fiorentino

A degenerate fantasy-sports player since the age of 13.

With the shortened hockey season, everything's happening faster – not just in the NHL, but in our fantasy leagues as well. Even though we're just two weeks into the action, it's already time to decide whether your breakouts are for real – or, more painfully, whether it's time to give up on your cherished upside guys in redraft leagues.

But at least if Ryan McDonagh or Sven Baertschi busts on you, you can reluctantly (eventually) dump him for the flavor of the week. When Phil Kessel isn't scoring any goals for you, Drew Doughty's even worse and Shea Weber's got no points at all, you've lost a huge investment, and you could never have seen it coming. After all, who's a safer selection than good ol' Weber? The guy's been good for double-digit goals and 40-plus points in four consecutive years, he's just rounding into his late 20s, and he just signed back with the only NHL organization he's ever known. Meanwhile, noted old man with no knees Andrei Markov leads all defensemen in goals.

All that is to say, the league's as crazy as ever, so don't ignore talent (even if there are injury concerns) and don't blow small sample sizes out of proportion.

But, to be clear, don't trade for Andrei Markov. I'm just saying, that guy has no knees.

Called Up

Tomas Tatar, C, DET – At 22, Tatar's been called up for his second taste of the NHL after delivering 19 goals and 39 points in 44 games for AHL Grand Rapids. That's a major improvement over his already-impressive production from the previous two seasons, in which he put up 57 and 58 points for the Griffins, scoring 24 goals in each campaign. Tatar got nine games in with the Wings in '10-'11 at age 20, but recorded just one goal and no assists while receiving little ice time. The Wings put Tatar straight into the second line with Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula, so he has a very real chance to pay immediate dividends.

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, LW, CLM – Small and undrafted though he may be, Audy-Marchessault threw down 64 points in 76 AHL games last year – his first pro season. But the Rangers, who signed JAM out of the QMJHL and watched him make the AHL All-Star team, didn't keep him in the organization for some reason. So he caught on with the Jackets, who put him in AHL Springfield and have watched him lead the team in scoring, rattling off 45 points in 42 games. He's skated in two games since being called up, going scoreless in a bottom-six role.

Bobby Butler, RW, NJD – Another former UDFA, Butler got his start with Ottawa before hooking on with the Devils, who started him out in AHL Albany, where he's led the team offensively with 27 points in 37 games. (The sad fact that Albany's leading scorer is averaging 0.73 points per game is another matter entirely.) A natural-born goal scorer, the question with the 25-year-old Butler is whether the rest of his game will catch up to his finishing ability. He skated just seven minutes in his Jersey debut, but did get two minutes on the power play.

Stephane Da Costa, C, OTT – While Da Costa has been underwhelming in the NHL so far in his young career – just five points in 26 games – he, like Butler, was a college star who signed with Ottawa after going undrafted. But the 23-year-old Frenchman is still with the Sens, working away in AHL Binghamton, where he's collected 24 points in 31 games this year. He'll probably fill a bottom-six role to start out unless he can work his way up by producing at a big-league level.

Michael Sgarbossa, C, COL – Holy heck: that's four – count 'em, four – undrafted signees in my column this week. The Sharks inked Sgarbossa (and later traded him to the Avs) after a change of scenery in the OHL – from Saginaw to Sudbury – led to a massive breakout. Never even a point-per-game performer with Saginaw (and not much better with Barrie before that), in his final 103 junior games, Sgarbossa piled up 164 points. He's carried his points-and-PIM production over to the pros, with 36 points and 41 PIM in 38 games for Lake Erie, and though he's gone scoreless while averaging 10:20 of ice time in three games with Colorado, there's real fantasy upside here if he can stick in the lineup. The Avs are looking for answers offensively, and if Sgarbossa can provide them, he could see top-six minutes. Of course, that's a big if for a somewhat undersized guy with no pedigree – not a lot of room for error here.

David Rundblad, D, PHO – The Coyotes continue to bounce Rundblad around, an unfortunate trend they've apparently adopted from the Hurricanes. (More on that below.) Here's the story of his season thus far: Makes the team out of camp, goes minus-2 in 18:23 on opening night, healthy scratched the next two games, sent down, called up three days later, healthy scratched, skates 15:11 with almost five minutes on the power play, skates 11 minutes with just 38 seconds of PP time, sent down, called up two days later… and healthy scratched again on Monday. Rundblad's been back and forth so much and so quickly, he actually hasn't played in an AHL game since NHL training camp opened. That is, despite being completely healthy, he's only played in three games since Jan. 8. Is it a bad time to bring up that he's been traded for Vladimir Tarasenko and Kyle Turris (on separate occasions), who have combined for 18 points in 17 games this year?

Magnus Paajarvi, LW, EDM – While MPS has just 42 points in 126 NHL games to his credit, it's easy to forget that he's still only 21 years old. But there's a real fear that the Oilers screwed up his development by bringing 2009's 10th overall pick straight to the NHL at age 19. This year hasn't gone terribly well even with AHL Oklahoma City, where he's got a fairly meager 20 points and a minus-8 rating in 38 games. Even when they call him up, the Oil play him on the fourth line instead of giving him real minutes. It just kind of seems like they're content to have ruined him, and that's a shame.

Tim Erixon, D, CLM – Erixon, 10 days away from his 22nd birthday, is already on his third NHL organization, but he's produced impressively in the AHL this year, totaling 29 points (25 of them assists) in 40 games. That's a nice progression from his 33-point effort in 52 games last season with the Rangers' AHL affiliate. He skated 18 minutes with 2:36 on the power play in his Columbus debut Jan. 31, but saw that shaved down to 12 in the next game with essentially zero power-play time. His fantasy impact will remain minimal until he starts collecting consistent minutes.

Mika Zibanejad, C, OTT – I've never been a big believer in Zibanejad, but he is still only 19 and the Sens certainly saw something in him, picking him sixth overall in 2011. He's seen inconsistent ice time over the last week in his second stint with the Sens (one assist in nine games last year), but did record a point in each of his first two games after being recalled. The scorer of the golden goal in the 2012 WJC will need to find a more consistent offensive game, though, as AHL watchers will tell you after they saw him record just 11 points in 23 games this year – hardly first-round production.

Jake Allen, G, STL –With Jaroslav Halak (groin) laid out, Allen – a one-time top prospect who sort of fell off the map while Halak and Brian Elliott were having their magical season last year – will get his chance to serve as the Blues' backup goaltender for a spell. A stud in the QMJHL, the Fredericton native has delivered two solid AHL seasons (save marks of .917 and .915), but has struggled this year, going 12-16-2 with a 2.94 GAA and .903 save rate. At 22, he's young for a goalie, but it's concerning to see his development stagnate like this even though AHL Peoria's roster is absolutely hideous. All things being equal, Allen will probably find the sledding easier in the big leagues.

Sent Down

Zac Dalpe, C, CAR – Remember David Rundblad's story from above? Well, he's on the Dalpe plan, and I've been griping about what the Hurricanes have one with Dalpe for as long as I've had this platform. Drafted in 2008, Dalpe has been promoted and then sent down at least nine times, and while his stagnated development can't necessarily be written off to the way Carolina's abused him, he's certainly fallen back hard after initially busting onto the scene with 57 points in 61 games for Charlotte in '10-'11. Last year was a huge struggle, but he's certainly been better this season. Still, inconsistency and inconsistent playing time limited him to two points (both assists in his season debut) in six games this year. And then – surprise! – he was sent down.

The Future to Come

Every week in this space, I’ll feature one amateur player making his mark in college or juniors.

This week's player is John Gaudreau, a 19-year-old sophomore at Boston College and a 2011 fourth-round pick by the Flames. There are little guys, and then there are little guys – at 5-6 and 150 pounds, Gaudreau is as small as they come. But he's an absolute whiz kid on ice, with truly elite skating and stickhandling ability – enough to own the best points-per-game mark in all of college hockey. Following an impressive freshman year in which he put up a point per game over 44 contests – finishing with the second-most points among BC skaters to Chris Kreider – he's taken it to the next level this year, putting up 33 points in 22 games so far. The New Jersey native also threw down nine points, including seven goals, in the World Juniors this year. Despite his size, he's also managed to avoid injury thus far thanks to successfully avoiding big hits. Bottom line: The Flames have themselves a fourth-round steal. Gaudreau's skills are going to play in the NHL.

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.