With the NHL season winding down, there are two reasons for a prospect to be promoted: Either the team wants a good look at him for next year, or someone's been injured. The fantasy sweet spot can be found at the intersection of the two reasons the availability of top-six (or top-four, for defensemen) slots combined with the desire to see just what they've got in the kid.
There's an intriguing crop of prospects getting chances this week; let's take a look at 'em.
Mark Stone, RW, OTT For a former sixth-round pick, Stone's moved rather quickly through the Ottawa organization though it surely helps to have two 100-point junior seasons under your belt. He made his NHL debut back in the 2011-12 playoffs, and though he still only has 13 NHL contests under his belt, Stone has been impressing. He was on a five-game point streak before being recalled from AHL Binghamton, pushing his season totals to 15 goals and 38 points. Those were his AHL totals last season, too but what took 54 games last year, he's done it in a spectacular 35 this year. Thrust onto the Sens' second line upon his call-up, he tallied an assist in his first game, then a goal in his second. It's not a bad time to run out and pick him up.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D, BUF Just demoted on Monday, Ristolainen got an emergency recall Thursday, and he responded with his second goal (and point) of the season in a loss to Nashville. He's shown more scoring ability at the AHL level, with 18 points in 31 contests, but the kid's still just 19 and is still learning how to use his size and skills on North American ice, never mind NHL ice. The Sabres' defense corps is a disaster, so I don't see why they shouldn't let Ristolainen play out the rest of the season in the big leagues, but maybe that's why I'm not the GM of the NHL's worst team (or, well, any other one).
Johan Larsson, RW, BUF Another injury-motivated call-up, Larsson saw serious ice time on Thursday 18 minutes flat and delivered an assist, two shots, two hits and three blocks. Though he's got just two points in 22 games for the Sabres this year, Larsson's impressed with his development in the AHL, totaling 15 goals and 39 points for Rochester just two fewer points than he put up in the minors last year, and in 24 fewer games. Just 21 years old, he's showing great promise.
J.T. Miller, RW, NYR I wasn't a fan of the Rangers using the 15th overall pick in 2011 on Miller, who was far from spectacular in juniors and has always projected to me as a gritty, energy-line type, a poor man's Ryan Callahan. But despite his failings in the NHL last year and this year (10 points in 55 games, total), I must admit that Miller's shown something in the AHL this year that I didn't see coming he's ripped off 12 goals and 37 points in 35 games for Hartford this year. So maybe there's more there than I thought but I still haven't seen it at the NHL level. Though he saw a decent 13:19 of ice time in his return to the lineup Wednesday, Miller took just one shot on goal and had no points, though he did lay four hits.
Beau Bennett, RW, PIT I'm cheating a little here, as Bennett's back from an AHL conditioning assignment following a wrist injury that's kept him out since before Thanksgiving. The Pens' first-round pick in 2010, 20th overall, picked up an assist in three contests with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He may not find his way right back to Sidney Crosby's wing, but the Pens have major top-six issues right now, so Bennett seems a good bet to find some decent ice time once coach Dan Bylsma's convinced he's in game shape.
Tim Erixon, D, CLM Erixon represents an oddity. With 33 points in 36 games, he's third among AHL Springfield in points and first in points per game among skaters who have seen significant action. The Jackets have spent the season fighting for a low playoff spot, and their defensive corps is less than impressive, to say the least. Enter Erixon, a 2009 first-round pick by the Flames who's now on his third NHL organization. He turned 23 just a month ago, so he's still young enough to be considered a legit prospect, and he has the puck-moving skills to succeed with the Jackets, if only given the chance.
Sami Vatanen, D, ANA Vatanen's spent most of this season with the Ducks, though he's totaled only a mediocre 17 points in 43 games. However, he's again produced at the AHL level seven points in eight contests and has racked up three assists and a plus-2 rating in two games since his return to Anaheim. Vatanen's got awesome offensive upside, and the blue line is perhaps Anaheim's greatest area of weakness. For a top team, they've gotten precious little scoring out of their defenders. Vatanen can help.
Prospect of the Week
Bo Horvat, C, VAN The ninth overall pick in 2013, Horvat's put up his second straight 30-goal campaign for OHL London this season, and if it's a little short of a true bust-out, 74 points in 54 games is nothing to sneeze at, and he improved his rating from plus-3 to plus-20 despite playing in 13 fewer games than last year. He's off to a fine start in the playoffs, collecting four goals and four assists over the course of a four-game sweep over the Windsor Spitfires. He reminds me of Dustin Brown the Brown of the glory days who was a consistent 50-to-60-point scorer as well as a physical presence all over the ice. Go watch a nice highlight reel and check on Horvat's availability in your keeper leagues.