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The Coming Thing: Digging For Undrafted Gold

Andrew Fiorentino

Managing hockey editor, talent wrangler, football columnist, FSWA's 2015 fantasy hockey writer of the year. Twitter: @akfiorentino

If you're a hockey fan, you can't help but hear their names. Martin St. Louis. Chris Kunitz. Tyler Bozak. Dan Boyle. Tyler Johnson. Jonas Hiller. David Desharnais. Mark Giordano. David Clarkson. Dustin Penner. Dan Girardi.

What do all these fine NHL players all have in common?

None of them were drafted.

One of the best ways to get ahead in fantasy hockey – especially in deep leagues and dynasty formats – is to keep abreast of all the talent pools that feed the NHL. It's not uncommon to see a player passed over in the draft put up huge numbers in juniors or college, then sign with an NHL team.

These guys may not enjoy the same opportunity that a first-round pick would – obviously, it's a lot easier to write off an undrafted signee as a failure than to say you spent a precious draft pick unwisely – but when they get their chances, they can turn into legitimate assets in a wide variety of fantasy formats.

Since things are slow – at least, as far as prospect promotions go – at this time of year, let's take a look at a few undrafted guys whose names you could be hearing in the very near future.

First, let's get this out of the way: Kevin Czuczman's last name is pronounced "Churchman." Alright, that's easy. A 23-year-old defenseman, Czuczman just signed up with the Islanders on a two-year deal, and he's expected to get started at the NHL level right away. After a couple quiet college seasons, he led Lake Superior State University defensemen this year in goals (10) assists (11, a tie) and penalty minutes (73), and was heavily scouted and courted by NHL teams – as many as 16 of 'em. A first-team All-WHCA defenseman, he has NHL size at 6-3, 205, and will have a chance to make an instant impact with an Islanders team that's thin at – well, at every position.

A largely unheralded, under-the-radar late-December signing by embattled Canucks GM Mike Gillis, all that 20-year-old winger Dane Fox has done this year is lead all Canadian junior skaters in a little category I like to call "goals." To be quite precise, he's scored a whopping 62 goals in 65 games, and he's added 41 assists for 103 total points because hey, why not. Now, that said, Fox finished short of a point per game in every one of his junior-hockey seasons before this, so don't expect miracles – but if Steve Ott or Sean Avery in their respective primes would be a good asset in your league, you may get a similar energy boost from Fox, who could turn out to be a productive points-plus-PIM guy next season. [Insert "What Does The Fox Say?" reference here.]

Now let's move on to a couple guys who haven't signed yet. Mitch Holmberg of the Spokane Chiefs has lit up the WHL this year to the tune of 61 goals – yep, just one behind Fox – and a shiny, league-leading 116 points. Unlike Fox, whose detractors can point to the benefit he's gained from skating with presumptive 2015 first-overall pick and "Hockey's LeBron" Connor McDavid (more on him next year!), the speedy Holmberg doesn't have the benefit of skating alongside generational talents. And yet somehow, the20-year-old leads his team in points by 36 – that's thirty-six over the next-best guy. Sure, he's small at 5-10, 175, but there are similarly small guys in the league, and this scoring didn't come out of nowhere – he was an 80-point man last year for Spokane. Holmberg could end up playing a year or two in college if no one signs him, but someone ought to – there's legitimate NHL talent here.

Finally, before you get bored, let's hit on one more guy with an awesome name: Marcus Power, a 20-year-old center with the QMJHL's Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Like the last two guys, he's an over-age, undrafted forward; like the other two, he's ripped off a 100-point season; and like Holmberg, he's done it without name-brand help (though you'll want to file away the name of his linemate Jean-Sebastien Dea until next year, when he'll be looking to sign somewhere). Power's got 30 goals and a whopping 75 assists to go with a team-leading plus-23 in 65 games for the Huskies this year, a huge offensive explosion for a guy whose previous best was 59 points in 66 games last year. He may be a late bloomer, but his playmaking skills are for real, and he's got NHL size at 6-foot, 185. I'll be surprised if he doesn't get a contract.

Alright, this went on a while; let's keep things moving.

Notable Promotions

Evgeny Kuznetsov, RW, WAS – I'm kind of cheating on this one because Kuznetsov was signed, not promoted, by the Capitals last week; he'd been playing in the KHL for Chelyabinsk Traktor, where he'd collected 21 points in 31 games in the veteran-dominated league. But the 21-year-old Kuznetsov's real selling point is the combined 84 points he put up in 100 games over the last two seasons – the kind of production you simply don't see very often from young KHL skaters. Kuznetsov's suited up for two games in a Washington uniform, going from 10:22 of ice time in his debut to nearly 15 minutes in his second game, and he's set for a third on Friday night. Though he's scoreless in his first two contests, his upside is sky-high.

Quinton Howden, LW, FLA – Howden's name had some sizzle to it in prospecting circles after the Panthers took him 25th overall in 2010 and he proceeded to score 40 goals for the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors, but he failed to find that extra gear the following season and has been less than impressive in the AHL, totaling 57 points in 114 games. His 18-game NHL stint last year went poorly, too, as he went minus-11 with no points. However, he potted a goal in his season debut with Florida on Thursday and, well, it's a slow week.

Teemu Pulkkinen, RW, DET – A 22-year-old Finnish import (and fourth-round pick in 2010), Pulkkinen has had an odd career path. He dominated as an 18-year-old (who turned 19 midseason) against veterans in his first full campaign in the Finnish Liiga back in 2010-11, with 54 points in 55 games, which had him shooting up prospect lists. But he fell back in the next two years, scoring 37 and then 34 points in full seasons, dimming much of his luster. However, things have been revived since he's come to North America – his rookie AHL season has produced a sparkling 26 goals, 51 points and plus-20 rating for Grand Rapids, and he'll finally make his NHL debut Friday against Edmonton, though probably skating fairly minimal minutes. Still, he's one to keep an eye on as another terrific European player being developed in the Red Wings' mold.

Andy Miele, C, PHO – Miele – another undrafted player – has been holding onto a point-per-game pace with AHL Portland, having rattled off 23 goals and 57 points in 56 contests. But he's been unable to puncture the top six in Phoenix, as he's seen 10:45 or less of ice time in his three games since rejoining the 'Yotes. With the team just a point out of a playoff spot, it's hard to envision them giving Miele major minutes unless they have an injury up front or he forces their hand by being incredibly good on the third and fourth lines. Still, the undersized 25-year-old – who even looks a little bit like Martin St. Louis, if you ask me – is clearly ready for the NHL and could work his way into a bigger role by the end of this season, especially if the Coyotes keep falling away from contention.

Petr Mrazek, G, DET – As usual, Jonas Gustavsson is banged up, buying Mrazek a ticket to Detroit (or, well, to be on the road with Detroit). He got the start on Tuesday and gave up four goals on 37 shots in a loss to Columbus. Keeper-league owners should be very excited about Mrazek, who owns spectacular matching 2.01 GAAs in the AHL and NHL, as well as an excellent .928 save percentage at the AHL level. Jimmy Howard and Gustavsson are in his way… for now. The way he's played the last couple years, the Wings are gonna have to either trade him or find him some playing time.

Michal Jordan, D, CAR – I wish he had some real fantasy potential, but unfortunately no. I just wanted to include him here because he has an awesome name. You're welcome.

Prospect of the Week
Nicolas Petan, C, WPG – Petan liked scoring 100 points – 120, to be exact – so much in the WHL last year, he's done it again this season. The 18-year-old's team-leading 75 helpers and 109 points have helped carry his Portland Winterhawks to the second-best record in their conference, and he has a combined plus-116 rating over the last two years. So yeah, that's pretty good. The Oilers' second-round pick (No. 43 overall), the one knock on Petan is… you're gonna be shocked at this one… he's undersized. At 5-9, 173, he's certainly on the small end, though he certainly has room to gain an inch or two yet. However, Petan doesn't play small – he's willing to mix it up with the big boys in the hard-to-reach areas in front of the net, and he has the high-end speed to dance circles around big, slow defensemen. Don't sleep on him too long in next year's keeper drafts.