Many hockey owners play in keeper leagues, which, of course, have a heightened emphasis on youth. Where single-season leagues often dismiss all but the most promising rookies due to their statistically lower scoring and fantasy value, the prospect of future worth is too hard to pass on for a lot of keeper-league GMs.
With generational talent like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel arriving this year, most pools snatched up both early -- nearly 90 percent of pools have one owned, and two-thirds have both. But, with the top two going early, who else can fantasy GMs look to for future value and a reasonable current year return?
Max Domi LW, ARI - The headlining member of the "Killer Ds" in Arizona, Domi is making a name for himself this year after showing that he can translate his success from juniors into the NHL. With 11 points in 11 games, he's second in rookie scoring and is exuding the tenacity his father was well known for, with deft hands and a knack for being in the right place at the right time, that his father was not. His stat line has shown remarkable consistency for someone so young and relatively small -- he's registered a point in all but two games this year, and sits on the right side of the plus-minus scale, showing his offensive flair is not coming at the cost of his defensive responsibilities. His ownership level is understandably high -- he's owned in about three quarters of leagues - but if you're able to secure him either via trade or a fortuitous waiver acquisition, he looks poised to have a promising career.
Colton Parayko D, STL - Unlike the diminutive Domi, Parayko is a big prototypical No. 1 defenseman who looks like he's ready for the big time. The 6-foot-5 third-round pick from the 2012 draft has recorded some heady numbers this season -- four goals and five assists in 13 games with a two power play points, a plus-seven and six PIM. Not too shabby for his first month in the NHL. He has a ton of opportunity, often quarterbacking the blueline on the power play, and has a reliable defensive partner in Carl Gunnarsson who can help clean up some of the mistakes he makes along the way. Rookie defensemen often don't make splashes like this in the league; even less stay available for long. His ownership is in the low 70s, but if he's available in your league, he's a stellar rookie pickup.
Nikolaj Ehlers RW, WPG - Winnipeg has earned its success recently largely on the back of youth development. None looks more promising than the young Dane drafted last year. In 13 games, Ehlers has nine points, looking at home on the second line with Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault. He's even getting top power-play time, as a reward from coach Paul Maurice for his dedication and success. In addition to the scoresheet, he's plus-six and has four PIM; he averages about 3.5 shots per game. His availability makes acquiring him a concern -- at 59 percent, he's probably over-owned in many leagues, and I expect this to drop in the coming weeks. At that point, it should be a coin-toss as to whether you can get him. His production seems to indicate that a 50-point year isn't out of the question, and given where he's playing, who he's playing with, and the success the team has enjoyed, I think it's a good bet he will stay healthy.
Artemi Panarin LW, CHI - Although this young Russian was never drafted in the NHL, he is making up for lost time in the North American game. With 11 points in 13 games, a plus-two rating with four PIM, Panarin is among the league leaders for rookies in production and is in the top five for rookie fantasy scoring. His 58 percent ownership rate makes him difficult to obtain, but leagues that have him available likely won't for long. His coveted position on the top line with Jonathan Toews, and presence on the top power-play unit, uniquely positions him among the league-best rookies for continued success. Where other, more potentially skilled players will be on weaker teams, his defending-champ squad will continue to supply him with chances to score, should he stay healthy and determined. At this point, there's little reason to think otherwise.
Dylan Larkin C, DET - Larkin has been on my radar for quite some time, and his rather abbreviated stay in the minors (for a Red Wing, mind you) spoke volumes about his ability to play in the big games. In 12 games this year, he has four goals and five assists with an impressive plus-10 and eight PIM. Those are some big-time numbers for a 19-year old; his proclivity for production has earned him a spot on the top line alongside Henrik Zetterberg, and a place on the second-unit power play -- both places that bode well for a continuation of the early success. His ownership has hovered around 50 percent, so it's a coin toss as to whether he's free in your league, but if he is, don't hesitate. He could very well finish the year on the better side of 50 points with a solid plus-minus and PIM count to boot.
Anthony Duclair W, ARI - After such a fantastic start to his year, Duclair has cooled significantly. His last six games have seen him go pointless with a minus-one rating. This streak of bad bounces is not indicative of his potential -- he's a gifted scored with an edge to him, and his partnership with Max Domi has paid dividends earlier in the year. I would actually wager that he's closer to a 50-point player than many would believe, and this dip has led to an artificially low availability. At 38 percent ownership, he's poised to find his game again, and become one of the better scoring rookies in the league. Take advantage of this and pick him up if you can, especially if you're in a deeper pool. He can cool on the bench if you're unsure.
Oscar Lindberg C, NYR - With production levels better than Duclair, on a better team, with more opportunity and better linemates, it's a wonder that Lindberg's ownership levels aren't higher. At 20 percent ownership, he's woefully underowned across most leagues while ranking seventh in rookie scoring with nine points in 12 games. At 24, he's a bit older to be starting his rookie campaign than most, but that maturity should bode well for his continued success. The most impressive aspect of his game is that he hasn't posted a minus game in his young career -- indicating the dedication to the finer points of the defensive game that is common among mature Swedish players. At this point in the season, he projects to be a 50-point player with a plus-20 (or better) rating and a few dozen PIM -- that's not too shabby for a player at the end of your bench.