2017 Fantasy Hockey Draft Prep: Vadim Shipachyov best of what could be underwhelming rookie class
This may not be the strongest rookie class ever, but a pair of overseas veterans could still make a Fantasy impact in 2017-18.
The 2017-18 season may not see quite the same explosion of rookie scoring that we got from the likes of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, William Nylander and Zach Werenski last year, bit there's still a promising crop of new freshmen coming in.
Let's take a look at the most intriguing names:
THE INELIGIBLE VETERAN
Vadim Shipachyov, C, LAS
At age 30, the Russian import is ineligible for the Calder Trophy. Yet in a season that projects limited high-end scoring options among first-year players, he may be the biggest name worth keeping an eye on. Shipachyov, who signed a two-year deal with Vegas in May, is an elite playmaker with exceptional vision and puck skills who's racked up 190 points in 153 games over his past three KHL seasons.
He's been dynamite for Russia in numerous international competitions, earning a reputation as one of the most talented players in the world who's never played in the NHL. Fantasy owners surely haven't forgotten that Artemi Panarin posted 30 goals and 77 points in his rookie season with the Blackhawks after coming over from Russia. While Shipachyov doesn't have anywhere near the supporting cast that Panarin did with Chicago, he's also a far more accomplished player than his fellow countryman was when he arrived, and he'll likely be playing with a legitimate top-tier sniper in James Neal. I think it's reasonable to expect roughly 20 goals and 60 points from Shipachyov in his rookie season. It won't win him any awards since he's not eligible for them, but he needs to be owned in all Fantasy leagues to begin the season.
THE ELIGIBLE VETERAN
Henrik Haapala, LW, FLA
Fresh off a season that saw him lead the Finnish league in scoring with 60 points in 51 games, Haapala signed with Florida in early June. A former teammate of young Panthers star Aleksander Barkov, Haapala is more of a playmaker than a finisher. Now 23 years old, Haapala has been playing professionally in Finland for the past five seasons. He isn't big (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), so it's quite possible he could struggle against stronger, more physical defensemen in North America, but his offensive skills are undeniable. He's worth a look in the later rounds on Draft Day.
Nico Hischier, C, NJD
While it's no guarantee that Hischier begins the season in the NHL, I expect the No. 1 overall selection in June's draft to get at least a nine-game trial run. He's very responsible defensively for an 18-year-old kid, so that shouldn't be an issue if he cracks the lineup. With Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri around, plus the addition of Marcus Johansson from Washington, the Devils have some talented offensive players on their roster. I imagine New Jersey will shelter Hischier to some extent if he makes the team. He's obviously a terrific keeper/dynasty league pick, but don't expect much value in redraft leagues this season.
Nolan Patrick, C, PHI
Patrick is in a better position than Hischier to produce immediate Fantasy value. Even if he begins the season as Philadelphia's third-line center, the Flyers have the forward depth to ensure that a pair of talented wingers flank the rookie. As long as Patrick has put the injury issues he suffered through last season behind him, he should be good for 15 goals and 40 points in 2017-18.
Brock Boeser, RW, VAN
The Canucks were a bad hockey team last year, but Boeser was terrific during his brief nine-game run after deciding to forgo his final two years of collegiate eligibility at the University of North Dakota. He put up four goals and five points in nine games for Vancouver, and while I don't expect him to maintain that 36-goal pace over a full campaign, 25 seems like a realistic goal. Fantasy value is all about opportunity, and Boeser is in a terrific position to produce.
Last year, I didn't think there would be enough production to go around for both Mitch Marner and William Nylander to have Fantasy value in Toronto. I was wrong. I feel similarly about Strome and Keller this season. Strome played seven games with Arizona last season and Keller played three. I imagine Strome is the more NHL-ready of the two kids after dominating the OHL again last season, but Keller is the better prospect. The 'Yotes had to bring Keller right to the big club at the end of last season if they wanted him to leave Boston University. He may be better off spending half a season in the AHL, although he's certainly ready for prime time from an offensive perspective. Keller is a game-changing talent, while Strome profiles more as a solid second-liner, but the latter may well end up as the more productive player in 2017-18.
Tyson Jost, C, COL
As is the case with the four players above him, Jost is on a bad hockey team. That results in young players getting meaningful ice time, which in turn often results in offensive production. Jost has a solid all-around game for a 19-year-old, and as a result Colorado coach Jared Bednar can play him in all situations. While a 20-goal, 40-point effort is within reach, Fantasy owners need to keep in mind that Jost's plus-minus is likely to be awful because the Avs should again be among the league's worst.
Ho-Sang was arguably the Islanders' best player following his recall late last year. He has had maturity issues in the past, but his talent was never in question. The Isles are in desperate need of offensive production from anyone not named John Tavares, and Ho-Sang has the ability to be an immediate contributor. As for Barzal, the organization jerked him around for nearly a month last season before shipping him back to WHL Seattle. There, he posted 79 points in 41 junior games, leading the Thunderbirds to the WHL championship. He's ready for a significant role right out of the gate, but the Isles aren't exactly known for handling these things conventionally. Both of these prospects are elite playmakers, but the biggest difference between Ho-Sang and Barzal entering the season is that Ho-Sang is ensured an NHL roster spot and Barzal is not.
Charlie McAvoy, D, BOS
To McAvoy's credit, he worked to turn himself into a better offensive player during his two years at Boston University. Upon debuting for the Bruins in the playoffs, he jumped right into playing 25 minutes per game and operating on the top power-play unit. Zdeno Chara is nearing the end of his career, while Torey Krug has tended to have late-season physical breakdowns. The Bruins need a defenseman who can play in all situations, and McAvoy is an immediate answer to their issues.
Thomas Chabot, D, OTT
The weight of the world is going to be on Chabot's shoulder when he heads to training camp this fall. The Sens' blue line boasts the best defenseman in the league in Erik Karlsson... and little else. Chabot's game has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few seasons, though; once considered a "safe" selection, he's developed a dynamic edge to his game. Ottawa is badly in need of serious production from him right out of the gate.
Vladislav Kamenev, C, NAS
A talented Russian, Kamenev's ready for NHL action after back-to-back solid seasons for AHL Milwaukee. He got into two games for Nashville last season.
Kyle Connor, LW, WPG
Fantasy owners have seemingly forgotten about Connor because he plays on a team with a lot of forward depth. If he can earn a top-six spot out of training camp, he'll return immediate Fantasy value.
Julius Honka, D, DAL
Honka certainly has the ability to put up points, so his success at the NHL level depends entirely on his ability to defend. He could be a power-play specialist for the Stars as soon as this season.
There are certainly scenarios in which I could see Demko and Gillies getting a boatload of playing time for their respective teams this season. I think Demko is a bit more NHL-ready at the moment, but that's only because Gillies has been banged up the last couple years. Both have the potential to develop into quality starting goaltenders at the highest level.
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