Each year the most highly-touted prospects are taken as high-risk, high-reward gambles on draft day in fantasy hockey. The 2015-16 season had the most exciting rookie classes in years that drastically changed the fantasy hockey landscape.
Both the sure-thing and unanticipated prospects left big impressions on fantasy managers. Knowing when to take young players that have tons of potential after big rookie years is an important part to anyone’s draft day strategy.
But there are a few things you should keep in mind before the pre-draft rankings come out this offseason for the most compelling sophomores in fantasy hockey.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
It’s hard to think of a rookie season that had a bigger spotlight on it than McDavid’s did. After a hot start that resulted in him being named the rookie of the month in October, McDavid suffered a collarbone injury that cut his year in half. But that wasn’t enough to stop him from being a Calder finalist with his 48 points in 45 games.
Is it too early to consider him one of fantasy’s elite? Probably, but McDavid living up to the hype last season means he will be drafted among the best of the best in fantasy.
Don’t be surprised to see McDavid going late in the first round or at the top of the second in some mock drafts. He may still be a teenager, but his talent is undeniable and Edmonton has a few interesting players they can put around him.
Those managers that draft him should expect outstanding power play production and big assist numbers from the Oilers’ top center next season.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
Eichel shouldn’t be a first or second round pick like McDavid, but he should go earlier than he went last season on draft day. Eichel’s power play numbers, 238 shots, and 56 points on a struggling Sabres team will tempt many managers to go off the board and take him early in the draft.
Don’t be seduced by his potential alone. Eichel will be great next season, but he’s a long shot to become one of fantasy’s elite centers next year.
Buffalo’s top young player should have his value on draft day dragged down because of the depth at his position and because he is bound to have bad plus-minus numbers with the Sabres. Still, his 21 power play points can’t be ignored, and his chemistry with Sam Reinhart make him a low-risk, high-reward center to grab if he is drafted after most of the big names are snagged.
Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
Panarin might be the most interesting sophomore player on the board for two reasons. The first thing to consider is that he played on a line with fantasy hockey’s best player last year, which played a big part in Panarin’s head turning 77 point season.
And secondly, although he was a rookie in the NHL, the KHL import was 24 last season which made for imperfect comparisons to his peers in the rookie class. Clearly, Panarin is a special player…but just how good is he?
Panarin will be hard-pressed to match his 30 goal, 16 percent shooting percentage rookie season as a sophomore.
Expecting him to surpass 80 points next season might be setting yourself up for a major disappointment, but Panarin will be a top-10 left winger on draft day. His counting stats and the team he plays for will make him a can’t-miss winger early in the draft.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
“Ghost Bear” has Flyers fans very excited, and for good reason. While averaging a little over 20 minutes of ice time a night, the 23-year-old defenseman scored 46 points in 64 games. What most people are going to be thinking about on draft day are the 17 goals he scored as a rookie and what kind of numbers he can put up in a full season on a Flyers team that should be better than it was in 2015-16.
A healthy Gostisbehere will become one of the top-100 players in fantasy next season. His ability to create offense both at even strength and on the power play means his name should top your list after the first half dozen or so elite names are taken.