With all of the buzz about this year’s two franchise shaping rookies, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, some outstanding rookie performances haven’t been getting the attention that they deserve. Some of those potentially overlooked rookie performances make for great targets for steals on fantasy draft day next fall.
Although the names we are going to take a look at in this article are anything but confidential, there are things about each of them that might make them undervalued come draft day.
Here are three outstanding rookies from this season not named Eichel or McDavid that look destined to have huge sophomore seasons in 2016-17.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
The secret is out about “Ghost Bear” and what he has done for the Flyers’ power play, but what most people forget is that the 22-year-old missed 18 games this season. The former Union College standout has been a force of nature on the power play in the 57 games he has played for the Flyers and has put up some flashy numbers along with an 11.5 shooting percentage.
A rookie defender that’s a power play quarterback on a team with plenty of offensive firepower? There’s no debate about it: Gostisbehere is fantasy hockey gold. His 16 goals will be eye-catching to fantasy managers in the fall, but two stats that are encouraging signs for his future as an elite offensive defenseman are his 21 power play points and 136 shots in 57 games.
The young Flyers’ defender may not be the biggest player on the ice on a team infamous for a rough and tumble style of play, but he could very well be the biggest steal of the draft in the fall.
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
At the beginning of the month I wrote why fantasy managers should wait on Nylander until next season. The lack of quality on his tanking team and the fact that staying up for the remainder of the season burned a year of his entry-level contract suggested that Nylander was destined to be a flash in the pan for the 2015-16 fantasy season. I was wrong. Nylander has stayed up with the Leafs.
What Nylander hasn’t done is put up very good numbers.
In standard fantasy scoring categories his per-game production is just outside of 250th in the league. While playing with Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau and Zach Hyman, the Leafs’ most coveted rookie has four goals and three assists in 15 games. Not exactly the most exciting numbers in the extremely talented rookie class of 2015-16, but there is no denying that the skill is there for the young Swede.
Even with the hype of being a Maple Leafs prospect, Nylander is likely to be available well after the early rounds on draft day. There is the promise of a better Toronto team taking to the ice six months or so from now. On that team, Nylander will likely be on the top power play unit and on the top line. His numbers will improve, but his fantasy value will be dragged down by his plus-minus rating given what the immediate future looks like for Toronto.
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
On a team defined by aging stars, Larkin is just what Detroit needs: a talented young forward they can build their future around. In his rookie season, Larkin has seen an average of 16:34 time on ice per game, but still leads his team in goals with 22. Completeing that feat on a team with future Hall of Fame forwards speaks volumes about why Detroit fans are so excited about the Michigan native.
What’s most remarkable about Larkin’s rookie season is his production at even strength. Just four of his 44 points with the Red Wings have come on the power play, despite averaging nearly two minutes of power play time per game. That number only has room to go up next season given what kind of talent the speedy 2014 first-round pick brings to the Red Wings’ lineup.
Through 74 games this season Larkin has 207 shots while playing in Detroit’s top six forward group. Any player that scores 19 goals at even strength and puts up over 200 shots is worth a serious look in fantasy hockey. When that player is a rookie on a team that has a celebrated record of developing offensive talent, he is worth a lot more than a look.