Calgary prospect John Gaudreau is one to watch in the long term.
This series has been published over the past few months, team-by-team, in the daily ramblings. In Part 1, we look at a short (next season) and long term sleeper for Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, and Calgary.
Since many of these writeups were done last month (or before), not everything will be completely up-to-date from a timing perspective. I went back and changed what I could, and hopefully nothing slipped through the cracks.
2013-14 sleeper pick: Sami Vatanen
Vatanen came over to North America with a lot of hype last fall. He made the top 10 defensive prospects list I put out last year. At the time, I compared him to the ageless Kimo Timonen, who is still going strong as he approaches 40. Vatanen is undersized, like Timonen, but he has a fantastic skater with elite mobility.
The transition to the North American game hasn't been an easy one – he is still a bit of a defensive liability at the AHL level, but he has been a positive difference-maker on many nights for Norfolk as well. The 21-year-old has eight goals and 44 points in 56 AHL games – phenomenal production for a defenseman of any age.
We know that development is nonlinear for most young players – Vatanen still has high value because of his AHL production, but many hoped he would be a productive NHLer this season. Looking at Anaheim's depth chart for 2013-14 – Souray, Fowler, Beauchemin, and Bryan Allen will all be around. Lydman and Lovejoy are free agents. Souray, Beauchemin, and Allen are all capable of logging tough defensive minutes, which should allow Vatanen the opportunity to earn a sheltered/offensive role as a rookie.
Long term sleeper pick: Steven Whitney
When the Ducks sign a college free agent, my ears perk up. This is the same team that has signed undrafted gems like Kunitz and Penner, and they have also found players like Dan Sexton, too. Whitney plays a lot like Brendan Gallagher – he is 5-7, 170 pounds, and very tenacious. He scored 26 goals this season for Boston College (the second highest total in the country), and will finish 2013 playing for Anaheim's AHL affiliate in Norfol