If you are interested in Gustav Nyquist and Nikita Kucherov, you better act quickly.
I used to be bit skeptical of Detroit's legendary penchant for finding superstar talent in the late rounds of drafts. If they knew that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datysuk were destined to become cornerstone players then why the heck would they risk letting them fall to 210th and 171st.
I intentionally say that in the past tense because I've had the chance to take in a few Red Wings games this year and have been so impressed with both Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. Today I want to talk about Nyquist, due in part to the fact he is an uber skilled forward, and largely because I just nabbed him in my pool and want as much positive propaganda out there as possible (to boost his value…. kidding, kind of… muhaha)
His road to the NHL was becoming a bit of a punch line – not many players have absolutely torn up the AHL for two straight seasons (118 points in 114 games) only to be sent back down again for a third trip. But, the team had cap woes, self inflicted mind you, from a Danny Cleary signing and had no room for Nyquist on the roster.
With those issues somewhat resolved he is on the Wings (for what looks like a long time) skating with Zetterberg and Johan Franzen while enjoying first line duties. Through four games he has three goals, one assist and seven shots on net. The production has been great, and looks to continue at a decent clip as long as he's skating with his Swedish countrymen.
The issue, sadly there is always at least one, is that the ice time hasn't been there through four games. He's hovering around the 14 minute range, which isn't horrible, but isn't that of a top line winger (Franzen is at 16:46). This could be a simple case of Mike Babcock wanting to work him into the lineup slowly, allowing for acclimatization to the NHL game. Or perhaps Nyquist is not ready for the defensive responsibly that come with increased minutes. Something to monitor.
On the plus side, he has been average 2:39 on the man advantage each night, skating on the second power play unit with Darren Helm and Tatar.
In watching him you will be immediately struck by his creativity with the puck. Clearly he didn't attend the Jay McClement school of "dump and chase" hockey. Every time he enters the zone he is looking for an open man or how to develop space for line-mates. It is especially evident when skating with Zetterberg as there is a unique chemistry between the two – not uncommon for such skilled puck carriers.
In the offensive zone Nyquist is a diligent forechecker, possessing a Datsyukian-like (I just like to use the word Datsyukian) ability to pick-pocket defenders of the puck. Because of his slick hands and strong passing he is able to quickly create scoring chances off turnovers.
When we talk about his fantasy value a lot remains to be seen. In points only leagues he will almost certainly be a 55 plus scorer given his skill set and track record in multiple leagues. The potential is there for regular 65 or more point seasons, the question is does he get there? Part of that will depend on how he is utilized in Detroit; is he getting regular first unit power play time? Is he skating with Datysuk and Zetterberg or Todd Bertuzzi and Cleary?
From a multi-category perspective there are positive signs. In the AHL he would shoot close to three times per game, equating to 240 over a regular season. We can presume those numbers will regress a bit, maybe into the 200 or 220 range. He's not one to take many penalties (good for the Wings, bad for some poolies) likely nestling somewhere in the 20 to 40 area most seasons.
If I had to pick one current NHLer that he most reminds me of it would be Claude Giroux. That is not to say he will enjoy the level of success Giroux has in recent years, but that is what his game looks like to the eye. He's worth a good long look in points only leagues – for those in standard formats he is certainly a good add, even if his shots and penalties temper results a tiny bit.
Tampa Bay Lightening, Right Wing
5'11'', 171lbs, 20 years old
Drafted 58th overall, 2011
I have to credit the guys over at Raw Charge for letting me know that Kucherov was about to be called up from the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. They said something along the lines of "you better tell all fantasy owners, this is going to be big". They weren't wrong.
It took Kucherov all of one shift to net his first goal when a puck got free in the slot and he fired it past Henrik Lundqvist.
Since he has only played two games in Tampa I haven't had a chance to see as much of him as a player like Nyquist. What I have seen though has been very intriguing.
Kucherov possesses the prototypical Russian wrist shot that seems to jump off his stick like it was fired out of cannon (Russian basements must be littered with small rubber marks on the walls). When he skates he has a certain swagger not too dissimilar from Nail Yakupov, though he isn't nearly as fast or explosive as Nail. You can tell that he is always thinking about offence, ready to turn and head up ice at a moment's notice.
For those in one year pools it is important to remember he is only 20 years old, so the odds of getting any fantasy production this year are slim. That said, there are a lot of long term factors that could play to his advantage. Firstly, there is the obvious fact that he's playing on a team with Steven Stamkos, meaning he could land a spot alongside arguably the world's most potent scorer. Secondly, the team has experimented with Jonathan Drouin at center, a position he may end up playing in the NHL. If so, Kucherov would be in a fine fantasy slot regardless of which top six line he ends up on.
If you are in a deeper dynasty league that allows for a farm or ample bench spots I would be stashing him now. By next season he should be taking a regular shift.
What about his fantasy upside? In 17 games for Syracuse this year he already has 13 goals, so it's evident he can score. I was also intrigued by his stat line a couple nights ago, when he fired six shots on net in only 15 minutes of ice time against Philadelphia. Yes, it is a sample size of one game (and you know I loathe small sample sizes) but it is something to keep an eye on. If Kucherov can develop into a volume shooter, with his release, the goals will surely follow.
Since he is still so new to the league I don't feel comfortable making a prediction about what stats we can hope for. What I will say, is that if everything breaks right he could have the upside of an Alexander Semin, if it doesn't, he could be closer to a Linus Omark. A gab like that probably doesn't do you much good, though it does demonstrate just how much uncertainty (and excitement) there is swirling around Kucherov.
Darren is a fantasy hockey writer for Dobber Hockey. You can follow him @FantasyHockeyDK