In the game of fantasy hockey, it’s always satisfying to be ahead of the curb when it comes to prospects. So here are a few options for you to consider grabbing now before they become established and highly sought-after commodities.
Denis Malgin – FLA
Looking at the top scorers from the 2016 WJHC you have Jesse Puljijarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine who formed at a ridiculously lethal line in first, second and third respectively. Following them are Auston Matthews (1st overall pick), Matthew Tkachuk (top 10 pick), Alexander Nylander (top 10 pick) and Zach Werenski (top 10 pick). Finishing in eighth was pick number 102 from the 2015 draft, Denis Malgin. Ever since then I’ve kept a close watch on Malgin and he has disappointed. After being selected he needed only one more year of home cooking before he was NHL ready as he jumped straight from Swiss hockey to the opening night roster for the Florida Panthers to begin the 2016-17 campaign. The production was spotty but it was still an impressive accomplishment for a 5-09, 19-year-old, fourth-round pick to make the NHL so quickly after being drafted. In total, Malgin suited up for 47 games for the Panthers, scoring six times and posting 10 points. He spent a bit of time in the minors as well posting a dozen points in 15 games. The 2017-18 campaign saw him double his production, jumping up to 22 points in 51 games. Once again he was given the AHL treatment as well and produced at better than a point per game with 14 points in 13 games.
Malgin’s not the biggest guy, so it really speaks to how high his skill level is that he has been able to advance so quickly. Although one year shy of Dobber’s ‘Fourth-year breakout’ threshold, I like what I’ve seen and really feel that he could be a valuable fantasy asset as soon as this season. I’m not saying he’ll touch 60, but 40-45 points are definitely attainable.
Anders Bjork – BOS
Bjork made the leap straight to the NHL from college to start 2017-18, seemingly leapfrogging himself to the top of the Bruins prospect heap. Things started out strongly for the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish as he was slotted into a top-six role and produced like one with seven points in his first nine NHL games. But as a lot of college players do, Bjork hit a bit of a wall come November, likely due to the compact nature of the NHL schedule which isn’t something encountered in the college game. His ice time dwindled from where he was regularly getting in the mid-to-high teens down to where he was more consistently seeing just 10 minutes a night. He was eventually sent down to the AHL at the beginning of January at which point he had put together a stat line of four goals and 12 assists in 28 games. Bjork spent a month down on the farm where he saw nine games of action potting two goals and dishing out a pair of assists. He was called back up at the end of January but suffered a concussion that caused him to miss the final 34 games of the regular season as well as all dozen playoffs games for the Bruins. With his speed and skill, Bjork has all the makings of a point producer at the NHL level. With Rick Nash and Brian Gionta, among others, departing the Bruins this offseason, there should be an opportunity once again for Bjork to prove he belongs in a scoring role. Whether or not he seizes this opportunity is up to him, but I like his chances.
Austin Czarnik – CGY
If there’s one truth about Austin Czarnik, it’s that there’s no question about his ability to produce. During his four years at the University of Miami (Ohio), he racked up 169 points in 159 games and led the Redhawks in scoring three of his four years on campus, finishing second behind Reilly Smith the one year he didn’t. Not only was he the top Redhawks scorer, he was the top scorer in his conference in each of 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15 (tying for the lead with Danton Heinen) and also led the conference in each of those seasons in assists with 24, 34, and 36 respectively. He’s been able to carry over that scoring dominance into professional hockey as he’s been absolutely tearing the AHL to shred over the past three years, producing as close to a point per game pace as you can without actually doing it, averaging 0.99. In his rookie pro season, Czarnik led all first-year players in scoring with 61 points and earned a spot on the All-Rookie Team and the past season he finished third in AHL scoring with 69 points in 64 contests and was an AHL All-Star and named to the Second All-Star Team. He was given a chance in Boston, playing better than half the season with the B’s in 2016-17 by suiting up for 49 games in a bottom-six role, producing 13 points. 2017-18 again saw him play 10 games as a fourth liner dishing out four assists but fell out of favour in Beantown as he was not re-signed at the conclusion of his contract. Calgary decided to roll the dice and give him a two-year, one-way deal that will all but guarantee his permanent spot on the NHL roster.
Czarnik likely to slot into a bottom-six role but there’s potential for more he if injuries force him higher up the line-up. His situation is reminiscent of another – Jordan Weal from the last offseason. An AHL superstar that finally earned a one-way deal. Big things were expected out of Weal, especially considering how strongly he finished 2016-17. Fair to say the results were underwhelming. Let’s hope Czarnik doesn’t repeat the same script. It remains to be seen whether he is merely an elite AHL, or has what it takes to be an NHL player. With a one-way deal and in the prime of his career, the time to find out is now.
As always thanks for checking out this week’s edition of The Journey. Thanks to eliteprospects.com and collegehockeyinc.com for the statistics. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips!
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