This week, I’m taking a closer look at three prospects who were big risers on Dobber’s latest Top 50 Fantasy Prospect Defensemen list. Who are they and why are they on the rise? Continue reading to find out.
Sami Niku – Winnipeg Jets – up to 30 from 41
Niku was drafted in the seventh round in 2015 after a season where he scored 25 points in 39 games at the Mestis which is the second-tier pro league in Finland. 25 points is the scoring record in that league among defensemen under the age of 20 which is pretty impressive because Niku was just 18 years old at the time. He also got to play 12 games at the top level in the Liiga. Considering all this, it’s pretty surprising Niku fell all the way to the seventh round before he heard his name called.
Niku spent the following season mostly in the Liiga where he scored 11 points in 38 games. He returned to Finland for yet another season and this time scored 27 points in 59 games which were seventh best in the league among all defensemen. It’s also 12th best on the all-time list among defensemen under the age of 21.
At that point, Niku was ready to jump to North America and start making adjustments for the smaller rink size. Well, safe to say Niku’s adjustments were done quickly. He scored 16 goals and 54 points in 76 games during his rookie season in the AHL, and he earned the Best Defenseman award with that performance. He even got to play one game with the Jets, and he scored a goal in his NHL debut.
Niku’s offensive prowess has never really been questioned. His issues have been at the other end of the rink. But it appears he’s taken necessary steps in his defensive game, and his future in the NHL is looking very bright now. He’s not big but has decent size at 6-foot-1, 176 pounds. Niku turns 22 in a couple of weeks, so there’s still lots of time for him to add some muscle and learn to use it more.
Niku may end up back in the American league because the Jets’ roster is pretty full already but a strong performance during the preseason would give him a chance to crack the NHL roster. Either way, his long-term potential is very good, and he should be owned in pretty much all fantasy leagues with some sort of farm system in place.
Filip Hronek – Detroit Red Wings – up to 31 from 40
Hronek was drafted 53rd overall in 2016. During his draft season, he dominated the Czech U20 league to the tune of 16 points in 13 games. He also played 40 games at the top level in the Czech Extraliga but only managed to score four points there.