Each time a player is drafted both in real life and in fantasy, they come wrapped in a bow of optimism. Nobody ever acquired the rights to a player thinking that he was going to be a bust, but nevertheless, there is a unique amount of risk associated with each player not becoming the player that he was hoped to have been.

Knowing when to cut your losses, or in contrast, when to persevere, is a decision that can make or break your fantasy hockey future. Trading a prospect who is on the cusp of breaking out in exchange for a bag of pucks, simply because he hasn’t met expectations YET, could be the downfall of your team. I almost did this with Nathan MacKinnon in the summer of 2017, and so did a lot of people. 

Thanks to my near miss, I’ve developed an appreciation for how vital this decision can be, which is why today’s edition of the Journey looks at Prospect Trajectory Crossroads.

In an effort to reinforce the notion that, despite the dominance of young players in today’s NHL, some players can still take 4-5 years to emerge as a productive player, today you’ll read about a few players who are facing a crossroads in their development, and what your options are…

RW | Kailer Yamamoto, 21

After being touted as an offensive dynamo leading up to his draft in 2017, sky-high expectations were bestowed upon the Oilers’ prospect. Following up his selection at 22nd overall, Yamamoto was retained by the Oilers for a nine-game regular season stint, which amplified fantasy owners’ expectations for him. 

His deployment alongside Connor McDavid acted as a catalyst for those expectations, as it became a foregone conclusion that he would become the Chris Kunitz to the Oilers prodigy. 

After two years of regressed production split between Spokane in the WHL, and Bakersfield of the AHL, Yamamoto finally finds himself back in northern Alberta. Two years removed from such lofty expectations, Yamamoto has likely already been sold-low in several fantasy leagues.

Verdict: When Yamamoto was demoted from the Oilers in 2017, many held out hope that he would return to Edmonton the following year to line up with McDavid. When that didn’t happen and productive regression did, those hopes evaporated almost immediately. 

What many hadn’t considered, however, is that the Oilers are in possession of two separate all-star forwards with which to pair their 5-8 right-winger. In his relatively small sample size of games with Edmonton through 2020, Yamamoto has proven be capable of regressing towards his original trajectory. While his scoring rate has been off the charts, the instant chemistry developed between Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and he is enough to refuel at least a portion of his original hype. 

If you own him: Keep him (or sell him like he’s on the cusp of being a 70-point player).

If you don’t own: him: Cautiously kick tires on him (like he’ll finish the year in the NHL with a 0.25 point-per-game pace).

LW | Eeli Tolvanen, 20

Evidently, falling to 30th overall in the 2017 draft was the best thing that could’ve happened to Tolvanen in terms of appropriately setting expectations. Incidentally, however, the then 18-year-old followed up his selection by setting U19 records in the KHL with Jokerit Helsinki. 

Upon completion of his extraordinarily productive year in the KHL, Tolvanen joined the Preds’ playoff run with gentle expectations. Although he had been highly productive all season long, Nashville’s playoff roster was more or less full. With Tolvanen having to adjust to an entirely new system in the NHL, it was entirely acceptable for him to go pointless through a heavily monitored three regular-season games. Unfortunately, what came next is something that wasn’t quite expected. 

After being demoted to the AHL in his first contracted year in North America, Tolvanen struggled to maintain pace with his AHL competition. A World Junior gold medal became the highlight of his otherwise disappointing season. 

Verdict: The struggles of getting accustomed to the organization’s systems in North America have been a burden for Tolvanen’s offense. His ability to generate shots for Milwaukee has been unmatched, but it hasn’t resulted in genuine production and he’s slowly being overtaken by Philip Tomasino as the Predators’ top prospect, at least in terms of NHL probability. 

With long term ceiling in mind, Tolvanen’s value is simply no longer what it once was. All things considered, he still likely has a future in the NHL, but in what capacity?

If you own him: Consider using him as bait for a prospect with a more probable NHL future. 

If you don’t own him: Buy extremely low, (like he’ll be a full-time NHLer by next year, producing at a rate of 0.4 points per game) or don’t buy at all. 

LW | Kristian Vesalainen, 20

Perhaps one of the most well-traveled 20-year-old NHL prospects, Vesalainen’s expectations stemmed primarily from a wildly successful draft+1 slate split between a couple of teams in the Finnish Liiga. His success at the 2018 World Junior Championship also played a part in thrusting Vesalainen into a world where he would be cited in the same conversations as top prospects like Filip Chytil and Nick Suzuki

While many of the prospects who were discussed in the same breath as Vesalainen have moved on to more significant and concrete roles in the NHL, the Jets have resisted promoting Vesalainen. His toolkit continues to overflow with the skills that would be required of him in the NHL. His powerful skating and physical abilities seem to make him an effective player in the AHL, but production has not always come along with that. 

Verdict: Expectations for Vesalainen have always seemed to exceed his short-term reality ever so slightly. While his production in the AHL has yet to reach a level that would be considered elite, or even great, nothing about who he is as a player has changed. 

This looks to me like a player who is extremely capable of playing in the NHL sometime soon. 

With the Jets slumping, Vesalainen may have the opportunity to get into the lineup in Winnipeg before year-end, and with that may come the opportunity to engage himself as a better NHL player than he’s ever been in the AHL. 

If you own him: Lock him down temporarily. Don’t sell low.

If you don’t own him: Buy low using another slumping prospect, or surging prospect that you expect to regress. 


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this topic, I’d love to hear about it. Find me on Twitter @olaf1393