The Journey: Prospects Needing A Change of Scenery

Dave Hall

2020-08-29

Welcome back for another installment of The Journey. In the midst of all this entertaining playoff action, two clubs, both of which were eliminated in the qualifying round, blessed us with a fun announcement. That's right folks, we had a trade.

In case you missed it, here is a recap of the deal:

Pittsburgh Penguins receive – Kasperi Kapanen (F), Pontus Aberg (F) and Jesper Lindgren (D)

Toronto Maple Leafs receive – 2020 1st-round pick (15th overall), Evan Rodrigues (F), Filip Hallander (F) and David Warsofsky (D)

*Here is a quick note in case you are not familiar with Filip Hallander – He's a mid-ranged, two-way prospect drafted in the second round of the 2018 entry-draft. His offensive upside is not through the roof, but could grow into a very serviceable third-line contributor.*

It is no secret that even after their disappointing exit, via the Montreal Canadiens, the Penguins were looking to keep their window alive while veterans such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were still relevant. And in all honesty, all power to them, I would likely do the same.

While I fully understand the Penguins need to stay competitive, this struck me as an awfully large price tag for a player of Kapanen’s caliber. Do not get me wrong, he is a terrific player and a strong asset, but a bundle which includes a top-15 pick in a very loaded draft and two very relevant young players (Hallander and Rodrigues) is a slight stretch for a  one-time 20-goal scorer. I am curious to know your thoughts on the deal? Catch me on Twitter @hall1289 and let me know.

The move got me thinking of the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect pool (naturally) and how depleted it has become. They have now given up a first-round selection in five of the previous six drafts. Not to mention their ongoing need to trade future assets for current, play-in ready calvary. It is just a matter of time before these moves catch up to them and create yet another dark age for fans to endure. Something they have not lived through since the glory days since the previously mentioned superstars were drafted.

Now, for the task at hand. With teams taking part in pre-season action all over the world, I have been paying close attention to prospects and getting very excited. Edmonton Oilers prospect Jesse Puljuajrvi has looked great, and I cannot help but think to myself – This kid can still play at a high level.

Here are some prospects who I feel could thrive in a new environment and make the most of a second opportunity.

Lias Andersson, C – New York Rangers

Right off the bat, the first youthful skater to come to mind is none other than Andersson. The now 21-year-old was drafted in the seventh hole of the 2017 entry-draft and wasted no time turning heads at the pro level. Right out of his initial camp, the Swedish pivot jumped in headfirst at the AHL level, eventually transitioning to the NHL by season’s end. Over the next three years, he bounced from both clubs, and while his numbers fared well in the minors, his game struggled at the top. Then came the drama.

Provoked by his clear disappointment with his lack of top-six minutes with the Rangers, and then an eventual demotion back to Hartford, Andersson went public in what would become a well-document feud. He has since been loaned to HV71 (SHL) where he has contributed for 12 points in 15 matches and will spend the remainder of his ELC (up in 2020-21) in Sweden.

When in the right environment, Andersson possesses strong two-way abilities. He makes strong IQ plays and has the hands and skills to capitalize on his offensive opportunities. If you are an owner who happened to invest in him early on, do not give up hope just yet. Despite his dissapointing growth thus far, I do believe there is reason to think he can find his game at the NHL level down the line.

No, he likely does not hold the upside that he once had, and one that you expect from a player going seventh overall, but there is still potential to fulfill a 60-70-point upside. Unfortunately, I just cannot see Andersson wearing a Rangers jersey again, meaning this prediction will likely be fulfilled elsewhere.

Eeli TolvanenNashville Predators

Full discretion, I don’t necessarily feel that the Predators would be willing to part with their 21-year-old stud. However, there is something to be said about him receiving a second chance. From this list, the Finnish sharpshooter held what was probably the highest ceiling in terms of offensive production, at least in goal scoring. He has a wicked release and long history of finding the back of the net. Somehow, those goal-scoring abilities have yet to make their way to North America, at least not at the rate that was perhaps expected. With just 36 goals and 71 points through 121 games at the AHL level, combined with just one in the NHL (albeit just seven games), it’s safe to say he has failed to live up to the fantastic hype.

While the pandemic likely was the final deciding factor for the move, he has currently made his way to Finland, suiting up in pre-season matches for Jokerit of the KHL. He looks right at home and has already contributed on the scoresheet.

The fact that he has not been given the proper opportunity to showcase himself during the regular season is undoubtedly frustrating for a player who was once thought to be a shoo-in for top-six deployment. If training camp does not bode well for either party, it may be time for the Preds to rethink their plan going forward. If they were to cast a line out, there is no doubt that there would be some serious interest in turning this kid’s career around. Don’t sleep on him, he’s young and still has a very solid ceiling.

Henrik BorgstromFlorida Panthers

The Panthers have had issues in regards to their development over the years, struggling to transition their top-end talent into proper NHL mainstays. Unfortunately for both him and fantasy owners, Borgstrom looks to be trending in that same path at the moment. Once drafted 23rd overall in 2016, he took his talents to the NCAA, dominating the nation with 95 points over just 77 games. This warranted an immediate breakthrough to a Panthers roster spot in 2018, and many thought he could be an instant boost to the team’s offensive department. However, his game did not translate for an immediate impact and found himself back in the American League. Since then, his numbers in the minors have actually been respectable, with 45 points over 73 games. Yet, he's been unable to find another cameo with the top club. 

The Finnish middle man is a very gifted point-producer, potentially on an elite level. At just 23 years of age, the potential for him to break out in the league remains to be a very reasonable prediction, and if the club is unwilling to give him his proper chance, should look to test the market. With Vincent Trocheck now out of the picture, one would assume that there lies a spot somewhere within their top-9. But for now, he remains a disgruntled prospect and has since been rumored to return to his home team in Jokerit (KHL) for the remainder of his ELC.

His upside remains high, and his future should reveal itself within the next year or so. Until then, fantasy owners should keep him stashed away in a safe place until he is ready to pop off.

Jeremy BraccoToronto Maple Leafs 

Bracco is a well known offensive threat, which was showcased by his 79-point campaign just one season ago with the Toronto Marlies (AHL). Despite his strong numbers, the Maple Leafs have refused to use him as an option, largely based on the fact that their top-9 consists of players who resemble a similar style. However, the 23-year-old remains a fantasy worthy prospect, who has the potential to put up fair numbers in points-only leagues. 

While he may not be a game-breaker, a new home with a fresh beginning would be a positive spin on what's otherwise been a frustrating path thus far. He will become an RFA by the end of this season, and if the team elects not to re-up, which I assume they won't, he could fit in nicely somewhere in a rebuilding team middle-six for a cheap "show us what you got" deal. If you have an extra spot and you're willing to see where it takes you, there is still potential for him to be a backdoor producer in fantasy leagues.

Jesse PuljujarviEdmonton Oilers

As mention at the top, Puljujarvi is currently in Finland ripping up the Liiga with Karpat and is the backbone for why I chose this topic. The former fourth overall was a classic case of a high-end pick being rushed to the league far too soon, which ultimately stunted his growth as a result.

Following three subpar seasons with both the Oilers and their affiliated minor club, the 22-year-old enjoyed a 53-point season (24G + 29A) in just 56 games once making the move overseas. While he likely remains across the pond for the remainder of his contract (2020-21), the next phase of his career is something to keep close attention towards. Not only has his offensive abilities looked to have crawled back, but he has also taken some big steps in his overall growth as a player and looks to have gained some much-needed confidence in himself. If you are an owner, this should be music to your ears.

He carries a large frame but can skate well considering. He’s got a terrific hockey sense and playmaking abilities, but can light the lamp at almost the same rate. Given his age and his sudden outburst in development, I fully expect him to be a contributor at the NHL level somewhere in the near future. 

While there are rumors that he and the Oilers have been working on finding common ground, I do believe a change of scenery would be a healthy choice in order for him to become a force within the league.

Joshua Ho-SangNew York Islanders

I was close to not adding Ho-Sang to this list, as this may be even more of an obvious choice than Lias Andersson, considering his long history of struggles. However, I do firmly believe that if Ho-Sang were gifted a new chapter in his horror story of a career, there could be a flash of fantasy upside remaining. Despite his undeniable poor attitude that has crippled his chances with the Islanders, the 2014 first-rounder carries undeniable talent. 

After clearing waivers earlier in the season, it is hard to believe he stands a chance at finding a new home in the NHL. In fact, rumors have circulated that he is connected to a potential contract in Russia, a path taken by many in the past. Clearly, this is a long-shot prospect, but if he does manage to find his way back to a team, keep a close eye as he could regain some fantasy momentum and end up being a contributor. But don't lose sleep over that coming to fruition.

***

Honorable mentions:

Dylan Sikura, C – Chicago Blackhawks

Dylan Gambrell, C – San Jose Sharks

Filip Chlapik, C – Ottawa Senators

Thanks again for joining me. Are there any other prospects who you feel could use a new home? Let me know what you think.

UPCOMING GAMES

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HOT PLAYERS

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency COL Players
20.1% PIERRE-EDOUARD BELLEMARE MATT NIETO LOGAN O'CONNOR
17.5% NAZEM KADRI VLADISLAV NAMESTNIKOV VALERI NICHUSHKIN
17.2% ANDRE BURAKOVSKY NATHAN MACKINNON MIKKO RANTANEN

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