The Journey: Prospects Turning (North American) Pro – KHL
Happy Saturday, folks. Amidst all of the third-round playoff entertainment, we were graced with some firm dates to mark on your calendars. The NHL Entry Draft has been firmly set for October 6-7, with round one falling on Tuesday, October 6. Although this comes as no surprise, it is exciting to finally have an official date in mind, especially since draft talks have been dragged out for months now.
What makes this draft even more enticing, is the fact that some candidates have already commenced playing again, and are currently putting on a show overseas. Many of the European players have been showing steady rises in their development, including many mid-ranged first-round projections such as Emil Andrea, Anton Lundell (potentially top-10), and Noel Gunler. It will be very interesting to see if their hot (pre-season) starts grant them a jump at the podium come draft day.
I will be saving my draft talk for a few weeks in the future, once we are a little closer to the big day. However, I highly suggest that you keep a close eye on the SHL, Liiga, and KHL highlights if you have not already. Things could get very interesting.
On to the task at hand, that being potential targets for your upcoming fantasy drafts. If you missed last week, I covered a list, a long list at that, of potential NCAA candidates who have recently signed ELC contracts and are projected to make their professional debuts through the 2020-21 campaign. Make sure to give that a read.
To keep that momentum going, here are some KHL players set to make the jump overseas to play in North America next season. Some may bring instant glory, and may take some time. Regardless, each player is worth taking a look at, depending on the format your league is set under. The list is much shorter than the list out of the USA but does not lack in fantasy upside.
The 26-year-old was one of the more, if not the most intriguing free-agent from overseas heading into this year’s off-season. Despite a few teams in the mix, the Maple Leafs ultimately came out on top of the sweepstakes, signing the Finnish-born defender to a one-year entry-level contract.
Lehtonen is an offensively focused blueliner who is coming off an explosive 2019-20 campaign with Jokerit (KHL) with 49 points (17G + 32A) in 60 games. He has a reputation of being a shooting machine, averaging Brent Burns-like shots-per-game through the majority of his seasons as a pro. He does not hold an overly strong shot but has a quick and very accurate release. He knows how to find holes through lanes and can pick his spots accordingly. What makes him even more enticing for fantasy owners is his ability to play on the right side, which should equate to a higher number of minutes. Given his age, he is likely to come as advertised and there should be no surprises, aside from some expected bumps in his transition to the smaller ice surface.
I expect Lehtonen to be a full-time member on the Leafs blueline come next season, and with the uncertainty surrounding Tyson Barrie, could even see consistent minutes on their secondary power-play unit. He is a low-risk, low-cost prospect who could provide instant fantasy implications, depending on his role out of camp.
Despite the potential of starting his career in the AHL (given the Panthers history of taking it slow with their prospects), Denisenko provides a high level of both long-term and potential short term upside for fantasy owners. At 20 years old, the Russian born winger will make the move from the KHL, where he has spent the past two seasons with Yaroslav Lokomotiv, posting 10 goals and 18 points as an 18/19-year-old skater. His most recent play at the 2020 WJC showcased a nice glimpse in the future for fantasy owners, as his high-end skills were on full display. Over the course of seven games, he posted nine points, while taking home a silver medal as team Russia’s captain.
His skating is very strong and he is able to pull off high-end maneuvers at high speeds, making him extremely dangerous in the offensive zone. He has a strong and accurate snapshot, capable of threading the needle even against the highest of talents. As mentioned, he may not make an instant transition into the NHL, but I do not foresee it taking long before we see him in a Panthers uniform, especially with the futures of Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman considered question marks. Denisenko should be considered in the conversation as a top-end talent in regards to prospects. Grab him for the potential short-term production, keep him for the long-term outlook.
Contrary to Lehtonen, Zub heads into the NHL as a defensive-minded rearguard. Although he is not the largest of players, he plays a smart, aggressive game and refuses to be a pushover on the ice. He is not known as a power-play option, but should easily slip into the Senators top-4 at even strength, which enables the potential for picking up the occasional helper here and there.
He should eat up minutes in the defensive zone, and play ample time on the club's penalty kill, meaning his peripheral upside is high. Consider him a very low-risk, deep option for owners in multi-cat formats.
Barabonov, 26, is one of two KHL players who the Leafs have decided to bring in as a low-cost experiment. He has spent his entire seven-year KHL career with SKA St. Petersburg, where he has produced 137 points ( 62G + 75A) over 262 games.
His game has been compared to his (now) teammate Ilya Mikheyev. – An energy-producing winger with a hint of offensive upside. He shows good hands, especially in tight, and does not shy away from getting into the greasy areas in order to retrieve pucks. Barabonov, assuming he finds a spot on the roster, will provide owners with a nice mixed bag of statistics, which should include hits, shots on goal, and the occasional point from time to time. He is a deeper option, but potentially worth the gamble.
The 20-year-old made his way over to Toronto this summer to join the Canadiens in their playoff bubble but was unable to hit the ice due to the “ringer” restrictions. There is a very strong chance that Romanov walks onto this team right out of camp next season and becomes a mainstay on their top-4 immediately.
He is well known for his strong defensive game, most noticeably his booming hip checks. There have been flashes of offensive touch throughout his young career and could manage a 30-40 point output, but should not be counted on to do so. High point totals or not, Romanov has a very bright future at the NHL level and should blossom into a great pickup, especially for those looking for a high minute, shutdown defender. With Shea Weber aging out in just a few seasons time, his chances of becoming one of the club's go-to players on the backend are high. One of the more intriguing prospects in regards to defenders for dynasty owners.
The Blackhawks have officially signed their 2018 third-round-pick to an entry-level deal and are slated to bring him over as soon as the new campaign begins. He is considered a long-term project, with middle-six potential, and a small window of offensive upside. The 22-year-old has spent the better half of his previous two seasons with HK Sochi, of the KHL, where he has posted 23 points through 87 games, along with 53 penalty minutes.
He shows touches of offensive upside and is capable of finding his teammates as well as finishing plays himself. However, it’s his tenacity and work ethic that sets him apart from his foes, as he is always in high gear, and keeps his opponents on edge. He is a deep option for fantasy owners but could thrive in a third-line checking role with the Blackhawks in a few seasons’ time.
Finally, we have the highly touted Kaprizov. I have left him to the end as there is not much more that needs to be said about the Russian standout that has not already been talked about. At 23, he has accumulated 230 points over 293 games, combined with 31 in 47 layoff matches all with CSKA Moscow. He has taken home back-to-back goal-scoring titles with 30 and 33 respectively and is an absolutely dominant force on the ice.
While he has been compared to former KHL star Artemi Panarin, I do expect there to an adjustment period. However, once the Wild’s solid prospect pool finds their own at the NHL level, and the club begins to surround him with stars, look out for him to burst out and put up big numbers. I have him on the top of the prospect list and should be drafted immediately among your draft’s prospect run.
If I missed any prospects you were hoping to read about, please find me on Twitter @hall1289 to let me know.
Thanks for tuning in, and I will see you next week.
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