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.
After he was drafted, Hronek made the jump to the OHL where he impressed right away. He scored 61 points in 59 games which was fourth-best in the league among defenseman, and second-best on his team among all skaters. He was ready to turn pro after a season like that.
If it wasn’t for Niku’s amazing rookie season, we would be talking a lot more about the great rookie season Hronek had there. Hronek scored 11 goals and 39 points in 67 games, and he earned a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team. And it’s good to remember that Hronek is a year younger than Niku.
The Red Wings need some young blood on their roster. They have a few young forwards coming up but their defensive prospect pool is shallow, and that’s great news for Hronek. As an offensive defenseman with a right-handed shot, Hronek is a natural replacement to Mike Green when the time comes – and that time may be sooner than expected. Recent reports are saying Green will likely miss the start of the season because of fatigue, so the door is wide open for Hronek now.
Hronek is arguably Detroit’s best prospect defenseman, and he’s knocking on the door for an NHL opportunity. He would immediately become Detroit’s best or second-best offensive defenseman which means power play opportunities are there for the taking. He’s a decent gamble in one-year leagues, and just like Niku, should be owned in pretty much all fantasy leagues with some sort of farm system.
Daniel Brickley – Los Angeles Kings – up to 46 from 62
Brickley was the most coveted college free agent of the year 2018, and he decided to sign with the Kings. He has great size at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds. He’s not the fastest skater out there but his skating is decent. His offensive skills are very good, and he can play a solid defensive game as well.
Brickley spent the last three seasons in college. He scored 18 goals and 66 points in 71 games over the past two seasons. He played one NHL game near the end of the season to burn the first year of his entry level contract which is common practice with coveted college free agents like him.
Brickley may not have elite offensive upside but he’s a 23-year-old two-way defenseman who is ready to jump straight to the NHL. Reports out of Los Angeles are saying he’s almost certainly going to start the season with the Kings. If he plays well enough, they might be willing to trade one of their more experienced (and expensive) defensemen to make room for Brickley in their top-four.
Some fantasy owners ignore the college free agent market. Often times, those players are overhyped and don’t amount to anything. But once in a while, we see a legitimate NHL prospect coming from there, and it’s looking like Brickley is exactly that. Don’t sleep on him just because he never got drafted.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Previously on The Journey:
Images used on the main collage courtesy of NHL.com
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