The Journey this week looks at some defencemen that are quickly rising up the fantasy ranks.
The Journey examines Dobber’s Top 50 Prospect Defensemen list, and assesses the fast risers in the April rankings. Shea Theodore remains atop the list, a spot that appears even more cemented with his quick start in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Jake Walman – St. Louis Blues – 16th Overall, Up from 24th Overall
Had it not been for an injury that kept Walman out for the end of his sophomore season, there was a chance that he could have turned professional last spring. Instead, he returned to Providence College for his junior season as one of the premier defensemen in college hockey.
Although he did not match the 28 points in 27 games that he posted in his sophomore season prior to his injury, Walman had another solid campaign in 2016-17 for the Friars. In 39 games the 2014 third-round selection scored seven times and added 18 assists. After Providence’s season was over, Walman signed and joined the AHL’s Chicago Wolves where he is currently playing in the Calder Cup Playoffs and has five points in 10 games. Walman will likely start 2017-18 in the AHL, but will battle fellow prospects like Jordan Schmaltz and Vince Dunn (more on him in a bit) for an NHL shot.
Jacob Larsson – Anaheim Ducks – 18th Overall, Up from 22nd Overall
Over the last two seasons, Larsson has split time between the AHL’s San Diego Gulls, Frolunda of the SHL, and even appeared in a four-game stint with Anaheim, making his NHL debut on opening night of the 2016-17. Most of this past season was spent in Sweden where he scored a goal and added four assists in 29 games for the club.
Anaheim has a glut of defensemen who have been rising through their organizational ranks, and it was a nod to Larsson’s defensive ability that he was able to start opening night over players like Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour. The 27th overall pick from 2015 turns 20 on Saturday, and still has a lot of growing to do from an offensive perspective, but his ability in his own end should mean that he will be potentially a fast riser in the Ducks system.
Will Butcher – Colorado Avalanche – 22nd Overall, Up from 37th Overall
The Denver University captain finished off a terrific season, winning the Hobey Baker Award as College Hockey’s top player, and winning the national championship with his Pioneer teammates. In 43 games, the Wisconsin native put up 37 points, finishing second among all college hockey defensemen in scoring, only topped by Calgary prospect Adam Fox. In his four year career, Butcher finished with 103 points in 158 games.
Like Jimmy Vesey last year, Butcher will be an interesting prospect to see how he handles the ability to become an unrestricted free agent if the Avalanche are not able to sign him before August 15th. At this time, he does not appear to be jumping through any hoops to sign his entry-level deal with the team that finished last in the NHL a season ago. Although he isn’t as highly regarded of a prospect as Vesey was a year ago, the 2013 fifth-round pick would still garner a ton of interest if he makes it to free agency. Keep a close eye on how this plays out, as where Butcher lands could increase or decrease his fantasy value.
Kyle Wood – Arizona Coyotes – 29th Overall, Up from 47th Overall
Much of Arizona’s prospect talent over the last few seasons has been built through the draft, but Wood was moved to the desert in a 2016 package that sent Mikkel Boedker to Colorado.
The former North Bay blueliner, who was drafted 84th overall in 2014 by the Avalanche, just completed his first full professional season. His 43 points for the AHL’s Tuscon Roadrunners were good for third among rookie defensemen this season, and his 14 goals led the way. The Coyotes defense core of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Connor Murphy, Alex Goligoski and Jakob Chychrun is starting to take shape, but there will be a few more spots for some of their up and coming prospects. Wood and fellow prospect Anthony DeAngelo should have every opportunity to step into the lineup over the next two seasons as players like Zbynek Michalek, Luke Schenn and Kevin Connauton have the potential to be phased out.
Vince Dunn – St. Louis Blues – 36th Overall, Up from 52nd Overall
After finishing off his career with the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL, Dunn turned professional last summer, and spent the season with St. Louis’s AHL affiliate in Chicago. He was one of the AHL’s best rookie blueliners, as the 20-year-old scored 13 times and added 32 assists for a Wolves team that has a chance to win the Calder Cup in the coming weeks. His 45 points led all AHL defensemen in scoring this season.
Moving on from Kevin Shattenkirk at the 2017 trade deadline was obviously tough to stomach, but the Blues do have a few options to help replace his production in the coming seasons. Although still early in his development, Dunn appears to have the all-around ability that projects as a top four option in the future. His very solid rookie season will certainly garner him a look at camp this fall.
Andrew Nielsen – Toronto Maple Leafs – 48th Overall, Up from 56th Overall
Along with Wood and Dunn at the top of the rookie AHL defensive scoring leaders was Nielsen, who at 39 points was the Toronto Marlies highest scoring blueliner by 15 points over Travis Dermott.
Selected in the third round of the 2015 draft by Toronto, Nielsen had a breakout post-draft season for Lethbridge (WHL) with 70 points in 72 games, while adding 122 penalty minutes. He has by no means backed down from that style of play since turning professional. In addition to his 39 points for the Marlies, Nielsen added 82 penalty minutes as a rookie, playing the type of style that will endear himself to Maple Leafs fans and multi-category fantasy owners alike. The 20-year-old could be a darkhorse for a Leafs roster spot as early as next year depending on how the team approaches their defense corps in the offseason, so be on the lookout.
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