The Journey: Fastest Rising Prospect Defensemen – February 2019

by Brayden Olafson on February 23, 2019
  • The Journey
  • The Journey: Fastest Rising Prospect Defensemen – February 2019


As I begin to write this week’s The Journey, the news of Matt Duchene moving to Columbus is just breaking. Coincidentally, the moves that we’ll see over the next three days between several teams are very likely to include prospects upon prospects. It’s ironic, because those moves are very likely to shift the fabric that this very article is based upon. When prospects and veterans move from one team to another, each associated pipeline is affected, and in turn the light of opportunity that each player is exposed to grows or shrinks. For example, I think Vitaly Abramov will look good in a Sens uniform.

The players featured in today’s article stand a slim chance of being affected significantly by this trade deadline. For the ones that do though, luckily, you’ll likely see quick updates on the Dobber websites regarding the fantasy effect each move has on the particular players involved, as well as any affected by association. You’ll also likely hear about them in The Journey over the next few weeks, as well as see it reflected in Dobber’s March list of Fastest Rising Prospects.

For today though, let’s focus on these three.

Calle Rosen, Toronto Maple Leafs | DEC 2018 – 99| JAN 2019 – 99 (+0) | NOW – 48 (+55)

The Leafs’ acquisition of Jake Muzzin from Los Angeles all but confirms the fact that the other Jake will be out the door on July 1. While one out and one in doesn't totally justify the 55-point jump, Rosen in this case has done enough in the AHL over the last few months to back it up.

Sitting second among AHL defenseman for points accumulated through until mid-February, Rosen has been one of the league’s top offensive weapons on the back end. At 23 years old, Rosen is on pace to more than double his rookie points mark in the AHL, a good indicator that despite his age, he isn't finished progressing in North America. For the most part, he has not had any lapses in production; a relatively consistent slate across five months of the season is also an excellent sign that he’s capable of balancing the heavy workload that’s been bestowed upon him with the Marlies.

With the opportunity that is likely to open with the Leafs, their likely cap constraints, and his success in the AHL this year, Rosen will be a perfect candidate to slot in somewhere in the team’s bottom-two pairings. There could be another learning curve for Rosen to climb as he makes the transition to the NHL, but as long as he doesn’t somehow end up in the same position that Justin Holl has been in with the Leafs, he should be capable of producing in excess of 25 points as a rookie defenseman next year.

Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs | DEC 2018 – 50 | JAN 2019 – 51 (-1) | NOW – 39 (+12)

Probably the LEAST likely of the three players covered today to be traded by the deadline, the 18-year-old Sandin’s 12-point boost is due to the same factors as Rosen’s. Sandin has had an enormous amount of success in the AHL, considering his youthfulness. At 18 years old, the rookie pro has become a staple next to Timothy Liljegren with the Marlies – the third Leaf featured in Dobber’s top-50 Prospect Defenseman list.

While Sandin will likely be waiting another year at least before getting his opportunity with the Leafs, the success he’s had as a young rookie is an excellent sign that he will have little trouble adjusting to the pro game.

If you can afford to wait another two years for what appears to be a consistently productive top-4 defenseman, Sandin is a great sleeper to stash away before more fantasy savvy owners start to catch on.

Ryan Merkley, San Jose Sharks | DEC 2018 – 36 | JAN 2019 – 37 (-1) | NOW – 29 (+8)

The Sharks’ blueline is rock solid for the time being – it’s certainly not a significant factor in Merkley’s jump in the rankings this month, as is in the case of Sandin and Rosen. His second place offensive production among OHL defenseman, however, is a major factor.

Merkley had been under the microscope prior to his selection by the Sharks, largely due to his reported poor attitude. If not for that burr on his resume, Merkley likely could have been selected 5-10 places higher in the 2018 Entry Draft. His success as an 18 year old in the OHL is a positive sign, indicating that he may be able to overcome what hurdles he’s placed in his own path.

The Sharks opted to sign the younger Merkley brother in the summer already, which was an early indication that they didn't feel impeded by the reports. Despite his apparent offensive dominance at the junior level, Merkley will be unable to play in the AHL next year, meaning that his only logical progression would be to the NHL. It’s possible that Merkley gets an opportunity to stick with the Sharks for an extended period next fall, but in all likelihood he will be returned to the OHL at some point to finish his final year of junior. At that point, the AHL path will become available and the team will be free to develop him as they see fit.

Merkley’s offensive ceiling is impressive but if you already knew that, there really isn't much to see here. He’ll be an interesting player to monitor over the summer and if you’re feeling risky, could be a player to buy slightly low on prior to training camp. A small chance remains that he could surprise and land a spot with the Sharks to open the season.

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That’s all for this week. Enjoy the trade deadline! Another note: try not to disregard names featured in the returns for the big fish – big networks can be deceiving when it comes to prospects. Do your research on the players moved and be sure to tune in to the Dobber pages for the best analysis on trade impacts for ALL players involved!

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