Welcome to “The Journey”! This is my first article on the main site, and I have big shoes to fill because Brad has been doing a great job with this column. My name is Jokke Nevalainen, and I’m writing from Tampere, Finland. I’m a Junior Associate Editor at DobberProspects where I write weekly prospect ramblings among other things. I also contributed to Dobber’s Fantasy Prospect Report – If you haven’t purchased it already, I suggest getting it from the Shop with Dobber’s Fantasy Guide. Combine the two and the price is beyond reasonable
The idea for this week’s article came from the Dobber Forum where one member was asking about post-hype sleeper prospects. This means prospects who were highly-regarded during their draft year but their development hasn’t been as quick as expected. Some of their shine has been lost and they’re potentially undervalued now. Here are three prospects who fit that description.
Dylan Strome – Arizona Coyotes
Strome was drafted third overall in 2015 after he dominated the OHL to the tune of 129 points in 68 games. Yes, he played on the same team with Connor McDavid but they often played on different lines. His end result was some of the best production we’ve ever seen in the OHL from a 17-year-old – in fact, only McDavid, Sam Gagner, Jason Spezza, John Tavares and Mitch Marner have had a better points-per-game average at the same age during the 21st century.
But Strome’s value started to take a nosedive when he was sent back to the OHL for two more years after the draft. He continued to dominate and even managed to improve his points-per-game mark both times while playing without McDavid. But prospects of his calibre shouldn't be playing junior hockey for two more years after their draft. Strome would have been better served playing in the AHL but the NHL-CHL agreement prohibited that.
Strome started this past season in the NHL but was sent down to the AHL after he was unable to impress the coaching staff. But this is when things started turning for the better. He began dominating the AHL where he scored 53 points in 50 games. We don’t usually see that type of production from a 20-year-old. He was called up late in the season, and this time he managed to impress in the NHL where he scored eight points in ten games.
Skating has always been the knock against Strome. I often see people asking if his skating has improved enough to play in the NHL. Well, his skating has definitely improved from the time he was drafted but he’ll never be a blazer at the NHL-level. The more important question is, has he figured out how to play at the highest level with his average skating ability? At this point, it seems like he has. Strome has made adjustments because he was never going to have success at the highest level if he played like he used to play in junior hockey.
If you’re a Strome owner in fantasy hockey leagues, you may have noticed his low trade value. But when I look at Dobber’s rankings, I notice Strome sixth among all forwards, with Andrei Svechnikov being the only 2018 draftee ahead of him. I’ve also seen some other recent rankings from reliable talent-evaluators, and they usually have Strome in the top 10 or 15 among all skaters (Dobber’s list doesn’t include defensemen or goalies).
Strome is a classic post-hype sleeper prospect. He has great size (6-3, 201), he’s an elite playmaker, and the Coyotes still believe he can become a top-line pivot for them. If he was drafted tenth overall, people would be drooling over him right now. But because he went third overall, expectations were maybe a bit too high. This leads to disappointed fantasy owners giving up on him already. I wouldn’t trade away a first or second overall draft pick for him, and even third overall is a bit questionable. But at this point, you can probably get him with just a top ten pick in a prospect draft, and that’s a bargain. The Coyotes are a team on the rise, and Strome will be a big part of their future success.
Jesse Puljujärvi – Edmonton Oilers
Puljujärvi was the consensus third-best prospect for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft but fell to the Oilers at four when the Blue Jackets decided to take Pierre-Luc Dubois ahead of him. Dubois looked strong centring Columbus’ top line as a 19-year-old, so it seems they knew what they were doing. At the same time, the success of Dubois is reflecting badly on Puljujärvi who was supposed to be the better of the two prospects but he hasn’t had similar success so far.
After the draft, Puljujärvi spent half a season with the Oilers but only played in 28 games with limited ice time. He was sent to the AHL for the second half of the season and had strong results, posting 28 points in 39 games. That's high-end production for an 18-year-old in the American league. This past season, Puljujärvi spent most of his time with the Oilers but was unable to meet the lofty expectations set on him. He recorded 12 goals and 20 points in 65 games.
Puljujärvi has the size (6-4, 212) and talent to be a dominant top-line winger in the NHL. However, there are still some adjustments he needs to make. His top speed is great but his ability to change pace and direction remains less effective. The Oilers have killed most of his confidence with the way they’ve managed his development but there should be enough left to turn things around.
Kailer Yamamoto is the new shiny toy in Edmonton because he was drafted a year after Puljujärvi. But it’s good to remember that they’re both born in 1998 and less than five months apart, so the age difference is minuscule. I still believe in Puljujärvi and think he’ll have a better NHL career than Yamamoto. It appears Dobber agrees with that as he has Puljujärvi ranked three spots ahead of Yamamoto – although the difference between their prospect ratings is very small.
Alexander Nylander – Buffalo Sabres
The younger Nylander brother was drafted eighth overall in 2016, and at the time some people thought he was “a bigger, better version of William”. I never really bought into that thinking, and at this point, it’s pretty clear he won’t be better than his older brother. But Alexander is bigger than him, and he can still be a good NHL player if he can put it all together.
Nylander played in the OHL when he was drafted but because he was there on a loan from his Swedish club, he was eligible to play in the AHL after the draft. He had a good rookie season in the AHL as an 18-year-old. He scored 28 points in 65 games, was a dominant player at the World Juniors, and even got to play a few games in the NHL.
But things got a bit concerning when he didn’t really show any progress during his second season in the AHL. Even his performance at the World Juniors was just okay. The Sabres gave him three games in the NHL but it was less about him earning it and more about keeping him motivated. In hindsight, maybe the AHL was not the right place for him as a teenager. Perhaps he should have returned to Sweden for another year or two. But at this point, all we can do is look forward. He has all the needed talent to become a good offensive winger in the NHL, and when he makes it, he should be playing with either Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt, and they’re both excellent centers.
Nylander needs to play with more pace because he’s often trying to slow things down a bit too much. He needs to be a dominant player in the AHL this season. Some are expecting him to be on the NHL roster but he hasn’t earned it yet. Dobber has Nylander ranked 46th among forward prospects, and I think that’s right on the money. He’s not a top prospect at this point but he’s also not a bad gamble to take if you can get him cheaply. He might even be completely forgotten in some leagues, so check how he’s valued in your league. Don’t give away too much for him but he’s a potential bargain for the right price.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Images used on the main collage courtesy of NHL.com
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