Checking in on some of the latest fantasy relevant prospect happenings from around the NHL.
We are reaching the time in training camps and preseason where many teams rosters for opening night are shaped not only by how well their young players perform, but also how teams are bit by the injury bug. The Journey takes a look at how some of these situations are playing out across the league.
With Frank Vatrano out until likely 2017, who will take hold of his spot on the left side?
After writing about Vatrano in the Fastest Rising Prospects for September last week, he broke his foot and is likely out until at least Christmas. Next man up? Danton Heinen. Dobber touched on this right when the news broke about Vatrano, and his play in the preseason has exceeded expectations.
With Brad Marchand and Matt Beleskey holding down the top two spots on the left side for the B’s, the third line role is wide open with Vatrano going down. Not only does it put Heinen in the situation to be on the opening night roster, but also to produce in a favorable role, as he likely going to be paired up with one of David Backes, Ryan Spooner or David Krejci. Heinen was a point producer at the University of Denver, averaging over a point-per-game during his two-year career with the Pioneers.
Does Travis Konecny get sent back to Sarnia?
Every year there is a group of players who may have outgrown junior hockey, yet are not old enough to play in the AHL. Konecny looks to be a candidate for that title this year.
The 2015 first round pick has dazzled Flyers fans so far this preseason, and has even found himself on a line in practice alongside Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. However, GM Ron Hextall had Ivan Provorov in a similar situation last season and decided to send him back to junior. He has built the Flyers the right way in recent seasons, and won’t hesitate to let his young stars develop until they are truly ready.
Either way, the Flyers have players coming down the pipeline who will be real difference makers over the next couple seasons. Keep an eye on this one, because if Konecny does stick, he will likely play in a favorable role and is a candidate for some multi-category stat production.
Jaden Schwartz is injured again! Who benefits?
Likely Robby Fabbri will be the player that gets the biggest opportunity to fill the void left by the oft-injured Schwartz. Couple his injury with the decision of Vladimir Sobotka to stay in Russia and the Blues have the opportunity for some young players to step up and make a difference. Aside from Fabbri, players like Dmitrij Jaskin and Ty Rattie could see themselves getting minutes in more favorable production situations.
Also (this is a big stretch) if the Blues decide to trade one of their glut of defensemen for a forward this close to the start of the season, it could give an opportunity to someone like defenseman prospect Jordan Schmaltz to be in the picture sooner rather then later.
Is this the year that Rocco Grimaldi finally sticks at the NHL level?
It seems like ages ago that Grimaldi was drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft by the Panthers and wowed us with his offensive ability at North Dakota. The now 23 year old has flirted with the NHL the last two seasons, and has posted solid numbers at the AHL level with 75 points in 116 games. Unfortunately, he was the odd man out in Florida when they started turning their rebuilding club into a contender.
Grimaldi was gifted a new opportunity when he was moved to the Colorado Avalanche this summer in a trade for goaltender Reto Berra. Colorado’s depth chart is much more favorable then the roadblock he faced in Florida. The diminutive forward should fit well into new head coach Jared Bednar’s up-tempo style, where he should have the opportunity to showcase his speed and skill.
Likely, Jerome Iginla will remain on the first line, but after that, things are a little more open. Good things are expected from veteran Blake Comeau, Grimaldi and fellow prospect J.T. Compher. Whoever seizes the opportunity and minutes could find themselves in a favorable situation for production.
Can Artturi Lehkonen make the Canadiens?
Outside of Max Pacioretty, Alexander Radulov, Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw, no Montreal wing spots are locked in. Paul Byron, Sven Andrighetto, Daniel Carr, Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon and Lehkonen are some of the players who could step up and nap a spot on opening night.
Lehkonen is an interesting case because of his versatility. He can play both wing positions and has the ability to be the workhorse on a line with more skilled players. He does the dirty work in the corners and in front of the net and is not afraid to shoot the puck when he has the opportunity. Although he has no AHL experience, he has played for solid organizations in Finland (KalPa) and Sweden (Frolunda) over the past few years.
At just 21 years old, Montreal has the ability to not rush Lehkonen, and although he may bring an element to the Canadiens that would help balance out their forward group, it may not be a bad idea for him to go back to Sweden for one more year to continue his development.
Who gets a shot on the Canucks second power-play unit?
The Sedin’s, Loui Eriksson and Alex Edler are locks on the Canucks first unit. After that, things get a bit muddier. Two prospects that could really benefit from Vancouver’s lack of game-breaking offensive talent are wingers Sven Baertschi and Anton Rodin. Both are older prospects, as Baertschi will be 24 when the season starts and Rodin will turn 27 during the season.
Likely the two will get a shot alongside one or both of Brandon Sutter and Bo Horvat at even strength and on the power play and have the opportunity to finally grab an NHL spot for the long-term. Baertschi has teased his upside before, but hasn’t put it together for an extended period of time, and Rodin grew as a player when he left North America for Europe. With the players that the Canucks have coming in the future, the two wingers need to prove their worth now, or risk being passed over for scoring roles in the future.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for NHL prospect talk and happenings.
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