This week's The Journey dives into forward prospects not getting a lot of ink
Anders Bjork – Boston Bruins
Bjork, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 draft by Boston, did everything he could to will his Notre Dame Fighting Irish to a national title this season. Unfortunately, the dream ended on Thursday night when Notre Dame was beaten by Denver 6-1 in the Frozen Four Semi Finals in Chicago.
It looks as if the Bruins are going to do their best to sign Bjork as early as April 8th, and could get him into the lineup before the end of the season. The Wisconsin native, who was named a Second Team All-American yesterday posted 52 points in 39 games in his junior season with the Fighting Irish and could be a player to slot in the Bruins top nine next season. He has already out performed his draft position, but should continue to do so as his NHL career evolves.
Aleksi Saarela – Carolina Hurricanes
Saarela was the gem of the return that the Carolina Hurricanes received for trading Eric Staal to the New York Rangers at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. He started this season in Finland slowly, with some lingering injury issues, but still ended up finishing as the top goal scorer for his Liiga team, Lukko, with 15 goals in 49 games.
Since his season in Finland ended, Saarela has joined the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, proving to be a valuable addition to the team’s Calder Cup playoffs run. Saarela has played in just six games for the Checkers, but has scored five goals and added two assists, playing as the team’s top center. The 89th overall pick has scored at every level and will be a welcome addition to the Hurricanes lineup as early as next season. Carolina is starving for someone who can put the puck in the net with regularity, and that’s exactly the talent that Saarela brings.
Jesse Puljujarvi – Edmonton Oilers
How can the fourth overall pick from last summer be considered under the radar? Easy, when the 2016 draft class had as much of an impact as it did this season and Puljujarvi spent a good part of the season in the AHL. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine were both NHL All-Stars. Matthew Tkachuk and Jakob Chychrun played big minutes for their NHL clubs, spending 65-plus games in their respective lineups. I had a friend tell me yesterday that he offered Puljujarvi straight up for Clayton Keller, and was rebuffed. Doubtful the answer would have been the same right after the draft in June.
The difference is that Puljujarvi has had a great season in the AHL as an 18 year-old. In 35 games, the young Finnish forward has 11 goals and 15 assists. Even more encouraging, Puljujarvi has one of the highest shot rates of any rookie forward in the AHL, averaging nearly three shots on goal per game. Don’t be surprised to see Puljujarvi put up a 50-point season as early as next year.
Remi Elie – Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars have dealt with a myriad of injuries to their forward group this season, and thus have relied on some of their young players to be thrust into the NHL lineup earlier than expected. Elie, who was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft spent a season and a half with the AHL’s Texas Stars before making his NHL debut in early March.
The former London Knight, Belleville Bull and Erie Otter has performed admirably in his 17 games at the NHL level, filling in up and down the lineup for the Stars, and performing good enough from a fantasy perspective to be considered a multi-category option for owners moving forward. His seven points in 17 games are solid, but his 30 hits 11 blocked shots and plus rating will only help fantasy owners who are looking to get stats on a cheap contract. Elie’s shooting percentage is only at 6.7% in limited action, and his shot volume should continue to grow as he becomes more accustomed to the NHL game next season.
Adrian Kempe – Los Angeles Kings
Kempe, who was a late first rounder in 2014 has teased Kings fans with his potential at the AHL level over the last couple seasons, as a potential power winger who can fit seamlessly into Los Angeles’s system. The Swedish prospect plays a checking style that the Kings are accustomed to, and has held his own in his 24-game stint with the team since the middle of February in the bottom half of the lineup.
Although he has only scored twice, Kempe shouldn’t be written off as just a grinder moving forward. His 5on5 shooting percentage is extremely low at 4%, and his personal shooting percentage has room to grow from the 6.3% that it is currently sits. Kempe will obviously benefit from any power play opportunity that he gets, and his fantasy value from a scoring perspective will be determined by where he plays in the Kings lineup. He’s one to keep an eye on in camp and early next season to see if he can take the next step as an offensive player.
Hudson Fasching – Buffalo Sabres
While we are talking about shooting percentages and potential progressions towards the league average, let’s touch on the upside of Hudson Fasching for next season. The former three-year player for the University of Minnesota has always been a decent scoring threat, but this season has been snake-bitten, and is currently still looking for his first goal of the season in 10 games.
When he is one the ice, his teammates aren’t producing much either, as his five-on-five shooting percentage is under 3%. Fasching should take a step forward next season in his development, but much will be tied to his ability to generate shots. He has largely played in a bottom six role at the NHL level when he has been in the lineup, and is getting little to no power play time for the Sabres. The former fourth round pick still has not played a ton of games at the AHL level, but should push for an NHL job next season. He certainly has the size, two-way ability and pedigree to stick with what it seems like is a perpetually rebuilding Buffalo organization.
John Hayden – Chicago Blackhawks
After finishing up his season as the captain of the Yale Bulldogs, John Hayden was inserted directly into the Chicago Blackhawks late season juggernaut and has not missed a beat. The big, rangy forward has been playing the majority of his shifts with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik, and has posted four points in 11 games since turning professional.
In addition to his point production, Hayden has been a valuable player in possession, with a 56% Corsi, and has been a solid multi-category producer, averaging two shots per game and nearly four hits per game. His role should continue to evolve going into next season, but with the Blackhawks always being close to the cap, Chicago could do worse than the production that they get from the 22-year-old.
Give Kevin a follow @kleblanchockey for prospect talk and happenings.
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