Whether it’s due to the salary cap reduction this season or new age coaching and training methods, this young NHL season is a testament to the hypothesis that more and more kids are ready to compete at the highest level with less and less pro apprenticeship needed.
A quick peek at the leading scorers’ list reveals names we all know but never expected to see up there this quickly. As fantasy owners, we know that this list won’t look the same come April, but we also know that every season produces a fresh crop of young actors in the fantasy hockey drama.
Some of you may be involved in realistic keeper leagues with rules similar to the NHL’s, meaning that decisions to promote precocious producers can have adverse effects if the young players can’t keep up their early scoring pace. Others among you are simply trying to decide which young studs are worth picking up on the waiver wire.
There is no fool-proof method to help us make these decisions, but past experience has taught us that there are early signs that can point to a youngster’s continued success… or not. Here’s my take on a few of 2013-14’s early risers.
Tomas Hertl (LW) – SJS: Highlight reel goals aside, this 19 y/o is the real deal. He has been competing against men in the top Czech league for the past two seasons and showed massive improvement last year over the previous. He has all the tools and, from all accounts coming out of San Jose’s locker room, all the self-confidence to keep this feel-good story alive. He is playing with Jumbo Joe on the first line and has generated almost 4 SOG/G in just under 15 minutes per game. The Sharks desperately needed an infusion of youth, speed and skill up front and have found it all in one single player. He will be given every opportunity to produce offense.
Jacob Trouba (D) – WIN: Last year’s WJC best defenseman has ridden a confidence boost stemming from his performance at that tournament and joined the Jets’ impressive 6-man unit at the ripe age of 19. Coach Claude Noel has had nothing but praise for the teen’s poise and competitive spirit. In fact, Trouba is logging an astounding 23:28 TOI and was Winnipeg’s top minute-muncher in last Thursday’s contest (25:27). He’s blocked out (for the moment) from a top PP role by Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but the Jets have a very potent second unit. Trouba is drawing early comparisons to Shea Weber for his all around game. Expect 30-40 points, with plenty of upside and room for growth.
Ryan Murphy (D) – CAR: Always known as an ‘all offense’ kind of D-man, Murphy has held his own in even strength situations on a mediocre Carolina line-up (+1 through 5 games). With the loss of Joni Pitkanen for the rest of the season, the Canes will need Murphy’s puck-moving acumen. His PP quarterbacking skills are undeniable and have even helped him dislodge Justin Faulk as Eric Staal’s point partner on the first unit. Even if there is no guaranty this lineup situation won’t change, his 3:30 of PP TOI is a clear indication that pure talent won’t be denied this season in Carolina.
WAIT ON THEM
Alex Galchenyuk (LW) – MON: Part of the ‘EGG’ line in Montreal with fellow baby Habs Brendan Gallagher and Lars Eller, the 19 y/o has been the playmaker of the super hot trio. The Canadiens are getting very little production from their other lines early on, which will lead to either of these two scenarios: 1- Opposing checkers will key on the kids, making it impossible for them to keep up this scoring pace, or; 2- The team’s other two scoring lines will wake up, pushing Galchenyuk to the second PP unit, resulting in less opportunities for him to pick up points. The fact that the young American has yet to play a full 82-game schedule also makes it probable he will hit a wall in the second half.
Alex Chiasson (RW) – DAL: He is putting together one of the most impressive offensive starts to a career that we have seen in decades (11-9-3-12 since being promoted at the end of last season). However, 12 games is a very small sample size. Chiasson was a great scorer in college, but had a rather pedestrian rookie season in the AHL last year (57-13-22-35). He is benefitting from first PP minutes, playing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. But when the inevitable slump hits the Dallas man-advantage, Ray Whitney should regain his regular spot, relegating Chiasson to a mediocre second PP unit. The 23 y/o will be in the Calder conversation all year long, but his current performance level is unsustainable.
Sean Monahan (C) – CAL: Launching an NHL career at 18 with a 5-game point streak: impressive. Maintaining the momentum throughout a full rookie season, playing on an offensively challenged squad: next to impossible. Monahan is showing off what many scouts already knew: his hockey sense is off the charts. But the projected worst team in the league is currently overachieving. Their PP likely won’t end up anywhere near the 22.2% success rate it is posting through 5 games, nor will the team score 3.6 GF/G over the full schedule. Add on the fact that the kid will no longer fly under the radar, as opposing checkers will start to key in on him. No doubting Monahan’s point-per-game potential here… It just won’t materialize this season.