Last summer I wrote a piece called the Top Ten European Players Coming to the NHL and other than ranking Jiri Sekac to low and Petri Kontiola to high it worked out pretty well. In an attempt to improve on the first installment of this annual piece and help you identify some potential sleeper fantasy hockey players to target in upcoming drafts, here is my top ten list for the 2015-2016 season
Age 23 5’11, 170 lbs Contract:$812,500Panarin is the clear number one player on this list after having a great season in the KHL and at the World championship where he scored ten points in ten games. He is a sure-fire top six option in Chicago this upcoming season and the trade of Patrick Sharp only cements that tremendous fantasy option. Panarin is only 23 years old and has signed a two year contract with a cap hit of $812,500 according to General Fanager which makes him extremely attractive in keeper leagues with a salary cap.
Projection: 50 points
2. Steve Moses, RW - Nashville Predators
Age 25 5’9” 172 lbs Contract:$1 million
The American born Moses was undrafted into the NHL but at age 25 has plenty of international experience and finished seventh overall in KHL scoring last season while producing two points in seven games for USA at the World Championship. Moses is another small player who has great sped and is a pure sniper. Moses will have his work cut out for himself if he is to earn a top six role with the Predators over proven NHL talent such as James Neal, Craig Smith and Taylor Beck on the right wing. Moses signed a one year one million dollar contract with the Predators and will become a UFA next summer so he represents a gamble as a boom or bust player. If he fails to crack the roster you will have wasted a draft pick, a roster spot and some cap room unless you can send him to waivers. If he produces he could see a significant jump in pay as a UFA next summer.
Projection: 30 points
3. Sergei Plotnikov, LW/RW – Pittsburgh Penguins
Age 25 6’2” 205 lbs Contract: $925,000
Plotnikov plays a very physical game which should help ease his transition to North American hockey, but his skating is a concern. He is not as prolific a scorer as Panarin but should find a home on the Penguins top nine making a career in front of the net and digging pucks out of the corners. His contract is only for one year but he is a RFA after that and at 25 represents a very good fantasy option in keeper leagues. In a league that scores peripheral stats like hits and penalty minutes I would bump him up over Moses.
Projection: 30 points
Re Plotnikov from 30 Thoughts .... I like That stop/start comment is important. pic.twitter.com/gkaoKXjTZK
— Gus Katsaros (@KatsHockey) July 9, 2015
4. Alex Burmistrov, RW Winnipeg Jets
Age 23 6’1” 180 lbs Contract: $1,550,000
Burmistrov was a first round (eighth overall) selection of the team from the Atlanta era. Burmistrov is a highly talented winger, a typical Russian sniper. The knock on him is his lack of any form of a physical element and poor defensive responsibility. In terms of fantasy hockey as long as he is scoring points he has value. The question is will he earn the Coaches confidence enough to see playing time relevant enough to produce?
Projection 30 points
5. Viktor Tikhonov, C Chicago Blackhawks
Age 27 6’2” 189 lbs Contract: $1,040,000
The Grandson of Legendary Russian star of the same namesake, this will be Tikhonovs’ second attempt in the NHL. The former first round pick of the Coyotes from 2008 should fit in on the Hawks third line behind countryman Artem Anisimov. Tikhonov is a versatile forward who is responsible defensively but there is some question to how high his offensive upside is.
Projection: 25 points
6. Sergei Kalinin, C/RW New Jersey Devils
Age 24 6’2” 190 lbs Contract: $925, 000
Kalinin perhaps has less offensive upside than his Russian counterparts ahead of him on this list but the Devils are desperate for some youth up front and despite suffering a scary head injury earlier in the season the Devils signed the Russian forward. He has NHL size and is a versatile player that represents a good depth two-way option for the Devils. His fantasy upside is questionable but he is worthy of a late round gamble for sure.
Projection: 25 points
7. Joonas Kamppainen C Boston Bruins
Age 27 6’2” 209 lbs Contract: $792,500
Kemppainen is already 27 years old and as such a veteran to pro hockey and should be NHL ready to assume a role on the Bruins bottom six as a role player. He has the size and all-around game to succeed in the NHL and has some offensive upside as well as evident in his nine point performance in eight games at the World Championship for Finland. His contract is a one year deal that sees him as a UFA at terms end.
Projection: 20 points
8. Evgeni Medvedev, D Philadelphia Flyers
Age 32 6’3” 187 lbs Contract: $3,000,000
Medvedev will join a very crowded Flyers blue line that consists of six under contract NHL defenders and top prospects such as Ivan Provorov, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim and Shane Gostisbehere who are all going to challenge for playing time. Medvedev will have no time to adjust to the smaller ice and North American game. He is a tall but slight defender who is very experienced and smooth skating two-way defender with a nice long active stick. Could be an excellent mentor for Provorov.
9. Markus Hannikainen, LW Columbus Blue Jackets
Age 22 6’1” 189 lbs Contract: $717,500
In the short term, Hannikainen projects to play on Lake Erie in the AHL as he adjusts to the smaller ice and North American game. In the long term, he has top six potential in the NHL. At this point, he is an investment in deep keeper leagues and any NHL action he sees this season should be considered a bonus.
Projection: 5 points
10. Andreas Martinsen, C/W Colorado Avalanche
Age 25 6’3” 220 lbs Contract: $742,500
Martinsen is a big physical forward who loves to drop the gloves and crash the net, old time hockey style. He should adjust to the North American style quickly and his skating skills are not a liability as well. While his fantasy value is primarily going to come from hits and penalty minute contributions, his five points in 12 playoff games in Germany offer some hope his skill set can pass at the NHL level. Expect Martinsen to play the majority of his games with San Antonio this season and hope he can fight his way onto the Avalanche roster.
Projection: 1 point
Honorable Mention: Derek Ryan (Carolina Hurricanes) led the SHL in scoring last season with 60 points and was named the league MVP. At 28 years old his potential is limited and he is what he is, a 5’10 170 lbs winger. Vojtech Mozik (New Jersey Devils)has some time to spend in Albany before he will pass several promising young defenders on the Devils defense depth chart, but the potential is there. Eetu Laurikainen (Edmonton Oilers) played junior hockey in the WHL but went undrafted in the NHL. Given the Oilers lack of depth in goal he is worth mentioning, but is a long term project.