Like minor league baseball players set to make their big league debut, there is a ton of excitement about promising, young hockey players set to take the ice for the first time in their professional career. Heck, the only people more excited than the rookies themselves are fantasy owners who are always looking for the next big thing on their roster.
With the season slated to begin in just a few short hours, fantasy owners may be rushing to complete their drafts. So, which rookies should you be targeting on draft day? There are a lot of good ones.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: Head coach Patrick Roy had stated that MacKinnon would be starting on Colorado’s third line before the team even selected him with the number one overall pick. Confidence much? Well, it’s kind of difficult not be confident in a guy with this much talent. In just 44 games with the Halifax Mooseheads, MacKinnon posted a whopping 75 points, while notching 33 points in 17 playoff contests. The third line will likely consist of MacKinnon, Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie. While that line should provide some strong fantasy value, MacKinnon is super talented (duh, he was drafted 1st overall), and with impressive play, he could see his role expanded into a top-six role for the Avalanche. He’ll likely help the fantasy prospects of McGinn and Downie this season, but if he lands a significant amount of power-play time, watch out. If he gets the opportunity to see ice time alongside guys like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, we cold be in store for a spectacular rookie campaign.
Seth Jones, Nashville Predators: Jones has massive, massive upside in his rookie season. An NHL-ready blueliner, Jones will open the season with the big league club. A physical, strong puck-moving defenseman, Jones will be a very valuable fantasy commodity on draft day, but will that value come in his rookie year? He likely won’t be paired with the likes of Shea Weber, as Roman Josi mans that role. And the Predators have one of the worst offenses in all of hockey, as they ranked 29th in goals per game last year (2.27). Having said that, immediate fantasy production could be foolish to expect, but he definitely brings a lot to the table. In 61 games with the Portland Winterhawks, Jones showcased his versatility, posting 61 points and made a positive impact when on the ice, sporting a plus/minus of 46. He has a smooth-skating d-man, but can also lay the body at any time, posting 33 penalty minutes. Jones is a must-draft player in all fantasy leagues this year, but is especially valuable in keeper leagues, as his real value will come down the road when he sees better opportunity. Still, there is a lot to like here.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: After being drafted in 2011, Scheifele will get his first crack at a regular role with the Jets in 2013. He did see time in the NHL last season, playing in four games before being sent back down to his junior team, but an expanded role is in line for the 20-year old this season. He has the talent around him to be a very fantasy relevant player this year, as he was centering Evander Kane and newly acquired Devin Setoguchi on the team’s second line during camp, and is expected to start the season in that role. Kane could very well take another step forward this season, and if that holds true, Scheifele will reap the benefits. However, if the team decides to roll with veteran Olli Jokinen on the second line, Scheifele’s immediate fantasy value takes a hit, but there is no reason to think he can’t earn that spot over the course of the season.
Valeri Nichuskin, Dallas Stars: Nichuskin is an ultra-skilled winger, who could quietly be a favorite to win the Calder trophy this season. However, it’s still unclear what line he will start the season on. During the preseason, there was a lot of hype surrounding the rookie joining Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on the first line, but that always seemed like a bit of a reach. Instead, a realistic destination would be on the second line with veteran winger Ray Whitney, which wouldn’t be too bad for his fantasy outlook. Having drawn comparisons to the great Alex Ovechkin, this rookie has some star qualities to him that are worth looking at towards the end of your fantasy drafts this season. This lottery ticket could make fantasy owners rich this season.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.