With Colorado in rebuilding mode, Matt Duchene has a great chance to be an impact player this season.
We’ve got more of the 2009-10 RotoRob NHL Draft Kit with the release of our list of the top 10 rookies. While you’re wondering how much of a difference Phil Kessel will make to the Maple Leafs this season, let’s examine some freshmen who could be difference makers. (How’s that for segue?)
It now comes to the time of the year where we have gone over the usual suspects. You already know the players that are a little more experienced. There was much research involved with this, but we came up with 10 rookies worth watching. Damn, this means I am probably going to get sued because I know it’s a Monty Python reference with shrubberies but oh well. Here is our list from the home office rumoured to be somewhere in New Jersey.
Top 10 Rookies
1. John Tavares, C, New York Islanders: It’s obvious why Tavares tops this list. He probably became bored playing in the OHL for three years before finally getting drafted in June by the Islanders. Tavares conquered the World Juniors and the OHL, so really complacency probably had set in by his 17th birthday not his 18th. Now the hype and expectations of a team’s fandom rests on his shoulders. I almost forgot that Mr. Tavares had three straight seasons of over 100 points in the OHL. All signs point to a steady player with a pretty good shot and playmaking ability that is along the level of a Zach Parise.
In theory, Tavares should win the Calder Trophy (Rookie Of The Year). If he does not, Islander Nation may revolt and burn down whatever is not bolted into the ground. Seriously, Tavares has the potential to produce anywhere from 55-75 points on this team with guys like Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey around. Add in a mentor like Doug Weight and you should get eggroll.
2. Matt Duchene, C, Colorado Avalanche: What, no Victor Hedman? Blasphemy was the words I heard I swear. However, Colorado’s Duchene has the highest potential to make a Fantasy impact because let’s face it — this team is all about rebuilding right now. Eventually the old vets will be shipped out by the deadline or sooner and this will be Paul Stastny’s team (another youngster). Duchene, by the way, had a glorious run for Brampton (OHL) last year. He scored 79 points in 57 games and then tallied 26 points in 21 games in the playoffs for the Battalian. Led by Duchene, Brampton beat the heavily-favoured London Knights along the way.
The question is what can we expect this season. Well, he is going to make the roster…that much is true. Duchene potentially could play on a line with Wojtek Wolski and Paul Stastny. That would not be bad. I really could see a year where he gets 45-50 points and makes a solid secondary scoring impact. Duchene has great hands, an above average shot and only a bit of an attitude to overcome. People have said worse things about the other top three picks in this year’s draft.
3. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: Yes, Hedman is No. 3. Now get over it. If Tampa was not such a circus, I would not be so worried about his player development. The good news is that it appears that Hedman is over that nagging shoulder injury that plagued him in the World Juniors and beyond. He’s also got a pretty good guy to learn from in coach Rick Tocchet. However, the revolving band of players and a team that may be more in love with its “French Connection II” line may not be the best thing for Hedman. Fortunately, he has the talent and ability to overcome all of those obstacles.
Another good thing for Hedman is he has fellow Swede Mattias Ohlund on his side. Signed from Vancouver in the offseason, Ohlund was a mainstay on the Canuck blueline and should be able to tutor Hedman in the fine art of defensive play in today’s NHL. It will be hard to predict how many points Hedman could get in Tampa but I will say this: he will make a sizable impact especially once that frame of his fills out. Expect lots of the feisty Hedman that you did not see in the WJC and maybe 25 points.
4. Cody Hodgson, C, Vancouver Canucks: Thanks to the assumed departure of Mats Sundin plus other circumstances, Hodgson will get more playing time. Well, honestly he is just too good. Keep in mind he is only 19, but Hodgson has already made an impact with Canuck brass by playing so poised in the AHL playoffs against Hershey. Yes, the Manitoba Moose forward only scored six points in 11 games, but it was his two-way game that had Canuck fans buzzing about the future. With Vancouver’s salary cap woes that future may be bumped up a bit.
I like the way Hodgson plays the game. He has some speed, but has a little bit of grit as well. I am not saying he will make the Canucks out of camp, but at some point in the season he is going to see sizable chunks of playing time. To project a point total would be a bit premature but he is very high up on this list based on potential similar to our next rookie…
5. John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals: Carlson is a former USHL stud who took his game to the OHL and then excelled there as well. The knock on him was his decision making and yet he did play excellent in his own end as Hershey went on to win the AHL Calder Cup over Manitoba last season. Carlson is kind of cut out of the Scott Stevens mold — he is a guy who can play big and physical, but will also be able to score. His OHL stats will tell you that: 76 points in 59 games and 65 PIMs to boot for London. I think the kid who I saw for the better part of five or six years in New Jersey has the talent.
Given how below average the Capital defense is, there is a distinct possibility that Carlson will be called up during the season and it will probably happen early in the campagin. After Mike Green there is not much else. Again, to predict a point total would be not very smart, but expect good things from here on out from a guy who is just a beast no matter the place or the time. It’s that simple, and it’s a scary thought.
6. James vanRiemsdyk, LW, Philadelphia Flyers: This guy is scary good, but it’s hard to tell what kind of potential he may have in the City Of Brotherly Love. The Flyer prospect played for Team USA and excelled in the WJC, did very well in college, and now is making a bit of a splash in training camp. I am not saying he will make the team out of camp, but he might — especially if injuries bite the Flyers like they normally do this time of year.
Most like JVR’s size (6’3″, 211), but I like his strength with the puck. He is the quintessential power forward in that sense and the kind of player that could flourish in the Flyer system. Something tells me we will see vanRiemsdyk in orange and black sooner rather than later, but he likely will start the season in the AHL. He is a guy to definitely watch for in 2009-10, but even moreso in 2010-11.
7. Colin Wilson, C, Nashville Predators: What is it with these WJC guys? Wilson did great things with the U.S. Team as well then moved on to two years at Boston University where he continued to dominate. Scoring 55 points in 47 games last year for National Champion BU will get you more than noticed. Writers from the Preds are expecting him to possibly make the jump onto the roster when the season starts. I am guessing he is impressing that many people at camp again this year just like last year.
Now what can Wilson do for this season? Actually, quite a bit. Nashville needs a centre that can put some points up in case Jason Arnott gets hurt again, and Wilson is the perfect man for the job. The question is will they put him in the AHL to start or do they need him that badly right now? The latter option seems to be winning out and the reality is Wilson has the potential to break out as an NHL player this year. Look deep in your leagues, especially keeper ones, for this kid.
8. Matt Gilroy, D, New York Rangers: This kid’s life seems almost not fair. He was a walk on to a major university then wins a National Title. Now, he’s dazzling the world in the Ranger camp. It seems like a fairy tale story and yet it is not. Gilroy’s four years at Boston University saw him mature into the playmaking defenseman that he is now. I saw him make a play just the other night that blew my mind. Yes, it’s only preseason, but when a player can knife through a Jacques Lemaire defense, that will cause you to raise your eyebrows very quickly.
Now I know how the Rangers develop their youngsters (see Hugh Jessiman). However, Gilroy is not only can’t miss but he may be New York’s best defenseman come the end of the year. That says a lot for a kid just coming out of college, but he is that good. Gilroy will not only make the team, but he’ll make quite an impact — he may get 30 or 35 points from the blueline this year. Gilroy will even make some plays that will make you just say ‘wow!’
9. Jonas Gustavsson, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: This is a guy that broke all of Henrik Lundqvist’s old SEL records. That will get you some pub right there. Yes, Gustavsson also did have a minor heart procedure and people will cringe and think the worst, but it was just that — minor. Also, he is being thrown into the lion’s den a bit in Toronto. We all know that and yet most think he can excel because well he is so fundamentally sound and he is not 20 like most prospects.
Gustavsson turns 25 next month and does Vesa Toskala or Joey MacDonald really seem like much to stand in his way? Probably not. The Monster will start this season in Toronto and with the help of a beefier blueline (Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin), he will achieve a little bit of success unlike Justin Pogge, who was absolutely like a deer in headlights. The biggest thing that will aid Gustavsson is his ability to adapt and that is why he will win close to 15-20 games even in Toronto with limited time.
10. Mikael Backlund, C, Calgary Flames: Do not sleep on this one. Backlund is playing well in camp and though he’s in the WHL as of now, that may not stop him. He did have a cup of coffee (one game) with Calgary last year. If injuries strike, there is a possibility that Backlund could crack the lineup and what a nice lineup it is in the Sea Of Red. By the way, Backlund had 30 points in 28 games for Kelowna of the WHL and that is no easy task.
So what should you expect from Backlund this year? I think he cracks the Calgary lineup late in the season. He may or may not play in the WHL, but I think the AHL may be a more likely destination at this time. Backlund’s poise in the playoffs for Kelowna may have assured that. More importantly, he has the chance to make an impact anywhere he plays and not many prospects can say that.
Well, that is it for the rookies, which means we are getting closer to the start of the season. Happy drafting.