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Youngsters on the rise for fantasy hockey this year

Thursday, 01.10.2013 / 12:00 PM
Matt Sitkoff  - NHL.com Contributor

With the impending start of the NHL season, fantasy hockey drafts are going to come fast and furious so it's time to get reacquainted with some names that should be all over your radar. Here's a look at some of the important young players that will be available and what they did during the lockout in North American leagues ahead of the upcoming NHL fantasy season.

Immediate Impact

During the lockout we have already potential Calder Trophy candidates make names for themselves, but don't forget the following names when drafting during a shortened season. The young legs of the following players could be the difference for your team.

Justin Schultz (Edmonton, D) -- You can argue no one benefited more from the lockout than Schultz, who established himself as a legitimate scoring threat from the blue line in the AHL with 18 goals and 48 points in 34 games played. Considering during the 2011-12 season the NHL saw only one defender score more than 55 points (Erik Karlsson, 78 pts), it is enticing to feature Schultz as your top blueliner.

Consider this, last season the Oilers defensemen were led in points (25) and TOI/G (21:45) by Jeff Petry, got only 51 games from Ryan Whitney and were led in power-play points by Corey Potter (11). With those numbers in mind, Schultz will be asked to do more in his rookie season and his success in the AHL should give fantasy owners some much needed confidence when drafting him.

The AHL Rookie of the month for November and Player of the Month for October, Schultz also had a plus-8 rating and was a big factor on the man advantage, leading the AHL with 25 power-play points. Schultz was a model of consistency in his time with Oklahoma City, scoring points in 29 of 34 games played. His teammate and 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick Nail Yakupov will also be a major contributor for Edmonton, but with so many other scoring options on the Oilers we see Schultz making a bigger immediate fantasy impact given the scarcity of production at his position.

Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida, C) -- The third-overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft continued his domination of the QMJHL during the NHL Lockout with 16 goals and 45 points in 30 GP with Saint John, giving him 222 points in 134 career games played in the Q. Huberdeau had a stretch of points in 14 of 15 games before being suspended four games for instigating a fight in the final five minutes in mid-December.

Huberdeau also had his second-straight strong performance for the disappointing Canadian team in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship with nine points in six games. There is no question the Panthers prospect is ready to make the jump to the NHL.

The Panthers have Stephen Weiss at center but not much depth after that so Huberdeau should be getting top-six minutes fairly quickly. The reasoning behind not having him on the roster last season even though he lead the team in goals during the preseason was the physicality of the NHL. The extra time in the minors benefited Huberdeau and now the Panthers and your fantasy team will reap the rewards. The 6-1 forward went from 171 pounds to about 180 and added a mean streak to his game, which should also lead to a surprising boost in penalty minutes. In fact, in his 134 career QMJHL games Huberdeau has 186 PIMs while still poasting an impressive plus-111 rating.

Mikael Granlund (Minnesota, C) -- The Wild stole the headlines this offseason by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but the play of Mikael Granlund should catch the attention of all fantasy owners. After posting scorching offensive numbers for several seasons in Finland the ninth overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft is having similar success at the start of his North American pro career.

The 5-10 center had eight goals and 21 points in 21 games played with the Houston Aeros of the AHL. His durability will be tested in the NHL as missed 12 games in the AHL due to an ankle injury, but in his case the rewards outweigh the risks.

Granlund has been a consistent scorer with point streaks of seven and five games and is not afraid to shoot the puck with 40 shots and a 20% shooting percentage. If you ever need proof of how skilled the center is just watch the video of his lacrosse style goal in the 2011 World Championship semifinals, which was immortalized on a Finnish postage stamp.

Other notable NHL rookie stats during the Lockout (playing in North America):

Chris Kreider (NY Rangers, LW): 33 GP, 5 G, 7 A, 12 Pts, 55 PIMs with Connecticut (AHL)

Sven Baertschi (Calgary, LW): 21 GP, 6 G, 12 A, 18 Pts, 4 PP Pts with Abbotsford (AHL)

Dougie Hamilton (Boston, D): 32 GP, 8 G, 33 A, 41 Pts, plus-24 with Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

Ryan Strome (NY Islanders, C): 32 GP, 22 G, 40 A, 62 Pts with Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal, C): 33 GP, 27 G, 34 A, 61 Pts with Sarnia Sting (OHL)

No Sophomore Jinx

The Sophomores that made huge impacts last season and played in North America during the lockout had some ups, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had 20 points in 19 games with Oklahoma City, and some downs, as injuries hit Adam Henrique (thumb) and Jake Gardiner (head injury). But here are some second-year NHL players who could breakout for fantasy owners this season based on what they did during the lockout.

Brayden Schenn (Philadelphia, C) -- After an injury filled rookie campaign that saw Schenn only suit up for 54 games and score 12 goals, the 21-year-old played his best hockey in the playoffs last spring with nine points in 11 games. The scoring continued for Schenn in the AHL with 13 goals and 20 assists in 33 games with the Adirondack Phantoms.

The fifth-overall pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, Schenn is a true fantasy category hog as he plays in all situations. He had 15 power-play points, two shorthanded points and three game-winning goals for the Phantoms. If you are in a league that has shots as a category then Schenn becomes even more valuable. Last season he had 97 shots in 54 games and added 118 shots in 33 games with Adirondack.

Schenn is expected to take a similar role with the Flyers with Jaromir Jagr leaving via free agency, though his injury history in a shorten schedule is to be noted, but equally as noteworthy are his 10 multi-point games in the AHL. Schenn also tallied at least three points five times with the Phantoms. He can take over a game and can certainly help you take over your competition.

Justin Faulk (Carolina, D) -- Schultz isn't the only blueliner that can provide help to fantasy owners starving for an offensive defenseman. The 37th-overall pick in 2010 NHL Draft, Faulk has been lightning up the AHL during the lockout. Faulk scored five goals and 24 points with the Charlotte Checkers with 10 of those points coming on the power play.

For both the Hurricanes and your fantasy team, Faulk's prowess on the man advantage should provide a huge benefit. Last season Faulk led the Hurricanes and all rookie defenseman in power-play goals (5), power-play points (12) and total power-play TOI (200:31) despite spending a month of the season in the minors. Add that kind of efficiency to a team that added power play specialists Alex Semin and Jordan Staal and those numbers could jump even higher.

The 6-0, 215-pound defenseman is expected to be a part of the Hurricanes' top pairing and power play unit so his consistency will be pivotal. Faulk did have four goals and four assists eight games at the World Championships last spring and didn't go more than three games without a point in the AHL this season, which are both good signs for fantasy owners who select him.

Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay, RW) -- Need a sleeper sophomore that showed he is ready for a breakout season? Look no further than the sixth-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Connolly had 13 goals and 30 points in 32 games with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

Connolly was never asked to play big time minutes with Tampa Bay in 2011-12, playing over 18 TOI just once. He also took an 11-game NHL hiatus to help Canada win a bronze medal in the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, but finished strong with six points in his last 19 games last season.

Playing with one of the AHL's best power-play units Connolly had 11 power-play points and should be a factor in a Tampa Bay power play that has guys named Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier on it. The 6-2, 200-pound forward has also had a knack for scoring goals when it counts the most, leading the AHL with six game-winning goals and though he only had four NHL goals last year two of them were game winners. There is a spot open in the Lightning's top six forwards and due to the injury to J.T. Brown Connolly appears to be a likely candidate to grab it and be a fantasy sleeper this season.

Other Sophomore Stats during the Lockout (playing in North America):

Sean Couturier (Philadelphia, C): 31 GP, 10 G, 18 A, 28 Pts, 3 GWG with Adirondack (AHL)

Cody Hodgson (Buffalo, C): 19 GP, 5 G, 13 A, 18 Pts, 11 PP Points with Rochester (AHL)

Cam Atkinson (Columbus, RW): 33 GP, 17 G, 21 A, 38 Pts, 5 GWG with Springfield (AHL)

Marcus Kruger (Chicago, C): 34 GP-8G-14A-22 Pts, 24 PIM with Rockford (AHL)

Adam Larsson (New Jersey, D): 31 GP, 3 G, 14 A, 17 Pts, +3 with Albany (AHL)

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