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Expect 2014 draft class to make fantasy impact

By Matt Sitkoff - NHL.com Contributor

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Expect 2014 draft class to make fantasy impact
Rookies can make a huge impact on fantasy teams and can lead to long-term success in dynasty/keeper leagues. NHL.com looks at a few players picked in the 2014 draft that could merit taking a flyer.

Rookies can make a huge impact on fantasy teams and can lead to long-term success in dynasty/keeper leagues. Nine players from the 2013 NHL Draft class saw action in at least one regular-season game in 2013-14. That group was made up of Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers), Seth Jones (Nashville Predators), Elias Lindholm (Carolina Hurricanes), Sean Monahan (Calgary Flames), Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo Sabres), Valeri Nichushkin (Dallas Stars), Nikita Zadorov (Sabres) and Kristers Gudlevskis (Tampa Bay Lightning).

MacKinnon became the youngest Calder Trophy winner in NHL history; however, he was joined by Lightning teammates Tyler Johnson (undrafted) and Ondrej Palat (2011 seventh-round pick) as finalists for the award, showing rookie production doesn't just come from freshly drafted players. But if previous seasons are any indication, some members of the 2014 draft class should play a big role in fantasy.

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Here are some of the 2014 draftees most likely to make their presence felt:

Aaron Ekblad: No. 1 (Florida Panthers)

Ekblad joins the likes of Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues, 2006), Chris Phillips (Ottawa Senators, 1996), Bryan Berard (Senators, 1995) and Ed Jovanovski (Panthers, 1994) as defenseman taken with the No. 1 pick in the past 20 years. What those players have in common is that each played one more year of amateur hockey before making the jump to the NHL. The Panthers need help right now, and we expect Ekblad to be in a Florida uniform this fall for at least the nine-game tryout before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in.

Panthers defensemen combined for 121 points last season, third-fewest in the NHL, and with only six signed to one-way contracts Ekblad will be given every opportunity to contribute right away. Looking back at those four defensemen selected No. 1 in the past 20 years, they averaged 73 games, seven goals and 29.5 points in their freshman season, and those are good numbers to expect as only five rookie defensemen had more than 29 points last season. We do not suggest targeting Ekblad early in a non-keeper league; the 13th-15th round is a perfect place to pick him up and make him your third or fourth d-man.

Leon Draisaitl: No. 3 (Edmonton Oilers)

A talented forward drafted high by the Oilers; we have heard this song before, but the highest-drafted German-born and -trained player in NHL history could be just what Edmonton needs. Draisaitl fits right in as the team’s second-line center right behind 2011 No. 1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and could see time with a wing like David Perron (57 points last season) or new Oilers Benoit Pouliot (36 points) or Teddy Purcell (42 points).

Draisaitl, who at 15 had 192 points in 29 games in Germany and put up 105 points last season for Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League, will be expected to produce right away for the Oilers. The NHL had an impressive crop of rookie centers last season, including Johnson, Monahan and Barkov, and we expect Draisaitl to be the cream of the crop this season. In a non-keeper league target him early in the 10th to 11th round as a perfect second or third center on your team.

Sam Bennett: No. 4 (Calgary Flames)

Bennett was ranked as the top North American skater by Central Scouting but fell to the Flames at No. 4 and joins fellow first-round center Monahan, picked sixth in 2013. Monahan's successful rookie season, which saw him finish eighth in rookie scoring (34 points), win 45.9 percent of his faceoffs and even go 5-for-8 in shootouts, will help the Flames feel comfortable with playing Bennett right away.

Bennett finished ninth in Ontario Hockey League scoring with 91 points in 57 games while playing in Kingston, where he wore No. 93 to honor his general manager and favorite player, Doug Gilmour. He has a lot of the Hall of Fame center in his game. Bennett played in all situations in the OHL (10 power-play goals and plus-34) and with a physical edge, as seen in his 118 penalty minutes. Bennett could be a sleeper in your fantasy draft; target him in the later rounds to fill out your bench.

William Nylander: No. 8 (Toronto Maple Leafs)

The son of Michael Nylander, who had a 15-year NHL career, stood out in Toronto's prospect camp and could make a run at a roster spot this season. Nylander can play center or right wing, and he played with professionals last season with Modo of the Swedish Hockey League and with his father for Rogle in Sweden’s second division.

Keep in mind Carolina Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner was the seventh pick of the 2010 draft and went on to lead all rookies with 63 points in 82 games on his way to the Calder Trophy. If anyone outside the top five has a chance to repeat this feat it is Nylander, so target him in the last rounds of your draft as a definite sleeper pick to have on your bench.

Others 2014 draftees to keep an eye on in 2014-15: Sam Reinhart (Sabres), Haydn Fleury (Hurricanes), Kasperi Kapanen (Pittsburgh Penguins)

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