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Fantasy expectations for top rookies

by Sergei J. Feldman /
Expectations come with the territory when you're selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. What's more, the higher you go, the higher the expectation. But while more often than not the future stars' accomplishments are easily gauged in time, there are no guarantees of instant success. As such, selecting a high draft choice to your fantasy team becomes a risky proposition.

Should you take the plunge at all? Do so later in your fantasy drafts? Some players exploded onto the scene from the get-go (think Sidney Crosby), while others needed more time (think Joe Thornton). looks back at previous high draft selections and reviews their rookie seasons in an effort to help make your decisions about this year’s first-year players a bit easier:

As the 2011-12 NHL season races toward us, the questions arise: What to do with players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Adam Larsson and Ryan Strome -- the first five players taken in the 2011 Entry Draft? Is there a Steven Stamkos or John Tavares hiding in that bunch? A Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, perhaps? Could your fantasy team potentially see Teemu Selanne numbers?

Let's break it down.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- Selected No. 1 overall, Nugent-Hopkins joins a talented crop of kids in Edmonton -- including Taylor Hall, last year's top choice. Nugent-Hopkins, a slick center who needs to fill out physically, has a chance to crack the lineup and contribute for an Oilers squad trying to climb out of the NHL basement. Prediction: A 15-20 goal, 40-45 point season.

Gabriel Landeskog -- The No. 2 pick in the draft has the speed, skill, talent and size to handle the rigors of the NHL, and playing alongside a center like Matt Duchene with the Colorado Avalanche could go a long way in the young stud's development. Prediction: A 20-25 goal, 45-50 point season.

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Coming off an impressive Memorial Cup, Huberdeau brings with him all the speed and skill in the world. It remains to be seen whether he can crack the Florida Panthers' lineup, especially considering the large number of veterans brought in by GM Dale Tallon. Prediction: Unlikely to crack NHL lineup out of camp.

What do these prospects have to live up to? Here are some draft choices that have panned out in different ways in their rookie season in the NHL:

2004 and 2005 NHL Entry Drafts

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals; Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh Penguins

Regardless of era, scoring 50-plus goals and ringing up 50-plus assists makes you one of the game's great players. Alex Ovechkin earned that label in his first ever season in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. Moreover, Ovechkin, taken No. 1 in 2004, added 425 shots and 52 PIM to his stat line in 2005-06. Crosby, the first player chosen in 2005, had an equally dominant first season. An assumed once-in-a-generation talent, Crosby delivered a 39-goal, 63-assist, 102-point season, while collecting 110 penalty minutes and nearly 300 shots, in the process. Undeniable forces night in, night out, Ovechkin and Crosby proved to be worthy candidates for early-round fantasy selections.

2008 and 2009 NHL Entry Drafts

Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning; John Tavares, C, New York Islanders

Stamkos is a no-brainer selection for any fantasy hockey player nowadays, but you'd be surprised to learn that his numbers didn't jump off the page in his rookie season. Before two consecutive 90-point seasons, Stamkos scored just 46 points in his first season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unlike his past two seasons, he didn't reach the 200-shot plateau, either. But he was a player with obvious talent and potential and could've been a nice complementary piece to your fantasy squad -- much like John Tavares the following season, who joined the Islanders with all the expectations in the world on his shoulders. By most standards, his 24-goal, 54-point output as a first-year player was impressive, but when you're breaking down your potential fantasy roster, keep in mind the distinction between future production and immediate impact.

1998 NHL Entry Draft

Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings

There's such a thing as a fantasy "sleeper." Despite being selected 171st overall and developing into one of the game's most dynamic players, Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk couldn't have even qualified for that distinction, as he was buried deep in the draft pool. His rookie season was modest: 11 goals, 35 points. But expectations weren't lofty, either. In time, he's grown into one of the League's elite players. Finding diamonds in the rough is hard enough for NHL general managers, much less fantasy owners.

1988 NHL Entry Draft

Teemu Selanne, RW, Winnipeg Jets

As great as the rookie seasons were for Crosby and Ovechkin, the greatest of all belongs to The Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne. Selected with the 10th pick in the 1988 Entry Draft, Selanne took the hockey world by storm when he arrived in the NHL in 1992, scoring 76 goals and 132 points, along with a plus-8 rating, 45 PIM and nearly 400 shots. Fantasy hockey wasn't the big deal then that it is now, but had it been, Selanne could've helped you win your league single-handedly.
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