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Fantasy impact rookies for 2016-17

Dylan Strome, Ivan Provorov lead first-year players with potential

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Each year, there are rookies who become fantasy relevant. Last season, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel came with much preseason hype, but Artemi Panarin, an undrafted player from the Kontinental Hockey League, came out of nowhere to win the Calder Trophy.

Had McDavid not been out for half of last season with the Edmonton Oilers, he would have finished among the top forwards in fantasy, like Panarin did with the Chicago Blackhawks. Eichel was no slouch either with 24 goals and 56 points in 81 games for the Buffalo Sabres. All three were drafted within the top 150 players on average in Yahoo and each made a significant impact as a rookie. Other under-the-radar rookies from last season who became fantasy commodities included forwards Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) and Robby Fabbri (St. Louis Blues) and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers).

FANTASY RANKINGS: TOP 250 | CENTER | LW | RW | D-MAN | GOALIE

This season, the two names at the top of the list are Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, selected No. 1 and 2 in the 2016 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets, respectively. Matthews is ranked 109th and Laine is 99th on NHL.com's top 200 overall heading into this season.

With Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, Matthews had two goals and three points in three games at Air Canada Centre, his future home. Laine led Team Finland with 10 shots on goal. Matthews and Laine will be drafted in a 10-team league, but if you're competing in deeper formats it's important to get to know other rookies entering the League this season.

Here are rookies not named Matthews or Laine who have the potential to make a fantasy impact this season:

Dylan Strome, C, Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes' decision to buy out veteran center Antoine Vermette this offseason opened up a spot for Strome in the top six. The 19-year-old was one of the more dynamic offensive playmakers for Erie of the Ontario Hockey League the past two seasons; Strome had 279 points in 184 games. There's a chance Strome centers Max Domi and Anthony Duclair on the top line, which would provide him with plenty of assists. The opportunity is there for Strome, all he has to do is seize it to become worth owning in fantasy.

Jimmy Vesey, LW, New York Rangers

Vesey, the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner as the top college player, chose to sign with the Rangers as a free agent for a chance to play a top-six role. He scored 56 goals over his final 70 games at Harvard University and is more developed than a younger prospect, which will help him secure, at the very least, a roster spot. Even if Vesey lands on the third line with childhood friend Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast, he'll be worth a flier during the season depending on his playing time.

Video: Vesey gets the Rangers on the board at Traverse City

William Nylander, C/RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

Nylander could join Matthews to form a nice scoring pair this season. Even if he doesn't play with Matthews, the chances Nylander landing in Toronto's top six are high. The 20-year-old had 13 points in 22 games last season and even saw time on the power play. He averaged nearly two shots per game (43 shots), and if you stretch out that small sample size over the course of a full season, it's not outlandish to think Nylander could reach 40 points with 160 SOG in 2016-17.

Sebastian Aho, RW, Carolina Hurricanes

Finnish prospects Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton Oilers) are relatively well-known, but Aho might be the hidden gem of the line that turned heads at the 2016 World Junior Championship. Aho, 19, had five goals and 14 points in seven games at the WJC to help Finland win the gold medal, and now he has his sights set on landing a roster spot with Carolina. He could start on the Hurricanes' third line, possibly playing with fellow countryman Teuvo Teravainen.

Ivan Provorov, D, Philadelphia Flyers

Outside of Gostisbehere, the Flyers defense lacks offensive talent, something that Provorov can provide at the age of 19. The No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft, Provorov led all Western Hockey League defensemen with 73 points (21 goals, 52 assists) last season with Brandon. He had eight assists in seven games for Russia at the 2016 WJC and should force his way onto Philadelphia's defense during training camp and preseason. Provorov (6-foot-1, 201 pounds) is an elite skater with great vision who could even see time on the Flyers' first or second power-play unit. There likely won't be a scenario where Provorov is worth drafting in any league, but should he make the Flyers roster, he's definitely worth a pick-up.

Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers are on the rise, and Puljujarvi could be one of the key components to their turnaround this season if he makes the roster. Edmonton seems to have its top line set with Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle centered by McDavid, but Puljujarvi has a shot to land on the second or third line, with either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl as his center. Those situations are enticing and would make Puljujarvi worth owning in just about any format.

Julius Honka, D, Dallas Stars

The Stars lost Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Kris Russell on defense this offseason and only brought in Dan Hamhuis to fill one of those holes. The other two spots will likely be decided at training camp, and Honka is arguably Dallas' most talented prospect. He's proved he can produce in the American Hockey League (75 points in 141 games) and should be able to secure a spot on the bottom pair. Even if Honka begins the season with Texas, he's an injury away from becoming fantasy relevant, especially if that injury is to Hamhuis or John Klingberg.

Anthony Mantha, RW, Detroit Red Wings

Mantha is a bit of an older prospect (22), but like Honka, he doesn't have anything left to learn in the AHL. The Red Wings don't have much room in their top-nine forward group, but Mantha brings a rare combination of size (6-5, 214) and skill that Detroit lacks on its roster.

The Red Wings also don't have many natural right wings; Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader each shoot left and Thomas Vanek usually plays on the left side. Mantha might have to start his NHL career on the fourth line or even as the extra forward, but if he puts it all together he could be a valuable fantasy asset by midseason.

Juuse Saros, G, Nashville Predators

Starter Pekka Rinne didn't look sharp playing for Team Finland at the World Cup, and Saros should be able to beat out Marek Mazanec for the backup job. He went 29-8-0 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 38 games with Milwaukee of the AHL last season. If he lands behind Rinne on the depth chart, Saros, 21, would only need an injury to the veteran to become a top 20 goalie in fantasy. As the backup, Saros would be a necessary handcuff and an excellent streamer option.

Other potential impact rookies: Mitchell Marner (C, Toronto Maple Leafs), Pavel Zacha (C, New Jersey Devils), Zach Werenski (D, Columbus Blue Jackets), Thatcher Demko (G, Vancouver Canucks), Mikko Rantanen (RW, Colorado Avalanche), Nick Schmaltz (C, Chicago Blackhawks)

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