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Fantasy: Rookies to watch in 2017-18

Coyotes forwards Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller have potential to make impact in first NHL season

by Ben Zweiman @BZweimanNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

When discussing rookies who can make an impact in fantasy hockey this season, the names that first pop up are centers Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, the top two picks in the 2017 NHL Draft.

But even if Hischier (New Jersey Devils) and Patrick (Philadelphia Flyers) are in the NHL and put up solid numbers, they likely won't be the strongest rookies in 2017-18.

The team that could produce the top rookie, or rookies, this season may surprise you.

Since John Chayka took over as general manager of the Arizona Coyotes in May 2016, they've been committed to a rebuild that is expected to inject plenty of youth into the lineup this season. Highlighting this youth movement are recent first-round picks Dylan Strome (No. 3, 2015) and Clayton Keller (No. 7, 2016).

 

[RELATED: Fantasy Top 250 for 2017-18 | Cheat sheet | Breakout candidates]

 

Strome and Keller are expected to be in the Coyotes lineup to start the season, and Strome will have a chance to be Arizona's second-line center behind new addition Derek Stepan. If you aren't familiar with Strome's accomplishments in juniors, here's a crash course:

- In 219 regular-season games with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League: 354 points (114 goals, 240 assists);

- In 12 games for Canada at the past two IIHF World Junior Championships: 16 points (seven goals, nine assists);

- In 27 playoff games last season (including the Memorial Cup): 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists).

The point is, Strome has produced at an elite pace at every level he's competed. That isn't to suggest he will immediately continue that trend this season with the Coyotes, but all signs point toward a strong showing for the 20-year-old. If Strome lands in Arizona's top six with time on the first power-play unit, his ceiling could be in the 50-60 point range, similar to what Coyotes forward Max Domi did as a rookie in 2015-16 (52 points in 81 games).

Keller is coming off a stellar freshman season at Boston University. He had 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 31 games, finishing among the top 20 in scoring and seventh in points per game (1.45) in the NCAA. Keller is listed as a center in Yahoo but likely will play either left wing or right wing, meaning less responsibility as a 19-year-old (he turns 19 on July 29). Like Strome, Keller makes sense in a top-six role, using his quickness and skill to score and make plays. Expect Keller to, at most, put up about 40-45 points should he stick in the NHL, given he may not see as much ice time as Strome.

Last season, we saw multiple rookies emerge for the Toronto Maple Leafs, including Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander. Now, that isn't to say that Strome, Keller and Christian Fischer are going to carry the Coyotes back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they could form a similar (think lite) three-headed dragon. Strome and Keller likely aren't worth drafting in a 10- or 12-team league, but deeper or keeper formats? Definitely.

Here are some more potential NHL rookies worth monitoring entering the season:

 

Kyle Connor, LW, WPG
Age: 20
No. 17 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

The Winnipeg Jets already have one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL. So it's crazy to think Connor has a shot to land in the top six, at left wing on the second line potentially with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. At 6-foot-1, 182 pounds, Connor has the size to compete at the NHL level and got plenty of professional experience last season. He had five points (two goals, three assists) in 20 NHL games and 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games with Manitoba in the American Hockey League.

 

Tyson Jost, C, COL
Age: 19
No. 10 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

Should the Colorado Avalanche decide to trade center Matt Duchene prior to the start of the season, Jost would have the opportunity to slide into the second-line center spot. He played six games for the Avalanche last season following an impressive freshman season at the University of North Dakota (35 points in 33 games). Although Colorado's roster isn't very deep at forward, making Jost's potential linemates underwhelming, he'd still be in line for plenty of minutes and work on the power play.

Video: MIN@COL: Jost scores first NHL goal, grandpa tears up

 

Brock Boeser, RW, VAN
Age: 20
No. 23 pick in 2015 NHL Draft

Like Jost, Boeser jumped right to the NHL following a strong season at North Dakota; he had 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 32 games as a sophomore. Like Connor, Boeser has an NHL-ready frame (6-1, 191), which he used to his advantage in nine games with the Vancouver Canucks last season. Boeser had four goals, one assist and 25 shots on goal (2.8 per game). He could be the perfect right wing for center Bo Horvat.

Video: VAN@ARI: Boeser roofs top-shelf power-play goal

 

Joshua Ho-Sang, C/RW, NYI
Age: 21
No. 28 pick in 2014 NHL Draft

Ho-Sang was recalled by the New York Islanders late last season and instantly provided an offensive spark. He had 10 points (four goals, six assists) with 22 SOG and 12 penalty minutes in 21 games from March 2-April 9. Now that it's clear Ho-Sang (6-foot, 173) can handle the pressure and rigors of the NHL, he's expected to fill out the Islanders' top six at right wing. He'll also get a shot on the power play with center John Tavares and newly acquired right wing Jordan Eberle.

Video: NYI@BUF: Ho-Sang finishes break with outstanding move

 

Charlie McAvoy, D, BOS
Age: 19
No. 14 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

McAvoy may be the front-runner for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL. The Boston Bruins wasted no time last season thrusting McAvoy into the spotlight after signing him April 10. He made his NHL debut in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and had three assists in six games against the Ottawa Senators and averaged 26:12 of ice time per game. McAvoy clearly showed that he can handle being on the top pair and may be the only player in this story worth selecting among the top 150.

 

Julius Honka, D, DAL
Age: 21
No. 14 pick in 2014 NHL Draft

Many believed that Honka would emerge for the Dallas Stars last season, but an upper-body injury seemed to derail any hopes of that happening. He was in and out of the lineup throughout January and February before being sent back to the AHL (though he did finish the regular season in Dallas). Still, in a down season, Honka managed to show why the Stars think so highly of him. He had five points (one goal, four assists) and 34 SOG in 16 NHL games, and 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 50 games with Texas in the AHL. The blue line is crowded in Dallas, but Honka should skate on the second pair and PP unit.

 

Mikhail Sergachev, D, TBL
Age: 19
No. 9 pick in 2016 NHL Draft by Montreal Canadiens

The Tampa Bay Lightning swapped Jonathan Drouin for Sergachev on June 15 with hopes he will one day provide a solid one-two punch with defenseman Victor Hedman. That day may come sooner than expected. The Lightning don't have much offense behind Hedman on defense, and veteran Anton Stralman is coming off his worst season with Tampa Bay. If Sergachev can impress coach Jon Cooper in training camp, he could earn a spot in the lineup right away, but chances are he's nothing more than a player worth stashing in a keeper or dynasty format.

 

Juuse Saros, G, NSH
Age: 22
No. 99 pick in 2013 NHL Draft

Saros will enter this season as Pekka Rinne's backup for the Nashville Predators. He performed well in that role last season, going 10-8-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 21 games (19 starts). Saros also had the luxury of picking up some playoff experience, relieving Rinne in two games during the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rinne, 34, isn't getting any younger, so chances are coach Peter Laviolette will give Saros around 25-30 starts. Saros also is an injury to Rinne from becoming a fringe top 10 goalie in fantasy.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Saros steers away Guentzel's chance

 

Honorable mentions: Mathew Barzal, C, NYI; Christian Fischer, RW, ARI; Joel Eriksson Ek, C, MIN; Sonny Milano, LW, CBJ; Jakub Vrana, LW/RW, WSH; Thomas Chabot, D, OTT; Joe Hicketts, D, DET; Ryan Pulock, D, NYI; Jared Coreau, G, DET; Jon Gillies, G, CGY; Anthony Stolarz, G, PHI

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