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Top 2015 NHL Draft picks with fantasy value

by Matt Sitkoff

Rookies can make a major impact on fantasy teams and can lead to long-term success in dynasty and keeper leagues. Seven players from the 2014 NHL Draft class played in at least one regular-season game in 2014-15. That group was made up of defenseman Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers)  and forwards David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins), Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres), Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers), Viktor Arvidsson (Nashville Predators), Samuel Bennett (Calgary Flames), and Kevin Fiala (Predators).

Ekblad won the Calder Trophy and his 39 points were two shy of the NHL record for a defenseman to start the season as an 18-year-old, set by Bobby Orr in 1966-67 (13-28-41). Ekblad was joined by forwards Johnny Gaudreau (2011 fourth-round pick) and Mark Stone (2010 sixth-round pick) as finalists for the Calder, showing rookie production doesn't just come from freshly drafted players. But with two generational talents at the top of its class, some members of the 2015 draft class should play a big role in fantasy sooner rather than later.

Here are some of the 2015 draftees most likely to make their presence felt:

Connor McDavid: No. 1 (Edmonton Oilers)

Connor McDavid joins forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov as first overall selections by the Oilers in the past six NHL Drafts. Those three top picks averaged 58.3 games played, 19 goals, 22.7 assists, 41.7 points, 133.7 shots and a minus-5 rating in their rookie seasons (Yakupov played all 48 games in the 2012-13 NHL season). Those are numbers McDavid is expected to surpass. Looking at the past five Calder winners that were forwards (Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Huberdeau, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jeff Skinner) those players averaged 22.75 goals, 29.5 assists, and 52.5 points; those are the numbers to expect from McDavid.

The anticipation will be high for McDavid in the fantasy world and for the Oilers, and he is expected to immediately slides into a top six role. He could see time with left wing Benoit Pouliot and Yakupov, and could see time on the power play; new Oilers head coach Todd McLellan frequently used four forwards on his top power play in San Jose. McDavid should be targeted in the second round in standard format drafts and the first round in keeper/dynasty leagues.

Jack Eichel: No. 2 (Buffalo Sabres)

It took all of four seconds for general manager Tim Murray to announce Jack Eichel as the Buffalo Sabres pick with the second selection of the 2015 NHL Draft, and like McDavid, Eichel could immediately become a top-six forward, likely the second line center behind the recently acquired Ryan O’Reilly.

The past four forwards taken with the second pick of the draft have had mixed results. Eichel’s Sabres teammate Sam Reinhart played nine games last season, while Panthers center Aleksander Barkov played in 54 and had 16 points. Tyler Seguin had 22 points in 74 games played with the Boston Bruins his rookie year as a 19-year-old, and Gabriel Landeskog won the Calder with 82 games played and 52 points in 2011-12, also as a 19-year-old. Eichel should be expected to put up numbers closest to the latter.

A player the Sabres could deploy Eichel with is Tyler Ennis, who led the team in points last season (46) and was second the previous season (43). Eichel, the 2015 Hobey Baker winner, should be targeted in the third to fourth round of standard leagues and second or third round in keeper/dynasty leagues.

Noah Hanifin: No. 5 (Carolina Hurricanes)

The first defenseman selected in the draft could also be the first defenseman to play for his NHL team. The 6-foot-2, 203 pound Boston College product was third in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skater, and appears pro ready.

The Hurricanes did add another NHL defenseman in James Wisniewski from the Anaheim Ducks, but have six defenseman signed for next season, and had nine different defenseman play for them this season.

A great comparison for Hanifin is Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators, who was widely considered the best defensive prospect of the 2013 NHL Draft and was picked fourth. Jones played right away as a 19-year-old, and had 25 points in 77 games, but was a minus-23. Wait to see what happens during the Hurricanes training camp before targeting Hanifin in drafts but in a keeper/dynasty league he would be a great prospect to stash.

Mikko Rantanen: No. 10 (Colorado Avalanche)

In the past five drafts there has been a prospect selected outside the top five to make an immediate impact on his team. Skinner won the Calder after he was taken seventh in 2010; Sean Couturier was taken eighth in 2011; Filip Forsberg was drafted 11th in 2012; Sean Monahan was selected sixth in 2013; and Pastrnak was taken 25th in 2014.

Keep an eye on Finnish forward Mikko Rantanen, who went 10th to the Colorado Avalanche. The 6-foot-4, 211 pound right wing was the top rated international skater by NHL Central Scouting in its final ranking, and Rantanen just finished a season playing for TPS of the Finnish Elite League. He scored half of Finland's goals (four) at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship; four players tied for the tournament-lead with five.

Colorado’s executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic said he wouldn’t be surprised if Rantanen comes to camp and proves he is NHL ready, and with the recent trades by the Avalanche, forward spots could be available. With professional experience under his belt, Rantanen could be a great late-round steal in fantasy drafts.

Others 2015 draft picks to keep an eye on in 2015-16: Dylan Strome (third to Arizona Coyotes), Ivan Provorov (seventh to Flyers), Lawson Crouse (11th to Panthers), Denis Gurianov (12th to Dallas Stars).

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