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Young players to target in fantasy drafts

by Matt Sitkoff

Keeper/dynasty leagues all run different and every season they are getting more creative in who and how long you can keep them. If you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin on your team, and rules allow you to, of course you are going to keep them, as they again will be near the top of fantasy rankings every season. With that in mind, let's examine some players currently in the NHL who will be 22 years old or younger at the start of the season and have at least two seasons of service in the League that you should target that can help you this season and beyond.

Taylor Hall, F, Edmonton Oilers

The first pick of the 2010 NHL Draft had a breakout season in 2012-13, finishing ninth in scoring with 50 points but more importantly played in 45 of the 48 games (he missed two because of a League suspension). That level of durability for the 21-year-old is far better than his two previous seasons, when he missed 17 as a rookie and 21 in 2011-12.

He's been a clutch player for Edmonton with 15 game-winning goals in his career, which is tied for 18th in the last three seasons and tops on his team in that time frame. Another fantasy category he has become a go-to player is power-play points, as he has 25 power-play goals and 46 power-play points in three seasons. With the offensive talent that surrounds him in Edmonton, expect those numbers to continue to rise.

With the increasing number of keeper/dynasty leagues, it's important to find young talent you can keep locked up. With that in mind, here are a few 22-and-under stars worth grabbing and holding onto in your fantasy draft. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI, Dallas Stars, Getty Images)

Hall was the youngest player invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp and for good reason as his stock continues to rise. He should be a prime target in regular and keeper/dynasty leagues.

Tyler Seguin, F, Dallas Stars

The player selected right after Hall in the 2010 draft has had a more entertaining start to his NHL career. The 21-year-old Seguin won a Stanley Cup in 2011 as a rookie with the Boston Bruins, led the team in scoring as a second-year player, made another Stanley Cup Final appearance last season, and has been traded to a new organization -- he was part of a seven-player deal that sent him to Dallas in July.

This move actually is going to raise the fantasy stock of this young talent even more as he shifts back to his natural position of center, where he will be in the middle of the Stars' top line. His struggles in the postseason in 2013 (one goal, eight points in 22 games) should not worry fantasy owners, as his 121 points and 534 shots in 203 NHL games shows he has the potential to be a game-changing fantasy forward. We suggest you take a flier on this talented forward because the change of scenery will do nothing but good for Seguin's budding NHL career.

Matt Duchene, F, Colorado Avalanche

Quick -- name the player who has the most points among NHL players born in 1991? You might be surprised to learn that it's Duchene, who has 193 in 266 games. The 22-year-old is a streaky player that scores in bunches, with 44 career multi-point games, and 12 point-scoring streaks of at least three games. Catch the third pick of the 2009 NHL Draft on one of those hot streaks and he can carry your fantasy team.

The 5-foot-11 center also has been a very strong finisher to seasons in his NHL career, as he has 57 career points in March/April, including 24 points in his final 29 games last season, which always helps when you are in the fantasy playoffs in those months. The Avalanche are a team on the rise with young talent like Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon, the first pick of the 2013 draft, and as these talents grow together under the direction of new coach Patrick Roy, you should see continued improvement for Duchene.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Phoenix Coyotes

The 22-year-old defenseman is entering his fourth NHL season and has showed offensive improvement in each season. The sixth pick of the 2009 NHL Draft followed a 2011-12 season that saw him set career-bests of 13 goals and 32 points with a career-high 21 assists in 48 games last season. He also has been very durable, not missing a game the last two seasons.


The 6-foot-2, 190-pound blueliner plays in all situations, as he led the team last season in total power-play ice time (176:07) and total shorthanded ice time (144:38), as well as total minutes played (1,204:37). Last season we only saw five defensemen contribute 30-plus points and the season before only five score at least 50 points, showing the pool of elite fantasy defenseman is shrinking. We expect the Coyotes blueliner to join those ranks pretty soon and be a player you can count on for seasons to come.

Nick Leddy, D, Chicago Blackhawks

Like we stated before, the amount of impact fantasy defensemen is decreasing, but luckily we have young players like Justin Schultz, Jonas Brodin and Slava Voynov coming through the pipeline. However, not all those players meet our requirements of being age 22 or younger with at least two seasons of NHL service. The next player meets those requirements and should be targeted as an up-and-coming fantasy defenseman is Leddy.

The 16th pick of the 2009 NHL Draft who was acquired by the Blackhawks in 2010 from the Minnesota Wild for Cam Barker, Leddy has been making strides to be an offensive contributor. In 2011-12, his first full NHL season, he had a breakout season, finishing second among the team's defensemen in scoring with 37 points. Last season, the 22-year-old had a career-high six goals, with two of them coming on the power play and two of them being game-winners.

Leddy always will be third-fiddle on a team that features Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but he's taken advantage of the ice time given to him, and his plus-15 last season shows he is starting to mature into a well-rounded defenseman that can become a factor for your fantasy team.

Honorable Mention: Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes), Evander Kane (Jets), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers), Brayden Schenn (Flyers), Victor Hedman (Lightning)


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