Fantasy NHL – Surprising top-six skaters and top-pair blue-liners to start 2018-19

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Every season, a few surprise figures emerge out of camp, earning a prolific role with their respective NHL clubs, either in the form of an inexperienced prospect or perhaps a more-weathered veteran. Some get there through superb work in preseason play, by developing chemistry with other high-end talent, or sometimes, via a crucial injury.

Here’s a round-up of such fantasy-relevant assets to consider these early stages, before everyone else catches up.


Patrick Maroon, LW, St. Louis Blues (43.0 percent rostered): Remember Maroon’s numbers when he played on Connor McDavid‘s wing with the Oilers? With his new squad in St. Louis, the 30-year-old winger finds himself in a similarly promising position, on the No. 1 line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly. He has good hands, often scores from right near the net, and will get some chances in such company. If all goes well, Maroon has added punch in deeper leagues that reward penalty minutes, projected by his 50-point/100-PIM ceiling.

Ty Rattie, RW, Edmonton Oilers (36.2 percent): Goodness knows how long this assignment lasts, but there’s no discounting Rattie’s current potential on the top Oilers unit, alongside McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Concerns about the significance of preseason play aside, he’s looked good so far. Maybe it’s taken the 25-year-old AHL regular this long to blossom. Or, maybe he flounders, and drops down the Oilers lineup in short order. Still, even the most dubious of fantasy managers can’t disregard the upside to his current placement. As such, Rattie is worth a late-round draft selection, or at the very least, a waiver pickup.

Miro Heiskanen, D, Dallas Stars (18.0 percent): They’re really excited about this kid in Dallas. A striking presence in camp, the 19-year-old gave the Stars little choice but to offer him a roster spot for Opening Night. Drafted third-overall in 2017, the skilled speedster will undoubtedly offer plenty of offensive pop as a top-four defenseman and member of the secondary power play. Ranking behind John Klingberg, Heiskanen could quickly surpass Esa Lindell as the team’s No. 2 fantasy blue-liner. As he is new to the NHL game, the length of any adjustment period is the only real issue of concern. Without question, though, he’s a no-brainer asset in keeper leagues.

Michael Rasmussen, C/LW, Detroit Red Wings (13.2 percent): By no means a slam dunk to remain with the Red Wings all season long, the 2017 No. 9-overall draft selection impressed enough to secure an NHL roster spot out of camp. We’re wagering that he’ll stick. Already tabbed to serve on Detroit’s power play, Rasmussen is expected to shift into a permanent top-six role soon enough. The large-framed 19-year-old, an imposing scoring presence in front of the net, scored 31 goals and 28 assists in 47 WHL games this past season. Also of note, rookie defenseman Dennis Cholowski is tapped to enjoy minutes with the man-advantage while veteran Mike Green battles an illness. The 20-year-old has short-term value, at a minimum, in deeper leagues to start the season.

Elias Lindholm, C/RW, Calgary Flames (12.8 percent): It’s Lindholm, and not fellow Calgary newcomer James Neal, as many projected, who is launching the 2018-19 campaign on a Flames top-line alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Assuming he isn’t “one-and-done” after an ugly minus-4 showing in Wednesday’s loss to the Canucks, the former Hurricane has no direction to go but up. The 2013 No. 5-overall draft pick has 60-point potential as member of that No. 1 unit.

Ryan Donato, C, Boston Bruins (8.8 percent): While the 22-year-old rookie is expected to battle Danton Heinen for second-line duty, he’s already a favored piece on Boston’s top power play. The Hobey Baker finalist out of Harvard notched nine points in just 12 games this past spring with the Bruins, including five goals. More than a few pundits are predicting an eruptive campaign from Donato in his first full NHL season.

Brady Tkachuk, LW, Ottawa Senators (8.2 percent): As long as his groin injury doesn’t spool up into a more serious, lingering issue — he’s currently listed as “day-to-day” — Tkachuk is poised to play a significant role with a Senators club desperate to give fans reason to cheer. A gig on a scoring line with Mark Stone could tangibly add up to an impressive rookie breakout campaign for this year’s No. 4-overall draft pick. The scrappy 19-year-old also carries greater weight in fantasy leagues that count penalty minutes.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Montreal Canadiens (7.7 percent): He doesn’t turn 19 until next July, yet Kotkaniemi is already centering both the Canadiens No. 2 line and power play. That’s quite the accomplishment for a kid who looked all-too-shaky through the early stages of camp. After earning a power-play assist in his first NHL game versus the Maple Leafs, this year’s No. 3-overall draft selection appears in little danger of dropping down the lineup, never mind off the roster. Montreal’s overall deficiency at center adds insurance in this regard. Fantasy managers in all varieties of deeper leagues should scoop up Kotkaniemi pronto, if he’s still available.

Troy Terry, C/RW, Anaheim Ducks (2.0 percent): He’s first up to replace Corey Perry, who is out for most of the season with a serious knee injury, and will play on a top Anaheim line with Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, Terry sports fresh, unanticipated productive promise. While the 21-year-old winger didn’t register a point in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Sharks, he remained fixed on his unit throughout the contest, and also skated with the secondary power play. If that assignment endures, the production will come. Terry collected 48 points in 39 games with the University of Denver this past year. Also worth watching with the Ducks is Max Comtois, who merits monitoring on a second scoring line with Adam Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg. The 19-year-old scored 49 seconds into his first NHL game on Wednesday.

Tyler Ennis, C/RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (1.5 percent): As long as William Nylander remains unsigned and idle in Sweden, Ennis carries with him an air of fantasy usefulness, subbing in for the restricted free agent on a Toronto scoring line with Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau. Beyond his talented linemates, the 2008 first-round draft selection has proven to be capable of chipping in, having enjoyed four 20-plus goal seasons as member of the Sabres. That said, the 28-year-old must be viewed only as a temporary fantasy plug-in. Once Nylander is inked to a new deal and warmed up, Ennis should be roundly dropped in short order.

Markus Nutivaara, D, Columbus Blue Jackets (0.6 percent): The knee injury shutting down defenseman Seth Jones for four-to-six weeks opens the door for Nutivaara to strut his stuff on the Jackets second-pairing and No. 2 power play. While the 24-year-old isn’t likely long for this assignment, fantasy managers in deeper leagues might benefit from engaging him as a blue-line sub before Jones eventually returns in fit form.

Alex Iafallo, C/LW, Los Angeles Kings (0.3 percent): As a rookie in 2017-18, Iafallo produced in fits and bursts, while often seeing minutes on a Kings scoring line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Brown’s broken finger, suffered just this week, means the 24-year-old gets another opportunity on the top unit, now adjacent Kopitar and NHL-returnee Ilya Kovalchuk. Sporting dark-horse fantasy potential in deeper leagues, Iafallo could put up solid numbers while Brown recuperates — and perhaps beyond, if the sophomore gives his coaching staff just cause to leave him there, even once the veteran heals.

Dominik Kahun, C, Chicago Blackhawks (0.1 percent): Shining in camp, Kahun finds himself launching his NHL career on the Blackhawks No. 1 unit with Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. This is a remarkable achievement, considering the 23-year-old recently spoke of heading back to Germany if he failed to nail down a roster spot. While the Deutsche Eishockey Liga isn’t exactly on par with the NHL’s caliber of play, Kahun still merits respect as a near point-per-game player with Munich this past year. We’re keen to see what he can accomplish aside Chicago’s captain, himself determined to enjoy a bit of a renaissance following last year’s disappointing campaign. Kahun is worth a flier in deeper fantasy leagues.



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