We're hurtling toward the first drop of the puck Saturday, Jan. 19. A few first-year players are certain to carve out big roles for themselves at some point during the season, but the lockout might have hurt them the most. Generally youngsters need a full training camp, preseason games and many practices to impress their bench boss to scoot up the depth chart. There are a handful of rookies who will be household names by the end of the season.
Sven Baertschi, left wing, Calgary Flames
The 13th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft ended up playing five games with the big club last season, and they were certainly memorable. He ended up potting three goals while posting a plus-2 rating with 10 shots on goal (SOG) and four penalty minutes (PIM). The young Swiss prospect still needs to add a little meat to his bones or he'll get pushed around over the course of a full season. However, Baertschi is a tremendous stickhandler who will make things happen, and if he can somehow work his way up to a top-six forward job, he'll go from long-term keeper prospect with upside to fantasy must-start. Don't expect Baertschi to tear it up out of the chute, although he was on fire for the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL during the lockout. If he wins a job in training camp, look out.
Damien Brunner, center, Detroit Red Wings
Brunner is another product of Switzerland that is expected to come across the pond and do big things. The word on the street is that Brunner will open the season on the top scoring line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. That means immediate fantasy appeal, as he will see a decent amount of points, a solid plus/minus rating and power play time. He is worth remembering in the middle to late rounds on Draft Day.
Mikael Granlund, center, Minnesota Wild
Granlund turned it up a notch with HIFK Helsinki of the SM-Liiga (Finland) last season, popping in 20 goals with 51 points and a plus-20 rating in just 45 games. The ninth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft has the potential to play another of the three forward positions. The book on Granlund is that he has a great work ethic and is extremely coachable. He is expected to start out with the big team and has the speed and quick hands to make things happen at the offensive end. He is a must-have in long-term fantasy leagues, and he is worth adding with one of your final picks in re-draft leagues of 12 or more teams.
Mikhail Grigorenko, center, Buffalo Sabres
Grigorenko is in camp with the team, and it appears he will get five games in the regular season to prove to head coach Lindy Ruff and the team's brass that he should stay. If not, he'll be sent back to his junior team in the QMJHL for more seasoning. There has been rumbling from Ruff that Grigorenko could see time between Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. If that happens, Grigorenko will see a huge boost in fantasy appeal. Monitor that situation very closely.
Jonathan Huberdeau, center, Florida Panthers
Officially Huberdeau is listed as a center, although he has been used by head coach Kevin Dineen on the wing during training camp. He rolled up 16 goals with 45 points in 30 games at Saint John of the QMJHL, and it will be interesting to see if he can carry over that momentum into the big leagues. Huberdeau is an uber-talented offensive player, but the worry is that playing in the World Junior Championships with Canada and QMJHL will lead to the rookie hitting the wall at some point sooner rather than later. Still, he is a great prospect for those in dynasty pools, and he could have value in redraft leagues if he lands a top-six job in Sunrise.
Leland Irving, goalie, Calgary Flames
As it stands now, Irving is not worth using in re-draft leagues. However, watch the situation with Miikka Kiprusoff closely. If he suffers a long-term injury, or he is dealt to a contender, then the Leland Irving Era will begin in southern Alberta. Right now, he is only worth drafting in long-term keeper leagues. Be patient, because he will be a good one.
Chris Kreider, left wing, New York Rangers
Kreider made a name for himself in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and fans of the Blueshirts will likely be clamoring for the youngster to make the team, but tough-as-nails coach John Tortorella says the youngster is fighting for a job. It is possible he returns to Connecticut of the AHL, where he was doing fair, but certainly not great, earlier this season. For now, only take a chance on Kreider in the final rounds on Draft Day in standard redraft leagues.
Paul Postma, defenseman, Winnipeg Jets
Postma will be fighting with Zach Redmond for a job in training camp, but their chances were helped when Zach Bogosian (wrist) was forced to the shelf after wrist surgery. Bogosian might miss the first month of the regular season, so Postma has a chance to at least be a decent short-term fantasy option out of the gate. Keep an eye on the battle between he and Redmond in the final days of camp before opening up a reserve roster spot for Postma.
Justin Schultz, defenseman, Edmonton Oilers
Schultz might be the player on this list that you want the most. He sparkled with Oklahoma City of the AHL during the lockout, piling up 18 goals and 48 points with a plus-8 rating in 34 games. He showed well on the power play, posting seven goals on the man advantage, and he added two shorthanded markers and a 19.4 shooting percentage. He has a heavy shot and is still just 22 years of age and growing. As he fills out, he'll become even strong in the NHL. As it stands now, he is NHL-ready and will be a decent No. 4 or 5 fantasy rearguard in all formats right off the bat.
Nail Yakupov, right wing, Edmonton Oilers
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Yakupov is ready to join his talented young cast in Edmonton to try and make things happen. He played well during the lockout skating in the KHL with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk and then in the World Junior Championships with Team Russia, leading his team to a bronze medal. He has three goals and eight points in seven games during the Juniors, which is just a little taste of what is to come in the NHL. A 35-40 point season in the 48-game condensed schedule is not out of the question. As such, he is a nice looking No. 5 or 6 fantasy forward.