Several fresh-faced NHL newbies are not only poised to make an impact on the ice in their respective markets but within the field of fantasy hockey as well. Here’s a look at 10 such rookies invested managers will want to watch closely heading into the 2023-24 fantasy season.
Connor Bedard, F, Chicago Blackhawks: First off, a hearty congratulations to every dynasty/keeper league manager blessed with this year’s precious No. 1 draft selection. Not only is the pick itself a no-brainer, but the runaway Calder favorite is likely to pay out rich fantasy dividends for years and years to come. Straight out of the gates, we know Bedard is poised to provide a hearty serving of minutes on the Blackhawks’ top line and power play alongside veteran Taylor Hall. There’s little question of that.
All that’s left to forecast is whether he scores 60, 80, or near 100 points. My preseason guess is somewhere in the point/game range, at least to start. Hardly matters though; if you have the chance to pick Bedard in dynasty play, you’re picking him. Otherwise, he initially presents as a Top-35 fantasy forward in re-draft leagues.
Adam Fantilli, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: The kid out of Nobleton, Ontario is also supposed to be pretty good. A standout at September’s Traverse City prospect tournament, Fantilli appeared NHL-ready in every way, beyond the potting of seven points on 15 shots through two games. Happily launching camp on a top-six line with Patrik Laine (“yeah, it’s going great, obviously, [Laine’s] really easy to play with”), the gifted center is endeavouring to lay a foundation for an outstanding rookie campaign.
After scoring 65 points in 36 games as a freshman with the University of Michigan – and winning the Hobey Baker award – Fantilli should earn regular opportunities to prove he can hang with the grownups. Especially since this Blue Jackets squad is still a year or two away from making serious noise in the East. He’s my favorite forward pick in dynasty competition outside of the young fella in Chicago.
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Marco Rossi, F, Minnesota Wild: If, and we’re talking a mammoth-sized if here, he gets a shot at playing on the Wild’s top line, the just-turned 22-year-old could be in for one heck of a first full round in the NHL. Many will argue that, after potting 51 points in 53 games with the AHL Wild in 2022-23, Rossi merits at least a chance to compete between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello, but he’ll have to leapfrog Frederick Gaudreau Joel Eriksson Ek, and Ryan Hartman (when healthy again) to get there. A role in the bottom-six doesn’t harbor anywhere near the same fantasy promise.
Keep a close view on where the ninth-overall draft pick (2020), now three years removed from battling COVID-related myocarditis, lines up in camp.
Matthew Knies, F, Toronto Maple Leafs: Fellow Arizonan Auston Matthews, after training with the young winger this summer, had this to say, “He’s very driven. Physically, he’s more than capable of playing all 82 games and being a really good player for us.”
Toss in a promising gig on the Leafs’ second line alongside center John Tavares, plus a spot on the No. 2 power play, and we might have a fresh productive fantasy force in Toronto this season. Knies potted 21 goals and 21 assists in 40 games with the University of Minnesota before collecting five in 10 with his NHL club, including four in seven postseason contests.
Logan Cooley, F, Arizona Coyotes: Part of the Coyotes’ “present”, as well as their future, according to coach Andre Tourigny, Cooley is already turning heads in his post-Collegiate career (see below). The advantage of playing for a rebuilding club unencumbered by ambitious expectations at present is that he’ll earn plenty of minutes and ripe opportunities to do the same all season long. Why not? If not for Fantilli’s exceptional showing, Cooley’s 60 points as a freshman with the University of Minnesota may have sufficed in winning him the Hobey Baker. Even the most frustrated Coyotes fan can feel legitimately excited about this raw star. Fantasy managers should too.
Logan Cooley spins and scores a beauty while falling for Coyotes
Logan Cooley puts moves on the defender and finds the back of the net for the score.
Matt Coronato, F, Calgary Flames: Toss the Harvard lad on the right side of Nazem Kadri (again), and let him strut his scoring stuff, is my advice. With new GM Craig Conroy and bench boss Ryan Huska at the helm, the soon-to-turn 21-year-old should earn a fair shake at the chance to fill one of the Flames’ handful of vacancies up front.
A dynamic scoring winger, Coronato has impressed at every level to date, including with the USHL Chicago Steel and in college competition. His eight points in 10 games at the 2023 IIHF men’s World Championships this past May more than proves he can keep up with experienced, fully-grown pros. An obvious top-tier selection in dynasty leagues, the 13th overall draft pick (2021) could make a tangible scoring impact as soon as now.
Luke Hughes, D, New Jersey Devils: Long after the novelty of watching him compete on the same team as older brother Jack wears off, the youngest Hughes sibling will still be putting up points with regularity. It’s only a matter of time before he supplants, or joins Dougie Hamilton, on the Devils’ top power play. An immediate must-grab in keeper play, this fourth-overall draft pick (2021) already sports value in all but the shallowest of conventional re-draft fantasy leagues.
Brandt Clarke, D, Los Angeles Kings: Having enjoyed the privilege of watching this kid compete for the Barrie Colts in person on a handful of occasions, I can assure you he’s something special. A future key piece of the Kings’ blue line, and top prospect at large, the 20-year-old has accomplished all he can in the OHL, and feels ready to play full-time with the club that drafted him eighth overall in 2021 (ahead of Arizona’s Dylan Guenther, Coronato, and Stars’ center Wyatt Johnston).
Being in the position to learn from one of the game’s best in Drew Doughty certainly won’t hurt either. While his most explosive fantasy days lie ahead, Clarke still merits monitoring in the here and now. The young defender scored 61 points in only 31 games with the Colts this past season,
Devon Levi, G, Buffalo Sabres: As discussed in ESPN.com’s fantasy goalie preview, I’m all in on Levi’s potential to make the Sabres’ roster this season. Maybe not right out of camp, but eventually. And once offered a spot on hockey’s largest stage, I do expect him to hold his own. Lack of NHL experience aside, the 21-year-old is bright, skilled, disciplined, hardworking, and confident without seeming concerningly arrogant. A bit small, by goalie standards, but so was Henrik Lundqvist and he managed well enough.
This kid’s all-around vibe has me convinced he’s ready to sub in if/when Eric Comrie or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen falter or fall hurt. Again, now or later. Adding to this already promising fantasy formula is that Buffalo is already good and only getting better.
Joseph Woll, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: Unlike Levi in Western New York, Toronto’s rookie netminder is expected to make his big-league club out of camp. Serving as a pro since 2019, he can’t be sent down to the minors without being subjected to waivers, and fat chance Brad Treliving and Co. take that swing.
So, unless injured, he’s going to play. More pressing to fantasy managers and Leafs’ fans alike, on the assumption that Martin Jones only enters the goaltending mix should Ilya Samsonov or Woll fall hurt, is how well and how much. While seven NHL games hardly count as many, the 25-year-old won over a gazillion Toronto fans by posting a 6-1-0 record, 2.16 GAA, and .932 SV% in 2022-23. Dazzling stuff. One of the league’s sneakier sleeper picks between the pipes, with a top-quality club in Toronto, Woll could conduct himself as a game-changer for fantasy managers in 2023-24. He just needs to play.
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