Fantasy top 10 rookies to watch in 2020-21

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1. Igor Shesterkin, NYR
NHL.com fantasy rank: 36
Age: Turns 25 on Dec. 30
Draft: No. 118 pick in 2014

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 with a .932 save percentage in 12 NHL games, sparking a dominant run by the New York Rangers after he was recalled from the AHL on Jan. 6 (18-10-1, fifth best points percentage in NHL over span). Fellow young goalie Alexandar Georgiev, 24, is expected to compete for starts in any given week, but Shesterkin, who remains rookie-eligible, has a ceiling of finishing as a top five fantasy goalie as early as this season, especially after the Rangers bought out the contract of veteran Henrik Lundqvist (signed with Washington Capitals).

 

2. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, NYR
NHL.com fantasy rank: 92
Age: 19
Draft: No. 1 pick in 2020

Lafreniere, because of his individual skill and the elite fantasy talent around him on the Rangers (Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin), has a realistic chance to score 60-65 points this season and could finish among the top 15 fantasy left wings if he plays in the top six and/or on the first power play (New York ranked seventh in NHL last season at 22.9 percent). Lafreniere led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in points (112 in 52 games), assists (77) and power-play assists (35) last season and is worth reaching for among the top 100 overall players in standard fantasy leagues and top 10 in a keeper / dynasty league.

READ: Fantasy projection for Lafreniere with NYR

 

3. Kirill Kaprizov, LW, MIN
NHL.com fantasy rank: 105
Age: 23
Draft: No. 135 pick in 2015

He led the Kontinental Hockey League in goals in each of the past two seasons (33 in 57 games last season; 30 in 57 games in 2018-19) and is set to join breakout wing Kevin Fiala and veteran skaters Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the Minnesota Wild’s offense. Kaprizov will likely be attainable at least a round or two later than Lafreniere, and, unlike the Rangers left wing, Kaprizov has a ceiling of being his team’s leading goal and/or point producer this season. The big concern surrounding Kaprizov is that the Minnesota Wild lack a No. 1 center after trading veteran Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres.

 

4. Ilya Sorokin, NYI
NHL.com fantasy rank: 139
Age: 25
Draft: No. 78 pick in 2014

He could be the perfect complement to New York Islanders starter and fellow Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov, who was instrumental in their run to the Eastern Conference Final but has an inconsistent season-to-season track record in his NHL career. Sorokin went 134-64-22 in 244 career KHL games with a .930 SV% and 44 shutouts (led KHL in category with 20 in 80 games over past two seasons) and is already ranked among NHL.com’s top 25 goalies. Sorokin has the highest fantasy ceiling of any goalie (Varlamov, Thomas Greiss, Robin Lehner) during coach Barry Trotz’s tenure with the Islanders.

 

5. Quinton Byfield, C, LAK
NHL.com fantasy rank: 209
Age: 18
Draft: No. 2 pick in 2020

He could compete for the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 2 center role behind elite veteran Anze Kopitar as early as this season. A first power-play spot could also be possible for Byfield, who has the size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) to make an immediate impact in the NHL as a secondary scorer and also bring exposure to Kopitar and top defenseman Drew Doughty for the Kings, who are rebuilding but also a potential bounce-back fantasy team given their Stanley Cup championship pedigree. Byfield combined for 143 points (61 goals, 82 assists) and was plus-38 in 109 games over two seasons for Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League.

 

6. Joel Kiviranta, RW, DAL
NHL.com fantasy rank: 210
Age: 24
Draft: N/A

He burst onto the scene for the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring five goals with one assist and a plus-7 in 14 games. Kiviranta had by far the most stunning performance of Dallas’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, scoring a hat trick (including overtime goal) against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round; he became the first player with a hat trick in a Game 7 since Wayne Gretzky in 1993. With a long-term injury to center Tyler Seguin, the Stars will likely shuffle their lines, and Kiviranta could carry over the momentum in the top six on a line with either valuable forward Jamie Benn or fellow young goal-scorers Denis Gurianov (led Dallas with 20 last season) and Roope Hintz (19; T-2nd).

 

7. Nicholas Robertson, LW, TOR
NHL.com fantasy rank: 211
Age: 19
Draft: Draft: No. 53 pick in 2019

After the top four fantasy rookies on this list, Robertson may have the next highest ceiling with a chance to land in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top six with exposure to either elite center Auston Matthews (third in NHL with 47 goals last season) or John Tavares. Robertson, who scored one goal in four games with Toronto in the 2020 postseason after leading the Ontario Hockey League in goals last season (55 in 46 games), is likely to compete with Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev for a left wing spot after the Maple Leafs traded Andreas Johnsson (to New Jersey Devils) and Kasperi Kapanen (to Penguins) this offseason.

 

8. Tim Stuetzle, LW, OTT
NHL.com fantasy rank: 212
Age: Turns 19 on Jan. 15
Draft: No. 3 pick in 2020

The Ottawa Senators are not only one of the most improved teams of the offseason but also remain overlooked in fantasy. The Senators have talent at the top of their roster, including elite category coverage left wing Brady Tkachuk and defenseman bounce-back candidate Thomas Chabot (55 points in 2018-19; 39 last season) and added Stuetzle in the draft, acquired two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins and signed valuable wing Evgenii Dadonov in free agency. Stuetzle plays left wing but also has experience at center, giving him a chance to fit in on either of Ottawa’s first two lines this season. The caveat with the Senators is that their minus-52 differential last season (second worst in NHL ahead of Detroit Red Wings’ minus-122) could make Stuetzle a plus/minus liability.

 

9. Ville Heinola, D, WPG
NHL.com fantasy rank: 238
Age: 19
Draft: No. 20 pick in 2019

He had an impressive NHL trial with the Winnipeg Jets last season, scoring five points (one goal, four assists) with a plus-3 and one power-play point in eight games. Although the Jets have two other viable defenseman options for their first power play in Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey, they could turn to Heinola in those prime situations as early as this season. Heinola also had five assists in seven games for Finland at the 2020 World Junior Championship and has scored 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 19 games for Luuko in Liiga this season.

 

10. Grigori Denisenko, LW, FLA
NHL.com fantasy rank: 248
Age: 20
Draft: No. 15 pick in 2018

The Florida Panthers have a void on their second line behind the elite duo of center Aleksander Barkov and left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, and Denisenko could be poised for a prominent role and potentially play on the first power play after the departure of Dadonov (81 goals over past three seasons combined). Denisenko, who had nine points (three goals, six assists) in seven games for Russia at the World Junior Championship (tied for sixth in tournament), is a fantasy sleeper who could benefit from Florida acquiring right wing Patric Hornqvist (from Penguins) and signing center Alexander Wennberg (contract bought out by Columbus Blue Jackets).

 

Other potential rookies to consider in fantasy: Marco Rossi, C, MIN (NHL.com rank: 249); Trevor Zegras, C, ANA (250); Bowen Byram, D, COL; Josh Norris, C, OTT; Alex Turcotte, C, LAK; Owen Tippett, RW, FLA; Erik Brannstrom, D, OTT; Gabriel Vilardi, C, LAK; Dylan Cozens, C, BUF; Alexander Romanov, D, MTL; Morgan Frost, C, PHI

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