After looking at some established NHL players who in my mind will have a better or worse year, lets take a look at some fringe/under-the-radar NHL prospects who I think may make an impact this season. They may not be top 10 in scoring at the end of the year, but they could be key depth picks. If you're in a keeper league or any league where prospect rights can be had, keep your eye out for these names as we near training camps (only just over a month!).
When looking at prospects, my first stat I look at is their career PPG wherever they played around their draft years (juniors, college, or Europe, typically). This is all based off of Gabe Desjardins work over at Behindthenet.ca involving league equivalencies to the NHL, which we can thus make projections to the NHL with. Essentially, the higher the career PPG average, the higher the NHL season PPG average. Many players in this statistical aspect, for usually physical reasons (small size), are overlooked on draft-day despite having great career PPG averages. Sometimes this is validated, such as if a player is the third wheel on a line; but usually when these players get a shot they prove that their junior numbers weren't a huge fluke. Our prime example? Martin St. Louis, who scored 1.92 PPG in the ECAC back in the late 90's but went undrafted despite the performance. While he is truly a gem in the rough, there are other, more modest, examples that I have found for this season who may/should surprise most (but not us FHS faithful here).
Before we begin, I would also like to mention one more useful tool when it comes to prospects, and that is this chart produced by none other than Desjardins regarding age and the junior players PPG that correlates their likelihood to become an NHL regular in their career. It only works for the CHL (OHL, QMJHL, and WHL) and can be adapated (with caution) to the NCAA in my opinion, but its very accurate nonetheless.
Despite heavy offensive-zone starts, Calvert showed he could play in the NHL despite being a 5th round pick back in 2008. What's truly intriguing to me is that despite the average competition he faced (3rd/4th line as expected for a rookie) he truly drove the play when he was on the ice; a good sign for a 21 year old player. Along with this, his 1.14 career PPG in the WHL is a great indication of a regular scorer, and his 1.46 PPG season in Brandon as a 20 year old puts his NHL ceiling at 52 points in a season one year. I would expect more though, from experience, seeing as he had two seasons in the W (dub) over 1.0 PPG. Calvert should have an interesting opportunity on the left wing come training camp with Huselius out, despite the signing of Prospal.
Want to impress with a random pickup? Here's your guy. Elliott will be a household name with the Avalanche soon, as he is a great offensive d-man with a career 0.85 PPG in four years with Saskatoon of the WHL. His last season was a dominating 1.14 PPG performance that should land him on the blue line for the Av's this fall. The only downfall here is the fact that he is a d-man, meaning the development process is typically slower as the Av's could send him to the AHL for some seasoning. I don't envision this because of his supreme skills, and in the end he could easily have a Del Zotto-esque rookie year circa 09-10.
A 2007 second round pick of the Coyotes, MacLean is now ready to contribute at the NHL level. After a 1.18 PPG career in the OHL with Erie (with 3 of those over 1.0 PPG - our threshold), MacLean has spent three years in the AHL and produced all the right stuff as his scoring progression went up each year. In his 13 game stint with the Yotes last season, he drove the play well despite limited ice time. The downside with MacLean this season would be that he's got plenty of veterans in front of him on the depth chart when it comes to the wings in Phoenix. He could easily surpass and play well on the third line, if given the chance, but at the least keep your eye out for his name going forward.
Jason Akeson is an undrafted signee of the Flyers this past spring after putting up 108 points in 67 games with Kitchner of the OHL this past season, bringing his career total in the OHL to 1.26 PPG (3+ years over the 1.0 mark). He's a natural right winger with plenty of names in front of him on the depth chart at the moment, so he will most likely be heading for the AHL in the fall. Nonetheless, I will bet Akeson will be in a Flyers uniform at some point this year, and he's got the numbers to produce in the NHL one day.
David Desharnais is another undrafted yet intriguing prospect for the Canadiens, signed in 2008 after a four year career in the QMJHL that saw him post a staggering 1.46 PPG. He's spent two and a half seasons in the AHL, where he continued putting the puck in the net at a 1.01 PPG rate. He finally got his shot in Montreal this past spring, producing 22 points in 43 games all while playing fourth line minutes with defensive zone start assignments. Despite this, Desharnais drove the play well and finished in the offensive zone more than his own - a great indication of the type of player he can be.
So, with all said, go and see if you can snatch these names up for a keeper league situation. If you're just playing a single-season league, write these names down and check in with them weekly, because any one of them (given the shot) could raise eyebrows this coming season. I also would like to hear from the fans of the teams these players are on, as they've most likely seen them play (as I have not) and can confirm my praise.