It's over. Either your head-to-head club has fallen short of earning an invite to the fantasy playoff dance, or your still-active rotisserie roster is wallowing out of true contention. Either way, it's time to brush it off and look ahead to competition in 2022-23. With that perspective, here's a look at several future fantasy stars who have yet to make their mark but undoubtedly will; potentially prominent performers to keep in mind next fall in redraft competition or right now in dynasty play.
I'm intentionally focussing on prospects signed (or about to sign) with current non-playoff contenders, in view that they're likely to be offered greater opportunities straight out of the gates. Also included are four must-watch individuals - future NHL stars - engaged in this year's NCAA Men's Frozen Four.
Bobby Brink, F, Philadelphia Flyers: No question, the diminutive winger is on the verge (ahem) of making an impact at the professional level. Representing the University of Denver at this year's NCAA men's Frozen Four, Brink erupted for 56 points in 39 collegiate games this season. Small wonder he's a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. The Minnetonka native was also a standout at the 2021 World Juniors. Drafted 34th overall in 2019, Brink is poised to slot in on the wing with the rebuilding Flyers club soon. Fantasy managers in dynasty/keeper leagues should keep a view of when this aggressive and skilled playmaker officially puts pen to paper in Philly, and grab him once eligible.
Owen Power, D, Buffalo Sabres: Another year of university competition certainly hasn't done the imposing defenseman any harm. Stomping through 2021-22 at a point/game pace ahead of competing for the Wolverines at the men's Frozen Four, the belle of last summer's draft ball is stapling an impressive bow on his pre-NHL career. He didn't look out of place wearing the maple leaf, and battling full-grown men, at the Olympics either. A future top-pair defenseman for the Sabres, Power is going to play a ton of minutes, block shots, throw hits, and put up a healthy number of points for years and years to come. Buffalo fans are understandably excited about the pending arrival of their No. 1 selection - so should invested fantasy managers. If your (currently uncompetitive) keeper/dynasty team sports blue-line holes, consider acquiring Power now, when the move is still possible.
Matty Beniers, F, Seattle Kraken: Reasonably or not, some are already comparing this kid to Patrice Bergeron. Another member of a Wolverines powerhouse assembly engaged in Frozen Four action, Beniers is widely admired for his two-way play, involving a fierce forecheck, exceptional puck-moving abilities, and through-the-roof hockey I.Q. The Kraken selected him second-overall for good reason. Having held his own with both kids and adults on the international scene - including a tour at this winter's Olympics - and dominated at the college level, Beniers' next step is the NHL. The 43 points in 36 games with Michigan only pad his appeal. This creative center is already (sadly) spoken for in my most competitive, fantasy roto keeper league. Don't sleep on him too long like I did.
Kent Johnson, F, Columbus Blue Jackets: It's hardly fair to saddle a 19-year-old center with hopes of revitalizing a once-again sub mediocre Columbus club and yet here we are. If all goes to plan, the University of Michigan standout will line up alongside RFA-to-be Patrik Laine and forge a formidable forward pairing for seasons to come. A worthy experiment, at minimum. This kid sparkles as a creative playmaker, who always appears to be thinking at least one play ahead. It's less a question of if Johnson earns a top-line/power-play role with the Blue Jackets but when. And the fifth-overall draft selection (2021) is already available in ESPN.com fantasy competition.
Jake Sanderson, D, Ottawa Senators: Armed with a fresh three-year entry-level deal, and already familiarising himself with the Senators community in Ottawa (he's bunking with Brady Tkachuk), Sanderson is likely still a few months from getting his first real taste of NHL play. An appetizer of games to wrap up 2021-22 isn't out of the question, if the defenseman's recently repaired wrist heals quickly, but not guaranteed. However, once ready to dive in, Geoff's kid is in position to make an immediate impression with this developing squad. More than ready to put a series of injuries and COVID-related cancellations behind him, Sanderson collected 26 points in 23 games before seeing his season with the University of North Dakota cut short. Projected to recover fully, this fifth-overall draft pick (2020) is must-roster in deeper fantasy keeper/dynasty leagues.
Dylan Guenther, F, Arizona Coyotes: Barring some unanticipated blip in the narrative, there's no perceptible reason to exclude Guenther from playing in the NHL next year. After potting 42 goals and 42 assists in 55 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings, the almost 19-year-old (April 10) has nothing left to prove in junior competition. And goodness knows, the Coyotes could use the scoring help. Drafted ninth overall in 2021, Guenther projects to fill a top-six role in the dessert, sooner rather than later.
Alexander Holtz, F, New Jersey Devils: This young winger is going to score buckets and buckets of goals, once ready to permanently crack the Devils' roster. With a sampler of seven NHL games under his socks, Holtz is otherwise riding a point/game pace (23G/22A) with the North Division-leading Utica Comets (AHL). Not bad for one's first full season in North America. I want to see Holtz eventually skate on a line with Jack Hughes, and why not? New Jersey didn't draft the 20-year-old sniper seventh-overall (2020) to use him in some diminished capacity.
Justin Barron, D, Montreal Canadiens: Before suffering a leg injury, the 25th-overall draft pick (2020/Colorado) scored his first NHL goal on five shots in Tuesday's loss to the Senators. And this young defenseman is just getting started. Relinquished via trade by the Avalanche - a club not exactly hurting in the blue-line talent department - Barron is in better position to secure a more prominent role in Montreal. He projects to serve as a key top-four defender, capable of contributing to the scoresheet, for years to come. Fantasy managers in deeper dynasty leagues won't want to sleep on him for long.