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COUNTDOWN TO NINE
published 10/17/13 8:52am
Junior-eligible defender Olli Maatta, of the Penguins, has limited short-term fantasy value but he's worth a spot in keeper leagues.
Photo: Brad Rempel / Icon SMI
FANTASY SPIN: Junior-eligible rookies shining through; from Jordan Caron to Brian Elliott, sleepers abound; and Danny Kristo looking good in the 'A' in this week's fantasy hockey news...

COUNTDOWN TO NINE

Several junior-eligible NHLers are making the decision on whether to return them back to their respective CHL teams a very difficult one so far in 2013-14. Among that group are Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly, Minnesota Wild rearguard Mathew Dumba and Pittsburgh Penguins blueliner Olli Maatta. Teams will probably give their junior-eligible players a nine-game trial at the NHL level before deciding whether or not to return them to the CHL. That's because their entry-level contract kicks in once they play their 10th game of the season. We believe Monahan, Rielly and Maatta will stay beyond their ninth game, while Dumba is expected to be sent back to the WHL. Monahan has the most fantasy value among the group, and his short-term value is intriguing if he is kept in Calgary all season. Rielly is a true keeper who might be able to produce enough as a rookie to remain a solid fantasy option right away. Dumba is similar to Rielly, though he has been a healthy scratch often in the early going. As for Maatta, he's more of a stabilizing defenseman with fairly limited short-term fantasy value. He's worth a spot in keeper leagues, though.

CARON COMEBACK

It has taken Jordan Caron a while to get back on track at the National Hockey League level, but the 22-year-old strapping winger appears headed in the right direction--finally. The 6-2, 202 pounder produced three goals and seven points in 23 games as a 20-year-old rookie in 2010-11, displaying a lot of promise as a future power forward. The 2009 first rounder (No. 25 overall) then saw action in 48 NHL games in 2011-12, followed by 17 more during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. He was on the roster bubble when the 2013-14 regular season began but got a reprieve when Swedish forward Carl Soderberg went down with an ankle injury late in training camp. Caron has scored a goal in five contests so far and, more importantly, brought back his strong forechecking game to the fold. If he can stick on Boston's third line, and that is debatable due to their depth up front, he could be a very good sleeper as the '13-14 season moves along.

SLEEPERS IN ST. LOUIS

So far this season, veteran netminder Brian Elliott has seen very little action as the backup to Jaroslav Halak. However, the situation could change quickly if the Blues decide to move the 28-year-old Elliott via trade. Teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars could have some interest in Elliott, who posted ridiculously good numbers while sharing the load with Halak on the Blues in 2011-12: 38 GP, 23-10-4, 9 shutouts, 1.56 GAA, .940 Sv%. If St. Louis moves Elliott, rookie Jake Allen is ready to take over as Halak's backup. Arguably the top goaltending prospect in the AHL this year, the 23-year-old Allen went 9-4-0 with one shutout, a 2.46 goals-against average and .905 save percentage for the Blues last year. If Elliott gets dealt, both he and Allen add significant sleeper appeal to their overall fantasy resumes.

WINGING IT

The current leader in CHL scoring is big winger Anthony Mantha of the QMJHL's Val-d'Or Foreurs, who has posted 16 goals and 28 points in just nine games so far in 2013-14. A first-round draft pick by Detroit this past June (20th overall), Mantha has tremendous upside as a scoring winger. He may still be a work-in-progress in terms of using his big frame as a power forward, but the 19-year-old has plenty of keeper-league value. The only possible downside here is Detroit's impressive stable of forward prospects ahead of Mantha on the depth chart, including 2013 Memorial Cup champion Martin Frk--a graduate of the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) and now member of the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. Still, keep an eye on Mantha. He seems like an ideal heir apparent to the likes of Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi in Motown.

KRISTO COOKING IN CONNECTICUT

Speedy winger Danny Kristo is off to a very good start with his new organization, the New York Rangers. Acquired from Montreal for fellow winger prospect Christian Thomas, Kristo has seen his prospect stock drop since his draft year (2008), partly due to off-ice and maturity issues while with the University of North Dakota. A two-time member of the U.S. WJC squad (2009-10), the 23-year-old Kristo returned to the International scene earlier this year by playing for the U.S. Senior world championship squad (he collected 1 goal and 3 points in 10 games). The Minnesota native could reach the NHL quickly, since the Rangers could use a spark with the big club these days. However, for now Kristo will continue to be a key member of the Hartford Wolf Pack.

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