January 23, 2015

steve laidlaw


Fantasy Hockey Ramblings discussing the Lawson Crouse rankings backlash, the Jeff Schultz All-Stars and more…




Not much to talk about after a night completely devoid of NHL action. There was the CHL Top Prospects Game last night. I had it on but honestly didn't pay it much attention, too many candies that needed crushing.


One prospect note that I can make is that the CSS released their midterm rankings earlier this week. There has since been quite a bit of backlash regarding Lawson Crouse getting ranked fourth among North American skaters despite several other draft eligible skaters demonstrating much stronger scoring prowess thus far. The story goes that CSS and NHL teams in general place way too much importance on size when scoring is a better predictor of future performance whether we are considering future points produced or future games played.


I can't really tell you if this backlash is right or wrong. I watched Crouse more than hold his own as a 17-year-old at the World Juniors (no small thing) and came away with two thoughts:


1. This guy is almost certainly has an NHL future.


2. I don't know that he's going to be all that fantasy relevant.


It begs an interesting question about upside versus certainty. I mean, can you really draft a guy in the top 10 if he has little chance of skating on a scoring line for you but could be an impact third-liner soon?


You certainly wouldn't in a fantasy league but as an NHL team when the single best way to gain an edge is to draft and develop your own talent, picking a guy you KNOW will be able to skate an NHL shift for you has a lot of value. Perhaps even enough so to risk passing over a future superstar if that potential star also has downside attached.


It's not that dissimilar from the conversations surrounding the 2011 NHL Entry Draft though it’s not a perfect comparison either but if you recall Gabriel Landeskog was viewed as the complete two-way player with lower upside compared to more accomplished scorers like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele to name a few. Landeskog went ahead of all but one of those guys and all he did was make the Avalanche as an 18-year-old, win the Calder Trophy and get named team captain before his second season.


Again, this isn't a perfect comparison, Landeskog scored over a point per game in his draft year, which is the biggest knock on Crouse right now – that he hasn't hit that point-per-game mark like many of his draft peers. It's worth mentioning though that Landeskog had a late birthday so his draft year was actually his 18-year-old season. As a 17-year-old Landeskog scored "just" 46 points in 61 games in the OHL, a pace that almost perfectly matches Crouse's current one with 23 points through 30 games.


I'm not saying that Crouse will pan out as well as Landeskog did. In fact, I'd argue the opposite. I don't think that he ends up being a hit so soon, fantasy or otherwise. I also wonder if he can hit the highs that Landeskog has reached (65 points last season). What you can see is an example of where the scouts can use the "eye test" to project something beyond just the numbers. After all even an algorithm is going to get it wrong plenty of times.


If you are interested in a completely numbers-based approach Jonathan Willis has taken the time to breakdown the top 2015 draft eligible prospects based on how many points they are projected to score as pros based on equivalency algorithms developed by BehindTheNet's Gabe Desjardins and our very own Rob Vollman. My apologies that this is a Bleacher Report link. Yes you are going to have to click through nine slides to find out that Connor McDavid projects to put up the most points as an NHLer on a list made up of eight prospects.


The ultimate conclusion of this discussion? If you go only by the numbers, you aren't working with all the information. If you go only by the "eye test," you also aren't working with all the information. If you go by a blend of the two you'll still probably be wrong. Scouting is a crap shoot but you may as well dive in and have fun with it.


And I also hope that you don’t take away from this that we shouldn't disagree/debate rankings. Debating rankings is the most fun thing to do. It might be the best reason to release any set of rankings. Look at how much mileage I got out of the backlash to the backlash.




For an in-depth breakdown on the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and it’s top performers/disappointments, check out Brendan Ross’ morning ramblings over at DobberProspects.




Now onto what you've all clearly been waiting for: the All-Star Break deep dive into the Jeff Schultz Memorial Trophy power rankings. As always, "the Schultz" is a made up trophy handed out to the defenseman with the top plus/minus who also fails to reach 30 points to commemorate that one season when Jeff Schultz was fantasy relevant only because of his plus-50 rating.


1. Kevin Klein – Plus-15


Klein is technically on pace to clear 30 points but I might have to eat my hat if he gets there. The defenseman is at 17 points right now thanks to eight goals on the season on just 52 shots, a 15.4% success rate, easily tops among all defensemen in the league.


What's crazy is that Klein has been so productive that Alain Vigneault was starting to get pressure to use Klein in a more offensive role, even going as far as to suggest bumping Dan Boyle off the power play for Klein. Suffice it to say that won't be happening any time soon. But hey, enjoy the plus/minus!


T2. Mattias Ekholm – Plus-14


Not his first appearance on this list but certainly his highest. It only makes sense that the Predators have someone on this list, what with their league-leading PDO mark at even strength. With four much more qualified offensive defensemen on the Predators you know Ekholm is no threat to gain relevance for his scoring.


T2. David Rundblad – Plus-14


Well this is a shocker. I didn't even know Rundblad was sniffing relevance for this award and all of a sudden he's one back of the top spot. He is also rocking the highest individual PDO of anyone on this list and it isn't particularly close. It's a pleasant surprise but don't expect to see Rundblad hoisting this trophy at the end of the year.


T4. Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Plus-13


What has become of our defending co-champion? Suddenly Vlasic is a goal-scoring machine with four since the start of December. He has 10 points in 22 games in that span, which will vault him out of contention for the award if sustained. I never thought we'd see the day but Vlasic has been truly, genuinely fantasy-relevant.


T4. Christian Ehrhoff – Plus-13


Here's my personal favourite for the award. He's been in the hunt since November but some poor play by the Penguins of late has knocked him off the perch atop these rankings. Still, Ehrhoff is an excellent story, simultaneously one of redemption after having gone a dreadful minus-27 for the tanking Sabres last season and one of disappointment given all the pre-season expectations with his move to Pittsburgh.


T4. Kevan Miller – Plus-13


If you play in a capped league with a wide-array of scoring categories, Miller has quietly been an excellent producer in those depth categories, including plus/minus. With Boston turning the corner of late Miller has become a real threat in the Schultz chase. The only worry is that Boston invests in blueline depth turning Miller from intriguing sixth defenseman to buried seventh defenseman.



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