Looking ahead at the teams that have the most favourable early-season schedule for fantasy owners.
The NHL regular season is right around the corner, and any fantasy owner with realistic expectations to secure a championship knows the value of a strong start in the standings. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some players who could exceed expectations in the opening weeks and months.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal – The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the 21-year-old Galchenyuk boasts the kind of pedigree and playmaking ability fantasy owners are looking for in potential breakout candidates. After notching his first 20-goal season in 2014-15, Galchenyuk is poised to take his production to another level this year. He is expected to contend for the No. 1 center spot for the Canadiens, and his numbers could benefit from seeing playing time alongside free agent acquisition and proven goal scorer Alexander Semin. Galchenyuk has steadily improved his fantasy output over the course of his three-year NHL career, and he could very well break the 60-point barrier this season if he continues to see increased ice time and offensive responsibility. There are more productive centers to be had earlier in drafts, but Galchenyuk is a bargain option for fantasy owners looking for a bit of a discount.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, Florida – A tremendous two-way player whose offensive output continues to grow, Huberdeau totaled 54 points in 2014-15 after just 28 the prior year. While he is not blessed with a deeply talented supporting cast in Florida, Huberdeau is so gifted that 65 points may be in reach for the 22-year-old forward this year. It’s not a matter of if he’ll be great, but when. What’s crazy is the No.3 overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has never seen more than 17 minutes of ice time per game in his three-year NHL career. More opportunities to produce may be all Huberdeau needs to take his game to another level.
Brandon Saad, LW, Columbus – It was difficult for Saad to make a name for himself as a top-notch offensive talent when he played for the star-studded Chicago Blackhawks. However, after an offseason which saw him traded to Columbus, Saad is now one of the best players on his team and one of the cornerstones of the Blue Jackets’ offensive attack. The 22-year-old winger is projected to play alongside budding superstar Ryan Johansen, which should be more than enough to allow for Saad to top 30 goals in his first season with the squad. If he is able to secure a spot on Columbus’s top power play unit, look out. No, he’s not playing with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews anymore, but like Galchenyuk and Huberdeau, Saad keeps getting better every year. Fifty-five to 60 points is a reasonable expectation for the young winger in his inaugural campaign in Columbus.
Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg – Defensemen are a bit difficult to project, but there’s a lot for fantasy owners to like about Trouba. The Jets blueliner held his own at the NHL level as a 19-year-old during the 2013-14 campaign and solidified himself as a core player with a solid (albeit unspectacular) sophomore campaign in 2014-15. The problem lies in the fact that he’s totaled a mere 10 points on the power play in two seasons. If Trouba sees a little more time on the man advantage in his third season, he’s poised to make a run at 40 points. The talent is there. Expect Trouba to take a step forward in 2015-16 and be a difference-maker in deeper formats. If it all comes together this year, he’s a budding star.
Acquiring the best talent possible is undoubtedly the most significant ingredient for fantasy hockey success. The importance of finding the proper mix of high-end talent and depth during one’s draft cannot be overstated.
However, talent means nothing without opportunity. Astute fantasy owners understand this fact, and they work diligently to create and maximize the chances for their players to provide fantasy production. By making an effort to understand the schedule, poolies can gain a significant and measurable edge over their opponents. Now let’s identify some teams with who will help or hurt fantasy owners in the 2015-16 season’s first few months.
Love ‘Em (These squads are sure to pay dividends in the season’s first few months)
Detroit – No team has a more advantageous home-road disparity during the first three months of the 2015-16 campaign than the Red Wings. Though the team is on the road for 11 of its first 24 games, Detroit closes out 2015 with 10 of 14 games at home.
Boston – The Bruins play nine of their 15 December games (and 15 of their first 24 contests overall) at home.
Dallas – Though they only play five of 10 November tilts in Dallas, the Stars will be home for nine of 14 games during the month of December. Only a handful of squads have a friendlier schedule to close out 2015.
Edmonton – The Oilers are well positioned to get off to a strong start, as the squad will play seven of its 10 October games in Edmonton.
Leave ‘Em (These squads will leave fantasy owners sorely disappointed until the start of 2016)
Philadelphia – The Flyers close out 2015 by playing 10 of 14 games on the road during December. No team plays more contests away from home during that month.
New Jersey – The Devils have it tough in the opening months of the 2015-16 campaign, with nine of 14 December games (and 15 of the first 25 games of the season) on the road.
Carolina – Only a pair of October contests at home? That does not bode well for the early-season fantasy prospects of any and all fantasy-relevant Hurricanes.
San Jose – The veteran-laden Sharks begin the season with only three home tilts at home during the month of October. Yikes.
To close out the article, here are 10 interesting and fantasy relevant facts (just for fun)…
- In the six NHL seasons Nicklas Backstrom has played at least 77 games, the longtime Washington Capitals centerman has totaled at least 55 assists in every single one of them.
- Chicago winger Patrick Kane has amassed 30 goals just once in his eight-year NHL career. It happened five years ago.
- The lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign aside, St. Louis forward David Backes has totaled at least 93 penalty minutes every year since his rookie year of 2006-07 (one which he played just 49 games).
- Over the course of the past three seasons (including the aforementioned lockout-shortened one), Washington winger Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals than any other player in the NHL with 136. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos is in a distant second behind Crosby with 97. Who has scored the third-most goals during that time period? None other than San Jose’s Joe Pavelski.
- Over four seasons from 2010 to 2014, Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman totaled 31 goals. He scored nearly half that many, 15, in 2014-15 alone.
- In three seasons that spanned from 2011 to 2014, Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman amassed 38 points. He totaled 39 during the 2014-15 campaign alone. Minnesota blueliner Ryan Suter scored 38 last year.
- Only six goaltenders who have seen action in at least 130 games over the course of the last three seasons have registered a save percentage higher than Philadelphia netminder Steve Mason’s .921.
- Over that same time period, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne registered a save percentage of .915 in 131 games, Detroit’s Jimmy Howard posted a save percentage of .914 in 146 games and Los Angeles’s Jonathan Quick registered a save percentage of .914 in 158 games.
- Not only has Patrick Marleau’s shooting percentage declined in five of the past six seasons, the longtime San Jose Sharks forward scored the exact same number of goals, 19, in 2014-15 as the following players: Calgary’s Michael Frolik (for Winnipeg), Boston’s Jimmy Hayes (for Florida) and Edmonton’s Benoit Pouliot.
- Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson totaled the exact same number of shots on goal, 264, in 2014-15 as St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko. The aforementioned Stamkos totaled 268.