Eastern Edge – Underrated cross-category contributors from the Eastern Conference
Over the last several years fantasy hockey has benefited greatly from the ability to create leagues with many different scoring categories. This change has allowed commissioners great flexibility in customizing their league setup which in turn makes the experience more enjoyable for users. However, this also adds a lot of complexity in assessing player values. For example, in a league focused solely on offensive statistics Mark Borowiecki is useless. Add in hits, blocks and PIM and he becomes a must-own defenseman.
In any scoring setup, there are plenty of examples of players being valued incorrectly by the majority of poolies. This is often due to age or popularity. Meanwhile, in multi-category leagues the tracking of multiple statistics makes it very difficult to predict what is to come. It is not uncommon for people to miss the boat in assessing the value of a player’s contributions across the board. Thankfully, we have tools like Fantasy Hockey Geek to help put it all together and judge a player’s true value in any setup.
Today we will look at 10 underrated multi-category performers and why they might be valuable in your league. The reasons why they will get overlooked can be applied universally to players beyond this list. After all, there are countless examples of undervalued fantasy players and acquiring them at the right time on draft day can turn your team into a championship contender instantly.
Josh Anderson (Columbus)
Strengths: Hits, PIM
Anderson is a power winger with great size who will bring a lot to the physical categories once he becomes a full-time NHLer. His time might come this fall, as he had a great year in the AHL last year with 39 points in 58 games along with a dozen games with the Blue Jackets. Of course, he is far from a lock to be in the NHL this year which adds to the risk. He is also not as well-known as flashier, more offensively-gifted prospects so he will likely not be selected at your draft. This gives you the option to wait it out before claiming him off the wire.
Obviously, his bread and butter is going to be hits (40 in 12 NHL games) and PIM (108 in AHL last year), but his breakout offensive year is a great sign. He should be able to contribute respectable offensive numbers even in a fourth-line role. If he can chip in 15-20 points it would give him a leg up on many other players of his ilk who fail to offer much at the offensive end.
Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh)
Strengths: Overall points, plus/minus, PIM, SOG, Hits
A couple years ago, Kunitz was one of the best multi-category players to own. He has slowed down significantly and is clearly not expected to post great offensive numbers moving forward. However, as with many other aging veterans in decline many poolies will assume he has nothing left and will simply write him off.
The last two years Kunitz has produced exactly 40 points, which is a respectable total. If he can stay in this ballpark he will be a great depth addition to your roster as he has historically posted solid numbers across several categories. However, a significant drop-off cannot be ruled out entirely but as long as you draft Kunitz fairly late the potential damage to your team will be minimal.
Anders Lee (New York Islanders)
Strengths: G, PIM, Hits, PPP, SOG
Last year, Lee was a major disappointment dropping to 15 goals after potting 25 as a rookie. His odds of returning over 20 are strong given his long history scoring goals at all levels. Additionally, his size and skill made him a fixture on the top power-play unit and allowed him to achieve a career-high 14 power-play points.
While his overall point total many never be eye-popping, Lee still offers a lot to like in multi-category leagues. He should be available in the depth rounds and still offers a lot across the board and his goal-scoring ability is coveted in a league where goals are hard to come by. Unfortunately, he is unlikely to slide down the draft as much as an older guy like Kunitz but his subpar sophomore year will still cause him to be overlooked in the eyes of some of your opponents.
Jordan Staal (Carolina)
Strengths: Overall points, Hits, Faceoffs, PPP, SHP, SOG
Staal never reached his potential as an offensive player with just one 50-point campaign under his belt but this has not stopped him from becoming a multi-category stud. With his brother Eric now moved out, Jordan has become the Hurricanes’ undisputed top center and will log the most ice time. Even with a lack of firepower up front in Carolina this is a great opportunity for Staal to keep his point total between 45 and 50 points.
Where Staal really excels is in faceoffs as he ranked 10th in faceoff wins and sixth in faceoff-winning percentage. This, along with above-average numbers across the board makes him a solid center to have on your roster. Chances are many of your opponents do not recognize his true value in your league.
Frank Vatrano (Boston)
Strengths: G, Hits, SOG
Considering Vatrano will miss three months with a foot injury, he is not one to consider on draft day. However, he should definitely be on your radar when he is ready to return, especially if the Bruins are in need of some added scoring punch. Vatrano led the AHL last year with 36 goals in just 36 games and added eight goals and 11 points in 39 NHL games with the Bruins in a limited role. Clearly, he has shown he knows how to put the puck in the net.
Looking beyond the goals there is more to like from Vatrano. In those 39 games with the Bruins he added 61 hits and 99 shots on goal. The goal-scoring will obviously be valuable but the high volume of hits and shots will help him maintain value during slumps.
Tom Wilson (Washington)
Strengths: PIM, Hits, SOG
As a physical player, Wilson is already one of the best in the NHL as he finished third in PIM and 10th in hits last year. Given this type of player is becoming more rare in the NHL his talents are becoming increasingly valuable in fantasy leagues. In fact, he may already be a top-50 forward in some formats despite limited offensive upside.
Even though Wilson is not known as a big point-producer, he still tallied seven goals and 23 points along with 99 shots last year while logging third-line minutes. These are decent numbers to compliment his physical play. Unfortunately, his odds of climbing the depth chart any higher are not good with T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams at the top of the depth chart at right wing. Plus, adding Brett Connolly to the mix could potentially leave Wilson on the fourth line at times. Should this happen his point production will plummet.
Nathan Beaulieu (Montreal)
Strengths: Overall points, PIM, Blocks, SOG
Beaulieu has quietly put up numbers that are appealing in multi-category leagues. He posted a surprising 55 PIM in 64 games last year, as he showed a willingness to fight occasionally. He also took advantage of an expansion of his role to post career-highs of 19 points, 74 shots and 89 blocks. These totals are impressive considering his average ice time was just 17:27.
Look for Beaulieu’s role to increase again this year, as he is clearly among the Canadiens’ top four defensemen. An improved power play would help him get a few extra points and perhaps push him north of 25 points. This along with his contributions in other areas would make him a nice under-the-radar addition on draft day.
Zach Bogosian (Buffalo)
Strengths: Overall points, PIM, Hits, Blocks, SOG
Bogosian is often viewed as a disappointment because he failed to live up to expectations as a former third-overall pick. His lack of durability has also frustrated fantasy owners over the years. Nonetheless, he still has a spot in fantasy leagues, especially in multi-category. His 24 points in 64 games last year projects to 31 points over 82 games which is solid for a defenseman. Add in his combination of hits, blocks and PIM, which has been excellent throughout his career, and you have an excellent multi-category defenseman. He is definitely worth adding to your roster but keep in mind that you will have to do your homework and have replacements in mind if Bogosian goes down with an injury.
Michael Del Zotto (Philadelphia)
Strengths: Overall points, Hits, Blocks, PPP, SOG
Last year, Del Zotto’s point total dropped dramatically to 13 points after notching 32 in 2014-15. The main culprit was the arrival of Shayne Gostisbehere, which resulted in Del Zotto getting less time on the power play and fewer offensive-zone starts. Adding to the concern is his offseason wrist surgery which will leave him with a more limited range of motion. However, an on-ice five-on-five shooting percentage of less than five percent also played a big role in the decline and indicates he could be in for a bit of a rebound. He will likely not get back to 0.5 points per game without more of a presence on the power play, but 25 points is a reasonable expectation even with his proneness to injury.
Beyond the points, Del Zotto has always offered a strong dose of hits, blocks and shots on goal making him a nice depth defenseman when his point total is not hitting rock-bottom. Just be careful in leagues that count plus/minus rating, as he has only been better than even twice in his career.
Dmitry Kulikov (Buffalo)
Strengths: PIM, Hits, Blocks, SOG
Kulikov is another player who failed to meet offensive expectations and instead settled in as a solid multi-category producer. In each of the past five years, his average ice time was 21 minutes or better which no doubt helped his numbers across the board. Now in Buffalo, his role should remain similar as the Sabres need help at the defensive end.
There may be some value at the offensive end as well in Kulikov’s new environment despite his lack of recent history putting up points. Beyond Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres lack a steady defenseman who has chipped in points consistently in Buffalo. Bogosian and Cody Franson are capable alternatives but if they fail to make their mark, Kulikov could find himself in a slightly more favorable offensive role. There is some hidden upside here as he notched 28 points in 58 games back in 2011-12.
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