Western Conference Training Camp Surprises
Six Western Conference training camp surprises with fantasy implications
With all the preseason games having come to an end and the last cuts happening the opening day rosters are coming into focus. As always there will be surprises and players no one expected to have an impact will suddenly become relevant. In something of a continuation of the training camp battles column from last week this week the focus will be on some of the last-minute decisions made recently.
Nail Yakupov had one good year in Edmonton, his first, when he averaged 0.65 points per game overall and more than two points per 60 minutes at even strength. That was also the only year in which he regularly played with top end, since then his linemates have been a collection of second or third tier options. In 2013/14 his most common linemate was Sam Gagner, in 2014-15 it was Derek Roy and Teddy Purcell while last year it was Mark Letestu. Last year before McDavid’s, he and Yakupov had some impressive chemistry together, Yakupov then got bumped for Eberle when McDavid returned to the lineup. He never got another shot with McDavid again. Yakupov’s prospects on the third line in St. Louis are better than they were on the third, or worst case fourth line, in Edmonton. In St. Louis he looks set to play with Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin before Jaden Schwartz returns. David Perron or Schwartz would replace Jaskin upon Schwartz’s return. That is encouraging given Yakupov’s success with upper echelon talent as well as the 2.5 goals per 60 minutes the Oilers scored in the 285 minutes he played with Perron in Edmonton. Yakupov is potentially problematic defensively under Ken Hitchcock but it is better than being in Edmonton and never given another shot.
In Edmonton there is no huge change based on the Yakupov trade although it does open up a potential spot for Drake Caggiula, although any fantasy relevance would depend on where he ended up in the lineup. Based on the success Yakupov with those linemates the degree to which Caggiula would have success needs to be questioned, but not having the baggage there that Yakupov does should help him. The problem for Caggiula is that if he plays the same minutes, or role, that Yakupov played he is at best a 30 point forward. His most common linemates from the preseason suggest that a similar pattern of usage is on the plate for Caggiula. He played primarily with Pat Maroon and Kris Versteeg as well as various others who will not make the team. The one line combination that holds some promise is when he played between Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic except that he was a clearly a placeholder for McDavid. It is tough to see Caggiula having much fantasy value in this sort of role.
Over the last week in both practice, and in pre-season games, Joel Armia has played consistently with Patrik Laine. This is a huge boost for a winger who was seen upon his draft as a future sniper but was used last year in more of a defensive role in his half season with the Jets. It is a big change to go from Andrew Copp as a center for a third of the minutes played to Mathieu Perreault as the primary center. Perreault’s teams have averaged more than three goals per 60 minutes in four of the last six years. Eight of Perreault’s ten most common linemates, on-ice teammates, have done better with Perreault on the ice than they have without him. Look at Mark Scheifele over the last three years and it is clear that Perreault’s presence on his line has helped him significantly. From 2013 to 2015 the Jets scored an extra half goal per 60 minutes with Scheifele and Perreault on the ice together. It gets a little better for Scheifele without Perreault after last year’s end of the season boom with Wheeler but the effect is similar. The point being that Scheifele will be more than fine without Perreault but also that a Perreault-Laine-Armia has some the potential to give the Jets three real scoring lines. This configuration has the potential to give the Jets nine forwards who put up 30 points at even strength. That assumes that the third line plays 1000 minutes over 82 games and averages 2.5 goals per 60 minutes. Last year Perreault played 920 minutes while missing 20 games making that assumption reasonable. For the Jets who play on the power play that means 40 points and while it may be a little disappointing for Laine it bodes well for anyone who has Jets in deeper leagues.
Drew Stafford Injury
Drew Stafford will not be out long term but his injury has given Kyle Connor a real shot at making the Jets opening day roster out of camp. Most recently he has been playing alongside Bryan Little and has arguably been even better than Laine through training camp and the preseason. Connor could be a big part of the Jets’ ability to roll out three scoring lines on a regular basis. With the Jets looking to play Perreault as their third line center there is not a bad line for Connor to end up on in the top nine. Should he stay expect at least 30 points he could reach 40 points if he gets power play time. That fits with the expected rate based on his college points per game rate. Last year he had 71 points in 38 games, or just two points per game, which with a translation rate of around .3, a scoring rate of .45 points per game would be entirely reasonable, if a little conservative. The Jets depth both helps and hurts Connor in that it will make it that much harder for him to get any significant power play time, but it also means that there is plenty of talent on the roster for him to play with. That basically means it limits his ceiling this year, barring significant injuries to those above on the Jets roster, but it also raises his floor.
Rumors are beginning to circulate that the Jets will place Pavelec on waivers today. This is huge news for Connor Hellebuyck as he is the heir to the Jets’ net. Pavelec was, for the most part, a disaster in the Jets as he performed at below average rate for much of the last four seasons. In three of the last four seasons Pavelec has had a save percentage of 90.5% or lower, the league average is 91.5%. Hellebuyck is as good, or better, at stopping shots from almost every distance. Pavelec only posted quality starts in 48.5% of his starts whereas Hellebuyck 53.8% in the 26 games of his rookie season. At even strength last year the Jets allowed 1800 shots, Pavelec stopped 91.84% of them whereas Hellebuyck stopped 93.89% of them. Over a full season that’s a 36 goal difference in the amount of goals the Jets allow. The Jets had a -24 goal differential Hellebuyck over Pavelec for a full season would have made them a team with a positive goal differential. If Hellebuyck can turn in a full season at the level the Jets will make the playoffs as they were not that bad of a team last year. Assuming he does not platoon with Hutchinson, and there is no reason to believe he will, he should have similar value to that of Devan Dubnyk’s season last year.
With the Coyotes placing Zbynek Michalek and Klas Dahlbeck on waivers it cements Chychrun’s place on the Coyotes’ roster for the time being. After falling to 16th in the draft this is a major coup for Chychrun. He may even get a real shot at top four minutes as long as Michael Stone is injured. The problem for his fantasy value is that he is highly unlikely to get much in the way of power play time with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski and Stone, when healthy, all ahead of him. The good news is that with the exception of pumping Mikkel Boedker’s tires last season the Coyotes tend to use two defensemen on their dangerous power play. That gives him a shot but he will have to beat out Kevin Connauton, Jamie McBain and Connor Murphy for that last defense spot on the power play. Connauton is probably the biggest threat to Chychrun getting serious power play time, as Connauton played 80 minutes on the power play last year and posted a similar shot rate to Max Domi in those minutes. Chychrun’s value this year will likely be as a depth multi-category contributor. He is not a big hitter, but does contribute there, but as a rookie defenseman he will undoubtedly rack up some penalty minutes, blocks and could even get close to 20 points.
The statistics used in this column were sourced from DobberHockey.com player profiles and reports, Corsica.hockey and stats.hockeyanalysis.com
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