Top 25 fantasy hockey impact items of 2016 – Part 1
With no games going on and hockey sites generally dead zones at this time of year, why not take a moment to reflect on the year that was?
Both long- and short-term events and items were considered. Also under consideration was not just the actual impact, but the expected impact. Perhaps something happened that set the fantasy hockey world buzzing…but then the players involved did very little differently than they had in the past. Or perhaps it was a minor, forgotten signing but then the player involved suddenly became fantasy relevant. In a couple of cases, an impact player made it onto these rankings… as well as the team that sent ripples through the fantasy world thanks in large part to that player!
Who (or what) events, persons or items do you think will crack my Top 10? Feel free to comment below. Merry Christmas and have a safe and happy holiday!
Once Steven Stamkos signed a contract just before free agency opened, Okposo possibly became the biggest name to hit the market. He signed with a rebuilding team, basically driving his value down in leagues that count the NHL postseason (like two of my leagues), but at the same time – us fantasy owners had him penciled in to play with Jack Eichel. The end result? Generally speaking he’s a 0.85 points-per-game player. He’s currently below that, but two big games and he’s back on track. In other words – same ol’, same ol’.
So far, this has been more ‘buzz’ than ‘impact’. But at the time, it rocketed Dubois up keeper league lists as many of them shifted focus from a ‘Big 3’ in the 2016 draft to a ‘Big 4’. Does Dubois have better upside than we thought? How much does Puljujarvi’s upside rise thanks to his joining the Oilers instead of Columbus? Six months later and it turns out that fantasy owners are disappointed in both players. Dubois boasted a 1.6 points-per-game average in the QMJHL last season. So far this year he has 18 points in 20 games and was recently traded. Puljujarvi has eight points in 24 games and although he’s shown flashes of skill, he’s clearly not ready for a top-six role this year and probably not next year either. He may not help fantasy owners until his third or fourth NHL season. For our scouting report (from a fantasy standpoint) on Dubois, click here.
If we didn’t expect Matthews and Laine to light the lamp as rookies, then their performance to date would vault them into this list’s Top 10. But they’re doing exactly what we figured. Matthews is on pace for 64 points and Laine for 68 (as of December 22) and in the Fantasy Guide I had them projected for 62 and 60. That said, even though they are 'only' meeting expectations, they’re still awesome and they still had a big impact on fantasy hockey in 2016.
All the top free agents were long gone and August is a boring hockey month. So when Jimmy Vesey became a free agent, the fantasy hockey world had nothing else to talk about. And in fact, Vesey was traded to Buffalo on June 20 for a third-round draft pick so the buzz had been going on about him since then. On August 15 he decided to go the route of Blake Wheeler, Kevin Hayes and Justin Schultz before him and become a free agent. It took him four days and at least one billboard but he eventually signed with the Rangers. And the hype hasn’t been for nothing – as a rookie he’s on a 40-point pace on a top NHL team.
Eriksson is coming off a 63-point season, his highest point total in four years. Then he signed a massive six-year contract with the Canucks. Then he played with the Sedin twins at the World Cup and the trio looked awesome. Career season to come? Poolies were certainly in ‘buy’ mode. But it has all come crashing down. Eriksson was unable to recapture that World Cup chemistry and was taken off that line. He has just 15 points in 34 games and we’re pretty much down to saying “well, if he has a strong second half and gets 30 points in 40 games, then he’ll get close to 50 points”. But after you say it, you know in your heart that you’re just grasping at straws.
The 25-year-old forward got to the NHL the hard way, which is typical of 5-9 skill guys who weren’t drafted. He became a point-per-game player in the AHL and then showed flashes of offense when called upon by the Lightning. His problem in 2015-16 had been ice time. When he got it – he put points on the board at a decent rate. In Florida, he was helped along by injuries to Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau and he was off to the races. He started the season with 10 points in seven games and since then has still been holding his own. An injury has slowed him a little, but he’s shown enough to be a genuine top sixer. Not bad for a player who wasn’t drafted in most fantasy leagues last summer.
This was the first real hockey trade in years. Just straight up players, both quite young and with upside and yet both had proven enough at the NHL level to not be a big ‘risk’. The Predators needed a No.1 center and a new identity. They needed a player who would break from their usual mold. This team was generally made up of a dozen 50-point players, give or take. They needed a game-breaker and Johansen was that. The Blue Jackets needed a franchise defenseman. Ryan Murray was getting hurt too often and Jack Johnson was lacking the offensive flair he was initially thought to have. At the time, Zach Werenski was thought to be at least a year away. Fantasy owners looked at this move as sideways for Johansen in terms of production – but a possible coming out party for Jones, who had been buried in Nashville’s deep blue line corps. Jones has since seen his ice time increase by about four minutes per game over his Nashville days and he’s now a key part of one of the best teams in the NHL. Johansen’s production has actually slowed with his new team – instead of busting the team out of their 50-point-guy mold, the team may actually be pulling him into said mold.
18. New York Rangers Become Deep, Multi-Line Scoring Threat
The Rangers lost Dan Boyle, Derick Brassard, Eric Staal and Keith Yandle in the summer and added Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad, Michael Grabner and Brandon Pirri. They got younger, but more inexperienced. Rick Nash seemed to be fading and Derek Stepan seemed to be injury prone. But instead of getting worse, this team got better. Everything they hoped to happen, happened. Vesey has been an impact rookie, Pirri has been a solid scorer on a checking line, and Grabner has too. Another key has been the players hitting their prime at the same time. Kevin Hayes is 24 and in his third year, while Chris Kreider is 25 and in his fourth year. It’s been scoring by committee thanks to those players emerging, as well as rookies Vesey and defenseman Brady Skjei (who has been a revelation). The Rangers could have nine players reach the 45-point mark with three of them reaching 60…yet none reaching 65.
On one hand, this blockbuster makes the list because, well, it was a blockbuster. On the other hand, it turns out that nothing has changed. At all. Fantasy owners overreacted in assuming that Taylor Hall wouldn’t produce as well with New Jersey – and I suppose that’s technically true because he has been robbed of a chance to play with Connor McDavid. And they (and by “they” I mean “me”) overreacted in assuming that Adam Larsson would finally get some PP time and put up numbers worthy of a fourth-overall pick. But sure enough, Hall is producing like his usual injury-prone 65-point self and Larsson is producing like his usual 20-point self.
For what it’s worth, Larsson was brought in as a right-handed shot and why do that if not for the power play? He was touted as a top prospect with a big shot back when he was 18 and he’s still only 24. However, the Oilers have been using the righty Jordan Eberle in that PP spot so if Eberle were to ever get hurt I would keep an eye on Larsson again.
16. Colorado Avalanche Fiasco
I don’t even know what to say here. I knew that Patrick Roy wasn’t a great coach, but he was an inspirational one who coached with instinct rather than possession metrics. Those coaches generally do great in the first year but lose the dressing room a little more each year after that (Randy Carlyle is another example). A coaching change should have helped. Semyon Varlamov is a solid goaltender and the Avs have two potent offensive lines. But nothing has worked this year. Nothing. They’ll end up with two 55-point players, two 40-point players, and then a bunch of players not even worthy owning in the deepest of fantasy leagues. And the goaltenders hurt their fantasy owners more than help.
‘Ghost’ was a top prospect defenseman who looked to be a potential 45- or 50-point defenseman after going through the usual growing pains that take several years to iron out. Instead, the 23-year-old was so amazing in the second half last year that this season’s 37-point pace is looked upon as a massive disappointment. On December 31, 2015 Gostisbehere had 14 points in 21 games. In 2016 he has 48 in 77.
Thirty-nine games into his NHL career it was already pretty clear that Panarin was special. He had 34 points in 39 games entering the New Year, but poolies wondered if that was the result of Patrick Kane. One year later, and poolies are wondering if Kane won the scoring title thanks to Panarin! The 25-year-old Russian has 78 points in 76 games so far in 2016 and has more points this season than Kane. Not only is Panarin the real deal, but apparently last fall he was just warming up.
Fantasy owners were banking a lot of Florida this season. And as good as Marchessault has been in Huberdeau’s absence, the chemistry seems to be all wrong now. And I may be in the minority here, but I think Huberdeau’s injury is ninety percent of it. He was clicking with Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr and the rest of the lineup just fell into place. Now, two months in, Barkov and Jagr are starting to roll again. But the Panthers have been behind the eight-ball and have a lot of catching up to do. For 20 games there, Marchessault was the only player going. It was enough to get the coach fired. Everything changed. Perhaps it started with the move that pushed Dale Tallon out of the GM mix (he’s pretty much back now), but I think the big part of it was Huberdeau. And the ripple effect has hit this entire roster, and thus – fantasy hockey.
Fifth-year magic. But I was steadfast in my belief in this player. And as a smaller player, I had even warned you that Atkinson would take a little longer to get there. His improvement year over year has been steady, and…
In 2016-17, one year after a 0.65 points-per-game season, the 27-year-old 5-8 winger came out of nowhere to flourish under Coach John Tortorella.
In 2002-03, one year after a 0.66 points-per-game season, another 27-year-old 5-8 winger came out of nowhere to flourish under Coach John Tortorella.
Not to raise your hopes up or anything…
11. New York Islanders Collapse
The Islanders changed their style last season, tightening up defensively. It took a couple of months to set in properly, but then the offense got going and they finished strong. The strategy worked because it took the team into the second round of the playoffs. The next step is third round, right? Apparently not. Apparently, just getting out of the Bottom 5 is a big task. The Isles really just lost Kyle Okposo in the offseason, but since they added Andrew Ladd and they have a handful of young players who are supposedly on the rise – they should have been fine. Nope. Everyone has regressed except for Josh Bailey and maybe Brock Nelson and Thomas Greiss. Lately, Anders Lee has been starting to roll. The other 19 players have disappointed in a pretty big way. Coach Jack Capuano has been through a lot with this team in his nearly seven years as head coach. And yes, he deserved to see it through. But if they want to turn things around early enough to still make the playoffs, a coaching change is needed.
The Top 10 will be posted tomorrow, December 26, in the morning
The Midseason Fantasy Guide (10th Annual!) will be available for download January 13. Pre-order it here!