Ramblings: Dell Crashes, 2018 Breakout Candidates, Kucherov’s Brilliance and more (Mar 25)

steve laidlaw


Ramblings: Breakout candidates for next season.


Nikita Kucherov continues to drive the Lightning. Two points for the superstar winger, including the overtime winner. Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat each registered a point. With four games next week, those two are mighty fine looking waiver wire additions.

This is 100% hindsight on my part but how terrible do NHL GMs look for not extending an offer sheet to Kucherov? A team could have issued stolen him for $7M annually and it only would have cost a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick.

Not every team has their full complement of picks to pull such a manoeuver. Maybe the Lightning would have matched anyhow. But at least you force them into an adverse position. It would be worth the attempt. Just look at what Kucherov is doing for what amounts to a one-line team.

I don’t support offer sheets most of the time. I remember how disastrous the Thomas Vanek offer sheet could have been for Edmonton, giving up four 1st round picks. I also recall giving up a 1st in the Dustin Penner offer sheet, which really didn’t move the needle.

I am not in favour of signing in the bracket where you give up 1st round picks beyond the current year and I am not in favour of signing guys to offer sheets when they aren’t superstars. For instance, Rickard Rakell was in a similar spot as Kucherov last fall but the price you’d have had to sign him to get the Ducks not to match, plus the draft picks probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Would the Canucks or Sabres be a playoff team with Rakell added? Maybe but they are definitely in the hunt with Kucherov. Or how much better would the Islanders be with Kucherov instead of Andrew Ladd? 100% the Islanders would trade Ladd plus their first three picks this summer for Kucherov now. Signing an offer sheet doesn’t come with the same certainty as an unrestricted signing but this is another case where it would have been worth the attempt.

Teams literally throw away multiple seasons trying to land superstar players. Edmonton put together a decade of losing to land Connor McDavid. Kucherov was just sitting there and it doesn’t seem like any GMs even tried to steal him away. What the hell. If your team had the picks and the cap space to extend an offer sheet and didn’t, you should be upset. The Oilers didn’t have the picks and I’m still upset. Instead of looking forward and taking a risk to acquire an emerging star, they paid Milan Lucic for his past performance giving him a buyout-proof contract that’s going to live longer than most dogs.

Nice bounce-back performance by Andrei Vasilevskiy stopping 29 of 30. Mind you, it was against the impotent Red Wings so we can’t give him too much love. This after allowing four goals in each of the past three games, we’ll take whatever victories we can get.


Only one goal for the Red Wings but sure enough it was Henrik Zetterberg who scored it. His post-All-Star tear continues. Gustav Nyquist, my preferred option in the Tomas Tatar/Nyquist debate (unless you specifically need goals,) notched an assist, his first point in three games.


Oh my goodness my Dell just crashed! Six goals on 29 shots against the once slumbering Stars.

If it’s any consolation to those who followed me into the fray with Dell, I’m going down with the ship as well.

The Sharks may have lost Marc-Edouard Vlasic to injury although there is no update at the time of writing. Losing Vlasic would be devastating to the Sharks.

Silver linings: Joe Thornton scored his seventh goal of the season and Brent Burns ended his seven-game scoring slump.


Six goals for the Stars, Seguin/Benn owners are finally getting rewarded after a quiet couple of weeks. WRONG! Jamie Benn netted a goal and Tyler Seguin had an assist but it was not the explosive result you would have hoped for. Instead, Adam Cracknell led the way with a hat-trick. I’m sure he is winning you all of the money.

On the plus side, Jason Spezza was able to return to the lineup and notched three assists in just 12 minutes of action. Skating with Cracknell and Curtis McKenzie isn’t normally a good spot but it was last night.


After a game on the top line Scott Wilson was scratched as he’s a bit banged up. Bryan Rust returned from injury jumping in alongside Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary. No points for Rust and I wouldn’t expect a ton but if you need some star exposure he’s a decent option.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 43 saves to carry the game to a shootout. He’s been damn good of late but got a bit lucky with an overturned goal that probably shouldn’t have been and a bunch of posts. The Penguins looked ragged on the back half of the back-to-back. As a Matt Murray owner, I have concerns about them on Sunday.


Jaroslav Halak made his first NHL start since December 29th and did enough for the win, stopping 37 of 40. I don’t know if he’ll push Thomas Greiss out of his job but the potential is there considering the desperation of the situation. Greiss will go tonight given the back-to-back and I’m under the impression he has to win to keep starting.

Josh Bailey notched an assist to end a six-game scoring drought. You knew he’d get rolling soon enough considering the Tavares exposure, plus he’s been so good for months now.

Josh Ho-Sang has eight points in 12 NHL games. Definitely a spark that the Islanders needed. I will warn you to beware the late-season flurry in terms of projecting for next season but he’s here to stay.


Jonathan Bernier needed only stop 17 of 18 but he continues to deliver the goods for the surging Ducks.

With Kevin Bieksa out, Brandon Montour drew back in and notched an assist.

Jakob Silfverberg had another one of those interesting flashes with a goal, an assist and nine SOG. It feels like there are more layers to his onion but his 44 points are already a career high.


Make sure you check out this week’s episode of Dobber Prospects Radio featuring a Craig Button talking about some of his latest prospects work and scouting tips. An excellent episode that I cannot recommend enough.


Now for the weekly Q+A!

Before looking at candidates for next season, it would be helpful to look at who pulled the feat this season to build a profile on what we are looking for. This season we’ve seen Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Mikael Granlund get there. David Pastrnak should get there no problem, while Victor Hedman, Henrik Zetterberg and Cam Atkinson are knocking on the door.

This gives us a few archetypes:

1. The injured superstar.

McDavid obviously scores more than 48 points last season if he doesn’t break his collarbone. Everyone in the world had him pegged as a threat, if not the front-runner, for the Art Ross trophy.

Jack Eichel despite missing time should clear the 55-point hurdle this season, though he isn’t there yet. He’s the #1 guy to fit this mould.

Other players who fit: Kris Letang, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Taylor Hall, Alex Galchenyuk, Tyler Toffoli and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Letang, Barkov and Hall have all established themselves as Band-Aid Boys so you’ll always have fits with those three. Huberdeau seems the safest bet to not deal with injuries again and we’re all still waiting for his first 60-point season. But if you are looking for the one true superstar in this group it’s clearly Barkov, who has 80-point upside.


2. The renaissance.

Zetterberg rebounding to score 60 points was one of the more miraculous events of this fantasy hockey season. You often find that veterans still have the skills but not necessarily the motor to get the job done for 82 games. Every now and again it all breaks and they get it done. We’ve seen it from Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton in recent years, which puts them on the list of candidates.

The Sedins also belong here along with Corey Perry and Alexander Radulov. The two candidates I am looking at, however, are Anze Kopitar and Patrice Bergeron, who both suffered through horrific first halves but have bounced back as solid fantasy options in the second half.

For Kopitar, the trend of slow starts is becoming alarming as he seems to be ramping up the difficulty more and more. It’s reminiscent of how Eric Staal started to peter-out as he approached the age of 30.

In any case, Bergeron has been a top-10 scorer since Jan 1 with 37 points in 35 games. Kopitar hasn’t been far off with 30 points in 35 games. Those are the two veterans I’ll be betting on for bounce-backs next season.


3. The classic breakout.

Both Draisaitl and Pastrnak have emerged as stars in their third year, leading the way for what looks like an impressive 2014 draft class. These guys jumped the line a bit, as we will typically see players emerge in their fourth season but I would suggest that this means these two still have another level to get to.

It is worth point out that these two have been helped along riding shotgun to superstars in McDavid and Brad Marchand but no one in the league does it all by themselves.

This is the archetype with the most potential because players typically peak early. Everyone should be looking for players in years 3-5 around ages 20-23 who might pop up in a bigger role next season. One of the best indicators of future success is 5-on-5 scoring rate. Several names jump out with over 2.0 P/60 at 5-on-5 as youngsters including:

Conor Sheary (who might get to 55 points this season)

Jake Guentzel

Andre Burakovsky (assuming TJ Oshie and/or Justin Williams leave Washington)

Matthew Tkachuk (only a sophomore but I don’t believe in the sophomore slump as a hard rule)

Max Domi (could also be included in the Injured Star archetype)

Anthony Mantha


A few more names who aren’t scoring above that 2.0 P/60 rate but still look appealing:

Jonathan Drouin (may yet get to 55 this season)

Bo Horvat

Sam Reinhart

Mikko Rantanen

Sebastian Aho

Robby Fabbri

Dylan Larkin

Christian Dvorak

Nick Schmaltz (is actually above the 2.0 P/60 mark but I’m not specifically high on him)

Brayden Point

The only guy from this latter group that I’d really consider for 65+ is Drouin because of PP exposure. Barring some radical change in usage the other guys still need to develop some more.


4. The post-hype sleeper.

This finally category is where we find Granlund, Hedman and Atkinson. You found these guys on lists of the classic breakout candidates for so long that you started to grow tired of waiting on the hype and moved on to new sexy options but all three finally emerged as stars. A few post-hype candidates for next season:

Brandon Saad (crushes it at 5-on-5 but cannot seem to find a top PP gig)

Nathan MacKinnon (only entering his fourth year at 22 but it feels like he’s been around forever)

Elias Lindholm (blowing up in the second half of this season)

Gustav Nyquist

Nino Niederreiter

Chris Kreider

Jakob Silfverberg


Taken altogether, I’ve tossed out a couple dozen options, which is too much. Whittling it down, I’d bet on Barkov, Kopitar, Bergeron, Sheary and Guentzel. But this is all preliminary as we are months away from next season’s drafts.


The first thing to acknowledge here is the goaltending position. In a 16-team league you should have two legit #1 goalies but you’ve only got one in Henrik Lundqvist.

Calvin Pickard is technically a #1 but only because the Avalanche are technically an NHL team. I’m not sure how, but we might see the Avalanche get worse this summer. Pickard has been effective despite his surroundings and you can’t dump him in a league this size anyhow because of goalie scarcity.

Things are looking up with two of the best goalie prospects in the game, particularly with Juuse Saros establishing himself as one of the best backups in the league, likely ready to take over in Nashville at any moment.

There is a ton of league-specific information that would affect strategy with regard to how much to dedicate towards goaltending. What are the weekly minimums for starts? How many goalie categories vs. skater categories? What is the balance of counting stats (Wins, Saves, Shutouts) vs. rate stats (SV%, GAA)? What is the approach of other teams towards goaltending?

If this were a one-year league with three minimum starts per week you’d be on the lower end of things with the goaltending trio of Lundqvist, Pickard and Saros. Most weeks you’d get by with just the Lundqvist games, while using Saros for the odd spot start and putting Pickard in there only once you’d fallen behind and needed to take some wild swings. That’s an uphill battle most weeks and a stressful one at that.

As such, you probably need to remain committed to a prospect like Demko as a keeper, even if goalie prospects are often an inefficient application of resources in keeper leagues. The benefit of Demko is that he’s close so you’ve cut down some of the incubation time and some of the uncertainty. I’m not sure I’d keep Demko if your #1 was a younger starter like Holtby or Price or if your #2 offered a higher floor.

Locking in the goalie quartet you are dumping two aging forwards. As much positional value as you can gain from keeping a winger, I’d dump Rick Nash and Daniel Sedin.

I really wonder if next season will be the last one for the Sedins. They still have effectiveness in spurts but it’s not an 82-game onslaught like it used to be.

I talked about Nash’s decline earlier this week. He still provides shot volume but not to the same degree he used to. The lack of power-play scoring has sapped his upside as his 5-on-5 game has declined. Injuries have become a perennial factor.

I’ll ride it out with Joe Thornton even if all he is at this point is an assist machine.


You have to keep in mind that I believe in a tiered ranking system, which doesn’t always lend itself to player A vs. player B rankings. In particular, I have specific standards for defensemen. I want a good chance of getting a 50-point pace or some peripheral quality like 100 PIM, 200 hits or 200 SOG (depending on your categories).

Looking back to my fall rankings, I had only 23 defensemen projected to meet my standards, with a few more worthy of late-round flyers. Were I making that list today, I don’t know that Justin Schultz would crack into my must-own tiers.

If Schultz has priced himself out of Pittsburgh (he’s an RFA this summer) and winds up somewhere less favourable then this choice becomes easy. If he sticks in Pittsburgh, I’d still rate Ristolainen higher, due to age, and peripheral value (specifically shot volume).

I also have questions about Schultz replicating the high on-ice shooting percentage (9.6%) he has posted this season and of getting as much top unit PP time, if Kris Letang skates more than 41 games. There’s an argument that Schultz’s plus/minus (he’s currently tied for the league lead at plus-32) is more of a peripheral advantage than the shot volume that Ristolainen offers but I literally do not account for plus/minus when making rankings, even though it is a standard category. It’s just not a category that makes sense in projections so I don’t consider it at all.

If Schultz is a 40-point defenseman with about 150 SOG and minimal PIM/Hit value, then he’s Matt Niskanen 2.0. Capable of putting up great numbers when the #1 guy goes down but of questionable value when that top guy is healthy. Despite the success of Schultz when Letang has been around this season there are no guarantees he replicates that success next season, which is why I knock him down. There’s an argument that the Penguins are so loaded offensively that even in a secondary role Schultz has a 50-point floor but I’m not that bullish.


Mark Scheifele’s a no-brainer here. He has established a higher level of production. He also has elite linemates to skate with. Mikael Granlund’s been a great story and appears legit despite some underlying percentages suggesting otherwise but the reason to take Scheifele isn’t because of unsustainability for Granlund. Scheifele is just a whole tier better. This is not close.



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Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw


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