20 Fantasy Hockey Thoughts
Every Sunday this off-season, we'll share 20 Fantasy Thoughts from our writers at Dobber Hockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's "Daily Ramblings".
Contributors: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford and Neil Parker
1. It was definitely a down year for the Jordan Eberle (pictured top right) even though 20 goals and 51 points isn’t particularly horrific. Given that he started the season playing with Connor McDavid, hopes for fantasy owners were high (I know I was very high on him; I had him inside the top-60 picks in a roto league). Things didn’t work out at all, and he was eventually moved down the lineup, appearing on the third line at times.
Nothing is a certainty in sports, but given his track record, and no real indicators of downward trends, the talented winger is probably set to bounce back in 2017-18. It does not appear, however, that he will be doing so in an Oilers uniform. A plethora of teams could use a very good scoring winger. If he can land in a spot where he’s back on the top line, and given top power-play minutes, a return to 25 goals and 60 points is in the cards. He should come at a discount at the draft table next year, so be sure to keep him on your watch lists, especially if he can land in a prime situation.
2. The No. 3 pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft is available, or at least, the Stars are listening to offers. Dallas is in an interesting situation holding the high pick because of it's compete-now setup.
Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler and Patrick Sharp come off the books, and there are huge needs on the blue line. Head coach Ken Hitchcock has a long-standing history with Kevin Shattenkirk, and the Stars enter free agency with approximately $16.6 million in available cap space. Radek Faksa, Brett Ritchie and a trio of young defensemen (Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell) are the only current restricted free agents, so there should be ample cap space to make a pitch to Shattenkirk. More salary relief could also become available if Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi are moved.
The bottom-line is that Dallas is built to win over the next two seasons, and the No. 3 pick was an unexpected asset to turn into a roster player. Losing a deal over a 10-year span won't matter if the Stars win a championship in either of the next two seasons. General manager Jim Nill has proven to be willing to make big deals, too.
3. I’m sure I’m not the only one that was hoping for a big year from Brian Elliott (pictured top left). After going from St. Louis to Calgary, he was finally in a situation where he was the full-time starter on a team that was on the rise. Despite a .925 save percentage in all situations from 2011-2016, which included the third-highest five-on-five save percentage in the league, he managed just a .910 with the Flames in all situations, and .922 at five-on-five. It was a significant departure from what we had come to expect.
Calgary was a very good defensive team last year. They finished in the top-10 for fewest adjusted shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger attempts against per minute last year. The core of their blue line will return, and none of their top forwards are set to leave. This is a team that should largely perform similarly next year as they did the last, if not even better, should they improve the bottom end of that defense corps.
The future is a bit uncertain. He is an unrestricted free agent, and so is backup Chad Johnson. With Elliott’s poor performance, he shouldn’t be too expensive to bring back, and I would like to see him given another shot. His play in 2016-17 likely means a discount at the fantasy draft table come September, and given the situation, it’s a perfect opportunity to grab a good goalie on a good team later in the draft.
4. Henrik Lundqvist may have the Rangers’ starting goalie job until he’s 39, which is when his contract runs out. Will the Rangers have to push him out the door by then, and how many solid young goalies will slip through the organization in the meantime? I say this because Antti Raanta could follow a similar path to Cam Talbot.
Granted, Lundqvist played double the number of games of his backups over each of these two-season stretches. But aside from it telling you that Lundqvist is no longer elite (particularly over the last two seasons), it also tells you that both Talbot and Raanta deserved more starts than they received. Perhaps Raanta will receive that opportunity for more starts in Vegas, should the Golden Knights look in his direction.
It’s also possible that the Knights consider adding someone like Jesper Fast or Michael Grabner instead if they decide two NHL-level goalies is enough. But keep in mind that the Knights must select at least three goalies during the expansion draft.
5. It looks pretty likely that Justin Williams is set for unrestricted free agency. With three Stanley Cups, 140 playoff games and 94 postseason points on his resume, Williams projects as a coveted target for championship hopefuls. He posted nine points through 13 playoff games this year, too.
Our focus is obviously the virtual game, and the 35-year-old veteran struggles to consistently move the fantasy needle at this stage of his career. Entering his age-36 campaign, he could also see statistical decline away from the high-scoring Capitals.
However, in each of the past two seasons, Williams has gone on absolute midseason tears. Last year, he sandwiched the All-Star break with 18 points over 18 games, and this year he posted 17 goals and 15 helpers through 37 contests. That upside probably won't fade away over the summer, so Williams is a worth watching in all settings, and buying low is encouraged when things begin to break right.
6. The Maple Leafs have an abundance of young wingers, and James van Riemsdyk is entering the final year of his contract. Meanwhile, the Ducks will be forced to protect a mediocre talent in the expansion draft up front in order to accommodate their big five (Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg), so moving Shea Theodore for van Riemsdyk could be a solid fit for both teams. It's unlikely Anaheim is willing to part with Brandon Montour.
Toronto receives the power-play quarterback it lacks, and Anaheim beefs up for another run at the Stanley Cup while Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler are still capable of leading the charge.
7. The Panthers signed Henrik Haapala to a two-year, $925,000 entry-level contract Thursday. The winger paced the Liiga in scoring last season and could quickly secure a top-six gig if Jaromir Jagr isn't re-signed.
Further encouraging is that Aleksander Barkov is also a Tappara product, and the two forwards share long-standing international experience dating back to the 2010-11 season. This is a calculated move by Florida, and Haapala should on our fantasy radar.
8. One news item to store in the memory bank for next season’s drafts: Derick Brassard may miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery on a torn labrum. Maybe this means Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s strong play during the playoffs could lead to an increased role to start the 2017-18 season.
9. Here's a summary of the Ilya Kovalchuk situation. The important piece of information from this article which might not have been fully transparent in the past is that when Kovalchuk turns 35 in April 2018, he's eligible to return to the NHL as an unrestricted free agent.
It's not a Point A-to-Point B situation for Devils’ general manager Ray Shero, as Kovalchuk would need to sign with the Devils to play in 2017-18, and then he could be traded. "I can't go out calling teams because that's a waste of my time," Shero said. "He's going to tell [us] where he wants to play, and in the end, if that does work out and it's not the Devils, then I've got to see if that makes sense for us to do that."
It just seems far more likely that Kovalchuk chooses to return on his own terms. The savvy fantasy move is to look to acquire him after he re-ups to stay in the KHL for the upcoming season. Obviously, there is still a chance that Kovalchuk returns to the NHL this fall, but there are a lot of moving pieces — potentially too many.
10. Though the goals were few and far between with just 13, Alexander Wennberg managed 46 assists last year, for a very solid 59-point season. That included 23 power-play points, which is what drove a lot of his fantasy value. Anytime a 22-year-old centre who was basically free in one-year fantasy drafts puts up as many power-play points as Patrick Kane, it was a good season.
To an extent, though, we run into the problem with some other players on this team — his value is completely dependent on his linemates, and particularly the power play. He is coming into his expected prime as a player, and yet his shot differentials with and without guys like Brandon Saad or Nick Foligno over the last few years aren’t very good.
Wennberg reminds me precisely of Tyler Bozak circa 2014. He’s a first-line centre by virtue of the team he plays on and the opportunity afforded him; he’s not a true first-line centre. That’s all that really matters for fantasy. If John Tortorella is going to leave him on the top power-play unit, and give him over 18 minutes a game, it really doesn’t matter how good or bad his underlying stats are. He could sleepwalk his way to a 50-point season. For those in roto leagues, however, there’s been no indication at any point of his NHL career that he can be anything more than a playmaker. That’s fine – every fantasy team can use one. Just don’t expect him to help you across the board.
11. The 47 points from Zach Werenski were the most for a rookie teenage defenceman since Tyler Myers in 2009-10 (48), and the sixth-most all-time for that group. He was also one of the top volume shooters for defensemen in the NHL this year.
Playing with Seth Jones helps a lot. The former Nashville blue liner had established himself as a play-driver, and that fit in very well with his Columbus teammate. Werenski appears to be that, as well.
I don’t have concerns for next year. The power-play points may not increase a lot (the Jackets PP was unstoppable for the first few months, which is what really made a difference here). Even if there isn’t much increase in power-play production, all of his five-on-five numbers were perfectly reasonable. With the additional ice time he should receive, there’s no reason to think he can’t repeat a 45-point performance barring some bad luck and/or injury.
12. Patric Hornqvist: I find his trade to Pittsburgh for James Neal three summers ago to be an interesting storyline. I figured at the time that Hornqvist received a big boost, while Neal’s fantasy value took a major hit. Since the trade: Neal has 77-59-136 in 219 games; Hornqvist has 68-78-146 in 216 outings. Can we say that everything turned out just fine? Hornqvist has the advantage in points, but Neal has more goals.
13. I remember reading some passing judgment on Brandon Saad after he was traded from Chicago that he was simply a product of playing with Jonathan Toews. In the two seasons since arriving in Columbus, he is tied for ninth in the league in five-on-five goal scoring, sixth in goals per 60 minutes, and tied for 11th in five-on-five points per 60 minutes. Over the last four seasons, his five-on-five goal total (70) is in the same neighbourhood as Jamie Benn (73), John Tavares (73), and Brad Marchand (69). He’s played fewer minutes than all of them.
That is what makes Saad’s season last year so frustrating. Not only is he productive, but he’s a very good play driver. He does absolutely everything a coach could possibly want a player to do, and yet there were times last year he was demoted, benched, and removed from the power play altogether (even though they ran the top unit heavily anyway). Unless he gets those top power-play minutes – he got less per game than Oliver Bjorkstrand – his upside is capped.
Maybe things change next year, but that’s back-to-back seasons that he’s played under 1400 total minutes (he missed just four games combined).
14. It’s clear that Clayton Keller (pictured bottom right) has a bright NHL future; any fantasy owner worth their salt knows that. What is most important here is that he should be given ample opportunity to succeed.
Last year, Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal were both among the top-6 Coyotes forwards in even-strength ice time per game, while names like Alex Burmistrov and Brandon Perlini were top-6 in power-play ice time per game. There is no reason to think Keller can’t be top-6 in both aspects for this team, which likely means at least 16 minutes a game, including ample power-play minutes.
15. Olli Maatta has had very positive performances these playoffs, but that goal by Pontus Aberg in Game 2, and the one where he got out-skated by Bobby Ryan in overtime of the first game in the Ottawa series, show there is still some consistency missing in his game. Hopefully a healthy offseason can get this young defenceman on track next year.
16. Anaheim has five forwards it needs to protect in Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell, and the defensive depth to allow Sami Vatanen to walk. The other important piece of this puzzle is that it could take over five months for Vatanen to recover from his recent shoulder surgery, so his injury status is another factor in how this plays out.
The 25-year-old defenseman declined to just 0.38 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five this season, which was fifth worst among all defenseman with at least 1,000 minutes. He posted a 0.96 mark over the previous three years.
Vatanen started 55.3 percent of his five-on-five shifts in the defensive zone this season, and his 48.9 Corsi For percentage was his lowest mark since establishing himself as a regular in the league. He still maintained some fantasy value with 14 power-play points, but his even-strength play declined significantly under Randy Carlyle.
17. If Jason Pominville waved his no-movement clause, there is a chance Jason Zucker (pictured bottom left) could stick with the Wild, and Minnesota may also look to make a move leading into the expansion draft. However, losing a middle-six winger while keeping an excellent defense corps in tact probably is a best-case scenario.
Zucker was a five-on-five monster this season with a fifth-ranked 2.39 points and 18th-ranked 1.03 goals per 60 minutes among all skaters with 1,000 minutes. Additionally, both of his most frequent linemates struggled mightily without him, whereas Zucker maintained his excellent production regardless of who he played with.
Considering he averaged just 16 second of power-play time per game and registered a single tally with the man advantage, he's a power-play role away from taking another step forward offensively. Additionally, the 25-year-old winger is in the heart of his offensive prime.
18. The next few games will be very telling for Calle Jarnkrok's future with — or without — the Predators. While he's stepped up his game in the past, he's never been leaned on as a go-to, top-six center with the stakes this high.
Following Mike Ribeiro's demotion to the minors earlier this season, Jarnkrok turned in an excellent 20-game stretch with eight goals, eight helpers and 40 shots on net while logging 18:58 of ice time, which included 1:31 of ice time. However, Nashville hasn't needed Jarnkrok to play a big role consistently, and especially offensively, so it's really up in the air if he's a viable top-six option over the course of an entire season.
19. The consensuses is that goalie Philipp Grubauer is going to be plucked from Washington, and it is certainly a logical option for Las Vegas. The only other candidate that sticks out from Washington is Nate Schmidt. The defenseman showcased excellent mobility and skating ability during the playoffs while also playing a solid possession game with solid puck-distribution acumen.
Grubauer is coming off an excellent season, though, and considering the long-term value a star goalie can have makes him the right choice. Plus, Vegas general manager George McPhee was at the helm when Grubauer was drafted by the Capitals in 2010.
Among all goalies with at least 20 games played this season, Grubauer's .940 five-on-five save percentage ranked third, and he posted a .926 mark with a 2.04 GAA overall. With 51 career starts over five years, he's ready to take on a larger start share, and he profiles as a perfect fit to split starts beginning in 2017-18.
20. I’ll give props to Dylan Strome, who was named MVP of the Memorial Cup tournament with seven goals and 11 points in just five games (with seven of those points coming in one game!) Strome is currently the fourth-ranked player in Dobber’s Top 200 Fantasy Hockey Prospect Forwards. Since he last posted his rankings on May 16, and Strome’s first game was on May 20, let’s see if Strome’s standout Mem Cup warrants a further increase. With future teammate Clayton Keller at number two on the list, the Coyotes’ future appears bright.
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