Cage Match Tournament: Most Sustainable Breakout Under Age 25

Rick Roos


Here is the first of the winter Cage Match Tournaments! Be sure to vote using the link at the bottom of this article. 

Santa is coming early for 2017, as we’re kicking off the first of three winter Cage Match Tournaments! I’m calling them the “new normal” tournaments, where you’re voting on the players whose current scoring pace – for better or worse – is most likely to represent their new normal, namely what they’ll produce not just for the rest of this season but at least the next few seasons to come. This week and next are for players exceeding expectations (this week for those under age 25, next week for those 25+). In week three, it’ll be time for the lumps of coal in fantasy stockings –players falling below expectations.

Players not included among voting choices, and why

First and foremost, in keeping with Cage Match tradition voting choices will include skaters only. Simply put, there aren’t enough netminders to form their own brackets, and, in my opinion at least, they don’t make for meaningful side-by-side comparison to skaters.

Also, I think these tournaments will provide the most meaningful results if we focus on established and non-superstar players who are departing from their norm, since that’s especially where poolies need to know whether what we’re seeing is just a very good or very bad aberrational season versus past campaigns or indeed a “new normal.” So what does that mean in terms of players not included among voting choice? No players who, prior to 2017-18, either (a) had played fewer than 50 NHL games, or (b) had previously scored – if a forward – 75+ points or – if a defenseman – 50+ points.

Lastly, I’ve not included players for whom their current scoring pace, though not necessarily predicted, is not a surprise. That’s why, for example, Auston Matthews is not a voting choice but Nathan MacKinnon is. Although both were former #1 overall picks, MacKinnon’s jump to his current scoring level was by no means presumed given how he’d fared in the past few seasons, whereas Matthews’, although perhaps a bit higher/sooner than expected, shouldn’t surprise many.

How to base your vote(s)

It all comes back to the “new normal” concept. These are all players drafted for 2017-18 fantasy leagues with an expected output, and who are either substantially surpassing that expectation or falling below it. You’re tasked with deciding which players are most likely to sustain – for better or worse – their current scoring pace throughout 2017-18 and beyond. So if you think what we’re seeing from a player in 2017-18 is just a temporary blip in the radar and he’ll return to his expected scoring levels this season or next, don’t vote for him. If instead you feel a player has turned a page in his career and what we’re seeing from him now – again, for better or worse – is what we should expect to see not only for the rest of this season but also at least the next few seasons, then he should get your vote.

Of course some of these players might change teams or lines, so you should feel free to take those and other factors (age, contract status, ice time, depth chart on their teams, etc.) into account in deciding your votes. If you want to vote based solely on the “sniff test” that’s perfectly fine as well; however, inasmuch as fellow readers will be looking to the poll results for guidance, try to be objective. Don’t just decide your vote based on your personal views of players or whether they’re helping/hurting your fantasy team. Consider players based on the totality of their present – and likely future – circumstances in order to hone in on the best choice(s).

How Voting Will Work

Each player is put in a scoring pace category which roughly coincides with what he’d finish with if he maintained his current scoring pace, give or take a few points. And next to each player I included his previous single season career best output, noting where necessary if it was in a lower number of games than would otherwise be apparent.

The voting polls will allow for multiple selections, which means you should vote for any and all players you think will retain their designated scoring pace for 2017-18 and beyond. So go ahead and vote for one player, a couple of players, a bunch of players, or even all of them if you think each and every one will in fact sustain their designated scoring pace going forward. The choice is entirely up to you on how many votes to cast, and for whom.

As has been the case with previous summer and winter Cage Match tournaments, all voting will take place in the Hockey Hockey Hockey Hockey area of the DobberHockey Forums. I’ll put a direct link to each week’s poll at the end of each week’s column. But without further ado, here are your choices for the week one tournament – players under age 25 for whom you’re deciding whether their current scoring pace is their “new normal.”


Filip Forsberg (Previous career high = 64 points)

Seemingly all that’s been standing in the way of point per game scoring from Forsberg is consistency, as nearly every season he’s put together a stretch of 20+ games of at least point-per-game output. Is that what we’re seeing now, or has he finally turned a corner where we can count on him maintaining this pace over the grind of a full 82-game season? Standing in the way might be the low – for a top scorer at least – average Ice Time Forsberg receives, since based on past examples (and as pointed out in the recent Cage Match on Forsberg) it’s difficult for someone who’s only on the ice for 18:00-18:30 per game to even hit 70 points, let alone 80. Still though – he’s a high volume shooter and a PP catalyst, although as further noted in the Cage Match his PP scoring is sky high and will have to come back to earth at least somewhat. Will he, and the team around him, produce enough for him to still stay at or above the point per game level? That’s the magic question.

Jonathan Huberdeau (Previous career high = 59 points)

Forsberg’s opponent in that same Cage Match from a just couple of weeks ago, Huberdeau has slowly but surely upped his scoring pace with each passing season, to go along with increases in his SOG, Ice Time and PP output, which, along with a new coach who – unlike the previous regime – leans on top players like Huberdeau quite heavily, make his 2017-18 scoring gains not only plausible but also perhaps of being expanded upon. Yet the reality is due to injuries, Huberdeau has never even hit the 60-point threshold in any NHL season to date, and for all we know he might not have the consistency or constitution to be a true 80-game player over the long haul of a season. But if his injuries are truly behind him, then point per game output looks indeed likely.

Nathan MacKinnon (Previous career high = 63 points)

Just when poolies had apparently begun to write off MacKinnon, the former first overall pick has exploded to put himself among top league scorers. Yet can this be sustained, especially on an Avs team that has so little scoring depth and has struggled mightily in past seasons to score? Looking back on the Cage Match on MacKinnon from just before the start of the season, a lot of metrics showed that MacKinnon, despite his failure to fulfill lofty expectations to date, had made the best of a truly terrible situation in Colorado and had early career SOG numbers in common with other players from the past 20 seasons who all scored 82+ points at least once (and the vast majority of which had scored 95+ points at least one career season). We might just be witnessing MacKinnon’s true breakout, and with that his ability to carry this team on his shoulders out of the NHL basement.

Sean Monahan (Previous career high = 63 points)

Much like Forsberg, Monahan was often a feast-or-famine producer, scoring at or near point per game numbers for extended stretches of time but also laboring through stretches of defenseman-like scoring, with the result being 58-63 points in each of the last three seasons. What’s perhaps more encouraging for Monahan than Forsberg, however, is normally Monahan gets hot at the end of the season, whereas for 2017-18 he’s been firing on all cylinders since game one. With a somewhat high team shooting percentage but an IPP with room to realistically grow, Monahan’s scoring rate might be sustainable, unless somehow he flips the script and slows down once the calendar turns.

Vincent Trocheck (Previous career high = 54 points)

It was just last week in a Cage Mage column that I was figuring Trocheck’s ceiling looked closer to 70 points. Of course that was after he’d slowed somewhat with two points in five games, and right before he put up five points in his next two contests to go back to point per game production. He’s getting plenty of minutes and a coveted PP1 spot; however, how many second line centers (especially ones who play the majority of their even strength minutes with the likes of Radim Vrbata, Jamie McGinn, Denis Malgin, and Nick Bjugstad) can realistically have a shot at 80+ points? Just maybe Trocheck, who let’s not forget once led the entire OHL in scoring.


William Karlsson (Previous career high = 25 points)

It’s not unheard of for expansion teams to yield high scorers, from Kelly Kisio with the Sharks, to Scott Mellanby with the Panthers, to Ray Ferraro on the Thrashers. After all, someone has to score on these teams, who often focus on offense to counter poor defense and/or goaltending. Yet those were players with an established track record of scoring, whereas prior to this season Karlsson had amassed 50 points in 183 career NHL games. Still, he would be far from the first NHLer to become an unexpected star once given the opportunity to step up and strut his stuff in a scoring role. Of course there’s also the question of whether the Golden Knights as a team can continue their better-than-expected offensive showing, which notably has had them within or near the top five in goals scored up until this point in the season.

Brayden Point (Previous career high = 40 points)

Whether it was carrying Tampa’s third line early in the season, to being slotted alongside Nikita Kucherov, clearly the team thinks a lot of Point and he’s yet to disappoint them. The question, though, is whether his versatility and the depth of forwards on the squad – and logjam for PP1 time – will keep Point from seeing his way to the 70-point mark. It’s hard to bet against Point given what he’s done to date, but maybe this might be too much to ask, or at least too soon for it to occur.

Mikko Rantanen (Previous career high = 38 points)

Whether due to his own skill, the fact that he’s skating alongside Nathan MacKinnon, or perhaps a combination of both factors, Rantanen apparently has arrived. And as I noted in the cage match that pitted him against Anthony Mantha, we shouldn’t forget that Rantanen was somehow able to tally 20 goals in 75 games last year for a dreadful Avalanche team that scored only 165 goals in total. To put that in perspective, that would have easily translated to a 30-35 goals in 82 game pace on a decent team, so now that their offense has picked up it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see him riding the wave. With reasonable IPP and only slightly high team shooting percentage, and a likely lock to remain both on the top line both at even strength and with the man advantage, this should seemingly be a sustainable breakout for Rantanen.

Teuvo Teravainen (Previous career high = 42 points)

Much like MacKinnon, Teravainen had morphed from hugely hyped to perhaps unfairly undervalued given his still young age. Yet this season the dots look to have connected and he might just be another in an increasingly longer line of players who left Chicago and found success elsewhere. Digging deeper, TT’s team shooting % is actually quite a bit below 9.0, but his IPP is above 80%. It might be that like Carolina just isn’t enough of an offensively potent team for Teuro to stay above the 70-point mark when all is said and done on 2017-18; however, after what we saw from him in November, he just might still be able to pull it off based on his skill and his chemistry with fellow Finnish teammate/linemate Sebastian Aho.

Mika Zibanejad (Previous career high = 51 points)

Before a concussion took him out of the line-up a couple of weeks ago, Zibanejad was firing on all cylinders for New York. Whether Zibs can keep up this pace going forward is a difficult question though, since his Ranger tenure has been largely feast or famine. His hot start to 2017-18 is an extension of what he showed in the 2017 playoffs (nine points in 12 games), and let’s not forget he also started great last season (15 points in 19 games), his first for the Rangers; however, then he never got back into a scoring groove in 2016-17 after coming back from an injury (22 points in 37 games), which should concern poolies as a possible déjà vu situation for 2017-18. Plus, this is a Rangers team that, during the Alain Vigneault era, hasn’t had a single 70 point scorer and in fact has produced only one forward who even scored more than 61 points (Rick Nash, 69 points in 2014-15), so Zibs’ chance at a 70 point scoring pace might be a tall order.


Sebastian Aho (Previous career high = 49 points)

Although expectations among nearly all poolies going into this season were that Aho would improve upon his 49 points from 2015-16, most might have envisioned more of a “baby step” into the 50 to 60 point range, rather than as large a leap as Aho thus far is on target to make . The concern is whether Aho has the consistency to finish the season at 60+ point, let alone 65+, since he’s already had two stretches of four pointless games. But looking at luck-based metrics, his IPP is solid and his team shooting percentage is barely above 7%, so it suggests that if anything he’s due to produce even better over the remainder of the season.

Shayne Gostisbehere = (Previous career high = 46 points in 64 games)

I think it’s safe to say that Ghost has recovered from his sophomore slump, which, to the shock of fans and poolies alike, saw him scratched for a number of contests and his point total drop by seven despite suiting up for 12 more contests than he did as a rookie phenom. The question is whether he can continue his stellar early season scoring, as not only is Ivan Provorov strutting his stuff and tempting the team to give him more minutes, but Ghost’s IPP has been in 60-70% range, which would be fine……..if he was a forward. Yet Ghost’s team shooting percentage is low enough to actually leave room for more scoring, and his PP minutes are rock steady. So when the dust settles on 2017-18 he just might have what it takes to clear the 65 point threshold.

Dylan Larkin (Previous career high = 45 points)

Larkin’s great start to 2017-18 is especially encouraging, as after beginning his NHL career on fire with 38 points in his first 52 games, he posted only seven points in his remaining 28 contests for 2015-16 and then slumped to only 32 points in all of 2016-17, for less than even a point per every other game. The question becomes whether this season is indeed Larkin’s true breakout, or merely a repeat of 2015-16, with a scorching start that fizzles out by midseason. His IPP and team shooting percentages are up, but not significantly and still with room for further improvement, which means this could be Larkin coming into his own and sustained higher scoring being his new normal.

Anthony Mantha (Previous career high = 36 points in 60 games)

Another recent Cage Match combatant (against the aforementioned Rantanen), Mantha followed a similar blueprint as Larkin, except a year later, as he emerged with 31 points in 45 games, only to post a mere five more in his last 15 contests for the season and only ending up playing a total of 60 contests for the season. Yet unlike Larkin, Mantha’s sophomore campaign is trending up. Can Mantha sustain his output this time around? Tough to say, as on the plus side his team shooting percentage is below the normal 9.0% for scoring forwards, yet his IPP is above 80%, which is difficult to envision being sustainable. Also in his favor is that the concern I noted in the Cage Match column about Mantha being too dependent on secondary assists is seemingly gone, with him having gone from 32% of his assists being primary assists to 60% thus far for the 2017-18 season.


Morgan Rielly (Previous career high = 36 points)

Poolies were tantalized when Rielly posted five points (three on the PP) in six games during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but most assumed he’d be back to his subpar deployment when 2017-18 rolled around. Toronto must’ve liked what it saw from Rielly though, since his usage has improved and his point total has spiked in response. He slowed considerably as November rolled on, yet his overall metrics suggest that he can keep up his overall season pace, so 55+ plus is a distinct possibility, particularly if the Leafs can go back to scoring in bunches like they were in October.

Link to Cast Your Vote(s)

To vote in the Tournament, click here. Remember – you can vote for as many (or a few) players as you want. While you’re voting, be sure to post a comment on which player(s) you voted for a why, since my hope is this Tournament will be as useful for fantasy purposes as it is enjoyable. See you next week for the second tournament!


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