Continuing our theme from last week, we’re examining playoff-bound skaters to determine what you should expect from them in the second season and 2018-19. This time the focus is on skaters (Jakub Voracek, Tomas Hertl, and Alexander Wennberg) who are on teams which, although now officially (or all but officially) in the playoffs, aren’t thought of as serious Cup contenders.
As a reminder, or for first time readers, the concept of this column is a play on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, except instead of bowls of porridge I’m covering skaters and declaring one too hot (i.e., doing unsustainably better than he should), another too cold (i.e., doing unsustainably worse), and a third “just right” (i.e., producing where he should). Each skater also receives a 1-10 rating, indicating, on a relative scale, how hot (rated 7-10, where 10 is the most unsustainably hot), cold (rated 1-3, where 1 is the most unsustainably cold), or just right (rated 4-6, where 5 is the most “just right”) he is.
Before you read any further, be sure to guess which of Voracek, Hertl, and Wennberg is too cold, which is too hot, and which is just right. It’s an enjoyable exercise, but also important in that it confirms whether your “spidey senses” are correct, and, if they aren’t, allows you to determine what might have led your instincts astray and readjust your fantasy ratings system if necessary.
After following up an 81-point 2014-15 campaign with two straight seasons of 61-point scoring pace, to go along with the 62 he tallied in 2013-14, going into 2017-18 fantasy drafts most poolies considered the 2014-15 version of Voracek a fluke, especially with him now 28 years old and thus likely having already peaked. So imagine the surprise when he sets a career scoring high this season. Can it last though – will he be able to sustain this level of production into the playoffs and future seasons? Highly unlikely.
Unlike 2014-15 he’s doing this despite an OZ% of 49.2 (vs. 59.0 in 2014-15), which is not conductive to high scoring. And although he’s averaging a minute more of Ice Time per game than 2014-15, much of that came while still on a line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier earlier in the season. In fact, Voracek has received less than his season-long average Ice Time in two-thirds of his last 18 games.
And although Voracek has been a staple on a Flyers PP1 that was still potent in recent years when the team struggled to score overall, his PPPt production this season even outpaces his successful 2014-15 campaign and is well above his norm. There’s also a risk that as Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny and even Jordan Weal round into form, it could be Voracek, rather than “mule” Wayne Simmonds or locked at the hip tandem Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier who could be pushed off PP1, to his scoring detriment.
Moreover, while it’s not a huge factor, Voracek has hit no crossbars and only three posts all season, versus between five and eight in each of his prior four campaigns, so that right there is up to a handful of points he’s unsustainably benefitted from receiving. Lastly, the fact that he went three seasons between 59+ assist campaigns does not bode well for him being able to hit even 55 again. After all, of the 16 players who posted 55+ assists at least three times since 2000-01, only one (Patrick Kane) went more than two seasons between his first 55+ assist campaign and his second.
Overall, Voracek is TOO HOT and gets a rating of 9.0. Simply put he’s not an 80+ point player, and likely won’t hit 75 again due to his age and track record. That being said, he could still hover around the 70-point mark for a few seasons because his spot in the top six is secure. Even if he does get pushed to PP2, there should be enough depth among Flyers forwards for him to not see the bottom completely fall out from his man advantage production.
After Hertl burst onto the scene in 2013-14 at age 20 (with 25 points – 15 goals – in only 37 games), few would have imagined him still looking for his first 50-point campaign three seasons later. Yet here we are with Hertl having two 44+ point scoring pace seasons to his credit but thus far unable to clear the 50 point threshold, leaving poolies to wonder if he’ll be yet another example of an early fantasy flash in the pan. Well stop wondering, because signs are starting to point in the right direction for Hertl to live up to the promise he once showed.
Most glaring is Hertl’s IPP, which had only once been below 63% yet this season sits at 51.8%. And it’s not a case of a downward trend, as it had been rising each of the past two campaigns. Also, his OZ% this season has been 47.2%, mainly due to newfound SH duty; however, his overall ice time is up and his usage on the PP is 49.7% this season after only once being deployed for more than even a third of his team’s overall man advantage time. Moreover, whereas before San Jose had the depth and firepower to be able to use Hertl sparingly or situationally, now they need him to produce and are giving him the opportunities to do so. And he’s only now just starting to seize upon this. Remember – fantasy success, especially for younger players, often has as much to do with opportunity as raw talent.
So why though, despite all this, is Hertl not already producing at least somewhat better than he did a couple of seasons ago? Or to put it another way, what else suggests better things are indeed on the horizon? Beyond what was noted above, his 5×5 team shooting percentage is a low 7.13%. Also, he has just under four times as many PP SOG (42) as PPPts (11), reflecting unsustainable bad luck with the man advantage. Moreover, Hertl’s 14 primary assists to only nine secondary is by far the highest ratio of his career, suggesting both an increased nose for scoring and a room for more points to come via lucky second assists bounces.
Hertl’s 2017-18 output is TOO COLD, and he gets a rating of 2.0. Although a jump to 60 points next season is likely a stretch since the Sharks as a team are not the offensively potent squad they once were, in 2018-19 Hertl should surpass 50 points for the first time and even 55+ is realistic.
This fall poolies in points leagues were all-in on Wennberg, what with him being a former first round entry draft pick who’d gone from 40 points in 69 games in his first full season to 59 in 80 for 2016-17, all by age 22. Yet instead of taking the next step in his fantasy ascent, Wennberg’s output for 2017-18 is on pace to be lower than even 2015-16. Is this season a blip in his upward trajectory, or was last season the fluke? Although it’s never easy to write off players at such a young age, it’s looking more and more like the Wennberg of 2015-16 and this season is the real Wennberg.
While Columbus has scored fewer goals this season, the team arguably has more talent, with Pierre-Luc Dubois coming into his own and the addition of Artemi Panarin. That has taken its toll on Wennberg on the PP, which was such a strength for him last season. Although Wennberg’s PP Time per game is nearly unchanged, the Jackets are drawing more penalties so Wennberg is actually seeing less man advantage time, percentagewise, this season versus last (55.5% compared to 60.7%). And that time might stand to drop even more, as only two NHL forwards (former teammate Brandon Saad and current teammate Nick Foligno) have scored fewer than his five PPPts while receiving more PP minutes.
Wennberg’s IPP also has dropped to 43.2%; and although that’s a testament to more talent being around him and is too low to be sustained, it still shows that last season Wennberg’s success came when he was getting points due to less talented players – mainly Foligno and Saad – being his most frequent linemates. Now Wennberg is playing with the likes of Artemi Panerin, Cam Atkinson, and recently acquired Thomas Vanek, all of whom have more of a nose for scoring than Foligno and the departed Saad, both of whom Wennberg skated more than two-thirds of his even strength minutes with during 2016-17 and it’s leading to them, not Wennberg, hitting the score sheet.
Even if Wennberg’s IPP was to increase back to reasonable levels, the benefit might be offset by his 5×5 team shooting percentage dropping, as it is 10.41% this season and further underscores that he’s playing with better talent this season yet at the same time he’s not elite enough to factor into the scoring which is occurring. Moreover, his OZ% is actually up from last season, so that cannot be blamed for his lower production, nor can it be pointed to as a factor which would support him bouncing back to his 2016-17 levels any time soon. And his percentage of secondary assists is actually higher this season than last, so we cannot count on more of those to offset his scoring drop.
Wennberg’s career output to date does not lend itself to player comparisons, as since 200-01 no other forward with more than 250 games played by age 23 stood at under 400 total SOG yet more than 150 points of which at least 120 were assists. If I had to guess though, I’d say I see Wennberg’s fantasy trajectory perhaps mimicking that of Tyler Bozak – someone who tantalizes poolies by consistently playing in the top six with talented linemates and scoring just enough to land on your radar, but never quite breaking out due to simply not being cut from a high-scoring cloth.
Overall, Wennberg’s 2017-18 output has been JUST RIGHT, and he gets a rating of 4.5 since his low IPP and PP production could realistically increase enough to slightly more than offset lost points due to his 5×5 team shooting percentage dropping. But Wennberg’s 59-point 2016-17 might just prove to be his high-water mark if not for his entire career than at least until if/when he changes teams or the Blue Jackets offense really explodes.