Cage Match Tournament 2018 – Breakout Players (Week 1)

Rick Roos



This summer marks the return of Cage Match Tournaments focusing on breakout players. I figured with the rise in league-wide scoring, the Tournaments should be about picking the next group of players to make leaps into higher scoring echelons. To cover all the angles for your leagues, I’ll be doing tiers of forward breakout Tournaments – one for each of the next three weeks:

This week: Which forward – who’s never scored (or had a scoring pace) over 75 points in season – is most likely to post point per game scoring in 2018-19?

Next week: Which forward whose career best single season total (or scoring rate) has been 55-65 points is most likely to best his previous career high by at least ten points in 2018-19?

Week three: Which forward whose career best single season total or scoring rate has been 40-53 points is most likely to post 60+ points in 2018-19?

Depending on how things go with these tournaments, I’ll decide if I want to do a breakout defensemen tournament, so stay tuned. For now, let’s dive in!


Cage Match Tournament #1 – breakout point per game forwards

This week I’m asking you to vote on which forward(s) who have never previously scored 75+ points in a season (or had more than a 75 point scoring pace) will be point per game scorers in 2018-19. But first, a few tidbits about excluded players and voting rules/guidelines.


Excluded Players

Before you wonder where the likes of Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel are, although neither one has yet to tally 75+ points, both have each already finished a season with over a 75-point scoring pace so they’re disqualified. Others who might have been included as voting choices despite never posting over 75 points in a season – but are likewise ineligible due to having had a 75+ point scoring pace at least once – are Vladimir Tarasenko, Josh Bailey, Patrice Bergeron, Filip Forsberg, Jaden Schwartz, Jonathan Marchessault, and David Perron.

For the sake of completion, there are other disqualified players who likely (Matt Duchene, Mark Stone) or definitely (Nazem Kadri, Tyler Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Derek Stepan, Alex Steen) still would not have made the cut even if they weren’t disqualified.


Voting Rules and Guidelines

You can vote for as many players or as few as you want – just be sure every player you’re voting for is someone you realistically see as being a point per game player in 2018-19. And please vote more with your head than your heart. What I mean is bear in mind objective factors that will affect a player’s scoring, like whether he’s playing for a 2019-20 contract, the likelihood of him being traded during the season, and his team situation. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for subjective views – what I meant was don’t vote for someone just because he’s on your team and you want good karma or not vote for someone because he’s on the squad of your chief rival. Remember – these tournaments are supposed to be fun, but we also want the results to be useful guidance for your fellow Dobberites.


Voting will take place in the DobberHockey forum. I’ll include a direct link at the bottom of the column. Now without further ado, here are your voting choices (in alphabetical order):

Sebastian Aho – Although his 65 points in 78 contests last season make it look like it point per game scoring for 2018-19 could be a tall order, keep in mind he had 61 points in his last 69 games then shined at the IIHF World Championships this spring with a whopping 18 points in only eight games. Also, although he finished 43rd in points per game among forwards who played 70+ games this past season, his points per 60 minutes rate was 32nd. Or to put it a different way, 29 of the 42 who bested Aho in points per game last year took the ice for 80+ extra minutes, or roughly a full extra minute per game. And with a new coach coming on board in Rod Brind’Amour, Aho could get a boost in ES and PP minutes that would make it easier to register point per game output.

Cam Atkinson – Which one of these players would you think has a better shot at point per game scoring this coming season: Player A (33 points in 33 games to end the 2017-18 season; 41 points in 39 games to start 2016-17) or Player B (39 points in 40 games to end the 2017-18 season; 32 points in 39 games to kick off 2016-17)? Probably Player A, not Player B, yes? Well it just so happens Player A is Atkinson and Player B is Mitch Marner. This isn’t to take anything away from Marner, whom you can see below is also a voting choice; but it goes to show that Atkinson, although now 29 years old (versus Marner’s 21), has already put together –in consecutive seasons – the pieces of a point per game campaign. Perhaps this is the year it fully aligns for him, especially if he continues to skate most of his shifts with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin, and stays locked into a PP1 spot.

Brock Boeser – With 55 points in 62 games before a premature end to his season, it’s not clear if Boeser would’ve hit a rookie wall or perhaps done even better as the season continued to unfold, although he did only have 17 points in his last 26 games after starting with 38 in his first 36. One key is Vancouver knows Boesner isn’t just their future, but their present as well; so he’ll get every chance to succeed in terms of ice time and deployment, thus only helping his cause. Of course the lack of many other Canuck weapons will make it so teams key in on Boeser. Still, they were already doing that last season and it didn’t stop him. Long story short, it seems like a question of when, not if Boeser gains entry in the point per game club – it’s up to you to vote on whether it will happen this season.

Mikael Granlund – After a breakout campaign that saw him post 69 points in 2016-17, Granlund showed he was no one hit wonder by scoring at a 71 point full season pace last season. Much like Aho, Granlund produced that much despite his ice time rather than because of it, since, as pointed out during the June cage match between him and fellow voting choice Brayden Schenn, Granlund ranked 37th in points and 46th in PPPts among all 70+ game forwards last season, but his overall ice time was only 43rd and his PP minutes way down at 81st. And with new Wild GM Paul Fenton likely to hand pick a new coach or at least tweak the team’s approach, Granlund could be in for ice time upgrades, in which case a point per game output would not seem like a tall order.

Jonathan Huberdeau – At the 48 game mark of last season, Huberdeau stood at exactly a point per game. Then the Panthers, likely in an effort to spread out their offense, split up their super line of Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgeni Dadonov, leaving Huberdeau to pair with Vincent Trocheck and a revolving cast of third bodies who, to put it frankly, paled in comparison to Dadonov. And although Trocheck (who’s also a voting choice) is a very talented player, he and Huberdeau didn’t seem to have great chemistry and both saw their outputs wane in the final quarter of the season. All that looks to stand in the way of Huberdeau producing a season-long point per game total is either being reunited with Barkov and Dadonov or perhaps igniting chemistry between him and Trocheck, neither of which is unrealistic.

Clayton Keller – Like Boeser, Keller was a rookie phenom more so despite his team (which finished only ahead of Buffalo in goals scored, while Vancouver was slightly better at 26th) than because of it.  And the big key with Keller was unlike the vast majority of rookies (especially teenage ones) he actually got hotter as the season wore on, ending with point per game scoring over more than the last third of the campaign (29 points in his last 29 games). Plus, with Arizona’s young nucleus poised to gel as early as this season, Keller might get the supporting help he needs to put up sustained point per game output for the entire 2018-19 campaign.

Patrik Laine – Arguably the most talented of the voting choices, Laine’s scoring pace surprisingly stayed in neutral from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign, even as Winnipeg’s team scoring rose. That being said, he too finished very strong, with 30 points in his last 31 games. Yet with only 16:29 of ice time per game last season, Winnipeg might be content for now having Laine be a PP specialist and used more sparingly at even strength; and all the talent in the world likely won’t be enough to carry him to point per game scoring if he continues to skate under 17 minutes per contest.

Mitch Marner – As noted above when discussing Cam Atkinson, Marner had a red-hot ending to 2017-18 and seems poised to pick up where he left off. But he too has an ice time problem, which in his case left him not only with fewer total minutes per game than even Laine but also without the ample PP1 time Laine enjoyed. Of course this was all before John Tavares entered the picture; and one has to figure that either Tavares will see time on a line with Marner or he forces teams to use lesser caliber players to defend Marner – either way, the results should be very positive even if Marner’s ice times don’t spike.

Sean Monahan – Not only did Monahan’s 64 points in 74 games mark a career high, but we found out he played through a litany of injuries, which required four surgeries to repair. Given his perennial linemate Johnny Gaudreau had his first point per game campaign in 2017-18, there’s a good chance Monahan would’ve had a similar scoring rate had his body not betrayed him. Still, although he’s projected to be ready for training camp, there’s always a risk of lingering post-surgical issues. If indeed he’s fully healed though, he should have among the best chances among any of these players of joining the point per game club this coming season, especially with Elias Lindholm and James Neal in the fold.

Brayden Point – Like Aho, Point made huge strides as a sophomore and established himself as perhaps the most versatile Lightning forward, shifting from line to line and never once hitting a rough patch on his way to 66 points. The question with Point is one that plagues Marner and to a degree Laine, namely that even though he plays for what looks to be one of the NHL’s best offenses, will there be enough points on the team to go around such that when the dust settles Point will be a point per game scorer? Before writing him off, ask yourself whether you’d have pegged him for 66 points this past season and if he’s a player whose further success is something you’d want to bet against.

Rickard Rakell – Not sure Rakell belongs on the list? Consider his scoring pace progression over the last four seasons: 36 points, 49 points, 59 points, to 73 last season, punctuated with 14 points in 10 games at the IIHF World Championships in the spring. Based on that trend, the next stop should be point per game numbers. Also, although Rakell has missed an average of nine games per season over those four campaigns, keep in mind you’re voting on whether he’ll get point per game numbers, not whether he’ll get 82+ points in 82 games. As such, Rakell’s Band-Aid boy status should not stand in the way of your vote, unless you think injuries will start to take a cumulative toll on his scoring, which would not be the first case of that happening.

Brayden Schenn – In the same Cage Match as was cited above when discussing Granlund you saw that Schenn, despite posting a career best 70 points in 2017-18, still managed to finish below 70% in IPP and once again have a 5×5 team shooting percentage below 9.0%. For those keeping track, he has never been above either threshold, which suggests he might not drive offense nor find a way to insert himself into the point picture enough to be a strong scorer. But here’s the thing – so what if maybe he is being carried by linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and/or Jaden Schwartz? Plenty of NHLers have had the same thing happen to them, and found a way to point per game output. The question becomes whether Schenn will be allowed to remain the center on that line, especially if 2018-19 is a repeat of 2017-18, which saw Tarasenko’s worst output since he broke out and now that Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak are in the mix. Aside from the second-year players on the list, Schenn might be the biggest feast or famine voting candidate.

Vincent Trocheck – If you’re in a kitchen sink league and you had Trocheck on your roster, you landed perhaps the player with the among the most (if not the most) across the board value in today’s NHL, surpassing the forward who used to arguably hold that title – Ryan Kesler. But here’s the thing – while players like Kesler and Trocheck get PP1 time, they tend to be stuck on a 1B line that does not have a high OZ% and is tasked with skating against the best of the best their opponent has to offer. In the end, the hard work they put into taking draws, killing penalties, and just being out on the ice as much as they are – it takes a collective toll. Also, let’s not forget that as talented as Kesler was in his heyday, he never had a point per game season, and in fact peaked at 75 points at age 25, which is how old Trocheck turns this month. Coincidence? Your votes will decide if the answer is yes or no.

. . . . . .

There you have it – 13 voting choices. As noted above, you can vote for as many or as few as you think will indeed post point per game numbers for 2017-18. To vote, click here. When voting, be sure to also post in the thread about who you chose to vote for and why, as that way your fellow fantasy owners can get better insight into your thought process and the Tournament can be as instructive as it is fun. See you back here next week for Tournament #2.



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