Lining Up: Bubble Keeper Week and Potential Line Mates
Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Welcome to Bubble Keeper Week at Dobber Hockey. No this isn’t a PSA to reuse your bubble wrap, it’s an overview of a few players fighting to keep your attention in fantasy hockey leagues. I’ll do my best to provide compelling cases for some of these ‘bubble keepers’ and how their potential line mates greatly increase their value.
After a busy offseason, the Calgary Flames now feature a forward core with many interesting pieces. The dynamic duo of Gaudreau and Monahan have proven time and time again why they’re valuable in fantasy hockey leagues, but what makes them even more valuable is their ability to make those around them better (see: Micheal Ferland from 2017-2018). So, what happens when you take a talented player and play him alongside two very talented players? Well, what I’m hoping for is a similar situation to Dallas’ top line, with Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal being the new Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alex Radulov. It’s been a while since James Neal has played a full season, so I’ll remind you that the last time he played 82 games (2015-2016) he managed 58 points. If he remains healthy and plays with Gaudreau and Monahan this season, I expect nothing less than 55 points. It seems obvious, but I should probably mention that predicting lines for a season that hasn’t yet started is always risky. To cover my bases, I’ll mention Elias Lindholm as another candidate for third wheel on the top line. Now, Lindholm might be a little better than a ‘bubble keeper’, but I figured he should be in the conversation if we’re discussing Calgary’s top line. Once a fifth overall pick in 2013, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of 23-year-old lindholm just yet.
Okay listen, it’s Bubble Keeper Week and being a Habs fan, if I see a Montreal Canadien on the bubble keeper list, you can bet your grandma’s pension that I’m going to write about him. Why, you ask? Because I feel like I can provide the most educated opinion on the team I watch the most, so please bear with me. For starters, Max Pacioretty is better than the 37 points he totalled last season. Ground-breaking stuff, I know. In all seriousness, I’ve seen a lot of people undervalue Pacioretty based on his stats from last year. They somehow forget that prior to last season, he had tallied 30+ goals and 60+ points for four straight seasons. That was no accident, I promise. Last season, Pacioretty spent too much time trying to play a different style of hockey, overcompensating for Alex Radulov’s absence. I have faith he’ll return to his old ways in an attempt to impress the league and solidify a long-term contract somewhere. Then there’s Jonathan Drouin, a player who is constantly criticized despite consistent growth at a position he isn’t exactly familiar with. Now that he has a full season of playing center under his belt, I think he’ll continue to improve and eventually be a serviceable top-six center. The important thing is that his offensive skill and hockey IQ is still very much prevalent. Now, Artturi Lehkonen isn’t quite a household name compared to Pacioretty and Drouin, but there’s no denying his talent. At first glance, his 21 points last season are extremely underwhelming. But then you realize he missed a big chunk of time with a lower-body injury and might not have been a 100% during the 66 games he did play. This season I expect him to build on his encouraging rookie campaign (2016-2017) and eclipse the 20-goal mark.
Some would argue that Taylor Hall single-handedly dragged the Devils into the playoffs last season with an impressive 93 points in 76 games. Others would warn you not to discount the value of rookie Nico Hischier and his 52 points. Going into this season, I’ll remind you that a few players flying under the radar might play alongside the aforementioned 2017-2018 Hart Trophy winner and 2017 first overall pick, not a bad spot to be in. The obvious choice would be Kyle Palmeri, who managed to produce 44 points in 62 games in 2017-2018 despite missing a large chunk of the season due to injury. But my fellow writers will be providing more information on Kyle Palmieri and why he’s a valuable ‘bubble keeper’. Instead I’ll say that 19-year-old Jesper Bratt is also very much capable of playing with Hall and Hischier on the top line. Bratt managed 35 points in 74 games during his rookie season (2017-2018) and has shown the offensive skill set needed to compete at the NHL level. While his defensive game does need some work, he’s a bright spot for the future in New Jersey.
Mike Hoffman’s real-world market value might have taken a hit because of some off-ice drama surrounding his fiancée, but you’d be silly to discount his fantasy value as a result. He has hovered around 60 points in each of the last three seasons and has one of the best releases in the league. I truly believe that a new start in Florida where the media is much more forgiving than Ottawa, can be just what the doctor ordered for Hoffman. It’s not like he downgraded line mates either, that Vincent Trocheck guy scored 75 points in 82 games last season! What makes Trocheck’s 2017-2018 campaign even more impressive is the fact that he started less than 42% of his shifts in the offensive zone. But this week is ‘Bubble Keeper Week’, and Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck are way too good to be on the bubble. So, logic dictates that anyone playing with these two becomes valuable as a result, right?? Well in this case, that lucky guy could very well be Nick Bjugstad. It seems like we’ve been expecting more from Bjugstad for a while now, and he took a big step in the right direction last season, with 49 points in 82 games. The underlying numbers behind his success didn’t scream “unsustainable” either. If this trio finds chemistry in 2018-2019, Bjugstad should be capable of tallying 50+ points. Don’t be surprised if 20-year-old Henrik Borgstrom also sees time beside Hoffman and Trocheck. The 23rd overall pick in 2016 is one of the Panthers’ most exciting prospects.
Islanders fans, I hate to rub salt in the wound, but we have to talk about Tavares’ departure a little bit more. Instead of being a few pieces away from a playoff team, the Isles are now forced into a rebuild/retool stage. While there’s no doubt they’ve acquired many exciting young prospects (Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson) for future success, there is some uncertainty as to what exactly is going to happen this season. The team has a franchise player in 21-year-old Barzal, but who will make up the supporting cast? I bring up Barzal’s age to highlight how much younger he is than the rest of New York’s top-six wingers. Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle are all 28-years-old and might be past their prime when the rebuild/retool phase is complete. So then, does it not make the most sense to play 21-year old Anthony Beauvillier alongside Barzal in an attempt to build chemistry? In his sophomore season, Beauvillier managed 36 points in 71 games, improving on a 24-point rookie season (66 games). This becomes all the more impressive when you realize he saw just 14:28 of ice-time, averaging less than a minute of power-play time. The 28th overall pick of 2015 still has lots of room to grow, he just needs to be given the right opportunity.