Ramblings: Brouwer, Bjugstad, Gourde, Baertschi, Craig Smith, and More – August 30

Michael Clifford



Be sure to grab your copy of the 2018-19 Dobber Hockey fantasy guide! There is loads of information from projected lineups (both even strength and power play), projections for each player, a master draft list for different setups, advanced stats, schedule analysis, and a whole lot more. It’s constantly updated so that new information is available for download with frequency. Head to the Dobber Shop to pick up your guide!


Troy Brouwer signed a one-year, one-way deal with the Panthers a couple days ago. As Ian mentioned in his Ramblings yesterday, it’s hard to imagine he’ll have any relevance outside extremely deep leagues. At best, he’ll be given secondary PP minutes while skating on the fourth line. If he plays any higher in the Florida lineup, something has gone very, very wrong with the team.


This was a very good read from Shayna Goldman at The Athletic yesterday with regards to Chris Kreider’s new role with the Rangers. Not only that as a veteran but as a player changing his game. She went into detail about Kreider’s desire to play at a lighter weight as he did when he returned from injury last year, as well as how new coach David Quinn’s changes from Alain Vigneault’s style could benefit Kreider and the Rangers as a whole.

Given that Kreider is a lock for the top line and top PP unit, combined with his ability to contribute across the board in roto categories, perhaps there’s a big season in store. The Rangers might not be a great team from top to bottom but Kreider himself has top-100 potential in 2018-19.


Speaking of lineup positioning:

That’s important confirmation for backers of Nick Bjugstad.


A popular sentiment across most sports is that preseason doesn’t matter. It’s true that there are a lot of aspects about training camp and exhibition games that are mostly irrelevant: “so-and-so is in the best shape of their career,” “[enter name here] is poised to have a big season,” and the “[player] looks good out there” are among common, meaningless tropes. There are others, but you guys get the idea.

There are things to be extracted from exhibition games, however. In the NFL, it’s which running backs or wide receivers are lining up most often with the presumptive starting quarterback. In MLB, batting order position when most of the regular starters are in the lineup can give insight into where a manager wants certain players to hit, which can have an effect on runs and RBI.

Of course, in the NHL, it’s lineup slotting. Playing on the top line in New Jersey alongside Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier as opposed to playing on the second line with, say, Marcus Johansson and Travis Zajac would be of importance to fantasy owners. This seems obvious to most but sometimes descriptors like “top-6 player” and “middle-6 player” are thrown out when there could be a significant difference between playing on the second line or the third line.

The 2018-19 Dobber guide has projected lineups, both at even strength and on the power play, but I wanted to go through some potential lineup positioning that could have a large impact on how we view a certain player, or players.


Nashville second line

The assumption here is that the second line for Nashville to start this year will be the same second line which finished the 2017-18 season, that being Kyle Turris flanked by Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith. And really, why not? They finished the year, according to Corsica, with a 58.4 percent adjusted shot share, 60.7 percent adjusted goal share, and 72.3 percent actual goal share. Those are all excellent numbers.

The problem is that the bottom-6 of the team didn’t really contribute: Nick Bonino, including postseason contests, managed just 30 points in 84 games; Calle Jarnkrok was injured down the stretch and posted just one point in seven playoff games after a solid regular season;  Ryan Hartman, including playoffs, had nine points in 30 games; Eeli Tolvanen couldn’t crack the lineup regularly after coming over from the KHL. What I’m saying is that maybe they’ll need to spread around their talent.

I will admit that the most likely scenario here is that they just stick with the same top two lines they had last year and mix and match the bottom two lines until something clicks. I just want to see if the coaching staff decides maybe Smith needs to move down to the third line, or maybe Fiala does to really give them a more balanced attack.


Vancouver top line left wing

Like Nashville, this is likely a scenario where the most obvious solution – Sven Baertschi lines up with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser – is the likely solution. At the same time, this is a team very much devoid of scoring talent. They remind me of Arizona from last year. Remember when the Coyotes had a top line of Domi-Stepan-Keller and they were prolific for about the first month of the season? They then had to split them up just because the rest of the lineup wasn’t doing anything.

Do we see a similar situation here? Does that very talented top line have to be broken up just to provide some scoring punch on the second and third lines? That’s my line of thinking. It’s also a situation where they could start with Baertschi on the top line for the first dozen games or so and then split them up.

What I would give to see Elias Pettersson get a crack on that left wing.


Anaheim top line right wing

I’ve covered this topic a couple times this summer, so I won’t spend too much time here. I’m firmly in the camp that Corey Perry would be best served on the third line where he can get favourable deployment and matchups and Ondrej Kase should be moved to the top line. I doubt Randy Carlyle feels the same way, but it’s something to keep an eye on anyway.


Los Angeles 3F/2D or 4F/1D top PP?

When I wrote about power plays earlier this summer one power play that really stuck out to me was Los Angeles. There is no doubt they’re going to have a heavily-used top unit, and there is no doubt that, if they’re healthy, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Drew Doughty are going to be locks for the top unit. The question is who is the fourth player? Do they go with a second defenceman like Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez? Do they go with a fourth forward like Tyler Toffoli, Dustin Brown, or Tanner Pearson? It’s a nice problem to have for the coach because he does have several options, but it could be a nightmare for fantasy owners.

We might not get this answer until late in exhibition season when the roster is nearly cut down to the actual NHL roster but it’s something to monitor for those with drafts that near the start of the season. It could mean the difference in a player having 15 power-play points or five.


Washington second line left wing

It seems like Jakub Vrana played his way into a locked second-line left wing role alongside Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie. That is clearly an advantageous place to be.

The more I thought about it, though, was it that Vrana played his way into that role or was it that Andre Burakovsky was injured and ineffective? Those are separate questions that could make a big difference this year.

Not a knock against Lars Eller and Brett Connolly here – in fact, Eller’s postseason performance was a big reason for the team’s Cup win – but for fantasy purposes I would much rather have the winger playing with Backstrom/Oshie. Vrana is probably better served playing with top playmakers than on a line that could be better described as a two-way line, but maybe they want to inject a bit of offensive flair onto that third line. We’ll see in training camp and exhibition.


Jordan Eberle’s role

The loss of John Tavares is clearly huge for the Islanders but it also could mean that Jordan Eberle moves to the top line alongside Mat Barzal, and also to the top PP unit. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing for his fantasy value.

Plus/minus will be a concern for this entire team but there is going to be a significant difference in point potential between skating with Barzal and skating with whomever is the second-line centre for this team.

I will be very interested to see if Barry Trotz just decides to keep the chemistry of Barzal and Eberle together, or if he sticks with the top-line winger duo of Josh Bailey and Anders Lee. It’ll make a significant difference in how we should view Eberle’s potential for the year.


St. Louis second line

There is a lot going on here. As mentioned in my Ramblings a couple times before, there has been talk of Robert Thomas skating on the second line for the Blues. Not just talk from writers or fans, talk from management:

The Blues added a lot of pieces in the offseason up front, including Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Patrick Maroon, and Tyler Bozak. They also have a returning Robby Fabbri. Add in the potential for Thomas to skate on the second line – and don’t forget Alex Steen – and the situation is very muddled.

The presumption here is that the second line will be Fabbri-O’Reilly-Perron, but is that the line they actually use? Does it change often during exhibition? This will be a situation to monitor very closely.


Lightning second line right wing

There is going to be some debate in the fantasy community as to what the second and third lines for the Lightning should look like for this season. Both Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson spent over 200 minutes at five-on-five on the right wing alongside Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat. The difference between playing with Point/Palat and, say, Cedric Paquette and Alex Killorn is significant.

Or maybe they just move Johnson to the third-line centre?

This is what makes me nervous about drafting Gourde this year. Not only was last year an unbelievable season, but he won’t be on the top PP unit and there’s a reasonable chance he lines up on the third line. What the coaching staff decides to do with their 2RW will have a sizable impact on how we should view the seasons of Johnson and Gourde.


Chicago second line left wing

I suppose it depends on how you view the lineup; is the Toews line or the Kane line the first line? Regardless, here I mean the Patrick Kane line.

I think most people can agree that Saad/Toews and Schmaltz/Kane are going to be the top-2 forward pairs. I want to know who is going to play with Schmaltz and Kane.

The natural option would seem to be Dylan Sikura, but Artem Anisimov also played nearly 280 minutes with Schmaltz and Kane last year. We also have to factor Joel Quenneville, which means there’s an outside chance that Chris Kunitz could see some time on that line as well. This is like the situation in Tampa Bay where the difference between playing on the second line and third line is a gigantic gap and will have a huge impact on a player’s outlook for 2018-19.


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