One of my favourite things to do in hockey pools is to go back and see who were some of the biggest surprises taken in my hockey pool drafts.
Last year, for example, players such as Josh Bailey, William Karlsson and Brayden Point could have made the difference between winning your fantasy hockey championship and missing the playoffs. It’s fun to sit back and wonder how could we have been so stupid not to see the breakout coming.
Below are 10 potential surprises for this upcoming season. It could be the players find themselves in a better situation that fantasy general managers are overlooking, or the players might be underestimated.
10. Robin Lehner
Lehner is going to start the season battling Thomas Greiss for the starter’s job. I believe Lehner will be the top netminder for the Islanders by Christmas. He was underrated in his three seasons with an atrocious Sabres squad, but now he’ll have a better team in front of him and a better coach in Barry Trotz.
9. Alexander Nylander
Much of the focus is on Sabres rookies Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt, but Nylander will be a surprise rookie this season. Reports have Nylander looking impressive in the Sabres rookie camp with three goals and two assists in three games. Don’t look too much into last year’s underwhelming AHL stats when he had 27 points in 51 games. He started the year dealing with the all-too-common lower-body injury, but finished with 21 points in his last 29 games.
8. Jeff Petry
Petry is the Habs number one power play quarterback until at least Christmas. Last year, he put up 42 points, 31 of them in the 49 games Weber missed starting in December. Petry is going late in drafts, but don’t underestimate him. He could crack 40 points again, and don’t forget that he’s a good bet to get triple digits in both hits and blocked shots (he’s averaged 169 and 142 in each category the past two years). If he can reach 200 shots for the first time in his career and improves his plus/minus (he was an ugly minus-30 last year), he should be a top-30 defenseman this season.
The more I learn about Dvorak, the more convinced I am that he will become an excellent player in this league. He’s been great everywhere he’s played (including back-to-back 100-point seasons in the OHL and an excellent world juniors and Memorial Cup in 2016). His ice time and powerplay ice time increased in his sophomore season compared to his rookie season, and he seems poised for a breakthrough.
When Erik Karlsson missed the first five games of last season, Wideman led the team with 4:06 powerplay minutes per game. Only two other Sens defensemen averaged more than 20 seconds: Dion Phaneuf (no longer with the team) and Thomas Chabot. Wideman ended up with eight points in 16 games before needing surgery on his hamstring and missed the rest of the year. There’s not a lot of great fantasy options in Ottawa, and Sens coach Guy Boucher has said Wideman will get more powerplay time this year to make up for the loss of Karlsson.
A lot of fantasy hockey general managers are down on Crawford as he continues to battle concussion symptoms, but it’s not as bad as it seems. He’s been practicing and the plan is still for him to be ready for the start of the regular season. It may take a few games for him to settle in, but once he does, he’ll be back to his normal self. Remember, in the last six seasons, Crawford has won 30 games four times (one of the times he didn’t was the lockout-shortened season when he played only 30 games), and has had at least a .924 SV % four times and a GAA of 2.30 or better four times.
Konecny will be one of those players that come April, everyone will say “yeah I saw that coming,” but yet, people aren’t expecting much of an improvement on his 47 points from a year ago. He finished last season with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, where he had 37 points in 45 games, a 67-point pace. He’s going to be boom or bust as he could wind up on the third line this year. I’m going with boom.
3. Joe Thornton
Thornton’s surprise season will all depend on his health. In April of 2017, he tore his ACL and MCL, and didn’t fully recover until Christmas. Less than a month later, he injured his ACL and MCL again. If healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t reach 65 points. He did have 36 points in 47 games last year, which equates to a 63-point pace over a full 82 games. He also had 26 points in 28 games before his season-ending injury.
2. Jeff Carter
Jeff Carter is as close to a guarantee as you are going to get in fantasy hockey. He’s had anywhere from 0.8 to 0.81 points per game the last three years, and he’s always good for at least three shots per game. He’s pretty much guaranteed a top-six role and top power play minutes. He’s falling down people’s radar a little because of the fact he played just 27 games last year and much of the focus is on Ilya Kovalchuk. Just remember that in 2016-17, when he played 82 games, Carter was the 24th-ranked player in Yahoo roto and head-to-head leagues, but 13th if your league also included faceoffs.
I am a little baffled by Bergeron’s point projections this year. Most seem to be predicting big things for linemates David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (about 80 to 90 points for each), but Bergeron is hovering at 70 points or below. Bergeron was almost a point-per-game player last year, but missed 18 games due to a fractured right foot. If he’s healthy this year, I like Bergeron to mimic his linemates and finish with around 80-90 points.