The NHL Christmas break has come and gone with Boxing Day in the rear-view mirror but there still isn’t much to talk about hockey-wise. We did get the start of the World Junior tournament so we can begin these Ramblings by talking about that.
I should be clear that I’m not a “prospects guy” by any stretch of the imagination. I do watch some junior hockey, especially the WJHC, but I’m not a scout nor a prospects writer. I would suggest heading to our Dobber Prospects site for more detailed information. These are just some thoughts as I watch the games.
The first period of Switzerland-Czech Republic, unsurprisingly, was the Martin Necas and Filip Zadina show. Though they aren’t skating on the same line together, when either of them were on the ice, it seemed like they were generating chances at will. What really stuck out to me on Zadina’s part (and I’m sure anyone who’s watched him in the AHL would say something similar) is how he can manipulate the puck pre-shot. What I mean is he can drag and push the puck to change the angle ever so slightly to give himself a better chance of scoring. It’s something most elite goal scorers do at the next level and certainly bodes well for Zadina. It was obvious watching this game that he’s head and shoulders above most of the players at the tournament.
One Swiss player who really stood out, and much of my Twitter timeline seemed to agree, was Nando Eggenberger, a winger for the Oshawa Generals. He went undrafted in 2018 but you couldn’t tell by watching his game. He looked like an old school power forward at times, being able to drive wide using his size and reach to create chances. Keep an eye on him this tournament.
In Canada’s lopsided win over Denmark, it was the Morgan Frost show in the first period as he almost single-handedly put this game out of reach before the intermission. The late first round pick of Philadelphia back in 2017 had a pair of goals and an assist. All his skills were on display: soft hands for one goal, a quick release on the other, and nice vision to get a quick cross-ice pass to Owen Tippett for his assist. He completed the hat trick early in the second period. It figures he’ll be on the Flyers roster to start the 2019-2020 season. He’s ready.
Sometimes, it can be hard to stand out on the blue line, even more when you’re not a pure offensive force. That said, it was an impressive outing from Noah Dobson in my eyes. Always seemed to read the play correctly, knowing which passes to make to advance with possession and which not to make to avoid turnovers. It’s just one game, I know, but having that kind of decision making from a defenceman is important.
I didn’t get to see much of USA-Slovakia.
One big piece of news is that Mathew Dumba’s injury will keep him out of the lineup for three months. That means he’ll be out of the lineup until the last couple weeks of the season. He’s droppable in single-season formats.
Given that there is almost nothing going in the hockey world on Boxing Day outside of the WJHC, that means there is little to report here (does Karl Alzner getting called up from the AHL count?). It’s kind of an open forum for these Ramblings. I thought, then, that in the spirit of Boxing Day, we’ll go through some Boxing Day deals i.e. buy-low players.
We’ll assume Yahoo! standard scoring.
It’s been a rough year for almost everyone in St. Louis. Besides Tarasenko, injuries have hit some key players like Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo, the coach was fired, the forwards brought in haven’t seemed to mesh together, and the goaltending has been inconsistent. Ryan O’Reilly is having a pretty good season, but he’s about the only one.
What jumps out immediately, of course, is Tarasenko’s shooting percentage. He sits at 8.8 percent for the season, having never had a year below 10.7 percent, and a three-year average of 12.7 percent. Were he to be at 12.7 percent for the year instead of 8.8 percent, you could add five goals to his current total and he’d be on pace for nearly 40 goals. If that happens, we’re not having this conversation.
This is all being driven by his five-on-five shooting percentage, which sits below six percent, even if he’s generating shots closer to the net at a higher rate than last year (thanks, Dobber Tools). That he’s generating more shots closer to the net at five-on-five means that his individual expected goals is higher than the last few years even if his shot attempt rate is a little lower. Basically, maybe there are some lingering issues we don’t know about, but he should be scoring at a much higher rate than he is.
Now that Tarasenko is back on a line with the two guys (Schwartz and Brayden Schenn) he skated with last year and found so much success, this is probably the end of the buy-low opportunity for Tarasenko. There’s always the possibility he has one of *those* seasons were he just doesn’t break out of his funk, but I’ll bet on talent and opportunity over randomness and Tarasenko has both.
So, there are a few conditions here. First, we know that Carter, as an aging player, is in decline. At the age of 34 (well, he’ll be 34 on Tuesday) and with over 1000 games under his belt, that’s not in dispute. Second, we know the team around him is very bad and not likely to get much better. Third, outside deeper leagues, Carter is likely available on the waiver wire, so it’s a matter of who he’d be replacing. Carter would be a guy to stash on benches, not someone to roster and start immediately.
There’s also the chance he’s cooked shooting-wise. We saw it with Jarome Iginla; all of a sudden, it just wasn’t there anymore.
However, as I stated with Tarasenko, I’m always willing to bet on talent. Carter scored at least 20 goals in every season but one from 2005 through 2017 and was injured last year. Like Tarasenko, the problem is, largely, shooting percentages. He’s shooting just 7.3 percent, the lowest for him since 2006-2007, coming off a three-year average of 12 percent. His shot rate is an issue, as he’s sitting with his lowest rate of his career. That doesn’t excuse him shooting 3.7 percent at five-on-five, though.
Again, looking to grab Carter off the wire is probably only for deeper leagues, or at least 14 teams. He’s not drawing penalties and he’s not shooting near as much as he used to, and those are to big red flags for me. But that doesn’t mean Carter is a 10-15 goal guy now. Expect a much better second half from him, even on that team.
There was a good article about a week ago over at The Athletic from Tyler Dellow discussing the old pairing of Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton, and how Hamilton has fared thus far in Carolina. As fantasy owners of Hamilton can attest, the early returns on Hamilton this year haven’t been good, especially when compared to his old partner in Calgary. As Dellow points out, and as any good fantasy player knows, a lot of it is due to opportunity: Giordano has been racking points on a good top PP unit in Calgary while Hamilton has been toiling away on the second PP unit in Carolina.
There really isn’t a lot to add here except to say that I can’t imagine Rod Brind’Amour continuing with the current top PP unit. With Faulk on the ice for power plays, the Hurricanes are scoring 6.13 goals per 60 minutes. Among heavily-used PP defencemen, that ranks near the bottom and puts him in company with guys like Drew Doughty and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Not great company when discussing proficiency on the power play in 2018-19.
With Hamilton, it comes down to this: does he replace Justin Faulk on the top PP unit this year or not? If you think he does, there’s a real good chance for a second-half turnaround. If you don’t think he does, then there’s not. I can’t imagine they keep wasting power plays and if news were to come down tomorrow that he’ll be on the top PP unit from now on, the window for buying will slam shut. This is about getting in on the ground floor before that happens (if that happens).
One concerning aspect of Werenski’s season is this is the second year since his rookie season that he’s had a declining shot rate at five-on-five. It makes sense when you see that Columbus is playing at a slower pace this year than either of the previous two, and is especially slower this year compared to last. Also, if he’s finding forwards in better shooting positions than him, it makes sense in the real world for him to shoot less.
The big drag, though, on Werenski’s fantasy value is his plus/minus. He’s currently sitting with a minus-8 but that should improve on the balance of the season. As of today, he’s receiving .904 goaltending when he’s on the ice. It’s been no secret that Sergei Bobrovsky struggled to start the year but he turned in a handful of solid games right before the break. If he’s righting himself, Werenski’s plus/minus will take care of itself.
Werenski has been slotted back on the top PP unit as the lone defenceman, though with John Tortorella around that could change in an instant. But despite what seems like a slow start to the year, Werenski could push 15 goals and 40 points this year, and that’s with 15-plus PPPs. Once that plus/minus turns around, he has D2 potential in 12-team leagues. Buy now or forever hold your peace.