Last season, we saw several players outkick their expectations and give tremendous value to their owners. Mika Zibanejad, Sebastian Aho, Timo Meier, Brayden Point, and of course, Jordan Binnington. Which players will do the same in 2019-20? Here are a few that haven’t been garnering a ton of attention this offseason.
The evolution in San Jose is happening. The summer’s exodus of players is reflective of that change, but so is the development of the club’s younger assets. There is perhaps no greater example of that than Labanc.
The 23-year-old is the poster boy for finding value in later rounds. Despite scoring just 35 points in 65 OHL games in 2013-14, the Sharks decided to take a flier on the Staten Island-native in the sixth round. The following season saw him triple his production to 107 points. In his draft-plus two campaign, he led the league points with 127.
His first three seasons in the NHL have resulted in steady improvements as well, culminating in 17 markers and 56 points this past year. This, despite playing just 14 minutes a night and seeing second power-play deployment.
The Sharks bidding farewell to long-time captain, Joe Pavelski opens a spot on the top power-play unit. That spot could be Labanc’s if the club decides to split Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns and run a 4+1 setup. If not, it will be back to unit number two for the former Barrie Colt.
However, his position at even-strength should be improved. Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi vacating the top nine provide more importance on Labanc (and Meier) to step in and fill the loss. His 12 minutes of five-on-five ice is going to see a tangible uptick – as much as three or four minutes a night. Over the course of 82 games, we’re looking at an additional 250-300 minutes.
Stick with me for a second. An additional 3-4 minutes per night amounts to roughly 18 more contests from last season (246 total minutes ÷ 14 minutes averaged per game = 17.57 games). Last season, Labanc clicked at 0.2 goals and 0.68 points-per-game. So just adding the additional minutes, without attributing for his personal development and the future deployment with better linemates, we can add three goals and 12 points to his total. Now we’re talking about a 20 goal, 68 point player.
There’s little reason to doubt Labanc’s ability to continue to generate offense at a high clip with more minutes. His 2.9 points-per-60 last season was firmly amongst the top 50 for all regular skaters. That’s damn near 1F territory.
Labanc is a playmaking winger. He’ll be given a chance to feed quality shooters in Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Evander Kane on a regular basis now. However, when we start to see him put over two shots on goal per game, that’s when an explosion could be imminent.
Oh, and if you’re in a cap league, his one-year deal for 1M will be unreal – for one season anyway. Labanc is betting on himself to hit a home run in 2019-20 with the improved deployment. He’s also giving the club the financial flexibility to push for one another Cup run. It’s a good bet if he can make the jump into the next tier of talent. He’ll certainly have the motivation and opportunity to do so.
The boom is coming. It’s been foretold. Over the last two seasons, Kase has produced the 36th best points-per-game clip at five-on-five. His full-strength efficiency is supreme. Yet, for some reason, he still only skates around 13 minutes a night at evens.
Like Labanc, the 23-year-old Kase has played in three NHL seasons while seeing his goal-scoring and point production improve on a per-game basis year-over-year. The issue with the Ducks’ winger has been maintaining his health. The Czech-product managed to get into just 30 games last years. However, he tallied 11 goals and 20 points in that span. His 10 even-strength goals were (0.33 per-game) would have netted him 27 just at even-strength in a full season.
His second-quarter output from last season illustrates the potential we’re talking about here.
Kase is also an impressive volume shooter. He trailed only Brendan Gallagher in shots-per-60 at five-on-five last season. The likelihood of him setting up beside a pure distributor like Ryan Getzlaf in all situations next season could be a recipe for 30-plus markers. Getzlaf isn’t what he once was, but he still has the ability to work the puck around with poise and efficiency.
Kase was a sexy sleeper pick a season ago. He should be again this year too.
I could spend a few thousand words on Laine, but I’ve already run a bit long today. So let's just say that 2018-19 was a down year for an elite player. He will absolutely rebound. If you’re betting on Laine to be a 30-goal, 50-point player, you’re going to be missing out.
For the record, I’m not concerned with the rumours that he may have fallen out of favour with a prickly leadership core in Winnipeg. If for some reason the Jets are crazy enough to move him, I’m confident the receiving team will put him in the juiciest positions they have.
I’m buying low if an owner will let me.
If you have not yet purchased the 14th Annual Fantasy Hockey Guide, then clearly you’ve been busy this summer. Which is cool. I like the sun. However, NHL action is six weeks out. Draft season is all but here. Go on and get it.
Word came down earlier this week that RFA winger, Brock Boeser is looking for a four-year deal worth seven million per season. This should not come as a surprise. A deal like this would pay Boeser market value and then set him up for a potentially monster deal as a 26-year-old right in the heart of his prime. For the Canucks, that’s not ideal. It does maintain their control of him as he’d be an RFA at the conclusion of the contract though.
You’d have to imagine that Vancouver could move that number down if they do decide to take the 22-year-old up on the shorter contract. Timo Meier, who is from the same draft class and slightly outproduced Boeser last season, just signed a four-year pact worth six million per. The thing with Meier’s deal is that they structured it so his base salary is 10M in the final year. This will lead to a massive qualifying offer at the conclusion.
As far as Boeser goes for next season and beyond, all the pieces are in place for him to be a premier producer in the league. His spot alongside Elias Pettersson is rock solid. His release is all-world. What he needs to prove is he can remain healthy. This offseason was the first healthy one for the former NoDak star in a few seasons. That should help get the ball rolling early in the season and hopefully drive him to his first 30-plus goal, 70-point season.
You want this. Trust me.
HAPPY ALMANAC + PROJECTIONS RELEASE DAY!!
32 chapters. 30+ hours of fantasy hockey analysis, projections and content for 2019-20.
304 skaters projected, 70 goalies tiered.
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— Keeping Karlsson (@keepingkarlsson) August 23, 2019
We had the rare late-August UFA signing on Saturday. Patrick Maroon inked a very cost-effective one-year contract with Tampa Bay for 900K. The Eastern Conference powerhouse pretty much replaced Adam Erne with Maroon and saved themselves 150K. Erne may represent the better asset long term due to his age, but for a club looking to win right now, this presents a likely upgrade.
Maroon saw his metrics dip last season with the Blues but was useful in their Cup-winning spring. He's a load to handle in the corners and can be a useful net-front presence on a second power-play unit. He's also just a year removed from back-to-back 40-plus point seasons. However, expecting much more than 30 points may leave you wanting. The 31-year-old will bring about two hits per game, and a few penalty minutes in knuckle-dragging leagues.
On a more worldly note, what is happening to the Amazon rainforest right now is devastating. The very lungs of our planet are dying as we stand aside and look. Increased deforestation is holding the gun, but our lack of action has paid for the hit. This is what happens when we lose respect for the balance that enables life.
This year, a portion of the proceeds earned from my point projection document (out next week) will be donated to the Amazon Conservation Association – a non-profit organization that has been trying to protect the rainforest for more than 20 years.
Keep an eye out for the projections!
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