21 Fantasy Hockey Rambles
Every Sunday, we'll share 21 Fantasy Rambles – formerly 20 Fantasy Thoughts – from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's ‘Daily Ramblings’.
Writers: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford, Cam Robinson, and Dobber
1. Nikolaj Ehlers’ declining numbers are a concern for many, and with good reason. His points, points-per-game, PPTOI and TOI have slipped in each of the last two seasons. And he couldn’t buy a point in the second half of 2018-19. Don’t sweat this one. He returned a little early from a shoulder injury and was ineffective. Give him a Mulligan for last season and consider him a ‘buy low’ option for the year ahead.
Last year was supposed to be his BT campaign (Breakout Threshold). The injury delayed it, so it’s entirely possible that he has it in the year ahead. I have him as a very strong sleeper possibility at 15% confidence in the Fantasy Guide. One tiny concern I do have is the injuries. He didn’t have any in 2016-17 nor 2017-18, but last year besides the shoulder injury he suffered a leg fracture in the playoffs. Hopefully those were just coincidences (but with the next one I’ll feel differently). (aug24)
2. There are a handful of players every year that require people to take kind of a leap of faith. Often, it’s younger players without an extensive track record who will require a decent investment at the draft table. Timo Meier might seem like that, but he’s not. Before his breakout 2018-19 season, when he scored 30 goals, his 2017-18 season had him driving shot attempts in the top five percent of the league and driving expected goals near the top 10 percent. His shot rate is elite as well. Honestly, anytime after the top-10 right wingers is good value for Meier, and the later the better. He’s my #6 right winger in Yahoo! leagues at the moment. (aug23)
3. The boom is coming. It’s been foretold. Over the last two seasons, Ondrej 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.
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 year. 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. (aug25)
4. So, Evgeni Kuznetsov was found to have tested positive for cocaine in his drug test. This, after his denying ever using cocaine but only hanging around with friends who do. The IIHF has suspended him for four years from international hockey. The NHL doesn’t consider this a performance enhancing drug, and instead considers it a substance abuse problem (rightfully so). They are discussing what to do about this, but for now he will enter the substance abuse program.
So…in fantasy hockey (of course, because that’s why we’re here) – how do we play this? For now, I will dock him five games my projection. I do this because it’s halfway between one month in the program and missing zero games, and two months in the program and missing about 10 games. Until we hear more, that’s what we’re stuck with. That’s the advantage of having a draft later in September instead of now.
This also impacts TJ Oshie and Jakub Vrana. If Kuznetsov misses time, Nicklas Backstrom moves up to play with Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin…leaving Oshie and Vrana with Lars Eller. But until we get an official word on time missed, I won’t be adjusting any other player. (aug24)
5. An intriguing player although with limited upside (mid-60s in points, if the stars align perfectly, more likely mid-30s, though), Lukas Radil is intriguing because he’s 29 years old and so he has zero wait time, and he impressed enough last season to quickly earn a second one-year contract with the Sharks.
A decent secondary scorer in the KHL, Radil transitioned to North America nicely, posting 11 points in 15 AHL games. In a depth role with San Jose he also had 11 points, but in 36 games. He played about half of his NHL shifts with Logan Couture and Timo Meier, but the other half with Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson. The red flag here is – he produced better with Goodrow and Karlsson. To his advantage is that the Sharks are not very deep at forward. After their six key power-play guys (I’m assuming Joe Thornton signs), it’s wide open. So, any injury in that top-six could see Radil get a real big push. But he’s not draftable and I would save a situation like that for the waiver wire. (aug24)
6. Dominik Kahun is a real nice boom-or-bust pick because everybody and their mother knows that this guy is getting a shot on Evgeni Malkin’s line. Not just a regular shot either, but a real lengthy one.
I’ve seen these fail over the years. Michael Raffl comes to mind with the Flyers and Claude Giroux, but also Cory Conacher on the John Tavares line with the Islanders, and Colby Armstrong on Sidney Crosby’s line with the Penguins. So, of course there is risk. But as with those examples, you have to take a chance on it anyway. Anytime you’re told that a player will get at least 10 games on the wing of a superstar, and that’s almost a guarantee, then you have to go for it. It won’t be your fault if there is no chemistry or the player craps out. You do it because you’re playing the odds.
And the odds in this case are greater that Kahun becomes a good fantasy own if he plays with Malkin for 10 games versus him not playing with Malkin for 10 games. I do like Kahun better than Raffl (a lot – I never liked Raffl), and a little better than Armstrong (he was a defensive player who showed offensive spark with Crosby early on). I like Kahun about equally to Conacher, or maybe slightly better because he has a full season under his belt whereas Conacher at the time had been huge in the AHL and had only bounced around the NHL seeing moderate success with Tampa (24 points in 35 games).
Kahun stuck for a full 82-game season and had 37 points last year and before that he was middling setup man in the German League. The Penguins paid Olli Maatta to get him, whereas the Isles just took a flier on Conacher and signed him as a free agent. That year, Conacher had 12 or 13 games on the Tavares line before they gave up on him. Kahun’s leash will be even longer. Kahun looking good makes management look good, so they’re really going to push hard to make this work. If it does, the 24-year-old could be a steady 60-point guy (or more). (aug24)
7. We here at DobberHockey have written a lot about Vincent Trocheck this off-season: here is Alex MacLean telling you why he’s a good value in cap leagues; this one is from Brennan Des’s ‘Eastern Edge’ column cautioning about the potential for a slow start; and finally, I wrote about him during our ‘Bubble Keeper Week’ in comparison to Jonathan Toews. Needless to say, while we may differentiate on some of the finer points for Trocheck’s 2019-20 outlook, many of us agree: Trocheck is going to be a good value this year, especially in multi-category leagues. If you can get him as a third center, it’s a huge win on draft day. (aug23)
8. The Islanders added a bit of forward depth by signing center Derick Brassard to a one-year contract for $1.2 million. I don’t think there’s much fantasy value here. He may sneak into the top-6 at times but with Anders Lee and Anthony Beauvillier already there, it doesn’t appear playing left wing is an option to get into the top-6 without the demotion of Beauvillier, which seems like a bad idea. I similarly don’t see them using the freshly-extended Brock Nelson in the bottom-6, either. It seems like Brassard’s destined, at best, for the third line, and that means limited fantasy value on this team, even if he rebounds. (aug23)
9. I’ve written a lot on both Samuel Girard and Cale Makar this off-season; here is a discussion on Girard’s entry rates, Girard’s new contract, and Makar in the playoffs. There are more Ramblings like that. Let’s just say it’s not necessary for me to dig deeper at the moment.
Yahoo’s draft analysis has Makar going near the top-25 defensemen, and in the same range as guys like Dougie Hamilton, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Zach Werenski. On the flipside, Girard is being drafted outside the top-50 defensemen, and in the same range as Travis Sanheim, Will Butcher and Kevin Shattenkirk.
As I’ve written before, I’m not certain Makar is the PP1 quarterback right out of the gate and having to draft him will mean potentially forgoing names like OEL, Werenski, Hamilton, Jacob Trouba, and Shea Theodore. This isn’t to disparage Makar as I do think he will be an elite defenseman in the NHL in short order, but are the Avalanche, a likely Cup contender, going to have a rookie running their power play right out of the gate? I’m not so sure. Heck, it even took Rasmus Dahlin – probably the best defensive prospect to come around in a decade – three-quarters of a season to wrangle that spot full-time (though Rasmus Ristolainen was often still used as a second defenseman).
I think we’re looking at a situation where Makar probably takes over that top PP unit this season at some point, but I certainly wouldn’t want to draft him over someone like Hamilton to wait for it to happen. I’d rather draft Girard over someone like Shattenkirk and hope that ends up being the correct course. (aug22)
10. On Roman Josi/Ryan Ellis: This is different than Girad/Makar above, as those are rookies that hope to take over the PP1 reigns. This is a situation where a significant piece (P.K. Subban) was traded off the Nashville blue line and now it’s a two-horse race for those prime PP minutes.
Obviously, Josi has the inside track, but that Nashville power play was a mess last year. If that doesn’t correct itself, Josi is going to have a hard time returning his draft day value. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, he’s going as the fifth defenseman in Yahoo! leagues.
One concern I have with taking Josi that high in Yahoo! leagues is those leagues include hits, and Josi has one (1) season with at least 60 hits in his career. When you factor in the PP production issues – he’s accumulated more than 20 PPPs in one (1) season in his career – we can see how tenuous this draft pick is. Consider this: two years ago, Josi set a career-high in plus-minus (plus-24), a career-high in hits (80), the second-highest shot total of his career (253), had the second-highest PPP total of his career (20), and still wasn’t a top-5 defenseman. In order to pay off being a top-5 defenseman in Yahoo! leagues, Josi would likely require a career year. In my experience, expecting a career year from someone just to pay off their ADP, let alone recoup value, doesn’t end well. For reference, the number-4 defenseman in Yahoo! fantasy last year was John Carlson. He had 70 points, was plus-21, and had 33 PPPs. There’s your baseline for Josi exceeding his D-5 ADP. Good luck.
Ellis, meanwhile, is going around where Quinn Hughes is being drafted, which is to say a third or fourth defenseman in 12-team leagues. I don’t think Ellis is the better fantasy option between he and Josi, but I don’t want to bet on Josi at his ADP over Ellis at his ADP, either. (aug22)
Inside the Fantasy Guide on page 28 are instructions on how you can win a FREE Google Home. Unfortunately, international readers, I’m only shipping this within North America. On page 28 I noted the odds of winning as one in 1000, but that was based on the number of entries. So far there are about 45 entries, which means the odds of winning are one in…45?
11. One small bit of news to pass along as it looks like Dmitrij Jaskin will be heading to the KHL.
The 26-year old winger had 27 goals and 69 points in 303 career NHL games, most of them with St. Louis. He’ll also be known as the guy who played with St. Louis in 2017-18 and Washington in 2018-19, making him maybe the unluckiest NHLer in recent memory?
Anyway, I bring him up because I wrote about him last week in the context of players I was high on who never panned out. This isn’t just conjecture, either: here’s my take on the T.J. Oshie–Troy Brouwer trade four years ago and how that could be good for Jaskin’s move to the St. Louis top-6, and I also wrote how he and Paul Stastny played together and why that would be good fodder for Jaskin’s eventual move to the top-6. While he did get some time in the top-6 in St. Louis, he obviously never lasted long, and his NHL career is over (for now).
It’s also a case of being careful about Corsi differentials. That was one of the reasons I was high on Jaskin following the 2014-15 season, as he finished with a relative Corsi in the same neighbourhood as Zach Parise and Ryan O’Reilly. Of course, what my idiot self didn’t realize is this was largely driven by being excellent defensively but, at best, average offensively. It’s one reason why I now shudder when I see people just proclaiming a good Corsi rating as the reason a player will be a good fantasy asset; one does not necessarily beget the other and more context is needed. (aug22)
12. The Sens locked up a piece of their future this past week when they signed Colin White for six years with an average annual value of $4.75-million. Just on the surface, this seems like a smart deal as it’s a reasonable cap hit and they can let him walk in his late 20s if they want to.
On the other hand, his play-driving numbers playing away from Mark Stone weren’t very good (like, not very good on the Sens, not just compared to the NHL in general, which is even worse). This is a guy with a lot still to prove, so how this contract will look remains to be seen.
As for 2019-20, I can see him Martin Erat-ing his way to a respectable fantasy season because he’ll have to play a lot of minutes on a team with very little depth. Consider that after the trade deadline last year, he played 17:40 per game across 15 games compared to 15:48 up until the deadline. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the 18-19 minute range this year and that level of ice time will give decent production, almost regardless of how good the actual team is. (aug22)
13. Jim Benning signed a three-year extension on Tuesday. The Canucks GM has a year remaining on his current deal, so that's four more seasons at the helm in Vancouver – or at least a paycheque for four more. Benning has been a lightning rod in Vancouver since taking over the team in the spring of 2014. A failure to begin restocking the cupboards has led to the team being one of the very worst in the league the past four campaigns. The team's notoriously poor luck in the draft lottery has made things far from easy on draft day.
His advocates will point to the strong results in recent drafts. That has transpired into an exciting young core featuring Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat. Quinn Hughes is there now, and Vasily Podkolzin will be on the way. It hasn't been all good, the team also hit singles on two top six picks in 2014 and 2016. You want home runs in that range. At least extra bases.
Ownership is giving Benning a chance to finish what he's started. Perhaps this is due to the rumoured pressure from above to eke out playoff gates for the Sedin twins' swansong. They obviously approve of the directional swing the team made this offseason, appearing much better prepared to compete for spring hockey.
It will be an interesting situation to watch. We like that. (aug21)
14. Last season, John Carlson was the second most impactful defender in multicat leagues. Thirteen (13) goals, 70 points – 33 on the man-advantage, 185 shots, 164 blocks, 54 hits. He was a beast. However, things are likely to slip a tad in 2019-20.
As deadly as the Capitals power play is and will remain so for the near future, the 29-year-old was hitting on unsustainable metrics. Firstly, he was taking over a half shot less per game but saw the puck go in with more frequency. He’s always been a high-conversion finisher for a defender, but it was his even-strength goal-scoring that is a little concerning
Last season, Carlson led the league in five-on-five shooting percentage at 12.15 percent. We hardly ever see a blueliner click over 10 percent at full strength, and when we do it, it’s nearly always an aberration – Chris Tanev. Taylor Chorney, Dalton Prout types, or a random career-season. Carlson usually lives in the 8-9 percent range at five-on-five. It may not sound like a ton, but unless he gets back to putting three shots on net per game, he’s likely to see a downtick in the scoring category – especially at full-strength.
This isn’t to say that Carlson couldn’t conceivably have another career year with his shooting metrics. Or, that he can’t juice his shot rates back up to new heights. Hell, the former London Knights’ star produced his best ratio of primary vs secondary assists last year. His 35 first assists last season trailed only Brent Burns for defenders. That’s a great indication for projecting future production.
Carlson is still at the peak of his prime – albeit the downside. However, I’m much more comfortable expecting a player of his ilk to slip closer to prime averages than go out and overextend once again. Ten (10) goals and 60 points should be a safe expectation. Just don’t draft him expecting another step forward or even a replication. (aug21)
15. Reilly Smith became a full-time NHLer in 2013-14, giving us six full seasons to work with. In those six seasons, he’s played 466 games and scored 114 goals. That works out to 0.245 goals per game, or 20.1 goals every 82 games. It’s been four seasons since Smith has earned consistent top-6 minutes, and in those four seasons, he’s played 303 games and scored 81 goals. That works out to 0.267 goals per game, or 21.9 goals per 82 games. Even if you’re concerned about injury – he’s averaged about 70 games played a year since getting to Vegas – a goals/game rate of 0.267 for 70 games works out to 18.7. (aug20)
16. Colorado has signed forward Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year deal. The now-24-year old winger returned to Dallas for the 2018-19 after spending a couple years in Russia. It didn’t exactly go well, as he posted zero goals in 57 games while playing mostly third- and fourth-line minutes, and sometimes a healthy scratch.
I do not anticipate much fantasy relevance here. It’s not to say he can’t, but at the least he’ll probably start at the bottom of the roster and work his way up. He just doesn’t shoot the puck and there’s some data (shot assists) that suggest he struggles at finding teammates in the offensive zone. A guy who doesn’t shoot and can’t rack up helpers isn’t likely to breed much fantasy success. I think it’s a good signing because it gives them cheap depth and he can be solid defensively, but there’s just not much here for fantasy. (aug20)
17. The Lowdown on Jesperi Kotkaniemi: I think the 19-year-old will be a first-line center in the NHL and I think most of you agree with me on that point. So the question becomes – when? Reading through my Lowdowns in the Fantasy Guide, you probably have a good feel for the way I think. You know I’m a fan of commonality amongst prospect development even though every prospect develops on his own timeline.
Kotkaniemi did fantastic when he made the NHL at the age of 18, and it’s even more impressive that he managed 34 points based on third-line ice time. He tailed off a little in the final quarter (four points in 17 games), probably due to his never having played more than 57 games in a hockey season before. But he’ll adapt to that. His upside is in the high-70s and I think he’ll progress up to that range relatively quickly. Look for something in the mid-40s in the year ahead (I have him at 44 in the Guide), and clearing 50 in Year 3 before having his breakout after that. (aug19)
18. The Lowdown on Ryan Donato: The 23-year-old has twice teased us with the impression that he doesn’t need to go through the growing pains of most prospects and that instead he can help our fantasy squads immediately. Not so. His nine points in 12 games to start his career in Boston quickly fizzled out in training camp when he struggled to put up points early and was eventually sent down to the AHL. But then he was traded to the Wild and he proceeded to post 15 points in 15 games. But then he ended the season with one point in seven, to along with a minus-8 rating.
I’m not longer buying the fast track to stardom here. As George W. Bush once said: “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me…you can’t get fooled again.” Or something. Anyway, Donato is going to be on the slow-and-steady track, with middling numbers for a couple of seasons. Helpful numbers but not great ones (I have him for 42 points this year) and a terrible plus-minus risk. The signing of Mats Zuccarello should ensure that his growth as a productive player is slowed. Long-term, however, I’m certain that Donato will be a scoring-line player and he definitely has first-line upside. (aug19)
19. The Lowdown on Lias Andersson: The growing pains have been tough to bear for owners of this guy, and I think it’s going to get worse. Some pretty great prospects are about to leapfrog Andersson when it comes to ice time and PP time, to the extent where an NHL job this season is not a certainty. When the dust finally settles and all of these great prospects have found their niche with the big club and Andersson has found his pro-hockey form, my fear is that all the spots in the top six will be spoken for. I never write off a great prospect when he’s 20 years old. But of all the great prospects who are currently 20 years of age, this one ranks on the lower end of the scale for me.
20. The Lowdown on Adrian Kempe: The britty wing has always been a bit of a conundrum because he played in the SHL at a very young age and thus has never really been given an opportunity to put up great numbers at any level. He was in the SHL at the age of 17 and 18 and then in the AHL at 19. All we have to go on is when he tallied eight points in six WJC games in 2015 – and then eight points in 10 games at the 2018 Worlds (plus another six in eight games earlier this year at the same tournament).
I have never been high on Kempe (now 22) because I’ve had my fantasy blinders on. I look at the numbers over the years and I just don’t see it. But it would be folly for me to ignore those tournament numbers, not to mention the fact that he was in the SHL at the age of 17 playing against men. And there’s something else: his breakout threshold (BT) is 200 games, and he’ll hit that number in November. I don’t believe the Kings will be a high-scoring team this season, but if Jeff Carter sustains another injury and Kempe gets a shot on that second line as a center, then I can see him breaking out into the high-40s this year. It’s pretty big ‘if’. I’m not overly high on his upside (mid-60s), but I’m also not trashing him when I write or speak because I know my words could bite me in the ass if/when he ever starts fulfilling that hidden promise. (aug19)
21. The Lowdown on Michael Matheson: I’m a big fan of Matheson’s talent and have been from the start (you may notice that I have similar things to say in the Guide about Ryan Pulock). Matheson hooked me in a way that I haven’t been grabbed since John Carlson. And year after year I was asked about Carlson. When will he get going? When will he be given the opportunity? Carlson was 21 and he hadn’t done anything. When Carlson was 22 – nada. He was 23 and still nothing. At 24 he had a measly 38 points. The pressure was mounting from the readers but I didn’t budge. I knew what he could do. It felt good when he got 55 points in his fifth NHL season, but then injuries held him to 39 and 37 points. Carlson is a huge talent and a first-round pick and his ice time, Pts/60 and IPP continued to tell me that he was going to be big.
That’s is how I feel about Matheson, who has just three seasons under his belt. Carlson took eight seasons to top 55 points for just the second time. This is the level of patience we need to have here. Carlson had Mike Green in his way, and Matheson has Keith Yandle. The main reason that Matheson hasn’t taken a bigger step forward by this point is the fact that he’s behind Iron Man Yandle. Carlson was behind Band-Aid Boy Green. That’s a big difference – obviously Carlson had small spurts of opportunities here and there whenever Green was sidelined. Anyway, look for Matheson to finally reach 30 points this year (I have him for 33 in the Guide) and probably another season after that in the mid-30s. He’s older than Carlson was when he started (now 25), so I don’t anticipate things taking longer than the two years. That would make it Year 6 when he breaks through. I have his upside in the high 50s. For more Lowdowns from last Monday’s Ramblings, follow the link: (aug19)
Have a good week, folks!!
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