This is the time of year when fantasy general managers have some tough decisions to make.
Those in keeper pools are figuring out who makes the final cut, while those in drafts are deciding what gamble to take with their last few selections.
Of course, most of the time, those players are those who were disappointments last year, and the fantasy GM is hoping for a bounce-back season. If the player can get back to his lofty production numbers, then the GM looks like a genius.
Of course, not all bounce-back seasons are equal. There are plenty of candidates that people believe will bounce back that aren’t bounce-back candidates. Take Drew Doughty for example. Sure, he dropped from 60 points in 2017-18 to 45 points last year. However, in the previous four seasons, he averaged 44 points with a high of 51 points. If anything, the 60-point season is the outlier, not last year’s 45. You have to look at more than last year to get a true picture of a bounce-back candidate.
For the below list, we won’t be including any players that are due for a bounce back only if they stay healthy (so you won’t see the likes of Taylor Hall on this list).
This is more of a bounce-back after a couple of disappointing seasons, but 2018-19 was extremely tough as Wennberg had just 25 points in 75 games. The reason he’s a top candidate for a bounce-back campaign is that Columbus had their team gutted this offseason, losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. Wennberg should be thrust into a larger role simply because the Jackets don’t have a lot of choice. However, a bounce-back season for Wennberg would be a 40-point campaign, so only draft in a deep league or if you believe he can reach the 50-point mark.
This is an easy, and popular, choice. Last year was a mess for Nylander, as he sat out until December before signing a new deal. When he got back into the lineup, his spot in the top-six was taken by Kasperi Kapanen and Nylander never really got back that plum spot next to Auston Matthews consistently. That led to a 27-point season (or a 41-point pace) after back-to-back 61-point seasons. I’d only be comfortable with Nylander bouncing back if we know for sure he is back in the top six. If not, expect another season of struggles for the Maple Leaf.
Many people have talked about Max Pacioretty being the Golden Knight that will be bouncing back, but I really like Karlsson. The Knights have two #1 lines, and the addition of Mark Stone frees up the other line to be more productive. After Stone arrived in Vegas, Karlsson had 17 points in 19 games. He should be able to flirt with 70 again this year, but he needs to shoot the puck a lot more if he is going to get back to a 40-goal season.
He’s a popular pick after his excellent playoffs (his 12 postseason goals in 26 games was one goal higher than the 11 he potted in 69 regular season games). Most of the Blues were a disaster last year from a fantasy perspective, but Schwartz was easily the most disappointing. He had 55 points in 2016-17 and followed that up with 59 in 62 games in 2017-18. So last year’s 36 points was discouraging. What is encouraging is that he still plays frequently with Vladimir Tarasenko, he averages more than 2.5 shots a game and has favourable zone starts. I wouldn’t expect him to reach almost a point-per-game pace again, but 60 in 82 should be doable.
It took a long time before fantasy general managers were finally rewarded for having patience with Granlund, as he didn’t crack 45 points until 2016-17, his fifth season in the league. However, he averaged 68 points that season and next, and he seemed like a shoo-in to finally crack 70 points last year. He then hit a second-half wall. After posting 39 points in his first 41 games, he had just 15 in 38 the rest of the way. The trade to Nashville hurt him even more, as he had four points in 13 games with the Preds and none in his last eight. Keep in mind he was dealt as his fiancée was in labour with their first child, so it couldn’t have been easy to be in a new city while his significant other was at home with a newborn. Now that they’ve had time to settle in and Granlund can get back to focusing on hockey, expect him to get back to a 65-point pace.
While many bounce-back columns focus on Ehlers’ teammate, Patrik Laine, Ehlers is getting overlooked somewhat. However, don’t sleep on what the 23-year-old has already accomplished in his short career. He had back-to-back 25-goal, 60-point seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, so we know he can produce. Last year, he battled injuries (20 missed games), and also saw a decrease in ice time and power-play time. He has shown he can produce with Laine, and if you bank on Laine having a bounce-back campaign, then you can add Ehlers to the list as well.
4. Patrik Laine
An important thing to remember when dealing with young players is that their production is not always linear. Fantasy general managers seem to forget that players don’t always see an increase in points. Sometimes, players have a tough season that makes everyone frustrated. It happened with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nathan MacKinnon and Jakub Voracek. Laine is no different. He had a tough season, but still put up 30 goals and 50 points. Think of the positives: A fixture on the top power-play unit who loves to shoot the puck and is only 21 years old. The biggest concern is that he is one of many restricted free agents who have yet to sign a deal.
It’s still early in his career, but Ghost seems to be the type of player that alternates between good and bad seasons. If that trend continues, expect this year to be a good season. His drop in production last season can be largely attributed to his awful power-play production, where he dropped from 33 points to 14 last year. A new coach should help improve a team that was in the bottom-10 with the man advantage, and with his contract and abilities, he should at least start the season continuing as the top power-play quarterback.
Some people don’t believe in the sophomore jinx, but maybe there is something to it as Keller had an extremely disappointing season last year, dropping from 65 points to 47 despite being on the number one power-play and taking 200 shots. The 21-year-old will benefit from a full season of playing with Phil Kessel and Nick Schmaltz, an improved power-play and a team that should score more goals overall.
1. P.K. Subban
There are a lot of reasons to have Subban as the best bet for a bounce-back season. For one, he’s going to a team where he’ll be the clear-cut number one defenseman, instead of sharing it with another elite dman in Roman Josi. He’s also going to a team that should score more goals than the Preds did last year, plus he doesn’t have to worry about the Preds awful power play. It will also be the first time in Subban’s career he’ll be playing with a truly elite teammate in Taylor Hall. The only thing that can slow Subban down is his penchant for missing 15 games due to injury.