Ramblings: The 10 Biggest Worries (Of My Projections)…and The 10 Guide Projections I’m Not Budging (Oct 14)
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I’m two weeks behind on the October Rankings, but as I write this they are 90% done and will be posted Monday – Thanksgiving weekend kind of interrupted me. But in fact it will be a week of rankings, with a new list posted most of the days this week (Defensemen, Prospect Forwards, Prospect D, Goalies). I know you’ll be coming back anyway, but this should be some added incentive.
You come to me for projections and insight every year with said Guide, so I know you will be curious about my ‘Top 10 Biggest Worries’ on those projections, 10 days (give or take) into the season. Counting ‘em down Letterman style, drumroll…
10. Yanni Gourde had 20 points in the first 20 games last season and I remember writing a Ramblings at the time basically eating crow. Up until that point, I had been a non-believer in Gourde’s impressive rookie season, but he had finally won me over. Right on cue, he hit a wall and managed just 28 points in 60 games. So what did I do in the Guide? I doubled down on my crow-eating and had him for 62 points. Generally I don’t adjust my opinions with players in the first 20 games by too much, but I’m definitely re-thinking this one. Of course, that’s Gourde’s cue to reel off 15 points in six games now.
9. In the Guide I had Nik Ehlers bouncing back for 58 points. Which, frankly, is wussing out and I feel shame. That’s not me. I need to shit or get off the pot. His hot start, his much-ballyhooed offseason work (not just on the ice, but watching every single shift he took last year). He’s a potential point-per-game player and last year he was due for that breakout but suffered injuries. So a rebound should be something impressive, not a measly 58 points. I should have went bigger.
8. Ilya Kovalchuk is really getting along with the new LA coach – Todd McLellan. I think most prognosticators missed on that because it’s pretty risky to say that Kovalchuk will get (or come close to) 60 points. But I’ve seen enough to be convinced that he is getting the ice time implementation to get close.
7. Micheal Ferland was given a fairly hefty contract as an unrestricted free agent and was often played with Elias Pettersson in the preseason. That hasn’t really happened in the regular season – other than in the very first game – and the last two games he’s getting pretty crappy ice time. He’s not getting any of the respect from the coach that he had in Calgary or Carolina, where he had a longer leash. I regret projecting 50 points for him and at this point would roll that back by six or seven.
6. Drake Batherson was close to being NHL-ready last year. The Ottawa Senators are a team desperate for skilled forwards. It was a match made in heaven. When projecting for prospects you need to do one of four things: a) have them not make the team and never get called up; b) have them just play a handful of games; c) have them get called up midseason and play approximately half the games, usually accompanied by modest numbers; d) have them make the team, play a full season and from their gauge if he makes a big splash or is more of a depth guy to start. I had Batherson under the latter category, and making a bit of a splash. He made the team, but wasn’t quite ready and was sent down. Not only that, but the team added Vladislav Namestnikov, thereby reducing the need to call up Batherson later on in the season.
5. Dominik Kahun had a solid NHL debut last year for Chicago and Pittsburgh clearly acquired him to play with Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have high-priced superstars and they need to compliment them with cheap players who have some upside. The thinking is that a Crosby or a Malkin will coax that upside out of a player. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t. But you have to try. And adding five or six wingers that fit that mold increases the odds that one or two of them pan out. Kahun was a leading contender here and there is no shame in drafting him accordingly. You all know how many shots of this caliber I have taken over the years. But throughout training camp he did not click click with Malkin at all and was pointless in four preseason games. By the time the season started, he was taken off the line. And now that Malkin is hurt long-term, Kahun is not going to get to play with him any time soon. I had him for 48 points but today I’d easily knock 10 points off that.
4. I’m wavering on Elvis Merzlikins, but only a little. Because Joonas Korpisalo is a weaker goalie that I’m just not a fan of at all, I figured the team would red-carpet Elvis directly into the starter role. But the team clearly doesn’t want to give him that kind of pressure and rightfully so. They’re willing to lose in front of Korpisalo rather than throw their Golden Boy to the lions. Despite the rough first game for Elvis, I still think he will slowly ease his way into the role and become the full-blown starter for the Jackets by the trade deadline.
3. Like many out there, I was cautious with Patrik Laine (60 points). But he’s been a man on a mission and despite the small sample size I’m already ready to bump his projection up by at least 10 points (and rising quickly).
2. Phil Kessel has always had elite-level, natural-born talent. I mean, the guy could literally sit at the cottage all summer eating hot dogs (only half-joking here) and then come to training camp and dominate everybody. Just imagine if he had a crazy workout regimen and went to camp ripped every year. Part of me thinks he could have been a Top 10 forward of all time. If he’s that good while being a little overweight and out of shape, how great could he have been? Anyway, I’ve always felt that when he finally declines, it will be a steep decline and it will happen quickly. He’s 32 now and his second-half pace last season was for 70 points. So why did I put him in for 77? Even I question that one. If I had a re-do I’d slide him in just under 70. And my gut is telling me that the quick decline will hit as early as next year.
1. The Ilya Samsonov – Braden Holtby dynamic is something I didn’t see coming. And I studied the situation hard. Holtby is a UFA in the summer and he’ll demand a high price. Pheonix Copley was an excellent backup a year ago. Samsonov had a rather weak or unimpressive season in the AHL last year. I figured halfway through the season the Caps would call up the youngster and try him in a few games, to gauge if he is going to be ready to take over as early as next year or at least become a 1B option. Shockingly, the Caps waived Copley, risked losing him for nothing, and kept Samsonov. That trial is happening right now and so far he’s been the better goalie. The team would love nothing more than for their new Golden Boy to take over the starting job in the second half a la Matt Murray vs. Marc-Andre Fleury. Then Holby can walk and the Caps get cap relief by having a cheap starting goaltender for next year. The timing for Samsonov wasn’t working perfectly, but the organization expedited a couple of things, moved some obstacles out of the way, and suddenly Samsonov’s timing is perfect. He has become a Top 20 keeper goalie option right…now. I’m dead serious. Treat him like you treated Carter Hart back in January.
And on the flip side, my ‘Top 10 Not Budging’ items from my Guide projections. Drumroll…
10. Christian Dvorak was on a short list of Breakout Threshold players with upside who I felt would have a strong season. But so far his ice time has been held down and he’s been given linemates with questionable upside. If he can’t play with Kessel, it would be nice to see him with Vinnie Hinostroza and Conor Garland, two small players with great talent and good upside. Give him 10 or 15 ho-hum games to start. Then go ahead and “buy low” because I still believe in him. For this year.
9. The Anaheim Ducks are a bad team. Granted, they have a good goaltender and an underrated coach. I don’t see them making the playoffs and I don’t care where they sit after 20 games. Last year they were the top team in the West for the first month, so this hot start doesn’t have me changing my thoughts on them.
8. John Klingberg vs. Miro Heiskanen. Klingberg is an elite PP option and proven point producer. Heiskanen will be an elite all-around defenseman and a guy who will likely take home a Norris or two before it’s all said and done. But we’ve seen this dynamic time and again. The elite two-way guy won’t get the offensive zone starts and PP time that the top, more-one-dimensional PP guy gets. Because he can be used in so many other situations. And that is what is happening (see here for the player comparison – seriously, take a look). Heiskanen is leading in points right now and of course he’ll still do well. But Klingberg will beat him.
7. Robin Lehner is in a shared-duty situation with his new team the Chicago Blackhawks. And that’s how I had him in the Guide. But in the end, I had him for 46 games versus 39 from Corey Crawford. And I’m sticking to that even though Crawford got the first two starts for Chicago. He got those starts because the team is loyal to him. He gets the first start of the season and the first home start. It would be a pretty shitty thing for the team to do if they gave either of those starts to the new guy when Crawford has done nothing wrong. All this means is that Crawford has 37 more appearances while Lehner has 45 more, tilting things further in the new guy’s favor.
6. Kevin Labanc is a long-time Dobber Darling who is off to a bit of a slow start. Of course, I write this Sunday afternoon and watch him get seven points in the late game (and as I post this after the first period he’s already scored). Labanc’s production has increased steadily with each season of his career, and now he’s finally seeing over 18 minutes of ice time per game. His one point in the first five games is going to turn out to be an anomaly when you look back on this season.
5. Matt Duchene Is often panned on this site for only stepping up during his contract years. I have him in the guide for 62 points and felt strongly that he will not reach the 70-point mark. He has nine points in five games so far as the Predators unexpectedly broke up their big line and inserted Duchene with Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund. I still feel strongly that he falls short of 70 points.
4. Shayne Gostisbehere is a one-dimensional strictly offensive defenseman. And he is one of the best at that. And he is paid accordingly. With that kind of contract, the Flyers have to play him and they’re most certainly not going to play him on the penalty kill. That leaves the power-play. So despite the fact that Ivan Provorov is a superior all-around defenseman, Gostisbehere is going to be the man on the power play no matter how poor the results are or for how long though those results continue. I am not changing my projection for him one iota. I’ll consider adjusting in two more weeks but not before then.
3. Jack Hughes is pointless in five games. And he is also playing with Wayne Simmonds and Pavel Zacha. It’s not looking pretty right now. But I think he’ll come around and is still my Calder favorite. Frankly I look at this as a potential Zacha asset boost. Mark my words, once he picks up his first point the production will start to soar.
2. It’s not just Jack Hughes either. Any of the Devils’ players and the team itself. This is by far the most improved team in the summer. By far. But there are a lot of new parts on this roster and they just need to find their way. Give it time. It won’t take as long as St. Louis did one year ago but given at least a month. The top scorer on this team is on pace for 48 points. That’s not going to be the way it ends up obviously.
1. Florida Panthers and Sergei Bobrovsky. It’s been a bit of a rough start, but the Panthers are stacked. I love how this team is put together. And I’m not at all worried about Bob. We’ve seen him start slowly before. Hell, I’ve traded him in a bit of desperation before (and regretted it a few months later). But Bob will always be Bob. He’s not done winning his Vezina Trophies just yet. Let him adjust to the new system and the style and expectations of his defensemen, and then – watch out. Have patience, it will pay off.
Sam Lafferty of the Pittsburgh Penguins has my attention and he should have yours. While he’s not going to be a superstar by any stretch, he is certainly making an impact on the score sheet despite playing on a depth line. Two points on Saturday plus two more on Sunday gives him five points in four NHL games this season. He is a former college star with modest AHL numbers and is so far giving the Penguins some very good depth scoring. Worthy of a short-term pick up. He is also giving a little boost to linemate Zach Aston-Reese.
Knocking off relatively early tonight. ‘Twas a long Thanksgiving weekend! If I see anything that jumps out at me in the west coast games tomorrow morning, I’ll add to this post. Otherwise – see you next Monday.