One of the best feelings in fantasy hockey is when a player that you drafted in later rounds ends up having a breakthrough season.
We’ve all been there before. The 12th-round pick giving the same value as a third-round pick will usually win you the championships. Of course, this early in the season, there’s no guarantee that many of these players won’t simply revert to that 12th-round value.
Below are 10 players who can keep up their great starts to the season. Just as a quick note, I use the term “hot start” somewhat loosely. Some of these players started the campaign atrociously but have since rebounded into some of the hottest players in the league.
10. David Perron
Perron started the season on a hot streak, but his value skyrocketed on Oct. 24. That’s when Vladimir Tarasenko left the game early in the first period with a shoulder injury that will cost him five months. In the team’s first nine games, Perron had seven points and averaged 17:53 per night, with 2:21 of that on the power play (he had zero power-play points). Since Tank went down, Perron has 11 points in nine games averaging 18:03 per night. However, he’s also now averaging 3:45 on the power play and has seven power-play points. A week before Halloween, I wouldn’t have predicted Perron to keep up his pace, but since he’s replaced Tarasenko on that top spot, the story has changed.
9. Eric Staal
After starting the season with one point in his first seven games, Staal has quietly been one of the hottest players over the last couple of weeks, posting 13 points in his last 10 games. In those 10 games, he’s been pointless only twice, and also has three power-play points, eight PIM, 23 shots and a plus-one. His average ice time over those 10 games is 17:05, compared to 15:31 in the first seven games. If he can produce more on the power play, he should be able to stay at a 65-point pace for the rest of the season.
With the Jets defense decimated this offseason, not much thought was given into Hellebuyck being anything more than a middling netminder. He was on average the 15th goalie selected in Yahoo pools, but was the fifth-ranked goalie going into Sunday’s action. His eight wins are only one behind the league leaders, and is 2.28 GAA and .933 SV % is the highest amongst all eight goalies with at least eight wins.
7. Ryan Strome
At the start of the season, how many people thought Ryan would be the highest-scoring Strome this season? Strome’s ice time is up to 18:15 per game, almost three minutes higher than last year. His power-play time is also double what it was last year. His shooting percentage seems high at 20.8 per cent, but last year he was at 17.3 per cent, and he doesn’t shoot enough for it to be too much of an outlier. Strome hasn’t had a consistent set of linemates, but Artemi Panarin has been on the ice with Strome the most, so that helps.
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Schmaltz is doing so well to start the season, as he had 15 points in 17 games after getting traded to Arizona a year ago before going down with a season-ending injury. Now he’s back and has 15 points in 17 games. On the surface, it may seem like there are reasons for concern: His ice time is down more than two full minutes from a year ago and he’s also seen a decrease in power-play usage. He’s never been a volume shooter, so he was relying on young linemates such as Conor Garland and Christian Dvorak to score the goals. The reason why I’m high on Schmaltz has been his recent usage. He’s now getting more minutes (at least 17:53 in each of the last three games), is playing with Phil Kessel at even strength and is on the top power-play unit while still getting a ton of offensive zone starts. If he could start the season so well while being somewhat buried, imagine how good he’ll do with better opportunities.
For those that believe in fourth-year breakout players, Mantha would be the best exhibit for this season. Last year he had 48 points, but because of injuries, it was in 67 games. That was a 59-point pace. This year, he’s on a 78-point pace, thanks to two big reasons. The first is an increase in power-play time. Last year, he spent some time on the top unit, but this year he has been used more consistently on the top line. He’s also shooting a puck a ton. He’s at 3.84 shots per game, which is sixth-highest among all players with at least five games. That volume of shots goes a long way to explaining why he has 11 goals already.
4. Evander Kane
Even if Kane wasn’t a point-per-game player and instead had five points in 15 games, he’d still be a must-own because he contributes in so many other aspects of fantasy hockey, from a high shot rate to hits to PIMs. What makes this year extra special is his power-play usage. The loss of Joe Pavelski has put Kane firmly on the top power-play unit, where he’s excelled. He already has a career-high seven power-play goals, and his eight power-play points are only three off his career-high. He’s never seen power-play usage like this before, and since he should be a mainstay there for the rest of the season, there’s a good chance he can set career highs across the board.
3. J.T. Miller
There was so much hope with this guy at the start of last season, with several people projecting that he could hit 70 points in Tampa. Unfortunately, he didn’t play with the top line much, and wound up with a disappointing 13 goals and 47 points. So why has he been so excellent this year? To start, he’s spending most of his 5-on-5 ice time with Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, so that is going to help. He’s playing 19 minutes a night, more than four minutes higher than he averaged a year ago and two minutes above his career-high. He’s on the first power-play unit, where he sees almost 5 minutes a night. He’s on pace for 205 shots, which would obliterate his previous high of 141. As a bonus, he’s on pace for 141 hits, which provides extra value in bangers leagues.
For many years, fantasy general managers have been high on Hamilton only to end the season disappointed as he was usually playing second fiddle to someone else, especially on the power play. That has all changed this year. Averaging 23 minutes a night, he’s a minute and 30 seconds over his previous high and more than three minutes per game higher than last year. He’s also on the first power-play unit for the first time since 2014-15 when he was with the Bruins. At seven power-play points, he’s already matched last year’s total.
In September, I listed Konecny as a long shot to reach 70 points for the first time, and he’s one of the few guys on that list proving me correct this early into the season. Konecny is doing all the things you want to see a young player do. He’s on pace for 193 shots, a carer high. His seven power-play points are only one off from his career-high. He’s also taking advantage of extra ice time (an extra two minutes per night) and extra power-play time (a full minute higher than a year ago). He’s also playing almost exclusively at 5-on-5 with Sean Couturier, who has started slowly but has put up 76 points in each of his last two campaigns. Konecny has everything you look for when looking for a breakout season: More ice time, better opportunities on the power play, great linemates and an increase in shots.