Every Sunday, we'll share 21 Fantasy Rambles – originally 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. Here’s something fun: Penguins' John Marino didn’t start the year in the lineup with the big club and he didn’t register a point through his first 12 games, but his 15 points are more than those collected by both Kaapo Kakko (14) and Jack Hughes (13). Marino was averaging just under 17 minutes a game through those first 12 contests, too. In the 22 games since ending his pointless streak, he has 15 points and has often played more than 22 minutes a night. It’s pretty impressive stuff for a 22-year old rookie blueliner. (dec19)
2. When it comes to most valuable player in fantasy hockey leagues, it has to be tied into draft position. It might not be a consideration in the real world because teams don’t care how value is accumulated, but in fantasy, outside of some sort of keeper league, the only consideration for value is draft value. It’s not trades, or tryout slots, or signings. For that reason, it seems Darcy Kuemper is at least one of the top considerations. I would argue he’s the top player to have on your roster so far this year. (Ed. note: Kuemper will be out for at least a few games. He left last Thursday's game late in the third period with a lower-body injury.
Looking at other top goalies, there are problems. For Tristan Jarry, it’s that his exceptional performances are in a condensed timeframe; for Connor Hellebuyck, it’s an elevated goals against average because of the number of shots his team allows. Before Thursday’s disastrous outing – the injury and seven goals against – Kuemper had a .935 save percentage, GAA under 2.00, a pair of shutouts, and hadn’t gone more than two consecutive starts with a save percentage under .910, which means there hasn’t been an extended stretch of poor play. Add that he was probably taken as a late second, early third goalie and it’s clear he’s the fantasy MVP so far. (Ed. note: go here to also see Mike’s Top Defenseman, Top Rookie, Biggest Bust, and Biggest Letdown). (dec17)
3. There’s an argument that Ethan Bear has been the Oilers’ best defenceman at 5-on-5 this year and has certainly transitioned into top-4 minutes seamlessly. I’m dubious he becomes the top-pair-PP-quarterback-25-minutes-a-night guy Oilers fans are hoping any one of their prospects can morph into. But I do think he’s a legitimate top-4 guy who will be able to play at both ends of the ice, and that’s something this team desperately needs.
The one thing that always sticks out to me is his poise. It seems like there’s no panic to Bear’s game. That’s something I covet because NHLers should be able to make the easy plays, or the plays with no pressure. It’s making the plays with a guy in your face that matter, and just by my observations, Bear can do that. He’s the type of player that can help create something good out of what should be a negative situation, and those types of players are valuable. (dec19)
4. I think we’ve reached a point where we’ve significantly lowered expectations on Joe Pavelski. Some of his advanced stats suggest that you could try to buy low, but we’d be talking quite low if he’s a player you’d like to target. Dallas’ defensive system is no doubt worse for his numbers than San Jose’s more wide-open style. As well, he simply hasn’t been able to find linemates that he can gel with like he had with the Sharks. It’s possible that age has finally caught up, although the Stars have two more years after this one invested and will have to continue to try to place him in a situation where he can succeed. (dec21)
5. Anthony Duclair now has 21 goals, which is tied for seventh in the league. Every year there’s at least one surprise player that no one has on their sleeper list, and Duclair might have been that player. I might believe you if you said you had him projected for 20 goals, given Ottawa’s wide-open opportunity and last-quarter production with the Senators. But 20 goals before the Christmas break? Get real, no one had that. (dec20)
6. I’m always wary when teams bring over players from the KHL. Once in awhile you get Artemi Panarin, but often you end up with Jiri Sekac, Anton Belov, or Petri Kontiola. Well, Ilya Mikheyev looks like a real steal for the Leafs. It’ll be interesting to see what his contract demands will be if he can put up 15 goals and 45 points while getting almost no top-6 or top PP exposure, but doing an admirable job on the penalty kill. (dec19)
7. Kirby Dach reminds me of the Staal brothers not because he’s a tall centre, but the way he moves around the ice, particularly in the offensive zone. He can use his edges, like a super-sized water bug, even if he’s not a great skater at the moment. He also gets to the net almost at will, another Staal hallmark. (Ugh, Staal-mark was right there.) At the least, he looks to be solid defensively very early in his career, and a good two-way centre is something this team desperately needs.
Projecting his future production is not something I’m ready to do at the moment. I mean, just look at the two Staal brothers: Eric has six 30-goal seasons and eight 70-point seasons while Jordan has never reached 30 goals and has never posted more than 50 points. And Jordan has been a very good real-world centre! It’s just we don’t get bonus points for being good defensively in fantasy hockey (at least not directly). What I will say is that he looks every bit the part of a top-6 centre in a couple years, and that’s pretty big for the Blackhawks. (dec19)
8. I only really want Anze Kopitar and maybe Drew Doughty from the Kings this season, but Tyler Toffoli is providing some nice value down the lineup. Toffoli's shooting percentage has regained its form after a dreadful 5% mark a season ago. I have to believe the team will elevate him up the deployment ladder if he keeps this up. That should help his shot rates increase and subsequent production should follow.
Don’t go rush out and grab him, but something to watch on a team with not a lot to watch out for. (dec18)
9. Still worried about Blake Wheeler? Over the past month (since November 23) Wheeler has registered 18 points in 13 games. This after a mediocre 12 points in 23 games to start the season. He’s also now the Jets/Thrashers all-time leader in scoring with 616 points. While reflecting back on the past decade, it’s worth mentioning that since 2010-11, Wheeler is ninth in overall league scoring with 643 points in 733 games. Yet he did not appear in an All-Star Game until 2018. Underrated fantasy option of the decade IMO. (dec22)
10. It’ll be interesting to see where Ilya Kovalchuk lands. We know how good he used to be but there was nothing special about his tenure in Los Angeles. Of course, he wasn’t playing with much talent there, but some of his individual metrics, independent of linemates, weren’t good, either. Someone will sign him, I’m just dubious he’ll have much fantasy value without getting extremely lucky. (dec17)
11. It’s taking some time, but Jake Virtanen is evolving into a player. With a power-play goal on Saturday, Virtanen is up to 10 goals, which puts him on pace for his first 20-goal season. Eight of his 10 goals have been even-strength markers, which should make him a candidate for increased icetime and power-play time – both have fallen this season with the increased scoring depth the Canucks have.
The 20-goal total might not be a slam dunk for Shotgun Jake, as some of his advanced stats (for example, shooting percentage) suggest there could be some regression. Although Virtanen may not ever produce at the level expected of a high first-round pick, it looks like he’ll still have a solid NHL career. (dec22)
12. In the Fantasy Guide, I had opined that Casey Mittelstadt needed to be in the minors for at least the first half of the season. I then came on here and ate some crow, admitted I was wrong after he started the year with seven points in 10 games. But 21 games later he’s only added two points and now the Sabres have, indeed, sent him to Rochester. I think he needs a good 20 games down there – at least until he starts posting strong numbers and regaining confidence. (dec16)
13. Max Pacioretty picked up his 34th point last Sunday and is now up to 36 in 38 games. He was well into March last year before notching Point 34. Back in April, I had floated the idea of a massive comeback season for Pacioretty to the tune of 80 points. Even I thought I was crazy (and I think some commenters did, too). But his chemistry with Mark Stone in the playoffs had me wondering if this could be another Mikko Rantanen–Nathan MacKinnon line. Oddly enough, Pacioretty is the one pulling the weight so far though, as Stone sits two points behind him.
Who is skating with with the two Vegas stars? If you guessed Chandler Stephenson, you’d be correct and he’s going to stay on that line for the foreseeable future. It allows Paul Stastny to move to the third line and give Vegas another element of attack as he pairs with Alex Tuch and the one-dimensional sniper Valentin Zykov. (dec16)
14. Still on pace for only 34 points, Erik Gustafsson has nine points in his last 19 games with four of those on the power play. He’s still logging an obscene amount of PP time, so coach Jeremy Colliton is pushing hard to help him out of his funk. The big thing is his IPP, which sits at 33.3% right now after being 50.4% last year. His teammates on the ice are scoring without his help, whereas last year he was making it happen. As I’ve said before, I’m considering this year his sophomore slump season. It’s just unfortunate that it’s happening in a UFA contract year. (dec16)
15. Kudos to Eric Staal for getting his 1000th career NHL point in 1208 career games. He’s 35 and likely going to reach 60 points this year, which is a small bounce-back from last season’s 53. I predict another 60 next year before he slips to 50 at the age of 37 and then things really drop off until he retires. Hall of Famer? I figure he ends his career at around 1150 points and 465 goals, one Gold Medal, one Stanley Cup and one Second All-Star Team. (dec16)
16. The league’s worst plus-minus guy, Andreas Athanasiou, is at minus-36 now. I don’t know about you, but I’m dying to see a minus-100 player. I went to type up an email to the AA owner in my league the other day to make yet another offer to acquire him…but then I saw that plus-minus mark and discarded the email. Too risky.
Athanasiou’s contract is up after this year and if he goes into the summer after a 40-point season with a minus-50, will he even be qualified? For his career he is minus-60 in 278 games, for an average of minus-18 per 82-game season. (dec16)
17. I’m starting to slowly climb on board the Matt Roy train. The 24-year-old rookie defenseman for the Kings now has seven points in his last eight games and his ice time has generally been trending up over the last 10. Before that, his ice time was closer to 15 minutes per game – now it’s just over 17:00. Roy is still not getting the PP time, but since being paired with Ben Hutton things have really started to roll for him. Hutton has become a bit of a defensive revelation this season, and it’s allowed Roy to get freed up.
Roy is starting to look to me like a Brady Skjei in terms of fantasy potential, with some promising years in one role, some weaker years in a different role, and some untapped upside as well. You can actually see their numbers against each other via this link. (dec16)
18. It was a big day of news in the NHL last Monday but nothing bigger than the trade of Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes. This was a trade speculated for months now – even before the Devils got off to a terrible start.
With the Coyotes off to a great start at the top of the division, all that was really missing was a game-breaker. They hoped to get that in Phil Kessel, but he (predictably) hasn’t been Pittsburgh Phil. They definitely get it in Taylor Hall. (You can read Dobber’s take on the trade here.) This is what I’ll say for now: Hall dragged a bad team to the playoffs and won the MVP doing it. What’s he going to do going to a team that leads the division? I’m excited. (dec17)
19. I had the Devils rated a strong ‘buy’, for most of the key players. But Taylor Hall getting traded, in conjunction with the poor response to the coaching change, and this obviously needs to be dialed back to a ‘hold’. Nobody is going to give you squat for your Devils, and if you don’t have any it’s best not to pursue them.
I think eventually a new coach gets the offense going, but the offense is much more limited without Hall. After Hall, Kyle Palmieri leads the way and he’s on pace for just 52 points. In fact, just four players not named Hall are on pace for 38 or more points right now (Nico Hischier, Blake Coleman, Sami Vatanen). Those are 90s-era expansion team stats. (dec16)
20. Now that Hall has been traded, could someone like Palmieri be next, and could a trade help boost his value? It appears that the Devils want to build around Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier going forward, and Palmieri (signed to 2020-21 at $4.65 million per) could fetch another asset or two that could help with the rebuild. As much as Palmieri’s point total is down (he’s outside the top 100 in scoring), his goal total is fine. Although pure points leaguers might not be happy with Palmieri, particularly because of the low assist total, he should continue to be just fine in multicategory leagues as the Devils lean on him heavily.
21. Jack Hughes is seeing ‘kid gloves’ treatment now. And with the hand injury obviously a factor, he’s been taking minimal faceoffs lately. What happens with Hughes and the Devils in the foreseeable future is not very promising. I know you were hoping to read differently, but I can’t put enough makeup on this pig to make it pretty. Best we can hope for is for some of these guys to snap out of it by the All-Star break. Disclaimer: I mean no disrespect to pigs or to the porcine-rights movement. All porcine are pretty in their own way, and I did not mean to pig-shame. (dec16)
Have a good week, folks!!