Ramblings: Cholowski recalled; Koivu returns; looking back on preseason thoughts – January 23

Michael Clifford



Dennis Cholowski was recalled by Detroit and played on Wednesday night before the break. This could muddle things for the blue line as Filip Hronek had been running the top PP unit, with Mike Green joining of late. Green being injured is the reason for the recall, so it’s a question of whether Cholowski will just assume Green’s PP role – Cholowski was getting a lot of run on the power play earlier in the year – or if it’ll be a forward.


Mikko Koivu returned from his illness on Wednesday night, so he should be good to go for those who have him rostered in weekly leagues when Minnesota hits the ice after their break.


Well, it’s officially the all-star break, which means it’s time to get away from hockey for a few days. Before we do that, I wanted to go over some misses I’ve had, at least so far this year. Things can turn around in the second half, but there are always players we’re high on that fail to meet expectations. Here are guys I was high on (via Fantasy Pros) that haven’t performed well this year, with the hope being we can learn something for next year. I’ll leave aside guys that were anywhere close to first-round picks, as most analysts will have mostly the same players up there. This is for standard Yahoo! leagues.


Timo Meier (24th overall)

I wrote about Meier a few weeks ago about what’s going wrong/what went wrong this year. For that reason, I won’t dig in too much further here. Just rest assured I was wildly incorrect – I assumed another step forward and that has not been the case in any regard. He’s not having a bad year, being on pace for over 25 goals, over 200 shots, and nearly 200 hits. In banger leagues, and that’s going to play well (he’s rosterable even in shallow leagues in these formats). One reason we always beat the drum of multi-cat performers like Meier is even if they don’t have great point totals, they can still bring value to a fantasy roster. He just won’t bring top-25 value this year and now I’m concerned about his next few years, given the general direction of the franchise.


Dylan Larkin (31st overall)

That I was high on Larkin, who plays for the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings, seems kind of foolish in hindsight. Here’s the thing, however: he had back-to-back 40-assist seasons playing with as little talent as he has this year, put up 32 goals last year on a very reasonable 11.1 percent shooting, and put up nearly a hit per game over the previous two seasons. My baseline was that he would basically replicate his 2018-19 season, but improve some of the peripherals, and that would take him from a borderline top-50 player to a borderline top-30 player.

As those who own Larkin this year know, the peripherals did not improve. From 2017-19, he averaged 71 penalty minutes and 81 hits per 82 games. This year, those 82-game rates have plummeted to 44 penalty minutes and 56 hits. That decline in peripherals (to go with his deplorable minus rating, for those in plus/minus leagues) is what’s really hurting here. Yes, we want more than 55 points, but if he’s a 55-point player that manages 75 PIMs, 100 hits, and 300 shots, he has a great fantasy season. However, it looks like he’ll be around 45 PIMs, 55 hits, and 250 shots. That decline across the board from 2018-19 is exacerbating the point drop.

The question is if there’s anything to be learned for next year. I would say “don’t rely on peripherals repeating” but if a guy posts four straight years with at least 65 hits, and is going to fall short of his previous career-low by 14 percent, I’m not sure how much we can learn from that. We can say “don’t spend significant draft capital on players from bad teams” but that would have also kept us away from Larkin last season. I don’t feel bad about drafting Larkin this year, given he probably would have gone in the fourth or fifth around at the latest anyway. I’ll probably draft him again next year when he shows up at the draft table with an ADP discount.


Matthew Dumba (25th overall)

My view of Dumba was that as basically the next Shea Weber. When Weber was at his best, he was posting triple-digit hits/blocks every year to go with anywhere from 2.5-3 shots per game, leading to about 15 goals and about 30 assists. Over his previous three seasons spanning 190 games, Dumba’s 82-game paces were as follows: 16 goals, 30 assists, 172 shots, 126 hits, and 98 blocks. Those aren’t quite peak Weberian numbers, but Dumba’s only in his age-25 season this year. Looking at Weber’s career, he started to hit his stride around age 23-24, so it seemed Dumba was following a similar path.

What worried me was not Dumba, but rather the team around him. I thought they’d have a lot of trouble scoring but that hasn’t been the case at all (does anyone realize Minnesota’s goal scoring rate at 5-on-5 is 2.67 per 60 minutes, almost identical to Boston’s 2.70). That is why I had Dumba projected for just 22 assists, which would have been lower than either his 2016-17 or 2017-18 marks. He’s not on pace for even 22 assists which shows, when combined with him shooting 2.5 percent after never shooting below 6.6 percent, that this has been a rough year for Dumba.

Here’s the good news: if Dumba was shooting his three-year average of 9.3 percent rather than his paltry 2.5 percent, he’d have 11 goals. In fact, if all he was doing was shooting his three-year average and no other numbers changed, this would be his 82-game paces this year: 18 goals, 18 assists, 202 shots, 113 blocks, and 122 hits. That is awfully close to what my expectations were from him this year.

The thing with Dumba is he’s not a great puck-mover, at least not in the zone. He’s good in transition but his shot assist rates – the at which his passes convert to shots – are basically mid-pack league-wide (from CJ Turtoro's viz):



Those shot assist rates when compared to Weber are awfully similar, right? Hmmmm.

Anyway, I still think Dumba can be an excellent fantasy asset. He just can’t shoot under three percent; very few defensemen can and still be wildly valuable. Maybe now would be the time to see if he can be had for cheap, be it for the balance of this year or loading a keeper/dynasty for next year.


Darnell Nurse (45th overall)

Ever be high on a player for a few years, not have them pan out, and then they take off? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 2019-20 hockey season.

In years past (feel free to peruse the Ramblings archives going back five years for me), I’ve often been quite high on both Oscar Klefbom and Dougie Hamilton. The former because he’s a good puck-mover who was likely to be the PP1 defenceman for McDavid/Draisaitl and can post over 200 shots and 100 blocks, the latter because I believe he’s one of the 10 best defencemen in the world. Well, this was the year I finally gave up on both of them, and both were on pace for career years. Funny how that works.

Anyway, because I finally moved on from Klefbom, and the Oilers used Nurse as their PP1 defenseman often last year, especially in the second half, I was very high on Nurse. I saw a guy coming off a season where he posted 41 points, nearly 200 shots, and over 300 combined hits/blocks, and likely to be the power-play quarterback. As it is, Nurse is on pace for 35 points. When combined with his stout shot/hit/block totals, that’s a fine season. But if you add in Klefbom’s current PP pace to Nurse’s totals, Nurse would be on pace for 57 points this year, and close to a top-5 fantasy defenseman in multi-cat leagues.

The lesson here is just how much a consistent PP1 slotting means to a defenceman. The PP points gap is the difference between Nurse flirting with being at top-5 fantasy defenceman and a top-40 defenceman. With Klefbom performing as he has, it’s hard to see Nurse taking that PP1 quarterback slotting away from him anytime soon. Without those PP minutes, Nurse won’t reach his true fantasy potential. It is nice to see Klefbom finally having a great year, though.


Ryan O’Reilly (62nd overall)

This is a weird one for a single reason: what’s going on with the shot rate? O’Reilly had back-to-back seasons with at least 230 shots on goal and doesn’t have a season with fewer than 170 shots in at least 72 games played since he was a teenager. This year, he’s on pace for 139 shots. In fact, his shots/60 minutes at 5-on-5 (4.43) is nearly half what it was last year (8.31).

It’s something pervading the entire team. With Tarasenko injured, the team leader for shot attempts per 60 minutes is Oskar Sundqvist, and out of 240 forwards with at least 500 minutes played, he’s 92nd, and no other Blues forward is inside the top-110. This team isn’t shooting at all, posting the third-lowest shot rate in the league, just ahead of Detroit and Buffalo. Last year in the second half of the season, they were 13th in shot rate. Even up to when Tarasenko was injured, the team was only 26th in shot rate this year. Everyone is shooting less, and it’s hard not to think it’s related to coaching. Just something to keep in mind for next year.


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