Eastern Edge: Fantasy MVPs, part 2
In this week’s Eastern Edge, we’ll finish our review of each team's most valuable fantasy hockey asset. Keep in mind that this is a subjective list from someone who’s only qualification to write about hockey, is being a fan of hockey. So if you disagree with one of these selections, feel free to let me know why in the comments or shoot me a message on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza. This will be the second of two parts, where we’ll cover teams in alphabetical order from New York to Washington. Check out last week's article, where we covered the other eight teams from the Eastern Conference.
New York Islanders – Brock Nelson
Last season, Nelson set a career-high in points as he put up 53 through 82 games. Fast forward to this year and he's already surpassed that total, tallying 54 points through 68 contests. He sits second in team scoring, behind only Mathew Barzal who has 60 points through 68 games. In third place is Anders Lee, and he only has 43 points in 68 appearances. As you can see, there's a steep drop-off in offensive production when you compare Barzal and Nelson to the rest of the team. So why didn't I choose Barzal as the team's fantasy hockey MVP? Well, Barzal is just two seasons removed from a rookie campaign that saw him put up 85 points and win the Calder Trophy, so expectations are high for him. In contrast, Brock Nelson was selected 168th overall in the average Yahoo fantasy hockey league. Seeing as most leagues count face-off wins as a category, Nelson was certainly undervalued as his center/left-wing eligibility allowed him to contribute faceoff wins from the wing. At this point in the campaign, only 14 players have won more faceoffs than Nelson. There's a good chance that Nelson was available on your waiver wire at some point this season. With that in mind, it's hard to deny the value he provided to fantasy hockey rosters as a left-winger on pace for 65 points and a whole lotta faceoff wins.
New York Rangers – Artemi Panarin
The Rangers had a number of standout performances this year, so while I ultimately chose Panarin as the team's fantasy hockey MVP, I could definitely make a case for a few other players. For starters, Mika Zibanejad currently sits 12th in league scoring with 75 points in 57 games. The fact that he ranks so highly in league scoring is pretty insane when you consider that most skaters have played around 70 games at this point. Another name I need to mention is Tony DeAngelo, who has 53 points in 68 appearances and sits fourth in scoring among defensemen. Considering he went undrafted in most fantasy hockey leagues, he provided amazing value to every fantasy GM that took a chance on him. Beyond Zibanejad and DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, Igor Shesterkin and Adam Fox all deserve honourable mentions for their performances this year. However, at the end of the day I had to crown Artemi Panarin as New York's fantasy hockey MVP. I mean, only three players in the league have tallied more points than Panarin, who has 95 points through 69 games. He's been the league's most productive player for significant stretches this year, and no one has put up more points since November 1st.
Ottawa Senators – Brady Tkachuk
In terms of offensive production, we haven't really seen anything consistent out of Ottawa this season. I mean sure, Jean-Gabriel Pageau had that hot start, but he's not with the Senators anymore. Anthony Duclair had an exceptional showing in December, when he led the league with 11 goals in 13 games. However, he wasn't able to carry that momentum into 2020 as he has just nine points through 26 games since January 1st. If we're looking at consistent contribution, Brady Tkachuk is most deserving of our recognition. Not only does he lead the team in scoring with 44 points in 71 games, but Tkachuk's multicategory production is up there with the best in the league. He sits eighth in shot totals with 259, third in penalty minutes with 106, and second in hits with 303. Across the league, he's the only player that ranks within the top 10 for all three of those categories.
Philadelphia Flyers – Travis Konecny
The 23-year-old forward seems to be sticking to the fourth-year breakout rule. Although he didn't pass the 50-point mark in his first three NHL seasons, he's on pace for 76 points this year. Konecny leads the Flyers in scoring with 61 points through 66 games and has provided consistent production throughout the 2019-2020 campaign. As you can see in the table below, he's maintained an impressive scoring pace through each quarter of the season.
On average, Konecny was selected with the 164th overall pick in Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues – behind guys like Brandon Saad, Jake DeBrusk and Mats Zuccarello. He's completely outperformed expectations as he sits 32nd in league scoring, outscoring most wingers drafted ahead of him in fantasy leagues.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Bryan Rust
Before this season began, if you told me that Bryan Rust would maintain a point-per-game pace through 55 appearances, I'd laugh in your face and call you a clown. Fast forward to the present and now I'm the one who belongs in a circus. But I think that's why Rust deserves to be crowned Pittsburgh's fantasy MVP, because no one expected him to perform as well as he has this year. Sure, Malkin leads the team in scoring with 74 points in 55 games, and yes, his 1.35 points per game rank among the league's best. But he's Evgeni Malkin – one of the most offensively gifted forwards to ever play the game. I know that's a big statement to make, but he's maintained a scoring pace of 1.19 points per game through 907 career appearances, which ranks 14th all time. So although Malkin has been excellent this year, I'm hesitant to call him the team's fantasy MVP because we've come to expect excellence from him. On the other hand, Bryan Rust wasn't even drafted in most fantasy hockey leagues. Prior to the 2019-2020 campaign, Rust hadn't managed more than 38 points in a season. He had a grand total of two power-play points through 253 NHL games. With all that in mind, it's amazing that Rust tallied 56 points in 55 games, with eight power-play tallies. Sure, this boost in production can be explained by the increased role he took on as a result of Pittsburgh's significant injuries. But you have to remember that not everyone makes the most of the opportunities their given. Not often can you find a point-per-game player on the waiver wire, which is why I have to give this title to Rust.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Alex Killorn
After an outstanding regular season performance from Tampa Bay last year, most of us had pretty high expectations for the team's roster this year, but we've been pretty underwhelmed so far. It's not that anyone has been particularly bad, it's just that most players haven't been as good as we thought they would be. Andrei Vasilevskiy's .917 SV% and 2.56 GAA are good, but they fall short of the high expectations we had of him. Brayden Point has been playing well this year, nearly scoring at a point-per game pace. However, that's still not as good as the 92 points he tallied in 79 games last year. Then we get to the three big-name skaters in Tampa Bay that have performed pretty well this season: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov. Stamkos was scoring at an impressive 95-point pace, but his injury prevented him from consistently contributing to your fantasy roster in recent weeks. Victor Hedman's overall point totals are impressive but he has just 16 points in his last 27 games after putting up 39 in his first 39 appearances. Then there's Nikita Kucherov, who's on pace for his third-straight 100-point season, but he's still not scoring as much as he was last year. I'm inclined to give him the title anyway, but considering he was drafted with a top-three pick in most fantasy leagues, I'd say he has fallen short of expectations. So, I'll go ahead and crown Alex Killorn as Tampa's fantasy hockey MVP, because he's scoring at a 60-point pace this year after being a 40-point player for most of his career. Ultimately, the deciding factor was the fact that he wasn't drafted in most fantasy hockey leagues, while most members of Tampa's roster were selected very early on in fantasy drafts.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Zach Hyman
At first, I was going to give this title to Auston Matthews because only David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin have scored more goals (48) than Matthews (47) this season. But then I thought about my criteria for crowning fantasy hockey MVPs from other teams and realized that outperforming expectations is a prerequisite for my MVP status. So, I gave the title to Zach Hyman, a player who missed the beginning of the season while rehabbing from ACL surgery, but scored at a 60-point pace since returning to the lineup. My decision is mostly based on the fact that Hyman was probably available on the waiver wire in your fantasy league, which means you could have gotten a 60-point player for free. While John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly and Matthews are all playing well this season, they went so early in fantasy drafts that they'd need to be playing even better to outperform the lofty expectations we have of them.
Washington Capitals – John Carlson
Not only does John Carlson leads all defenseman in scoring with 75 points in 69 games, he sits 12th in scoring among all skaters! To better appreciate Carlson's amazing season, I think it's important to compare his production to that of other defensemen across the league. For starters, Roman Josi sits second in scoring among defenseman and he's 10 points behind Carlson. Victor Hedman sits third in scoring among defenseman and he's a full 20 points behind Carlson! Carlson is on pace for 89 points this season – we haven't seen a defenseman score more than 85 points in the last 25 years!
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