21 Fantasy Hockey Rambles
Every Sunday, we’ll share 21 Fantasy Rambles from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week’s 'Daily Ramblings'.
Editors: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford, Cam Robinson, and Dobber
1. How many forwards in the NHL right now are capable of 50-goal seasons? Each player is theoretically capable of such a campaign, but there are really only a couple dozen players we could look at and realistically envision 50 goals in a regular NHL season.
We’re not going to waste internet ink talking about guys who’ve done it (Alex Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl) or guys that may have done it this year had the NHL season not ended (David Pastrnak and Auston Matthews). Hence, below are a few, while the rest can be seen here (for Mike's take), and here (for Cam's). (apr7)
2. Alex DeBrincat: Ice time is a big factor in players being able to reach 50 goals and DeBrincat still has a ways to go before he gets to the 20-minute mark every night, but that he’s played at least 17:30 in each of the last two seasons is a good start.
There’s also not much depth on the wings here. Of course, there’s Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, as well as an emerging Dominik Kubalik, but Saad rarely gets PP time so if he’s chewing 13-14 minutes a night at 5-on-5, it’s not an issue for DeBrincat. As for Kubalik, well, one season doesn't make a player. And eventually, age is going to catch up to Kane. Assuming the 2020-21 season is some sort of modified season, we’re going to get to DeBrincat’s age-24 season once Kane gets to his age-33 season. It’s really not hard seeing DeBrincat’s ice time going up and Kane’s going down in the meantime.
DeBrincat shoots about as much as elite scoring talents like Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Steven Stamkos, has already posted a 40-goal season, isn’t even in his prime yet, and should see his ice time increase over the next 2-3 seasons without much competition outside of Kane. He had a down year in 2019-20 with just 18 goals, and I think it’s very much worth going to see what he’d cost in a dynasty league right now. (apr7)
3. Brady Tkachuk: I think he has a realistic shot of getting there. Yes, the Sens have a long way to go before assembling a playoff team, and Tkachuk really needs a reliable top-line playmaking center. Whether the Sens have one of those right now is debatable.
Tkachuk already fills a lot of requirements. Ice time? Well he was just under 19 minutes a game in his second season, and given the lack of talent, it seems he’ll be crossing 19 minutes next season. Shot rate? Well, on a per-60 rate at even strength, he’s shot more often over the last two years than guys like Nathan MacKinnon, David Pastrnak, and Evander Kane. Those are two key points, and he passes them in spades.
The worry is having someone to play with. He’s pretty much on an island right now and though there is talent coming, it’s unproven. Tkachuk probably needs to round out his game a bit more so he’s more threatening than just sitting at the top of the crease, but the building blocks are here. I’m excited for his future. (apr7)
4. Elias Pettersson: This one is more of a reach simply for the fact that this is a player who has yet to hit 30 goals in a season let alone 50. However, if we played the remaining schedule this year, he would’ve broken 30. And the truth of the matter is, I’m putting this one on as more of a what could he possibly become with his skillset.
Pettersson’s counting statistics stayed mostly level from his terrific rookie year to his sophomore campaign. The goal pace plateaued while the point pace improved from 76 to 80 over a full season. However, the biggest steps in his game came defensively and with maintaining consistency.
With two seasons under his belt, the level of gain will only continue to rise. I like him to push for 40 next year while continuing to convert at a 16-19 percent rate and then who knows after that. A 50-50-100 campaign seems very doable for the 21-year-old superstar. (apr8)
5. Kyle Conner: I’ve loved the way this kid plays dating back to his time tearing the USHL apart with Youngstown. He’s always had an insatiable appetite for speed and scoring goals. Those traits don’t appear to be going anywhere as he enters his fourth full NHL campaign in 2020-21.
This past season, the 23-year-old produced 38 goals in 71 games – a 44-goal pace. He did so by once again converting in the high-teens (15.9) – a place he’s made his home the last three seasons. Additionally, his penchant for increasing his shot volume continued this year, going from 2.52 in 2017-18, to 2.77 in 2018-19, and finally to 3.37 this year. Watch out for the next big boy step into the rarified air of the four-shots-per-game club and you’ve got a 50-plus goal scorer.
6. If this is in fact the end of the season (and by that, I mean the regular season), only four players will have hit the 100-penalty minute mark.
However, six more players were on pace to reach 100 penalty minutes over a full season (Nazem Kadri was injured at the time the season was paused, but may have been close to a return).
7. Will this trend toward lower penalty minutes continue?
NHL teams are more focused on winning on speed and skill than ever before. The days of players racking up 300+ PIM, as was the case during the 1970s and 1980s, are gone. However, teams also understand that toughness is a critical element to winning the Stanley Cup. Two bruising teams (the Blues and Bruins) met in last year’s Stanley Cup Final, while Tom Wilson‘s presence impacted the Capitals in 2018. The prototypical goon might be close to extinct, but players like Wilson will come at a premium because of how secure teammates will feel while they are on the ice.
Consider the number of major penalties today compared to past seasons. In 2007-08, Jared Boll led the NHL with 28 major (5-minute) penalties, while six other players had at least 20 majors. Four of these players (including Boll and now-concussion advocate Daniel Carcillo) accumulated at least 200 PIM. That season, Carcillo led the league with 324 PIM.
This season, Nicolas Deslauriers led the league with 14 majors, while no other player had more than seven majors. Last season, no player had more than seven majors, which makes Deslauriers’ major penalty total seem like an anomaly. Not all major penalties are assessed for fighting, but as long as fighting is on the decline, the same will happen to total penalty minutes. (apr11)
8. What does that mean for fantasy leagues that count PIM?
Grab onto penalty minute producers who can score. Evander Kane, Brady Tkachuk (covered here), and Tom Wilson are must-owns in these leagues. This matters more in leagues in leagues where you compete directly with other teams in this category, such as weekly head-to-head leagues that award wins for each category, or multicategory roto leagues which rank teams in each category over the season.
As for pure points leagues that assign a value for each category, this doesn’t matter as long as the points come from somewhere. A team could pile up a ton of goals and assists each week but not many penalty minutes and still come out on top. In that case, penalty minutes are basically a throwaway category, especially if they don’t add much to the bottom line.
Of the 100 PIM crowd (or at least within reach of 100 PIM), Kane is probably the player with the highest value at the moment, given his ability to also score goals (at least 20 in each of the last five seasons) and take shots (at least 200 over each of the last five seasons). However, I could see the younger Tkachuk eclipsing him in fantasy value over the next season or two. As I mentioned last week, the sky’s the limit for Tkachuk in bangers leagues.
Today’s penalty minute leaders could just as well be scorers as not. Of the top 10 PIM producers in 2019-20, three were on pace to record 40 points, with another (Nazem Kadri) on pace to reach that mark. In 2007-08, none of the top eight PIM producers recorded more than 24 points.* The non-scoring, pure penalty minute producers that were prevalent over a decade ago are now more rare, but they are usually not worth seeking out unless a) you are in a very deep league, or b) the player is a short-term add to boost that category. (apr11)
9. When looking up stats for defensemen, I started looking around at other stats and looking at the individual points percentage (IPP) list. IPP is simply the percentage of goals on which a player accumulates a point. If a player is on the ice for 100 goals and has an 80 percent IPP, that means they have accumulated 80 points. Easy peasy, right?
Two names stood out to me among the 138 defensemen with at least 2000 minutes played at all strengths over the last two seasons: Rasmus Dahlin and Filip Hronek. They are both among the top-10 defensemen by IPP at all strengths over the last two years. The top-10 looks like this:
– Roman Josi – 56.8 %
– Brent Burns – 55.4 %
– Torey Krug – 55.1 %
– John Klingberg – 52.4 %
– John Carlson – 52.2 %
– Erik Karlsson – 51.8 %
– Rasmus Dahlin – 51.5 %
– Filip Hronek – 51.4 %
– Shea Theodore – 50.3 %
– Drew Doughty – 50 % (apr10)
10. When looking at the list above, it’s a veritable who’s-who of elite fantasy defenseman over the last half-decade. I don’t want to exclaim that Rasmus Dahlin is the next Roman Josi, or that Filip Hronek is the next Drew Doughty – from a fantasy perspective – but it’s hard not to be excited about them.
Even if we think they’re overheating a bit from just two seasons, the list of defensemen from 11-20 doesn’t really decline much in fantasy prowess: Tony DeAngelo, Dougie Hamilton, Tyson Barrie, Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk, Mattias Ekholm, Zach Werenski, Mark Giordano, Erik Gustafsson, and Thomas Chabot. When looking at that entire top-20 list, and figuring that even if Dahlin and Hronek were to slide under 50 percent for a little while that they’ll still be in the same range as some of the elite blue liners in the fantasy game, there is a lot of reason to be excited.
Of course, these are two defensemen on teams largely barren of top-end defensive talent, and how an influx of talent could affect those guys. One example is if Moritz Seider gets to the NHL and starts proving himself elite as a puck-mover and shot generator, how does that affect Hronek’s IPP? It’s for that reason I’m more worried about Hronek than Dahlin.
There’s obviously a lot more that goes into this than just pointing at an IPP, such as the influx of talent just mentioned. All the same, that these two are finding themselves involved in so many goals is a good sign early on. (apr10)
11. Also while looking through stats for defenseman, I noticed this: Miro Heiskanen is top-10 among defensemen by individual expected goals at all strengths over the last two years. That’s a raw total, not a rate total. The top-10: Roman Josi, Brent Burns, Alex Pietrangelo, Dougie Hamilton, Zach Werenski, John Carlson, Shea Theodore, Kris Letang, and Victor Hedman. That is also a who’s-who of fantasy greatness among rearguards. (Even if we move to just a rate stat, Heiskanen drops a bit but he’s still tied for 11th among 138 defenseman.)
Before the season, I said I was wary of Heiskanen’s ranking because he wasn’t going to be PP1 and the team played too defensively. Now, the latter wasn’t the case until Jim Montgomery was fired as coach, but he’s not a guy who will rack up hits or blocked shots. He’s fine for multi-cat leagues, but certainly not a multi-cat stud by any stretch.
All the same, Heiskanen has a lot of very good data points showing his offensive prowess, and individual expected goals is certainly one of them. He has an exciting future. (apr10)
12. I think Erik Cernak could be one of the top multi-cat defense options in the league in a couple years. Allow me to explain. Through his brief career, which has spanned just 125 regular season games through his age-22 season, he’s played a shade over 19 minutes a night (19:05 actually). In his time in the NHL, he ranks inside the top-third of the NHL by individual shot attempts generated. He’s just under 1.9 shots per game with this rate, meaning if he does find himself in Seattle a couple years from now, and hopefully playing 21-22 minutes a night, he’ll easily pass 2.0 shots per game, kind of a benchmark for defensemen.
The shot-blocking component of Cernak’s arsenal isn’t as stout as the shooting, but it’s not nothing, either. His shot blocking rates at all strengths are about the middle of the league over these last two years, but significantly better on the penalty kill. As long as he keeps getting those PK minutes when (IF) he’s in Seattle, there’s no reason to think he won’t sit around 125 blocks year after year.
And then there are the hits, and boy does he hit. Over the last couple years, he ranks inside the 90th percentile in hits per 60 minutes at all strengths. Despite being 111th in the league among defensemen in ice time in that span, he’s eighth in hits, and he only played 58 games in 2018-19. He put up more hits than Jeff Petry, another great multi-cate guy, in 28 fewer games. He does this, as a reminder, playing 19 minutes a night. What is he going to do when he’s playing well over 20 minutes a night?
Not hyperbole: Cernak has averaged nearly three hits per game in his career – 2.96, to be exact. So here we have a guy playing 19 minutes a game, posting nearly two shots, 1.5 blocks, and three hits per game for his career. He’s just 22 years old, and there’s the possibility that he’s going to be in an environment where he’s playing 22, 23, 25 minutes a night, what are those numbers going to look like? I don’t want to assume linear growth, but it’s hard to imagine it won’t help in some regard.
And it’s not as if Cernak has been reliant on point production to date, with just 36 points in 125 games. People will say that leaving Tampa Bay for an expansion franchise is a downgrade for point production, and it is, but I’ll trade that off for a lot more minutes from a guy with the fantasy profile of Cernak. Maybe this summer will be the time to buy in on him, considering how low his point production was in 2019-20. (apr10)
13. Not for nothing, but Marcus Pettersson fits the bill above, as well, but I don’t imagine that the Penguins will be letting him go. All the same, Pettersson’s multi-cat performances are crazy-good, and I hope that he gets more ice time in coming seasons. He, like Cernak, was also under 20 minutes a night in 2019-20, and he, like Cernak, could be a monster if he plays 21-22 minutes. PLEASE, SULLIVAN. (apr10)
14. St. Louis Blues prospect Scott Perunovich has won the 2020 Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player. Perunovich is a defenseman for Minnesota Duluth who was second in the US with 34 assists. He was also the first defenseman to lead the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) in scoring. There is some potential fantasy upside should he make his way to the NHL, and that might be fast-tracked if the Blues somehow can’t find a way to sign pending UFA Alex Pietrangelo. (apr12)
15. Robert Thomas had as many primary assists at 5-on-5 in 2019-20 as Jonathan Huberdeau, Brayden Point, and Teuvo Teravainen. It should be mentioned that in this instance, we’re talking about raw primary assists, and not a rate. He had as many as Point in the same number of games (66) but over 100 fewer minutes (943 to 829). He also had more total assists at 5-on-5 (25) than Aleksander Barkov (23), Elias Pettersson (22) and Taylor Hall (21). Hey, that all seems pretty good?
I have written over the last several months about the slow breakout of Thomas (feel free to peruse our archives) and how he was turning into an elite playmaker. I’m at the point where I think his floor is basically Nick Schmaltz, and I mean that as a compliment. (Schmaltz is also very much underrated, but that’s for another day.) The thing with him is that it’s not just a one-year blip, either, as he has the exact same primary assist rate as Elias Pettersson and Patrick Kane. Ever heard of ’em?
I do think the comparison to Schmaltz is apt in more ways than one, though. Like Schmaltz, Thomas brings next to nothing in peripheral stats; Thomas is in the 10th percentile for shot rate and the 5th percentile for hit rate. In other words, not only does he not help in those categories, he actively hurts fantasy rosters. That’s always been the problem with Schmaltz; he’s a great playmaker, but what else can he bring?
It’s the shot rate that really hurts here. Guys putting up tons of points can overcome the lack of hits (Artemi Panarin this year; Phil Kessel in years gone by) but guys can’t put up tons of points without scoring some goals. When we look at the names around him in shot rate the last two years, even the top-end players within the low-shot guys – David Krejci, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Johansen – don’t score very often; there’s a reason it’s hard to rely on much more than 60 points for any of them.
So, we get back to the original points: Robert Thomas has shown himself to be a great playmaker, and one comparable to the just-below-elite tier already in his young career, but can he bring more than that? If he’s posting seasons of 15 goals, 50 assists, 120 shots, and 15 hits, does that scream a great fantasy option? I get that he still has some growth to do as a young player but he has a long way to go before his peripherals become acceptable; even if his shot rate jumped by 50 percent – which would be enormous growth – he would still just be in the 70th percentile for shot rate. So, yes, he’ll keep getting better, but there is a long way to go. (apr9)
16. Lawson Crouse has a higher 5-on-5 shot rate over the last two years than Evgeni Malkin and Brock Boeser. Count me among the people who not only thought Crouse was overhyped and as a result, a terrible draft pick by Florida. (And even if Crouse does pan out – and we’ll get to that – the fact that within the next 10 picks we saw Denis Gurianov, Jake DeBrusk, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot all get taken is probably another point in Crouse for sure being overhyped, given where he is in his NHL career compared to some of those guys.) Things weren’t looking too good with 13 points in his first 83 regular season games, including a good chunk of time in the AHL.
Things have turned around the last couple years. He posted 25 points in a full season a year ago and had the same total in 66 games this year. There are serious concerns about his assist rate – he’s about the 10th percentile at 5-on-5 the last two years, and that’s quite bad – but his individual expected goals have climbed the last two years, posting higher rates than his first two seasons. While his individual shot rate has been somewhat consistent for his career, he’s getting better looks at the net. Those better looks are why he managed 15 goals in 66 games this year while playing under 14 minutes a night.
That he’s showing the ability to score 15-20 goals is huge here. Crouse is a guy who can put up monster hit totals, as he’s posted over 200 in each of the last two seasons, and he was short-changed one-fifth of the season this year. If he can score 20 goals and put up 250 hits while landing something like 150 shots on goal, well, we could have a special multi-cat talent.
It’s the question of line mates that bugs me. His three most-common linemates in 2019-20 were, in order, Derek Stepan, Carl Soderberg, and Phil Kessel. Those are guys we want to see Crouse with. The year before, it was Josh Archibald, Mario Kempe, and Nick Cousins. Those are not guys we want to see Crouse with.
Soderberg and Hall are both UFA, and Derek Stepan has a year left on his deal. There are not a lot of great forward prospects in the pipeline. Will Crouse continue getting good linemates, or will it revert back to pre-2019? That’s going to be the difference between 10-goal, 250-hit seasons and 20-goal, 250-hit seasons. (apr9)
17. Quickly, I think we have to give a good long look at Ryan Ellis potentially being an elite player. Thanks to injuries, he was held to just 49 games this season, but he produced at a 65-point-pace. That’s the second time in the past three seasons where he’s paced over 60. The issue is that both those seasons were only half completed.
According to the very smart Evolving-Wild twins, Ellis was third in the league for both WAR (4.1) and GAR (23.2). He trailed only Artemi Panarin and Pettersson in both categories. GAR = Goals-Above-Replacement. WAR = Wins-Above-Replacement.
The 29-year-old has consistently been an elite even-strength producer, and that will need to continue as Roman Josi eats up the big PP minutes in Nashville. But if Ellis can stay healthy for a full season where he can click in that 7-10 percent range as he’s done a few times, watch out. (apr8)
18. The only active defensemen to ever reach 80 points in a season are Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. Kris Letang could have made it, but he was too prone to injury and now the window has passed him by. With that in mind, I put together a list of players who ‘could’ get there, and honestly a few of them will because the NHL is more wide open with scoring these days and a lot of that rests on the puck-moving defensemen.
Some D could have made the list with the right bounces, teammates, coaching, PP time, etc. (I’m thinking about Erik Gustafsson, Mike Matheson, Shayne Gostisbehere etc.). But here are some guys I think could get there. At some point. Maybe. Below are a few, while the full list of 20 names, along with some musings, can be seen here. (apr6)
19. SOME LONG SHOTS:
– Adam Fox (19th): Fox has had such an impressive rookie season and it’s just so rare to see this from a defenseman coming straight out of college. I really thought there would be an adjustment period. But Fox has been a standout. However, he has to fight for every scrap of PP time that he gets on this team. On a team other than the Rangers? Sky is the limit.
– Adam Boqvist (13th): While I do worry that Patrick Kane‘s decline starts to set in just when Boqvist enters his prime, there is hope that the Blackhawks have enough developing offense (Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, etc.) to help their top PP blueliner Boqvist along. At this point on my list we’re still looking at the longer shots, where they likely top out in the 60s. But the 19-year-old Boqvist absolutely deserves discussion. (apr6)
20. A STRONG CASE:
– Evan Bouchard (9th): It is here where my list leaves the realm of “long shots” and enters the realm of “possible and even likely”. The above 11 players have a lot of “ifs” and “buts” involved. These nine players have much stronger cases. In the case of Bouchard, he is the best offensive defenseman to come along for Edmonton in 20 years. And he’ll arrive just as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enter their prime. The timing is pretty sweet for Evan Coffey. I mean Bouchard.
– Thomas Chabot (7th): As a 22-year-old, Chabot had 39 points in his first 39 games (last year). That’s all I need to see. I’m convinced he can get to 80. Will he? Well, that would naturally depend on health and how well the team around him improves. But the toolbox is there. (apr6)
21. AS CLOSE TO A SURE THING AS IT GETS:
– Rasmus Dahlin (6th): A franchise defenseman who is destined to win a Norris or two, Dahlin at 27 years old (he’s currently only 19!! Turns 20 next week) could even get to 80 on his own, surrounded by a bunch of hot dog vendors and a guy named Dobbs. But he has Jack Eichel. Nothing is for certain, but with good health Dahlin will get there in seven years.
– Dougie Hamilton (5th): We’ve been waiting for the switch to flip on this guy. Hamilton finally found that switch this season at the age of 26. All it took was to get rid of that bum Justin Faulk. But after 40 points in 46 games, Hamilton suffered an injury in Game 47 and that was the end of that. For now. But his window still has a good four or five years left in it… (apr6)
Have a good week, folks!!
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