21 Fantasy Hockey Rambles

Mario Prata


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. Need faceoffs? Then Ryan O’Reilly is your guy. O’Reilly has led the league in faceoffs won in each of the previous three seasons with 1086 in 2018-19 and 1274 in 2017-18. He also took the highest number of faceoffs in 2017-18 (2124) while finishing third in 2018-19 (1910). I wrote about O’Reilly here when covering assist-heavy forwards, so you should now have a pretty good idea of what ROR is all about for fantasy purposes.

The top four players in overall faceoffs taken (O’Reilly, Jonathan Toews, Bo Horvat, Anze Kopitar) are also the top four in faceoffs won. So again, the more faceoffs a player wins, the more faceoffs they get to take. All four provide enough scoring to make them rosterable in most fantasy leagues, although none should be considered elite options at the center position. Only one of these players (Toews) has an offensive zone start percentage (OZ%) of above 50% over each of the past three seasons. The other three have OZ% of below 50% over each of the past three seasons. In fact, Horvat has only a 39.4 OZ% for a reason that you may be able to figure out, eh (Elias Pettersson). (apr17)


2. Count me among those who thought Zach Hyman was simply a product of his linemates and ice time, and that it had been the case for years. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; finding players who have good chemistry with your stars is pretty important. Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis taught us that. But it’s also easy to dismiss their talent just because of who they’re skating with.

And there is merit to that. When looking at Hyman’s on-ice numbers over the last few years when he hasn’t been with either John Tavares or Auston Matthews are pretty bad. The good news is that neither Tavares nor Matthews are going anywhere anytime soon. As long as Hyman’s play doesn’t level off, and he hasn’t given any indication of that, I have no problem assuming he can keep floating around 20 goals and over a hit per game. Just keep in mind that he was shooting nearly 20 percent this year, which is a big reason why his 82-game pace was well over 30 goals. I wouldn’t expect him to keep shooting 19-20 percent year after year. (apr14)


3. Since his rookie year of 105 penalty minutes, Matthew Tkachuk has realized his value to the Flames as a scorer, holding off to less than 80 PIM over each of the last three seasons while leading the Flames in scoring this season. Going forward, he might be an example of a player whose scoring is negatively correlated to his penalty minutes. To put it another way, he will still earn his share of penalty minutes, but that number might not go through the roof as Flames’ coaching and management advises him to tone it down, since he clearly can’t score from the sin bin.

Fun split this season for Tkachuk:

– Penalty minutes vs. EDM and LA: 40 PIM
– Penalty minutes vs. everyone else: 34 PIM

In other words, foes like Drew Doughty and Zack Kassian (more on him below) will drive up his penalty minute totals. In case you’re wondering if teams have distracted Tkachuk from scoring, that isn’t necessarily true. Tkachuk scored four goals and seven points with a plus-9 in eight games against the Oilers and Kings. So for daily league purposes, the more intense the rivalry with Tkachuk and the Flames, the more points and penalty minutes he should collect.

Overall, Tkachuk’s scoring is down from last season, but that has also been the case for all the key Flames across the board, including Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, and Mark Giordano. At age 22, Tkachuk should continue to be a top-tier option in bangers leagues, regardless of the fortunes of the team around him. (apr18)


4. The Blue Jackets signed Joonas Korpisalo to a two-year contract with an average annual value of $2.8 million.

Fantasy owners might be wondering how this signing affects one Elvis Merzlikins. A quick search and sort at Cap Friendly shows Korpisalo as the 27th-highest paid goalie for next season, similar to the likes of Petr Mrazek, Jonathan Bernier, David Rittich, and Carter Hutton. That ranking will undoubtedly change one way or the other during the offseason, but the cap hit doesn’t necessarily suggest that Korpisalo will receive the bulk of the starts.

I won’t argue with Dobber that Merzlikins is the better long-term option, but I’d still have to project this to be a 1A/1B situation in the near term (whatever that may be). You may remember Merzlikins playing out of his mind during January. However, don’t forget that from November 15 to his December 29 injury, Korpisalo was also red hot, posting an 11-3-3 record with a 2.02 GAA and .928 SV%. Whichever goalie is starting for the Jackets is also doing so in a defensive-friendly system, which also helps. (apr18)


5. The divorce papers have finally been signed, and the heartfelt “thank you” messages have been sent. In the final chapter of a messy separation, the Winnipeg Jets and Dustin Byfuglien have agreed to a mutual contract termination. ‘Big Buff’ is now officially a free agent, so we will find out soon enough whether he will continue his career. That depends on both the extent of any lingering injuries and his desire to continue playing NHL hockey, the latter of which might be a greater factor. I’d have to think that the chances of him returning are slim. If this is it, then it's been quite a ride for Byfuglien. (apr18)


6. Canadiens’ center Phillip Danault surfaced when I was pulling stats on assists, mainly because of his high assist-to-goal totals and high proportion of primary assists to secondary assists in 2018-19. If the regular season has in fact ended, Danault will have averaged 50 points (but only 12.5 goals) over the past two seasons with a 54-point pace both seasons. Adding Danault (second on the Habs in assists in both 2019-20 and 2018-19) should help your faceoffs and assists, but he’ll leave you wanting more in goals and shots (average 131.5 SOG over the past two seasons).

Are there any other categories in which he might be useful? A further look shows two more categories in which he won’t hurt. Danault led the Habs in plus-minus with a plus-18 while posting a similar total (plus-17) last season. Also, Danault might strike the casual observer as a non-physical playmaker, but his 119 hits were fifth on the team, which should allow him to hold his own in the hits department.

Going forward, Danault is in a fairly stable situation on the Habs. Over half of his even-strength minutes both this season and last have been centering a line with Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, both of whom have been good for at least 20 goals the past few seasons. These three have been three of the four leading scorers on the Habs this season. Most of Danault’s scoring comes as even-strength, however, as he has been held to just four power-play points in each of the past two seasons while primarily playing on the second unit. (apr17)


7. NHL hockey might be paused just like every other sport, but that hasn’t stopped the St. Louis Blues from locking up two regulars. A day after signing Sammy Blais to a two-year, $3 million extension (AAV $1.5 million), the Blues have inked Marco Scandella to a four-year, $13.1 million contract (AAV $3.275 million). If you were like me, you had forgotten that Scandella is now with the Blues. That’s because he’s played only 11 games with the Blues, recording just a single assist. However, he had impressed enough defensively during his brief time with the Blues to receive this extension.

If you believe that the Scandella signing means that Alex Pietrangelo is all but done in St. Lou, remember that Jay Bouwmeester and his similar cap hit are very likely to come off the books this summer, particularly because of J-Bo’s health situation. An Alexander Steen buyout is another possibility, particularly if teams are given amnesty buyouts to aid with the salary cap not increasing much (if at all) because of the current COVID-19 situation. It will also be interesting to see what happens with upcoming RFA Vince Dunn, who was second only to Pietrangelo in power-play minutes among Blues’ d-men. (apr17)


8. St. Louis hasn’t really been great for fantasy value this year, but Brayden Schenn was doing just fine. He had 25 goals (four away from a career-high), he had 58 points (two off his second 60-point season), he had 21 PPPs (the first time in three years he managed at least 20), and was on pace for easily reaching both 150 shots and 125 hits. A guy who can put up 25-35 with 150-125 and 20 PPPs is very valuable in multi-cat leagues.

All this, mind you, was without the team’s top offensive threat in the lineup most of the season. Whether Schenn would have played with him or not, who knows, but if he did, he would have had an elite right winger to skate with, and if he didn’t, then he probably would have had easier matchups on the road. Either way, Schenn thrived through a tough situation and that speaks to not only his role on the team but the talent he possesses.

I don’t see why anything should change for Schenn in the future. His role is secure and there’s still a lot of talent all over the St. Louis lineup. He might not always play centre, and he didn’t stay there at all times in 2019-20, so beware of him in leagues with faceoff wins. All the same, he’s a model of fantasy consistency, with four of his last five seasons posting totals of at least 25 goals, 30 assists, and 110 hits (the one season he missed he had 17 goals). The only concern is his age, as he’ll be 29 for next season, and once power forwards get to his age, we start to get worried. (apr16)


9. After a couple of seasons with real strong showings as a backup goalie in 2016-17 and 2017-18 (he had a .924 save percentage across 47 appearances), Juuse Saros fell off in 2018-19 (.915 save percentage) and was about the same in 2019-20 (.914). But it’s how he got to the .914 that is important.

Through Saros’s first 20 appearances in 2019-20, which stretched until New Year’s Eve, he had just an .890 save percentage. It’s not as if Pekka Rinne was doing much better, though, as in that same time frame, he posted an .894 save percentage. The net was, effectively, wide open for either goalie to take the reigns of the starting gig in the second half of the season, and Saros did just that.

From New Year’s Eve onward, Saros had 20 more appearances and managed a .934 save percentage in that span. By contrast, Rinne had just 13 appearances and an .898 save percentage, with just five appearances from the first of February to when the season was shut down. Saros had taken over the net, and he was playing spectacularly.

Over the last three years, Saros’s goals saved above average per 60 minutes tie him with Corey Crawford and Jaroslav Halak, and have him ahead of names like Frederik Andersen, Jacob Markstrom, and Sergei Bobrovsky. Rinne has just one year left on his deal and turns 38 years old in November. This is Saros’s net heading into next season, just keep that in mind for drafts. (apr16)


10. DobberProspects' Jokke Nevalainen and I were exchanging tweets and he asked me: Who will be the best defenseman in the league over the next 10 years, and why will it be Miro Heiskanen?

There’s little reason to argue with my man, Jokke on this one. First off, never argue with a Finn about a Finnish hockey player. It’s a no-win situation. Secondly, Heiskanen is that amazing of a talent.

Using Evolving-Wild’s model, the 20-year-old sophomore was amongst the top-20 defenders in a swath of advanced categories. Individual Expected Goals, Individual Corsi-for, GAR and WAR just to name a few. He was third in penalty differential, top-10 in ice time, and even-strength defence above average.

All while improving his shot and point-pace and flipping 28 goals on the ledger – going from minus-14 to plus-14 on the ever-popular plus-minus chart.

I think it’s very safe to assume we’re not even scratching the surface of where he’ll end up. If he can pry those PP1 minutes away from John Klingberg, there’s little reason to believe he won’t become a top-10 D asset in points leagues. (apr15)


11. Reader @JaredSparrow asked: One of Filip Forsberg, Nico Hischier, Anthony Cirelli or Nic Ehlers?

I’ll pick Cirelli here because he’s quickly become a favorite of mine – despite failing to own him in any of my keeper leagues. The soon-to-be 23-year-old took the leap from bit part to first-line center this past year. His minutes soared at even-strength and 5v5 production elevated to a 53-point pace. It was an impressive second season.

But in order for him to take the next step into elite fantasy asset, we need that sub-1minute of power-play deployment to double or triple. No easy task on Tampa Bay. He can’t really supplement the net-front of Alex Killorn (or whichever big body they put there). He’s not taking Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point or Victor Hedman‘s job. So that leaves….well, that leaves him on PP2. Until there are signs of that changing, don’t overvalue him in drafts or trades. (apr15)


12. Just a reminder that Canucks' prospect Nils Hoglander is bursting at the seams with creativity and offensive upside. We’re still waiting for him to sign an ELC, but it’s expected that it will take place this summer. He’ll come to camp, battle for a job, but is unlikely to steal one. Then we’ll see if he sticks in the AHL or has a European out-clause that allows him to return to Rogle of the SHL for another year. He has top-9, feisty winger written all over him. (apr15)


13. Count me as one of those that doesn't think we’re going to see the completion of the 2019-20 regular season (playoffs are another matter) and that makes me kind of sad for Tyler Toffoli. For years, I had been clamouring for him to be on the top line with Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles, but he largely remained on the second and third lines. Well, he was traded to Vancouver, put alongside Elias Pettersson, was skating 18 minutes a night and, 'quelle surprise', he was a point-per-game player while averaging nearly four shots per game. It’s almost as if he was an excellent scoring winger who, for years, was stuck playing with unproven NHLers and aging stars as the Kings declined from their Stanley Cup apex. It’s shocking, I know.

Anyway, over the last two seasons, largely played with those awful Kings teams, Toffoli is 10th in on-ice expected goals per 60 minutes. The only forwards ahead of him are as follows: Andrei Svechnikov, Mark Stone, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, Brady Tkachuk, Sebastian Aho, and Evgeni Malkin. The worst player on that list, by far, is Tomas Tatar and he has six straight 20-goal seasons, averaging well over 60 points per 82 games over the last two seasons, while skating just 16 minutes a night. (Just by the by, Tatar is one of just 13 players with at least a six-season streak of 20-goal seasons. The others are all among the elite scorers in the NHL. That should probably give a frame of reference for how good Tatar actually is. Another fun fact: over those six seasons, Tatar has the same WAR/60 as Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, and William Karlsson.)

Toffoli is a free agent so it’ll be interesting to see where he lands. It’ll be hard to top 18 minutes a night alongside Pettersson, but it’s worth keeping in mind just how good he is. There are 30-goal, 60-point seasons with massive shot rates here if he lands in the right spot. (apr14)


14. There was a good read on our site a couple days ago by Mike Halbany, one of our newest writers. He was discussing Dominik Kubalik and what we could expect from him next year, given his incredible success and lack of track record.

One thing Mike brought up that I think is very important: Kubalik was earning a ton of PP time as the year wore on. I have concerns for Kubalik as well – namely his shooting percentage – but if he can play 3:30 a night on the PP, well, suddenly a lot of my concerns disappear. It’ll be interesting to see how they use him in 2020-21. (apr14)


15. Of the players who are drafted, looking at the ones who have been signed to entry-level deals since the league shut down on March 12, a Top 10 ranking in terms of fantasy hockey interest:

(10th) Wade Allison, Philadelphia: A power forward who throws his body around with abandon, Allison will be a boon for those fantasy owners in leagues that count Hits. My list is looking at deep points-only leagues, otherwise Allison would be fifth on this list instead of 10th. He is very injury prone because of the way he plays, and as a power forward the points won’t come for several years yet. If he can stay healthy he could be a 60-point player and multi-category stud. (apr13)


16. (9th) Patrick Harper, Nashville: The small, skilled forward quickly became a Dobber darling when he posted 37 points in 38 games as a freshman with Boston University. But midway through 2017-18 he suffered an injury and he was a shadow of his former self upon returning in 2018-19. He rebounded as a senior, posting 37 points in 32 games. A boom-or-bust prospect. How well he produces in the AHL next season will determine the comfort level I have with him being a successful top six NHL forward. (apr13)


17. (8th) Raphael Lavoie, Edmonton: With name recognition that probably moves him much higher on this list for many of you, keep in mind that he’s a 6-4 forward who plays a bit of a power game and as such expectations should be kept low for the immediate future. A year from now, sure I’d have him in my Top 5 on today’s list. But I don’t like waiting on players for four years – because I can usually find just as good of a player who is just a year or two away. But Lavoie had 82 points in just 55 QMJHL games and made Team Canada’s WJC team (two assists in seven games), so many fantasy owners will ignore the wait time and just overrate him.

You check out the rest, those ranked 7th to 1st by clicking here.

BTW: Honorable mention goes to Minnesota prospect Adam Beckman, who is coming off a 107-point season with Spokane of the WHL. He's going to embarrass the WHL next season, so he might be someone worth stashing before his value skyrockets. Three years away, unless he shows something in the year ahead that says different. There were a few interesting college players who signed as well, but I’ll save those as a topic for this Sunday's Ramblings. (apr13)


18. KHL contracts are set to expire April 30 so you can expect (finally) some really good hockey news early in May. Alexander Barabanov has already signed with the Leafs after getting permission from his KHL team. But some teams are sticklers and players such as elite prospect Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota) will need to wait.

While signing from the KHL to the NHL isn’t technically allowed until then, players are certainly allowed to sign extensions in the KHL or sign over there from the AHL or NHL. Anton Slepyshev is a great example. An offensive winger that belongs to the Oilers should be on everyone’s radar for obvious reasons. Slepyshev, at 25, finally broke through at the KHL level, posting 45 points in 54 games for CSKA Moskva. Even though he played 102 games in the NHL, I had him on my list of players to profile in the Fantasy Prospects Report because his KHL contract was up and, as noted, he had broken out in Russia. He signed a two-year extension with CSKA, so that’s the end of that. He will be a UFA by NHL standards by the time that contract is up, so Edmonton is probably not going to get him. He wants the guarantee of the NHL – not AHL. I guess the Oilers wouldn’t give him that. (apr13)


19. Vancouver prospect Nikolay Goldobin was also on my list of players to cover in the Fantasy Prospects Report (14th edition). Yes, he’s played 125 NHL games, but he just played the entire season in the minors and is only 24 so I still consider him a prospect. He really found his game with Utica, posting nearly a point per game. With a strong Vancouver team next year, I think he could have done well with them this time. But Goldobin also signed with CSKA. (apr13)


20. As for Barabanov – he’s not going to be another Ilya Mikheyev. His impact may be big, but he tops out on the third line. His decline in stats last season versus the one prior is due to the team losing Nikita Gusev and Pavel Datsyuk, among others. He’s a two-way complimentary player, and if his speed matches up in the NHL the way it does in the KHL then he could allow the Leafs to trade a player like Andreas Johnsson. (apr13)


21. I have begun preparation for this year’s Fantasy Prospects Report. It will indeed be out before the Playoff Draft List, so I guess the 2019 Ultimate Fantasy Pack and the 2020 Ultimate Fantasy Pack will both be active at the same time for the first time ever. I have not settled on a date for the Fantasy Prospects Report yet. I usually release it on June 1 and I can tell you that won’t be the case this year. I am looking at between June 15 and July 15, likely the middle. And I’ll open up pre-sales a couple of weeks prior. (apr13)


Have a good week, folks!!


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