Ramblings: Early thoughts on the 2020-21 season

Michael Clifford

2020-04-28

It sucks to say, given that we should be enjoying some stellar second-round playoff hockey right now, but we need to start looking to the future. We need to start preparing for the 2020-21 season given the uncertainty with this year right now. Whether the 2019-20 season finishes, whether we have playoffs, and whether 2020-21 starts on time, all that is up in the air. I do know we need to start getting ready about the possibility of the 2019-20 season being completely finished.

I just wanted to give a list of guys I'm really intrigued over for next season, whenever it happens. These are just preliminary thoughts and a lot will obviously change in the next 2-14 months. They are 10 guys who rank from potential young stars to future Hall of Famers.

 

Roman Josi

It was a superlative year for Josi, who posted career-highs in goals (16) and assists (49) despite not even playing 70 games. A decent hot streak puts him near 80 points at the end of a full season. On the flipside, there's always the nagging "contract year" situation in the back of fantasy hockey minds. There's also the fact that it was a year everything went wrong scoring-wise for forwards, so if they pick up the slack again, is Josi going to put up a pace of 20 goals and 300 shots? He will also be turning 30 years old in June. Not that he's decrepit, but we always get nervous about guys on the wrong side of 30. He might go as a top-3 fantasy defenceman next year and I'm not sure it'll be worth it, especially in leagues counting hits.

 

Tyler Toffoli

Surely I'm not the only person who is really interested to see where Toffoli's ADP lands in September (or whenever we draft). This is a guy who showed great promise and results years ago, fell on hard times as his team crumbled around him, and then found his game when he was moved to Vancouver and given actual NHL line mates. In a nice coincidence, he turned 28 years old just a few days ago, which means we should still get a few real good seasons out of him as long as he lands in a good spot. The last part of that sentence is important, because if he signs somewhere he's not getting 18 minutes a night on the top line and top PP unit, I worry about him just repeating somewhere near his last couple seasons in Los Angeles rather than his stint in Vancouver.

 

Anthony Cirelli

Before the 2019-20 season, I wrote about Cirelli and how I thought he'd end up being the second-line centre for the Bolts sooner rather than later. I didn't anticipate "basically from the start of the year," but it was nice to see him get such a vote of confidence from the coaching staff. He cruised past 18 minutes a game and though a good chunk is still on the penalty kill, he earned over two minutes more per game at 5-on-5 compared to 2018-19 and was even starting to see some top PP minutes before the league went on break. When I think of most underrated players in the NHL, Cirelli is near the top of the list, and if he can earn consistent PP1 minutes in 2019-20, there's a 70-point seasons waiting to happen. He won't be drafted as such, I assume.

 

Nick Suzuki

There wasn't a Habs player more impressive to me this year than Suzuki. Though Tomas Tatar has been excellent since being acquired in the Max Pacioretty trade, Suzuki was the real pearl of that deal, and he had a wonderful 2019-20 season. The problem is that Phillip Danault is, presumably, still the team's top-line centre, and this isn't a situation like Cirelli where Suzuki can earn a ton of ice time. Historically, Claude Julien doesn't dole out a lot of minutes; only Danault averaged over 17:30 per game among Habs regular forwards and even when Suzuki was earning more ice time, he was averaging out around 17:30 a game. That ice time combined with what is likely to be split minutes on a bad power play make me worry for his fantasy value. I think Suzuki will be very good, but his situation is not.

 

Connor Hellebuyck

I like Hellebuyck as a goalie as much as anyone. I believe he should be in the mix for the Hart Trophy for the 2019-20 season and is truly among the handful of elite goalies in the league. His issue is the team in front of him is quite bad defensively, and with Dustin Byfuglien gone for sure, I'm not sure how much better it'll get in the near-term, either, as we're relying on guys like Heinola and Niku to effectively step in as top-4 guys immediately. It is hard for goalies to post great seasons year after year, let alone doing it on a poor defensive team (just ask John Gibson). I envision Hellebuyck going as one of the first few goalies off the board and I just cannot fathom paying that price. He's a great goalie in a bad spot. I'll probably pass on drafting him in the second or third round.

 

Adam Boqvist

If there's one thing we learned about the Blackhawks as a team in 2019-20, it's that they'll score goals. Maybe they won't be very good in general, but with Toews, Kane, DeBrincat, Saad, Kubalik, Strome (TBD, I guess), and Dach, there is a lot of offensive firepower here. Not that Duncan Keith has been shoved to the side entirely, but there were times in 2019-20 when Boqvist was playing, well, 19-20 minutes a night, and that included some top PP time. He showed why he was highly touted coming out of the draft, posting very good offensive play-driving numbers (defensive numbers, well, not so much). I think next year will be kind of a transition season where we see Boqvist slowly wrangle more minutes, and there is a sneaky 40-point season coming here if a few things break right.

 

Jakub Vrana

I'm not sure there's a wider range of outcomes for a young-ish player in the league than Vrana. If we get to the end of the 2020-21 season and he has 25 goals and 45 points, I'd say "yeah that makes sense." If we get to the end of the 2020-21 season and he had 40 goals and 75 points, I'd say "yeah that makes sense." I think Vrana is a superlative offensive player with David Pastrnak-esque upside, but even in a breakout season he still wasn't playing 15 minutes a night and still was getting sparse top PP minutes (though he got more as the season went on). He'll be fantasy relevant no matter what, but it's whether he gets the minutes commensurate with his talent or not. If he plays 15 minutes a night with second PP minutes, then yeah, 45 points or so would make sense, but if he plays 18 minutes a night with top PP minutes, then yeah, 75 points or so would make sense.

 

Gabe Vilardi

It seems like a lifetime ago, but remember when Gabe Vilardi made it to the NHL this year? And did pretty well in his 10 games? Well he did, and he did! I think this is a case of a post-hype sleeper who can be very productive for a cheap draft cost. There's a reason he was drafted 11th overall, but injuries have kept him from having a normal progression as a prospect. He'll be 21 years old for next season, whenever that happens, and is back-of-mind for a lot of people. There are obvious concerns about the talent that will surround him, but I think he is worth a shot in deeper drafts.

 

Evgeni Malkin

So, 2019-20 was the season when people finally started discounting Malkin for his age and injury history, and all Malkin did was post his best points/game mark in eight years. Yes, the injuries were there again and that limited him to 55 games in the shortened season, but it'll be interesting to see if he's priced the same this year as he was last year. He's a guy that can single-handedly win H2H seasons if he's healthy in March, so the type of league may matter. All the same, it was nice to see Vintage Malkin again.

 

Johnny Gaudreau

The wildly talented winger had his worst season in three years and most of the cast of players that were around for at least two of those seasons will be back again in 2020-21. Both his personal and his on-ice shooting percentages were career-worst marks in 2019-20, almost assuredly meaning there is a rebound coming. In that sense, if a guy has probably the worst season of his career, and that season would have still seen him brush up against 70 points, it's probably worth reminding ourselves of the upside here. He will probably fall to the fourth or fifth rounds, and I'll probably be buying.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency CBJ Players
24.3% NICK FOLIGNO BOONE JENNER GUSTAV NYQUIST
17.4% OLIVER BJORKSTRAND PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS LIAM FOUDY
9.5% PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS LIAM FOUDY ALEXANDRE TEXIER

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