Eastern Edge: Fantasy hockey takeaways from 2019-20 – Part 1
In this week's Eastern Edge, I'll begin highlighting an important fantasy hockey takeaway for each team in the Eastern Conference. I tried to include information from the 2019-2020 campaign that may be forgotten during this extended offseason. Hopefully, these reminders will be useful when NHL action eventually resumes. This is the first of four installments, where we'll cover Boston, Buffalo and Carolina. If there's something you want me to cover in future articles, please let me know in the comments below!
Boston Bruins: Scorey Krug
No matter how long this NHL pause lasts, I think you'll be able to remember most fantasy hockey headlines related to the Bruins. For example, you don't need me to tell you that Boston's top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is probably the best in the league. While that reality was reinforced this season, it's something we've known for some time now. In the same way, Tuukka Rask's elite performance this year is something we've come to expect from him – especially now that his workload is optimized thanks to strong support from his understudy Jaroslav Halak. However, both of those headlines are easily accessible because they were covered constantly during the season. Something that may fly under the radar is Torey Krug adding another strong offensive campaign to his résumé. With 49 points in 61 games this year, Krug managed a 60-point pace for a third-straight season. The thing is, Krug missed time due to injury during each of those three seasons. So, while he's consistently been on pace for 60 points, he's never actually achieved the total. As a result, I feel like he doesn't receive enough recognition for his elite offensive output. Now, Krug doesn't yet have a contract for next season, so it's hard to project his fantasy hockey value going forward. As I mentioned previously, the Bruins have some elite offensive talent in Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak so if Krug were to leave Boston, he may lose the luxury of having talented forwards boosting his point totals. Nevertheless, I think it's time we recognize Krug as a top-tier fantasy hockey defenseman. If he re-signs with the Bruins, I think you'll benefit from targeting him in future fantasy drafts.
For those of you saying that Krug's injury history brings down his fantasy value, I have to respectfully disagree. As fans, we don't get enough information about player injuries to make sweeping conclusions about their long-term health. Unless a player is consistently suffering the same injury, I think it's dangerous to reduce their future fantasy hockey value based on past injuries. In addition, there's no proof that Krug is more prone to injuries just because he's smaller than your average NHL player. As I think about injuries suffered by 'undersized' players, Johnny Gaudreau and Brendan Gallagher come to mind. From what I remember, they experienced hand injuries from blocking shots and getting slashed – I don't see how that would relate to their smaller size. Sure, if smaller players were frequently getting injured after big hits, maybe that's something to look into, but I haven't seen evidence of anything like that just yet. Overall, I think it's useful to keep injury information in mind when you assess a player's fantasy value, but I don't think it should hold much weight given the randomness associated with injuries in the NHL. Having written the Injury Ward column for DobberHockey over the past few years, I could go on and on about my thoughts on injuries in fantasy hockey, but I'll save that for another article.
Buffalo Sabres: Full Marks for Ullmark
Over the course of a season, countless fantasy hockey storylines develop. Before we get into my storyline of interest, here's a very quick summary of other major happenings in Buffalo using a limited word count. As a wise man from The Office once said, why waste time say lot word, when few word do trick?
Jack Eichel is a superstar.
Victor Olofsson's emergence has come at the expense of Jeff Skinner – it's hard to see Skinner scoring 40 goals again if he's not playing beside Eichel.
Sam Reinhart put forth a 59-point pace this year. I feel like he's capable of being a 65-70-point player, especially considering he plays most of his minutes beside Eichel.
Rasmus Dahlin took another step forward with a 56-point pace, he's only going to get better.
Rasmus Ristolainen was being used as the net-front presence on Buffalo's power play. That hasn't offset the fact that his overall role on the man advantage is smaller than it was in the past.
With that out of the way, there's one final name that I want you to keep in mind: Linus Ullmark. I know goaltending is extremely difficult to predict from one year to the next, but I think this season showed us an important contrast in ability between Ullmark and Buffalo's other netminder, 34-year-old Carter Hutton. Ullmark doesn't have a lot of experience just yet, but he showed great development this year, winning 17 of his 34 games and posting a .915 save percentage in the process. In contrast, Hutton won 12 of his 31 games, registering a .898 save percentage along the way. While we're conditioned to think of Buffalo as a bad team, I feel like their defensive corps is strong enough to insulate Ullmark – especially with Dahlin continuing to improve. At the end of the day, big-name goaltenders tend to be overrated in fantasy hockey formats. If you use a high draft pick on a netminder, there's a good chance you're going to be disappointed (see Sergei Bobrovsky 2019-2020). As such, waiting until the later rounds to take a chance on an up-and-coming netminder on a decent team seems like a better strategy to me.
Carolina Hurricanes: Terrific Teravainen
As I look back on the Hurricanes' 2019-2020 campaign from a fantasy hockey perspective, a couple of things stand out to me: Dougie Hamilton's breakout performance and Andrei Svechnikov's development into an elite offensive player. The thing is, I'm sure those two storylines stand out to you as well, because they've been covered rigorously in the media throughout the season. So, I thought I'd use this opportunity to call attention to a different story – one that I personally need to be reminded of constantly. That my friends, is the story of Teuvo Teravainen.
Teuvo Teravainen remains criminally underrated in fantasy hockey leagues despite a solid body of work. I don't know if it's just me, but for some reason my brain does not associate Teravainen with elite offensive production. Every time I hear his name in a fantasy hockey context, my immediate reaction is '50-60-point player' – even though I'm well aware that's not the case anymore. I have to override that reaction with a conscious reminder that he's maintained a 76-point pace over the past two seasons. Teravainen has developed into someone that can skate 19 minutes a night, playing a prominent role on both the power play and penalty kill. He's shown great chemistry with Sebastian Aho, with Carolina's top trio of Teravainen, Aho and Svechnikov being to watch over the next few years.
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