Ramblings: Top Frozen Tools Searches – Fiala, Nugent-Hopkins, Thomas (May 30)
Hello, hope you're doing well.
Here is Evander Kane's interview with ESPN First Take, where he discusses his take on the recent events in Minneapolis:
Good on Kane for using his voice to encourage star athletes to speak out against racism not only in the sports world, but also society at large.
Akim Aliu's recent article in The Players' Tribune also promotes a similar message – that we can't be silent on racial injustice. Aliu's story, published several days ago, is especially powerful as he discusses the barriers he has faced both in hockey and life.
Others in the NHL community have weighed in as well on this topic:
If you happen to be in one of the US cities where protests are taking place, stay safe. Be kind to each other. Also understand that the police don't have an easy job balancing law enforcement with fair treatment. For every bad cop, there's an army of true professionals who understand communication and empathy while keeping the community safe.
By the way, I'm mentioning this in the Hockey Ramblings because I don't think this is a topic worth being quiet about either.
As I have been every week for the past few weeks, here are the top Frozen Tools searches from the past week:
The names that have appeared in recent weeks have been more of what I'd expect than what I saw the first week I started keeping track. There were a few deep league names from that week, which you can read about here.
Prior to the pause, I had brought up Fiala multiple times because of the heater he had been on. In case you missed it, Fiala had posted 16 points in his last 11 games and 26 points (including 14 goals) in his last 18 games. Fiala's production was a far cry from what it had been to start the season with just one point over his first eight games. However, the hot streak was enough to elevate Fiala to be the leading scorer for the Wild (54 points in 65 games). That's a 69-point pace.
What I'd rather focus on is what to expect from Fiala going forward. If you're expecting the over-a-point-per-game pace going forward, that isn't going to happen. Fiala doesn't have a collection of elite centers from which to pick from (Eric Staal, Luke Kunin, Joel Eriksson Ek), and he's been a streaky player throughout his career. In addition, Fiala has benefitted from a 13.1 SH% and a 9.7 5-on-5 SH%, which should result in some regression from the February/March pace.
However, Fiala has had the benefit of training in Sweden, which could help once the season resumes. In addition, Fiala's icetime has increased over three minutes per game since the coaching change from Bruce Boudreau to Dean Evason. Also, the Wild's power play is sneaky good, as it ended the season just outside the NHL's top 10. Fiala was a major contributor to that, as 11 of the 26 points he scored over his last 18 games were on the man advantage. He also finished tied for the team lead in power-play points (18) in spite of finishing seventh in total power-play icetime.
Going forward, Fiala has established himself as a first-line option for a Minnesota team that has played to its potential, especially under Evason. A 50-point floor seems likely, with 60 points a reasonable bet.
Among players who played at least 20 games, 22 players were able to score at least a point per game in 2019-20. Nugent-Hopkins just missed out on that, scoring at a career-best pace of 61 points in 65 games (0.94 PTS/GP). He was on pace to finish close to his career high of 69 points set last season. Prior to that, Nugent had never scored more than 56 points, so can we say he's having an eighth- or ninth-year breakout?
It might be easy to assume that RNH is the third-line center for the Oilers, playing behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. However, he really started to cook with gas when he was moved onto a line with Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. In Quarter 1, when his linemates were primarily Alex Chiasson and the red-hot (at the time) James Neal, the Nuge recorded 15 points in 22 games. After that, when his linemates were primarily Draisaitl and Yamamoto, his production bumped up to 46 points in 43 games. Most recently, he recorded 24 points over his last 17 games.
It might not be easy for any hot line to recapture its chemistry once hockey returns. However, don't expect this line to be split up, as it proved to be one of the hottest in hockey without having to include McDavid. Nugent-Hopkins might not be a point-per-game player going forward, but he's exceeded what I expected from him before the season.
Thomas was able to improve on a rookie season where he was just outside of the top 10 in rookie scoring (33 points) with a 42-point campaign in 66 games. That was a 52-point pace that was achieved mainly in the Blues' bottom six. To give you an idea, Thomas' most frequent even-strength linemates were Tyler Bozak and Alexander Steen – two veterans that have seen better days. Thomas' icetime increased about a minute and a half from his first to his second season, yet it was still under 15 minutes with second-unit power-play minutes.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have the luxury of sheltering a player like Thomas. Teams with depth can let their top prospects marinate without forcing them into the top matchups before they're ready. Thomas was fourth among Blues players with 2.6 PTS/60, ahead of Ryan O'Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo. Since Thomas is 20 years old, those numbers will likely only get better.
Thomas is a natural center, but switching to the wing might give him a better opportunity to move up the Blues depth chart. The Blues' top two centers are both signed long term: O'Reilly for three more seasons at $7.5 million, and Brayden Schenn for six more seasons at $6.5 million. The Blues also have Vladimir Tarasenko returning, which will make it that more difficult for Thomas to advance in the lineup. Thomas is a great player to own in keeper leagues, but his real breakout might have to wait until at least season four.
In case you missed it, I wrote a Fantasy Hockey Impact article about the NHL's decision to cancel the rest of the regular season and continue a "playoff" with 24 teams. If you're still undecided about what to do about your fantasy league, maybe I can offer a tip or two in here. It's also worth mentioning that you shouldn't feel the need to make a decision right away. Although the play-in round matchups have been decided, we're still a long way from actual games.
Also, don't forget that the that the Fantasy Prospects Report will be released on June 12.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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