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'.
Wrietrs/Editors: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford, Cam Robinson, and Dobber
1. 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. (may30)
2. Prior to the pause, I had brought up Kevin 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 ice time.
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. (may30)
3. Among players who played at least 20 games, 22 players were able to score at least a point per game in 2019-20. Ryan 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 line that was hot 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. (may30)
4. Robert 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. (may30)
5. If there was one universal sleeper that fantasy owners were targeting entering the 2019-20 season, it might have been Kevin Labanc. What did you have him down for? 60 points? 70 points? More? Well… after all that hype, Labanc turned out to be one of fantasy’s biggest busts. He finished with 33 points in 70 games, which would have put him on pace for 39 had the season finished. The Sharks’ overall scoring plummeted (no Shark even reached 50 points this season), which had a major impact on Labanc.
Missing Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture for extended periods seemed to hurt everyone else’s scoring. With those two centers back in the lineup next season, the Sharks may rebound to some degree. If that happens, there’s a strong chance Labanc’s point totals will rebound, as well. So will his minus-33. (may29)
6. Don’t let negative plus/minus fool you – Filip Hronek led all Red Wings’ defensemen with 2:53 in power-play time and 23:54 in overall ice time (18th in the NHL). He might be a prime example of how misleading plus/minus can be, as he clearly fell victim to playing on a bad team. The Wings have a long way to go before they are a .500 team, so Hronek owners could be saddled with double-digit negative plus-minus for another season or two.
Hronek showed signs of being a sleeper in 2019-20 drafts, as he had posted a 0.5 PTS/GP pace over 46 games in 2018-19. He was able to maintain that in 2019-20 with a similar 0.48 PTS/GP pace (31 points in 65 games). With the icetime he receives, he has also been able to fill peripheral categories. Team-wise, he was fourth with 125 SOG, fourth with 105 hits, and second with 74 blocked shots. Right now, if you’re going to add a Wings’ defenseman, Hronek should be the one to target. (may29)
7. I’ve mentioned in a prior Ramblings about how almost every team will be completely healthy for playoffs, something that never happens. That means Pittsburgh gets Jake Guentzel back, Vladimir Tarasenko will be ready for the postseason, Colorado can reunite Nathan MacKinnon with Mikko Rantanen, and Dougie Hamilton will be patrolling Carolina’s blue line once more.
Just anecdotally, I think of any single player returning, Hamilton is the most important to his team. All of Guentzel, Rantanen, and Tarasenko are all-stars, of that there is no doubt. But Hamilton was literally one of the best defensemen in the league this year; per Evolving Hockey, he was fifth in the league in WAR/60 minutes among blue liners in 2019-20. When looking at the rest of the blue line, it was basically Jaccob Slavin who had a very good year and that’s it. Jake Gardiner was a shell of his former self, they traded Justin Faulk, and Brett Pesce was having a rough season before season-ending shoulder surgery in early March. (By the way, his initial timeline was 4-6 months, and four months would put a return at the start of July.)
The Hurricanes will not only get Hamilton back, but also possibly Pesce. That would be huge. Without Pesce or Hamilton, the Hurricanes would have been heading into the playoffs without two of their top-3 defensemen. Now, there’s a chance all three will be in the lineup. I know Carolina has a gripe about having to play the Rangers, but I wonder about their Cup chances with Hamilton/Pesce out of the lineup in a normal year, and their Cup chances with them but with an extra round of play involved.
Anyway, just getting Hamilton back is monstrous. Had he stayed healthy, he would have been in the running for the Norris Trophy this year. The extra round of action sucks, but it should at least be exciting, and now they’re fully loaded for a run. (may28)
8. One piece of actual news: the Penguins will be without Nick Bjugstad whenever the season resumes. He underwent surgery on a herniated disc and is expected to be out a minimum of eight weeks. We'll see when the season actually restarts because it seems eight weeks would be the absolute earliest. Hopefully he can return. (may28)
9. A second piece of possible news: Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov looks like he’ll be staying with CSKA Moscow for another season, according to a report from NHL.com writer Pavel Lysenkov. Kaprizov was drafted five years ago (!) and has yet to suit up for the Wild.
Whether he actually takes another year, we’ll see. Given the uncertainty just about everywhere, though, not wanting to leave home makes sense. It wouldn’t be easy to leave home to travel halfway around the world in the middle of a pandemic, leaving everyone you know behind. Maybe another year, Wild fans. (may28)
10. ANNOUNCEMENT: The Fantasy Prospects Report (13th Edition) will be released on Friday June 12. I have decided to go ahead and release this on that date because I didn’t want to delay the announcement any longer. If the Draft is on June 26, then you will be able to use this with plenty of time to prep. If the Draft is in October after the 24-team playoffs that is forthcoming, then instead of posting an update on June 19 with a Mock Draft, I will post this update in October. Basically, whenever the draft order is set, then we will update the Fantasy Prospects Report. I will have the Packs and this Guide up for pre-sale in a few days.
BTW: I hope you’re enjoying the new website with all the new features! I really love those new widgets and I can’t wait to see them in action in real time when there’s actual hockey. Now we focus on DobberProspects – this relaunch should be up within a month.
11. I've spoken in some length about Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg and the Stars deployment decisions so I won't get too deep here. But it was clear last season that the ball was no longer just for Klingberg to play with. In 2018-19 the PPTOI splits were clear:
– Klingberg: 2:59
– Heiskanen: 1:40
This past season, the gap closed considerably.
– Klingberg: 2:33
– Heiskanen: 2:17
Klingberg had an up-and-down season in 2019-20. If he finds himself slipping early on next year, I expect the Stars to give Heiskanen a long run on the top unit. Their window is closing as a franchise and they can no longer be patient. It doesn't hurt that Heiskanen is a monstrous talent either. (may27)
12. The Blackhawks may be getting a turn in this summer's play-in round, but they're not a playoff team. They're a team in transition. And part of that transition is moving 37-year-old Duncan Keith's time as the team's top PPQB to a new player. That player is Adam Boqvist.
The former 8th overall selection from 2018 is a pure offensive driver. He has a long history of working the power play in junior and on the international stage. He kept his head above water in 41 and produced six points in the final seven contests.
2020-21 will be his time to really snatch those minutes. (may27)
13. The New York Islanders have been searching for a serious PPQB on the backend for a very long time. Noah Dobson should be that player for them. He was used very sparingly this past year because he was stuck in the trap that is the CHL-NHL agreement that precludes CHL-drafted teenagers from playing in the American League.
It wasn't a wasted year of development though. He gained experience in the league and that will help him greatly next year. He's the most talented prospect in their system and should be able to get some looks in that spot. Whether he grabs it right away will be up to him. But long term, it's his. (may27)
14. I’ve been deep into scouting film of the upcoming 2020 class during this life-altering pandemic shutdown. And I must say, the top-10 or 12 kids are serious. The crop has long been lauded as an elite group, and while I don’t think that holds true for depth, the cream is creamy.
One player who I don’t think has been receiving the level of attention amongst fantasy players is Alexander Holtz. So today, let’s take a gander at the most explosive goalscorer in a class of tasty twine-benders:
In a class littered with high-end finishers, Holtz stands alone at the top. The Swedish winger was a terror in the J20 circuit as a 16-year-old in 2018-19. His 30 goals in 38 SuperElit games that year set the single-season record for U17 skaters, passing Daniel Sedin. He came just a single goal short of matching the U18 mark.
This season, the 6-0, 183-pound winger moved up to the SHL on an (almost) full-time basis. A quick three-game stint in the J20 league led to seven, yes seven, goals. But while up with the top club, he scored nine times and totalled 16 points in 35 contests. That was double the goal output of any other draft-eligible player in the league. Hell, it was more than any draft-plus one player scored too.
The thing about Holtz’s scoring ability is that he thrives both off of the rush and set up in the offensive zone. He lives to score goals. He’s not the fastest player in the group (although he skates well) but his desire to find the open space and let it rip is unmatched. One of the more impressive developments of his game this past season was further willingness to get into the dirt areas of the ice and whack away. He won't be able to score just highlight reel tallies, so this newfound grit is a welcomed sign.
Speaking with scouts and staff who are around him every day, the consensus is that there are few players who enjoy scoring as much as him. He’s beloved by his teammates and his drive to win is infectious. Those qualities are often precursors to tremendous NHL careers.
The kid has 40-plus goals written all over him. (may27)
15. With that 24-team playoff looming, one thing I wanted to mention was the Carolina Hurricanes voting “no” on the format (Tampa Bay also voted against it). The reason for that is pretty clear: they’d have to play the Rangers. I get that teams playing those that are out of the playoffs, like the Rangers, all have some inherent danger to them. The difference is the Rangers were one of the best teams in the NHL post-Christmas. I know it feels like the burning of the Library of Alexandria by now, but the Rangers started the season as a bad team because guys like Lias Andersson, Micheal Haley, and, yes, Kaapo Kakko were weighing them down. Playing Marc Staal and Libor Hajek more than Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox at 5-on-5 also contributed to this.
After Christmas, though, both Fox and DeAngelo were being given top-4 minutes while guys like Haley and Andersson were sent to the minors. The difference was stark: from October 1 – December 25, the team had a .528 points percentage and a 44 percent expected goal share (which is beyond abysmal). From December 25 onward, they had a .603 points percentage (higher than Vancouver, Toronto, and, yes, Carolina), while pushing all the way up to a 50.5 percent expected goal share (higher than Carolina, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, and Nashville). The Rangers have a very talented top-6, an underrated top-4 defense corps, and either Igor Shesterkin or Henrik Lundqvist in net, neither being a guy teams would want to face in a 5-game series. (may26)
16. There are other teams that shouldn’t like the 24-playoff. Does Edmonton really want to put the season in Mike Smith‘s hands against a Blackhawks team that was second in scoring in the league after Christmas? Does Pittsburgh really want to play a short series against Carey Price, however much Price may have fallen off these last few years? Do the Leafs want to get a finally-healthy Columbus team that has had among the best goaltending tandems in the league, playing behind very good (and oft-injured) team defense? Also, what about the teams that get a bye? They don’t get games to knock the rust off. If they do, it’ll be for seeding, which means the top teams have to put themselves at risk of injury to key players without ever stepping foot on the ice for an actual playoff game.
As I wrote last week, there are no good options, just varying degrees of bad. This does seem like an unnecessarily bad option for a number of teams, though, and that’s not even discussing the additional risk of transmission. (may26)
17. Tyler Seguin was missed in my recent list of disappointing fantasy players who I think will bounce back. He had a run of four points in his last 10 games that dragged his overall pace down to 59 points and I had no idea he had slid to such levels. He’s 28 and in his prime, with a skill level that is still Top 20 in the league. So, I’m on the higher end of confidence that he’s bouncing back – say 85%. I think he’s a 75-point player who can get 85 with the right situation.
On the heels of that article, how about a list of disappointing fantasy players who I do not think will bounce back. I came up with a list of 16. These are in the order of certainty that they will not bounce back. A certainty of 100% would mean that I am absolutely positive that this player will not rebound. (may25)
Below are four players, you can read about the rest by following the link:
18. Blake Wheeler (55%)
Mr. Consistency was on a 75-point pace after back-to-back 91-point seasons. He’ll be 34 years old in August, but that’s not too old for continued 75-point dominance. I just don’t think he has 90 points in him again. It’s worth noting that he had 53 points in his last 50 games, which while still falls short of a 90-point place, it comes close. And that’s why he’s lowest on this list in terms of certainty. (may25)
19. Matt Duchene (65%)
Is his contract up next year? No? Well, then he won’t rebound. This guy is going to be paid $8 million per year to put up 55 points. Yikes. (may25)
20. Brent Burns (70%)
Not only is Burns now 35, but Erik Karlsson has had a very real impact. In 2018-19 his PP time dropped by 24 seconds per game. In 2019-20 it has dropped another 31 seconds (i.e. down 55 seconds from two years ago). That’s per game. So a good 80 fewer minutes on the power play each season. That only will shave eight or 10 points per season off his total. So don’t count on him seeing the happy side of 65 again. (may25)
21. Ryan Getzlaf (85%)
Getzlaf, who turned 35 just a couple of weeks ago, had a pro-rated 59 points in 2018-19 and this season was on pace for 50. The team around him is in a full-blown rebuild so he has very little in the way of support. He may slow or stop this steady decline, but he’s probably not going to reverse it. And certainly not to the extent where he’ll be a fantasy hockey stud again. (may25)
Have a good week, folks – be safe!!
Thanks for continuing to support the website and if you’re bored and need a fantasy hockey fix – visit the gang in the forum here.
No data at this moment.