Eastern Edge: Fantasy hockey takeaways – Part 3
In this week's Eastern Edge, I'll continue highlighting important fantasy hockey takeaways 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 third of five* installments, where we'll cover Montreal and New Jersey. I apologize for the brevity of this week's article, I promise to make it up to you with four teams next week! Check out the following links to see previous installments:
Montreal Canadiens – Drouin's Development
The Habs got off to a strong start this year, posting an impressive 11-5-3 record to kick off the regular season. Unfortunately, they couldn't sustain that momentum as they went on to win just 20 of their next 52 games – which included two separate eight-game losing streaks. I highlight the contrast between their first 19 games and the 52 that followed, because it coincides with another important event – Jonathan Drouin's wrist injury. Drouin tallied 15 points in those first 19 games of the season – a 64-point-pace – and looked like an elite player in the process. He was battling hard for every puck and always seemed to be making the right play. Unfortunately, he tore a tendon in his wrist on November 15th against the Capitals and was sidelined for the next few months as he recovered from surgery. He returned to the lineup in February but was much less effective, failing to register a point through eight appearances before suffering an ankle injury that kept him out for the rest of the regular season. We knew he had potential to be a special player when he was drafted third overall in 2013, but a lot of people have since written him off as a 50-55-point forward given his body of work in the NHL. I personally believe that his performance to start this season is indicative of what we should expect from him going forward. Had it not been for a couple of injuries, I think more people would have recognized how much he's elevated his game. In my eyes, Drouin represents a low-risk/high-reward option in fantasy hockey leagues as a potential 65-point player that should be available in the late rounds of fantasy drafts.
While Montreal's overall performance this season was disappointing, there are a few impressive individual performances worth highlighting. For starters, each member of the top line (Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher) put together a strong showing this year. Tatar led the team with 61 points in 68 games – a 74-point pace, Danault continued his evolution into a top-tier two-way forward with a 54-point-pace and strong faceoff numbers while playing a defensive role, and Gallagher scored at a 30-goal pace for a third-straight year. Shea Weber and Jeff Petry provided great fantasy value from the Canadiens' blueline as they each managed a 45-point pace while contributing to peripheral categories. Nick Suzuki's impressive rookie campaign and Joel Armia's career-high offensive output may not be the biggest fantasy hockey headlines but they should be a sign of good things to come. While the Canadiens have quite a few 'fantasy-relevant' pieces on their roster, don't rely on them to rack up points with the man advantage. Montreal has been below-average on the power-play recently, with a conversion rate of 13.3-percent last year and 17.7-percent this year. Let's hope that upward trend continues next year.
New Jersey Devils – Blackwood's Breakout
Heading into the 2019-2020 campaign, I thought the Devils had a plethora of fantasy hockey value on their roster. I expected Cory Schneider, P.K. Subban and Taylor Hall to bounce back after injuries hindered their 2018-2019 performances. I thought young talent would flourish as Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes continued to develop their game. And lastly, I hoped that an infusion of new talent in the form of Nikita Gusev would take New Jersey's game to another level. Ultimately, I ended up looking like a world-class clown as none of the aforementioned players had especially strong showings this year. With that being said, it's important to recognize that Gusev put up 37 points in 50 games – a 60-point-pace – after tallying just seven points in his first 16 appearances.
Despite the team's struggles this year, one player managed to put together a strong performance. Mackenzie Blackwood won 22 of his 43 starts this year, posting a .915 save percentage and 2.77 goals against average in the process. Those are extremely impressive numbers for a 23-year-old sophomore playing behind one of the league's worst teams. Blackwood won a greater percentage (51.2%) of his starts than other goalies who play for playoff-bound teams. For example, Ben Bishop won 21 of his 43 starts (48.8%) for Dallas and Sergei Bobrovsky recorded 23 wins through 49 starts (46.9%) for Florida. I know Bobrovsky struggled this year, but he had more than enough help from Florida's offense to significantly outperform Blackwood in the wins category.
If Blackwood was drafted in your fantasy hockey league this year, he was likely one of the last goalies taken off the board. I don't expect that to change next year, as New Jersey's status as a bad team should keep Blackwood's perceived fantasy value low. If you need a solid second or third goaltender for your fantasy roster, I think Blackwood could be a strong option.
No data at this moment.