Eastern Edge: Fantasy hockey takeaways – Part 5
In this week's Eastern Edge, we'll wrap up our review of 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 fifth and final installment, where we'll cover the Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington. Check out the following links to see previous installments:
Pittsburgh Penguins – Guentzel's Greatness
With just four years of NHL experience under his belt, Jake Guentzel obviously hasn't had enough time to build a resume that compares to superstar teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Nevertheless, it's time we start thinking of him as a top-tier winger in fantasy hockey leagues.
The combination of Phil Kessel's departure and injuries throughout Pittsburgh's lineup resulted in a greater opportunity for Guentzel this year. He was skating over 20 minutes a night and played a prominent role on Pittsburgh's top power-play unit. Guentzel thrived with these new responsibilities, tallying 43 points through 39 appearances – a 90-point pace! His power-play production also improved considerably as he registered 10 power-play points in his 39 appearances. He only managed 11 power-play points last year and 12 the year before, despite playing 82 games each time. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury cut Guentzel's season short and it's been more than five months since we last saw him play. I think it's easy to forget about Guentzel's excellence because of this prolonged absence – it's been so long since we thought about his fantasy hockey value. So, allow me to remind you what exactly he brings to the table. As part of an extremely talented power-play unit in Pittsburgh, he has the potential to put up lofty power-play point totals. Not only can he contribute with the man advantage, but as Pittsburgh's best winger, he's almost guaranteed to play alongside either Malkin or Crosby at even strength – which seems like a pretty good spot to be in. Guentzel scored 40 goals last season and was on pace to do it again this year. He's an extremely talented player, who shoots the puck a lot and can contribute to a number of offensive categories across fantasy hockey formats. As a result of his shoulder injury, I think universal recognition of his top-tier status may be delayed. If he remains undervalued, he could be a real steal when it comes time for your next fantasy draft.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Killer Killorn
The Tampa Bay Lightning possess an abundance of top-tier talent. But I don't think you need to be reminded that Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy are extremely valuable in both the real world and in fantasy hockey formats. Instead, I'll direct your attention to a player that you've probably heard of before. One that you may have added to your fantasy roster for short stints over the years. Yet, this player is far from a household name in the fantasy hockey world. My friends, that player is Alex Killorn.
By now, you're probably familiar with the theme of this week's article – a theme which has continued for five weeks now, so I'm sure you're growing tired of it. The point of this article is to remind you of storylines from this past season which may otherwise be forgotten due to the unprecedented times we find ourselves in. I want to bring things to your attention which aren't necessarily obvious after a quick glance at point totals. You see, it's incredibly easy to look through production from Tampa's roster this year and not notice anything out of the ordinary. At first, it seems pretty unremarkable that Alex Killorn tallied 49 points through 68 games this year. But then you pull out your handy dandy calculator and realize that Killorn was on pace for 59 points over 82 games. That's pretty impressive for a guy who has been type-cast as a 40-point player based on his past production – a guy who was drafted in just five percent of Yahoo leagues. Killorn was especially productive during the middle portion of the season while playing alongside Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos. He tallied 23 points through 22 games!
Killorn saw his role with the team increase this year as he was playing nearly 18 minutes a night and held significant power-play responsibilities. He was on the ice for nearly 54-percent of Tampa's total power-play time, which translates to more than two and a half minutes each night. He made the most of the increased role, tallying a career-high 13 power-play points through 68 appearances. Over the prior two seasons, he had registered 14 power-play points through 164 games.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Coach Contrast
I think the most important fantasy hockey takeaway from Toronto is how players were affected by the coaching change. So, here's a few things I found interesting when comparing the team's production under Mike Babcock (23 games) to their production under Sheldon Keefe (47 games).
Morgan Rielly saw his power-play role decline as he went from seeing 63-percent of the team's total power-play time under Babcock to 37.5-percent under Keefe. His production suffered as he put up 10 points in 24 games for Keefe after tallying 17 points in 23 games for Babcock.
Tyson Barrie's power-play role increased under Keefe's supervision. His share of the team's total power-play time jumped from 40-percent to 71-percent. Barrie struggled with seven points through 23 games while playing for Babcock (a 25-point pace) but turned it around with 32 points in 47 games for Keefe (a 55-point pace).
Under Babcock, there wasn't a single Leaf forward that averaged more than 20 minutes of ice-time per night as Auston Matthews led the way with 19 minutes and 50 seconds. Under Keefe, Mitch Marner skated nearly 22 and a half minutes each night, and Matthews averaged 21 and a half minutes. Keefe isn't afraid to play his young superstars, which should help them put up more points going forward.
Zach Hyman put up a 59-point pace this year. This one isn't really related to coaching, I just wanted to remind you that Hyman remains an underrated option in fantasy hockey leagues.
Washington Capitals – Vrana's Victory
As you look back on Washington's 2019-2020 campaign, a couple of things come to mind immediately. First, there's John Carlson's insane start to the season that saw him tally 35 points in his first 23 games. While he wasn't able to maintain that scoring pace throughout the year, he still managed to finish the season with 75 points in 69 games – which translates to 89 points over 82 games. It's pretty rare to see a defenseman produce at that level. Another storyline that comes to mind is Ovechkin's disregard for the laws of aging, as the 34-year-old forward managed to score 48 goals through 68 appearances. No one in the league scored more goals than Ovi this season!
While there's no denying that Ovechkin and Carlson were outstanding this year, I wouldn't say that their performances drastically altered our perception of them. Heading into this season, Ovechkin was considered a top-tier left winger and Carlson was considered a top-tier defenseman. Going into next season, both players will still be considered elite options at their position. So, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if you forgot about those two storylines. However, one thing I want you to remember about this past season is Jakub Vrana's continued progression. In 2017-2018, Vrana registered a modest 30-point pace while playing 12 and a half minutes each night. He took a step forward in 2018-2019, managing a 47-point pace while seeing 14 minutes of ice time a night. He continued to improve in 2019-2020 as he put up a 62-point pace with less than 15 minutes of action per game. Vrana's production is made all the more impressive when you consider his limited role on the power-play. Sure, he was promoted to the top unit if one of the regulars were injured, but for the most part, he didn't have the luxury of racking up points by teeing up Ovi's one timer or tapping in perfect passes from Carlson. It'll be interesting to see if Vrana is given a more prominent role on the power-play next year. In any case, I expect his ice-time to increase going forward, which should in turn increase his offensive output and fantasy hockey value. I advise you to invest in Vrana while he's still somewhat underrated.
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