Ramblings – 12 Eastern Conference Players to Keep an Eye On, and more (July 20)
The Interactive Playoff Draft List is now up and ready for download. If you bought the Ultimate Fantasy Pack last year, this is included in that package (i.e. not the more popular Keeper League Pack, so make sure you have the Ultimate Pack before trying to download it). This year's Ultimate Pack, however, does not include this list. It only includes next year's list. Blame coronavirus for messing up and overlapping our neat schedule! But now is the time to put together your playoff hockey pools, so pick up the playoff draft list here.
August 1 – NHL play-in and round robin
September 22 – Cup Final
October 2 – Latest date for Cup win
October 6 – NHL Draft
October 9 – Free Agent Frenzy!
November 17 – Training camps open (46-day offseason is usually around 86 days)
December 1 – Start of 2020-21 82-game NHL season
October 11 – Analysis for the 15th annual Fantasy Hockey Guide can begin
October 23 (Friday) – I will release the Fantasy Guide with what I am targeting as 16 teams complete, to cover off any fantasy league drafts for that weekend. It is my hope to re-release this guide each day with two more teams done.
October 30 (Friday) – I will hopefully release the Fantasy Guide with all the teams done. If a couple of teams are still not quite complete, I will work around the clock to polish it off within a day or two. A few features may not be complete yet, but again the updates will be fast and furious over the ensuing week.
I've been doing this for 15 years now. I am an expert at putting quality fantasy hockey guides together and have a system in place to get this done well, and done quickly. Nobody can match me here – those who have worked with me can attest to this. I have all the tools I need all around me, and an experienced team that includes Mario Prata, co-founder of The Forecaster magazine. He will be working just as hard to translate and release the French version of the Fantasy Guide shortly after the English version.
An underrated signing over the weekend is that of Pius Suter, now with Chicago. Originally ranked a fourth- or fifth-round pick for the 2015 NHL Draft, Suter went undrafted. He later had invites to Ottawa's training camp, and more recently that of the Islanders, but failed to land a spot. His numbers are similar (almost, but not quite) to Dominik Kubalik's numbers in his final year in the Swiss League. However, Suter had a sudden jump in production at the age of 24 (from 24 points to 53 points, from nine goals to 30 goals). Kubalik never had such a jump. Kubalik also had amazing shot volume, and from what I could dig up Suter wasn't anywhere close to that. What Suter did have, however, was a new linemate and instant chemistry. ZSC Lions acquired veteran forward Garrett Roe, a skilled setup-man and consistent point-per-game player in the Swiss League. Once paired with Roe, Suter's numbers took off. I don't have nearly the same warm feeling about Suter as I did last year about Kubalik. Further to this – the top nine in Chicago is all but spoken for, meaning Suter will have more of an uphill battle to get the same kind of ice time. Working in his favor is the fact that he is a better two-way guy than Kubalik. But that actually hurts him in fantasy as his future is more likely to be carved into a depth role.
Several interesting prospects 'officially' signed with NHL teams last week. Chicago signed Philly draft-pick-turned-college-free-agent defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk. We profiled Kalynuk in the Fantasy Prospects Report, comparing his upside to Damon Severson. And although he could see a handful of games as early as the coming season, his fantasy numbers wouldn't come for several years. The Blackhawks also signed their top prospect defenseman Ian Mitchell. He has a real shot of making the team this year and could actually start putting up reasonable numbers early. His fantasy scouting profile can be found here.
Vegas signed one of their top prospects in winger Jack Dugan. I'll be interested in seeing how well he adapts to the AHL, but if it goes well he could be a very exciting fantasy prospect for 2021-22.
And of course, the big one…
One prospect favorite of mine who didn't sign in the NHL is Minnesota's Alexander Khovanov. The second-highest QMJHL scorer last year signed to play next season with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL.
Nine (9!) players for Boston were deemed "unfit to play". The team is under league rules that they cannot disclose coronavirus test results, but I find it hard to believe that nine different players have sore groins and sprained ankles at the same time. The situation with Boston is worth watching. Thankfully for Bruins fans, the round-robin tournament is somewhat meaningless, relatively speaking, and the team gets a ticket to the first round regardless. That added time will mean a lot in the end I'm sure.
Playoff Pools – Players to Watch – Eastern Conference
My picks for surprise players on each team will not include any obvious superstars. Only players who I feel will step up their production over the next two-plus months…
Boston – Anders Bjork
At one time Bjork had a bright future for fantasy hockey owners. But then he got injured, early in his pro career. And he got injured again. And again. And…well, again. This season, Bjork finally stayed healthy. Still only 23 (turns 24 next month), Bjork is having a tremendous camp and is currently being tried out in David Pastrnak's spot on the top line, as Boston spreads the offense around. The Boston also reportedly considering sitting/resting players during the silly 'seeding' tournament, Bjork could get some key ice time early on. I wouldn't be surprised if he got off to a hot start.
Carolina – Warren Foegele
You know I'm a fan of over-achievers. Foegele "wasn't supposed to" make the NHL so early. And he "wasn't supposed to" be a scoring-line player. But in his two-game stint in 2017-18 he got three points in two games. Then he made the team in 2018-19. And although he managed just 15 points as a rookie, he had nine points in 15 games in the postseason. When he needed to make an impression, that was when he stepped up the most. Now coming off a (pro-rated) 36-point season, don't be surprised if his playoffs impress even more.
Columbus – Liam Foudy
What does John Tortorella think of this prospect? Well, during his two-game stint earlier in the season, Foudy lined up with Gustav Nyquist and Boone Jenner. The Jackets are desperate for offense, and I think Foudy will become a part of that (perhaps at the expense of Emil Bemstrom). His fantasy prospect scouting profile can be found here.
Florida – Frank Vatrano
At 26, Vatrano has hit his prime and has now enjoyed back-to-back healthy seasons. After a slow start, he came around with 19 points in his last 30 games before the pause. He's getting looks in the top six during camp and is currently on the second PP unit.
Montreal – Nick Suzuki
The 20-year-old seemed to get better with each week that passed. He picked up 32 points in his last 51 games, which is a 51-point-pace. In camp so far he's being tried out on the top PP unit. Call it a hunch, but I think he could lead Montreal in playoff scoring in the play-in and first rounds. If the Habs make it further, then I'm sure the veterans will start to take over. But early on, I really like Suzuki as a dark horse.
NY Islanders – Ryan Pulock
For this one, I look at what Devon Toews did last year in the playoffs when Pulock was sidelined with an injury. Toews was the top PP QB and he pulled off five points in eight games. Pulock will be the guy this year, and he rolled into the break with 28 points in his last 50 contests, with his PP time close to three minutes per game over his last nine.
Obvious names here, I know. And the only time I'm really using a star (Panarin) on these lists. But this is because I believe in Shesterkin. A lot. The only question is, will the Rangers? Or will they be torn by loyalty to their guy of the last dozen years – Henrik Lundqvist? Assuming they ride Shesterkin, I think the Rangers can and will go deep. And that's no easy task because I think the Carolina Hurricanes are a very good and underrated team. But when a team faces a hot goalie in the playoffs, we all know how that goes. The Rangers have offense in spades, and now they have a wall for a goalie. Panarin has 18 points in his last 16 playoff games (all with Columbus).
Philadelphia – Ivan Provorov
With Shayne Gostisbehere coming off a terrible season and recovering from knee surgery (but reportedly looking good), the PP QB role falls on Provorov's shoulders. It pretty much did all year long anyway, but in case there were any lingering doubts – it's his. And in the playoffs, that PP QB spot is more important than ever.
Pittsburgh – Jason Zucker
With Jake Guentzel back on Sidney Crosby's line, Zucker moves to the Evgeni Malkin line with Brian Rust. Malkin traditionally has huge postseasons and Zucker is riding a high since joining Pittsburgh (12 points in 15 games with Crosby). Since the Big 4 (Guentzel, Crosby, Malkin and PP QB Kris Letang) are obvious, Zucker becomes my next pick.
Tampa Bay – Anthony Cirelli
The ever-improving Cirelli tallied 40 points in his last 58 games (57-point pace). He also saw a steadily-increasing spot on the power play, with quarterly average PPTOI of 0:18, 0:46, 0:57 and in the final quarter 2:47 (though just eight games). He's a clutch player who will have relatively little defensive coverage on him as the opposition focuses on bigger guns. A former Memorial Cup Champion (2015), two-time OHL Champion and 2017 WJC Silver Medalist (and named a Top 3 Player on Team USA), Cirelli brings it when it counts.
Toronto – Ilya Mikheyev
Another under-the-radar player, Mikheyev sat out the second half of the abbreviated season because of a weird injury (skate slash on the arm). But he was catching on very quickly to the NHL speed, and this just a few months after being widely considered the most improved player in the KHL. With no power-play time, Mikheyev was producing at a 48-point pace and had 12 points in 17 games before his injury. During the Covid pause, the NHL granted Mikheyev an exemption to continue skating and rehabbing. He might be the NHL player in the best game shape right now! The guy is a warrior who never quits.
Washington – Tom Wilson
Wilson picked up five points in seven games last year in the playoffs for a 0.71 points-per-game average. During the Cup run the year prior, he had 15 points in 21 games (also 0.71). He really brings it in the postseason. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and project 0.71 points-per-game for him.
Frozen Tools Announcement: There is an awesome new feature – A draft order randomizer. You can now use this tool to randomly set your draft order for any league up to 40 teams. And it will email the results to your league!
Furthermore: We also now have a Draft Lottery Generator for your league! These tools are free, and another reason why the Dobber Sports Network is the best one-stop shop for anything fantasy hockey.
See you next Monday. Be safe!
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