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'.
Writers/Editors: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford, Cam Robinson, and Dobber
1. My picks for surprise players on teams in the Eastern Conference will not include any obvious superstars. Only players who I feel will step up their production over the next two-plus months. See below for a five and follow this Eastern link for the complete list. You can also see my picks in the Western Conference, published last week, by going here …
Nick Suzuki, C, Montreal: 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.
2. Jason Zucker, LW, Pittsburgh: 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.
Anthony Cirelli, C, Tampa Bay: 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.
3. Ilya Mikheyev, RW, Toronto: 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.
Tom Wilson, RW, Washington: 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. (july 20)
The Bruins have the luxury of some time, as with the bye, the games that really matter don’t start for three weeks, give or take a few days. But they still have to get into the bubble, and it’s not certain Pastrnak and Kase will be there with them at the outset. What a mess.
Just as an FYI: without Pastrnak in the lineup, it was David Krejci who slid to the top PP unit in practice for the Bruins. All the people out there with playoff pools and drafts coming up, this could be a good late-round sleeper. (july24)
5. Jack Studnicka is arguably the Bruins’ top prospect. He is having an impressive training camp and may be ready for the NHL full-time, starting with the playoffs. The 2017 second-round pick had an impressive first full season in the AHL, leading the Providence Bruins with 23 goals and 49 points in 60 games. The Bruins don’t have a lengthy list of top prospects, but fantasy owners could do worse than Studnicka, ranked #31 in Dobber’s latest Forward Prospect Rankings. For more on Studnicka, you can check out his profile on DobberProspects. (july25)
6. You might have forgotten that Conor Sheary is back with Pittsburgh. If Sheary ends up on the Crosby line, he could be a sleeper pick in deeper playoff pools. Remember that his best season (53 points in 2016-17) was spent mainly on Crosby’s line. In addition, he did finish the regular season with four points in five games not long after being reacquired by the Penguins from Buffalo. (july25)
7. Something that’s crossed my mind during this pause, especially once we got the go-ahead for playoffs to start: this could be a huge breakout performance for Shea Theodore.
Theodore had kind of a slow start to the season with just 12 points in 28 games, but from December 1st onward, he posted 34 points in 43 games, or a 65-point pace. Most of that stretch coincided with a rise in ice time, as he posted 21:31 ATOI through the end of December, but jumped to 23:21 after New Year’s. If he can continue to play 23-24 minutes a night, he absolutely has the offensive ability (and supporting cast) to put up something like 20 points in a Cup Final run, including the seeding games.
I truly believe that Theodore is on the cusp of stardom and is already among the most underrated defenseman in the NHL. When I look at the Western Conference, I don’t see many juggernauts. I don’t see a Boston (if everyone is healthy…) or a Tampa Bay. That Western juggernaut may in fact be the Golden Knights.
This will be a crazy playoffs because of all the circumstances surrounding it. That’s what makes it both intriguing to parse and frustrating to project. With that said, it would not shock me in the least if Theodore blows up this postseason. He has the tools and the environment to do it. Now it’s up to him. (july24)
8. It doesn’t seem as if Jake Bean is going to crack the lineup for the upcoming games, at least initially. It’s hard to argue, given he has two NHL games under his belt, and they were in November of 2018. Even if he never lines up for one contest, just being around a playoff atmosphere – in the dressing room – is good experience. I’m still holding out hope he’ll find his way into a game this summer. (july24)
9. In preparation for the looming playoffs, I wrote an entire Rambling series on the play-in teams. It was focused around how they fared over the course of the season, some relevant line combinations, production of top stars, and so on. It was just a way to get everyone caught up on what actually happened in the 2019-20 regular season, given it finished over four months ago now, and some things have been going on since. The last in the series is here, and it contains all the links for each play-in round.
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11. I know it doesn’t mean a lot, but it’s nice seeing Philly beat writers rave about Shayne Gostisbehere‘s play in practice. Yes, it’s practice, but he had a really tough year, and appeared to be playing through some injury. The people who watch him every day would know his game best. Let’s hope he can re-establish himself this postseason. That would be a big boost for the Flyers. (july23)
12. I smell a career-year coming for Brendan Gallagher. The 28-year-old was on pace for it this season with 22 goals and 43 points in 59 contests – a 31-goal, 60-point pace while seeing his power-play and overall time on ice take a bit of a hit.
So why the hope for more to come? His playing style has morphed a bit. He’s hitting less and shooting more. He was on pace for his second consecutive 300-plus shot year while maintaining that 10ish conversion rate.
Gimme a 30/30 season in 2020-21. Maybe even a hair more. (july22)
13. Do you know who is a prospect that I’m coming around on in the fantasy world? Victor Soderstrom.
The Coyotes’ top pick in 2019 had a very impressive draft-plus one campaign for Brynäs in the SHL. His 0.46 points-per-game is the seventh most productive campaign by a U20 blueliner in that league in the past 30 years.
While he won’t be a purely offensive superstar, I do think his timing will be spot on to push for stealing top power-play deployment by the time he’s 22/23. OEL has owned that spot forever but at 29 years old, his time is beginning to run out.
Soderstrom projects to be a very similar player as OEL on a production-level. 40-50 point defender who skates well and makes smart plays on the regular.
Just food for thought if you’re looking at targeting a player who may not get the hype of other top prospects but possesses a very safe track towards the NHL and prime ice. (july22)
14. I'm scared at how good Andrei Svechnikov is getting so quickly. Normally, I'd say he's another year away from really busting out and becoming a superstar, but he could make that move in 2020-21 and maybe even this summer.
Seriously, this kid is going to continually land extremely high on the scoring leaderboard for the next decade. (july22)
15. In recent weeks and months, the notion that Jamie Drysdale was far and away the top defender in a lite defenseman crop for the 2020 NHL Draft has slowly dissipated. USNTDP standout, Jake Sanderson has closed the gap precipitously. On some boards, overtaking the OHL standout. However, when it comes to points-only setups, it remains no contest.
A few important notes about Drysdale. The 5-11, 170-pound right-side defender is on the younger side for this crop. Physically, he has a good deal left to gain before finding his NHL body and this has led to a few easily-sighted issues in his game.
– He can be physically moved too easily;
– His shot lacks power and volume.
This isn’t a player who will ever play a ‘hard’ style. He’ll make mistakes and cough the puck up while trying to do too much. And we’ll take every minute of it for the offensive upside that tracks parallel.
What makes Drysdale so special is his skating ability. Frankly, it’s gorgeous. It’s that fluid, explosive style that we’ve begun to see pop up in young, impact defenders like Quinn Hughes, Miro Heiskanen and Adam Boqvist. He uses that weapon to skate the puck out of trouble and transition quickly.
I’ve been pretty steadfast in my belief that you don’t reach for defense prospects in *most* leagues. Some demand it when you’re starting six blueliners in a deep setup. But this draft class especially demands a focus on the forwards at the top of the board. They’re worth it. This is why Drysdale is #7 on my real-life board, but I probably don’t take him before 10 in a purely 2020 based draft.
That said, if Drysdale can land in the right situation – IE easy access to PP1 rights within 2-3 years, and he can unlock the weapons at his disposal, he could conceivably be a player who flirts with 60 points on the backend.
Those don’t come around too often. (july22)
16. Under Rick Bowness, Tyler Seguin (2nd in PPTOI/game among forwards) played 2:27 per game at 5-on-4. The guys who finished 5th through 8th among forwards in PPTOI, or effectively their second unit? All between 1:45 and 2:01 per game. Dallas may have a good power play, but the second unit did a fair amount of damage. It’s why no Stars forward would have reached 20 PPPs this year (Hintz and Benn had 14 each at the break), though they likely would have had at least six forwards reach 10 PPPs (Pavelski needed one more to get to 10).
It’s why I would question anyone targeting Stars forwards in pools. Sure, if they get to the Cup Final, they could win a playoff pool, but the same could be said for literally every team. If at all possible, avoid drafting the team that struggles offensively at 5-on-5 and splits ice time on the power play. (july21)
17. When writing about this a couple months ago, my selections for Selke were Patrice Bergeron, Brayden Point, and Valeri Nichushkin. I gave honourable mentions to Sean Couturier, Brad Marchand, and Teuvo Teravainen. The actual finalists were Bergeron, Couturier, and Ryan O’Reilly.
I didn’t really think Nichushkin would win – I’ve explained how players need to produce big points and usually need to be a center to win the trophy. I hope he does get some consideration, though. (july21)
18. Aside from a couple of big ones like Ilya Sorokin, 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.
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.
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. (july 20)
19. An underrated signing was 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. (july 20)
20. The Top 100 Roto Rankings were updated for July. Any feedback you can provide is appreciated, as I’d like these rankings to be an important tool to help you win your multicategory draft. On that note, I’ll dive into a thought-provoking multiple-question reply that came from a Twitter follower recently on the rankings.
If you’re in a keeper league, Samsonov’s value based on upside and age might be higher than Markstrom’s. But as I’ve said in the past, the most important season in your keeper league is the one right in front of you. In fact, Markstrom’s recent success might explain he is ranked #9 in Dobber’s Top 100 Keeper League Goaltenders, while Samsonov is ranked #25.
Although it may not reflect in his overall numbers, Markstrom had the kind of season that had Canucks fans calling for a Vezina Trophy nomination. Markstrom’s effect on the Canucks is very similar to that of Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets – keeping a team with a poor defense from allowing a ton of goals. Although his ratios (2.75 GAA , .918 SV%) might not jump out at you, Markstrom is a top-10 goalie in both quality starts (25) and quality start percentage (58.1%) among goalies with at least 20 games.
Re-signing Markstrom in the offseason would likely mean that the Canucks would either try to trade Thatcher Demko or leave him exposed in the Seattle expansion draft. Yet in spite of the Canucks’ cap issues and the presence of a possible future starter in Demko, I totally expect Markstrom to be their first priority with the cap space that they will have. But if things change and Marky signs elsewhere, I’ll adjust accordingly. After watching him in what has been by far his best NHL season, I’d have a difficult time moving Markstrom out of the top 100.
Samsonov is very likely the goalie of the future for the Capitals. In fact, I’ve included him and not Braden Holtby in the Roto Rankings just because Samsonov has had the much better season. Yet in spite of the inferior season, I’d still guess that Holtby is the starter for the playoffs. Because the Capitals are playing in the round-robin seeding group to start, it’s possible that both goalies could start at least once this summer. After the season, I’d expect Holtby to sign somewhere like San Jose or Calgary and Samsonov to take over as the starter for one of the league’s strongest teams in Washington.
In the rankings right now, I have Samsonov (#92) with a slight edge over Markstrom (#93). The offseason will most likely dictate any major movement either up or down for both goalies. (july19)
This is another one that I will probably wait until after the season to evaluate further (Rielly #69, Krug #70). I wrote about Rielly last week, when I mentioned that he is due for a significant rebound, particularly if Tyson Barrie signs elsewhere. One of those defensemen that will be joining Barrie on the open market is Krug.
No matter where Krug signs next season, I’m willing to bet he’ll be on that team’s first-unit power play. He’d recorded three consecutive seasons of 50+ points and would have reached 50 a fourth time if not for the pause. Krug has also posted four consecutive seasons of at least 24 power-play points, and his 107 PPP over that span ties him with John Carlson as having the highest power-play point total among defensemen. There could be a minor drop if he moves on from Boston, but we’ll have to wait and see where that would be.
I happened to specifically evaluate these two defensemen (along with a group of several others) recently, so I can say that they should be very similarly valued. In fact, I moved Krug up five spots after I determined he was a bit undervalued. But when comparing Krug to Rielly, you’ll need to go back 2-3 seasons instead of just the season that finished to establish that value. (july19)
Have a good week, folks – be safe!!
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