Top 10 Potential Playoff Surprises

Tom Collins

2020-07-27

This postseason is going to be one of the toughest to predict for anyone in a playoff pool.

To start, there are 24 teams instead of 16, so if your draft includes the play-in round, you could wind up with a bunch of eliminated players early. Just imagine what it would do to playoff pools if Pittsburgh, Edmonton and Toronto all lose before the first round technically begins. 

Also throwing a wrench into planning for your draft is the fact there's been no games for four months. Any player that was on a hot streak may have lost their mojo. Someone with regular linemates could be on a new line now. Some players may take a few contests to get into game shape. Players that were getting top-six opportunities due to injuries could find themselves relegated to a third or fourth-line role.

Aside from one exhibition game for each team later this week, it will be tough to know who is playing with who and who has chemistry.

None of this will stop you from drafting a playoff pool roster, but you should put more thought into it than you normally would. It could also mean that you might want to take more chances when drafting.

Below are 10 potential surprises for this year's playoffs. Note I am only including one for each team.

10. Jesperi Kotkaniemi

This season was just downright ugly for Kotkaniemi. He had eight points in 36 games before he was sent to the AHL, where a spleen injury that finished his season there. However, he dominated in the AHL (13 points in 13 games), so hopefully, the confidence is still there. He's been used on the second power-play unit (which also features Jeff Petry and Max Domi) in training camp.

9. Joe Pavelski

It may be strange to say a player that has 100 career postseason points could be a surprise, but that's what happens after a 31-point season (a 38-point pace over 82 games). Pavelski's ice time was down this year, while his shot rate was below 2.0 for the first time in his career and down about 0.6 shots per game less than a season ago. However, he still saw time on the top power-play unit for Dallas in the regular season, which looks like it will continue during the training camp. He's also back playing with Alexander Radulov and Mattias Janmark, a line that has looked impressive in training camp.

8. Alex Galchenyuk

Galchenyuk was a bust this season, enough so that I could see the soon-to-be UFA playing overseas next season, especially without the NHL salary cap increasing. However, don't overlook some of the success he had with the Wild toward the end of the regular season. Galchenyuk had seven points in his last 11 games while playing mainly with Mats Zuccarello. He averaged almost 15:30 per game in those last 11 games and saw a little over two minutes of power-play time per night. If Minnesota is going to get anywhere in the playoffs, they are going to need offense from throughout their lineup.

7. Oliver Bjorkstrand

I've participated in a couple of playoff drafts on the Dobber forum. For one of them, we had to draft a player from all 24 teams. In the 13th round, I was the first to select a player from Columbus, and Bjorkstrand seemed to be the easy choice. However, someone then wrote that the pick was "off the board. Especially with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones still all sitting there." So, I figure there might still be some fantasy general managers overlooking Bjorkstrand. Remember that he missed 21 games due to injury, but still led the team in goals and points per game, and had an 82-game pace of  35 goals and 60 points.

6. David Krejci

I know some won't believe Krejci could potentially surprise, but I have a feeling you'll see people shy away from him once the top four is gone from Boston. Krejci had a down season with 43 points, but he's only one year removed from a 73-point season. He's also an excellent postseason producer. He's twice led the league in playoff points (in 2011 and 2013) and last year had 16 points in 24 playoff games. Since Krejci's first postseason game in the 2008 playoffs, he has 103 postseason points in 132 games, which is the eighth highest in the league over that span. The guy is a playoff beast, and you need to make sure he's on your squad.

5. Justin Williams

Some people go into a hockey draft with a list of the top 10 point-getters from each team. That's not a smart idea, as you miss out on players who may have missed a chunk of the season. Mr. Game 7 Williams waited until the middle of January before re-signing with Carolina. It took him a while to get going, and he only played 20 games total before the regular season was suspended. Still, Williams had 11 points, including goals in each of his last five games. While he's usually on the second or third line at even strength, he's on the top power-play unit that finished eighth in the league.

4. Ilya Mikheyev

The 25-year-old Mikheyev was having a pretty decent rookie season (23 points in 39 games) before his wrist was sliced by a skate during a Dec. 27 game. He had four goals and six points in his last six games before the injury. In the last few weeks in the training camp, he's been used in a top-six role, playing regularly with John Tavares (and either Mitch Marner or William Nylander on the other side). The media deemed Mikheyev to be the MVP of the Leafs scrimmage series, including a hat trick in one game. Sure, it's not that difficult to score against the Leafs, but if Mikheyev can stay on that line, good things should happen.

3. Andrew Mangiapane

Since it feels like the last hockey game was three years ago, it's always a good idea to have a look at the rosters to try to remember who plays with who. That's why it could be easy to forget that Mangiapane was on the second line for most of the season. Patient poolies were finally rewarded when the 24-year-old forward had 14 points in his last 14 games before COVID-19 forced the season to be suspended. Before that 14-game stretch, Mangiapane was averaging 12:58 per night with 18 seconds of power-play time. During his hot streak, his ice time rose to 16:33 per night with 1:21 of power-play time. By the way, he's still playing on the second line with Matthew Tkachuk during the recent camp.  (As a side note, Mikael Backlund is centring that second line and had 22 points in his last 16 games, so keep an eye on him as well).

2. Duncan Keith

There's been a lot of focus on Adam Boqvist taking over the Hawks power play, but it won't be this postseason. Once Erik Gustafsson became a healthy scratch (and was eventually traded), Keith had 12 points in 11 games to go along with a plus-eight, 28 shots, and seven power-play points. He averaged 26:24 per night with a whopping 4:27 on the power play. I can't see the Hawks wanting to switch that up to a rookie heading into the playoffs.

1. Andre Burakovsky

This should have been considered a breakout season for Burakovsky, but injuries and COVID-19 cut his season short. He managed to put up career highs in goals (20) and points (45) in 58 games. Over an 82-game schedule, that works out to be a 28-goal, 64-point pace. He missed nine of Colorado's last 10 games, but had had 20 points in his last 18 games. Burakovsky has been lining up with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen during the recent training camp.  

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
VICTOR HEDMAN T.B 6 3 5 8
JOHN KLINGBERG DAL 6 1 6 7
ALEXANDER RADULOV DAL 7 1 6 7
MATTIAS JANMARK DAL 4 1 2 3

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency T.B Players
28.4% NIKITA KUCHEROV ONDREJ PALAT BRAYDEN POINT
20.9% BLAKE COLEMAN BARCLAY GOODROW YANNI GOURDE
19.6% ANTHONY CIRELLI TYLER JOHNSON ALEX KILLORN

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