Every Sunday this off-season, we'll share 20 Fantasy Thoughts from our writers at Dobber Hockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's "Daily Ramblings".
Contributors: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford, and Neil Parker
1. Capping off the season with six goals, 14 points and 53 shots over the final 19 games was an impressive conclusion to an excellent debut campaign for Sebastian Aho. He finished with 24 goals, 49 points and 214 shots while suiting up for all 82 games, and considering his playmaking ability and willingness to shoot the puck, the production only projects to climb moving forward. Additionally, Aho logged just 2:13 of power-play time per game but still managed to post 17 points with the man advantage. As a key piece in Carolina's impressive stable of young talents, Aho's long-term outlook remains high, too.
2. There aren't many unknowns with Derek Stepan at this stage of the game. What he lacks in flash, he makes up for in reliability, as the 27-year-old center has registered at least 50 points in each of the past five full NHL seasons.
The relocation to Arizona shouldn't scare, either. He's now the clear-cut No. 1 center and there are a number of encouraging young talents on the wings to complement Stepan's intelligent game. After posting a career-low 8.9 shooting percentage, Stepan is also in line to take a run at another 20-goal showing through statistical correction alone. His offensive ceiling is capped but he's a strong bet for another 50-point campaign.
3. Travis Zajac is set to miss four to six months following offseason surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle. The timeline will keep the pivot out for the first two months of the season at least and potentially through the entire first half of the season.
The 32-year-old is hardly a go-to fantasy commodity but he has carved out a significant role with the Devils, and he's logged significant minutes each of the past five seasons. While he won't be missed in the majority of virtual setups, New Jersey isn't as good without him in the lineup. He posted a 3.6 Relative Corsi For percentage last year, after all.
What's important is the ice time he opens up out of the gate. The obviously beneficiary is Nico Hischier. However, the No. 1 pick is going to crack the lineup and log minutes regardless, so it's more likely that Pavel Zacha's top-six role is more firmly entrenched, while Joseph Blandisi, Miles Wood and Stefan Noesen have a better shot at playing meaningful minutes to start the season. John Quenneville and Michael McLeod also loom.
There's a legitimate possibility that this absence costs Zajac his top-six role for good and the veteran settles into a supporting role once healthy. Want to find out exactly how much the Zajac injury will increase other Devils’ production according to the Fantasy Hockey Guide? You’ll just have to purchase one yourself. When breaking news like the Zajac injury happens, Dobber will update the point projections (in blue, so you know where the updates are).
For our fantasy purposes, this probably isn't earth-shattering news. In the majority of settings, the Red Wings only have five relevant forwards and Larkin dropping down the depth chart at even strength only means he faces softer five-on-five matchups. There's always the potential that he's stuck with inept wingers, and Detroit has plenty, but it's more likely that Larkin is flanked by youngsters – Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha, etc. etc. In that case, it's probably a better virtual setup for Larkin to be slotted in down the depth chart.
Regardless, he has just 22 goals and 39 points through his past 108 NHL games, so expectations should remain in check. The upside is obvious but he shouldn't be confused with a universal asset, either. Because of Larkin's fast start in a major hockey market, he's likely to be overvalued in the majority of circles.
5. A few people have asked me privately what my thoughts are about Brock Boeser for the upcoming season. As a Canucks’ fan, I’m overjoyed that Boeser could be in the lineup for a full season. I say ‘could’ because he could either basically lead the Canucks in goal scoring, or he could spend significant time in the AHL.
If you’re surprised that I would even mention the latter, consider the following: The Canucks rushed Jake Virtanen and as a result he needed to be sent to the AHL for most of the past season so that he could play. There’s a chance that he could spend another season down there, as well. They clearly don’t want to make that same mistake with Boeser. So, if he’s not ready, or if another youngster has a noticeably stronger training camp (like Virtanen or Nikolay Goldobin), then there might not be a spot for Boeser.
Also keep in mind that on the right side, the Canucks brought back Anton Rodin, while Derek Dorsett will be returning from injury. There’s also Jayson Megna, who Canucks’ fans know all too well that the previous coaching staff was enamored with for some inexplicable reason. Plus many others that can play on the right side. The long and the short of it is that the Canucks have 15 forwards signed to the roster, according to Cap Friendly. That’s more than any other team in the Western Conference and that does not include Virtanen or Goldobin. So, Boeser would be an easy player to send to the AHL.
For the record, I believe that Boeser will play for the Canucks all season. But you have to treat him as you would many rookies at this point: We don’t know with 100 percent certainty that he will make the team. But if he does, you can probably bet that he will be placed alongside Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi on what should be the Canucks’ top line. Notice that I didn’t say the Sedins, as I believe that the Horvat line should take over as the top line (once Horvat is signed, of course).
6. It was a monster fantasy campaign for Dougie Hamilton in 2016-17, as he posted personal bests in the goals (13), points (50) and shots (222) categories, while also recording 64 PIM and 14 power-play points with a plus-12 rating.
Additionally, to put into perspective just how dominant he was a five-on-five, Hamilton's 1.56 points per 60 minutes ranked second in the league among all defensemen with at least 500 minutes. He'll likely need more power-play work and preferably with the No. 1 unit to take a step forward offensively in 2017-18 because it could prove difficult to match last season's success at even strength, let alone top it. Still, more of the same would be a high-end fantasy return.
7. Tuukka Rask's workload and Boston's confidence in backup Anton Khudobin: The idea is that Rask is better suited to play 55-60 games and that historically his numbers have dipped and injuries have crept up when he plays too much. Khudobin is a serviceable No. 2 netminder, and while he's nothing more than a depth piece or streaming option in fantasy settings, keeping Rask healthy and effective for 60 games makes sense.
There aren't significant fantasy ripples here but after posting a career-high 37 wins and eight shutouts, there's a decent chance Rask fails to come close to those marks in 2017-18. However, fantasy owners would take the dip in counting stats for better ratios and that seems within reach. Rask's posted an identical .915 save percentage in consecutive seasons, so there is room for improvement, especially considering he's shown statistical decline following the All-Star break in both campaigns.
8. A high-ankle sprain to start the campaign limited Jack Eichel to just 61 games last year but he was a force as soon as he returned to action and never looked back. The young pivot approached a point-per-game campaign with 24 goals and 57 points, which actually topped his rookie numbers during despite playing 20 fewer contests.
Of particular note was Eichel's willingness to shot, as recorded an impressive 12.3 shots per 60 minutes, 249 total and 4.1 per game – all elite marks. Additionally, Eichel's 24 power-play points with the man advantage were a huge boost to his fantasy value. The Sabres added reinforcements during the offseason and Eichel should continue to improve as he gets closer to his prime years. However, it might be difficult to show significant offensive growth considering how rare point-per-game seasons are in the modern NHL. Still, more of the same makes him an elite fantasy asset in all settings.
9. Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy watching Nikolaj Ehlers play hockey. Just following him around the ice – the vision, the hands, the whole package. I was very high on him last year. He just needed prime minutes, he got them, and he produced.
This is what’s nice about Ehlers’ season: nothing was really out of line. It’s not as if he had a bunch of empty points (secondary assists or PP points); he had basically the same primary points per 60 minutes (goals and first assists at five-on-five, 1.67) as Laine (1.74), Scheifele (1.73), and was well above Blake Wheeler (1.47). He didn’t have an excessive individual shooting percentage, coming it at 12.3 percent after shooting nine percent in his rookie season. His on-ice shooting percentage was well below both Laine and Scheifele, as well. This season wasn’t a product of sky-high percentages; it was a result of a talented player getting an opportunity to consistently play with other talented players.
Can he improve next year? Well, he’s just starting to enter his offensive prime, may (but is not guaranteed to) get more minutes, and can improve on the 12 power-play points. Expecting another 60-point season and hoping for 70, rather than expecting a 70-point season, is how I’ll draft him.
10. Hobey Baker award winner Will Butcher is expected to make his decision in a week about which team he will sign with. The University of Denver defenseman has decided not to sign with the Colorado Avalanche, the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2013. Butcher has some offensive upside (37 points in 43 games), so you can expect us to mention what his signing will mean fantasy-wise.
11. Which later-round first round picks are potential sleepers in keeper formats? You can see my fantasy league’s entry draft results from my most recent Ramblings
For starters, Nick Suzuki was very highly regarded in both the Fantasy Guide and the Prospects Report. With 96 points (45g-51a) in 65 OHL games, he has a significant fantasy hockey upside. And because he plays an effective two-way game, his chances of making the NHL are very good. I know a few guys from my league are reading this, so I’m sure someone will bid on him now. Of the players remaining, Suzuki is arguably the best.
12. One draft expert that I follow thought that Martin Necas should be drafted in the top 10. He is a dynamic player who like Canucks’ pick Elias Pettersen needs to fill out (6’0”, 167 lbs.) But he had a strong development camp, which should further his stock.
13. Even though he was the last pick in the first round, Klim Kostin could make his NHL debut before most of the other first-round picks. That is because he will play in North America this season, which narrows his options to either the NHL or AHL. There are some risks in adding Kostin but there’s enough potential for fantasy teams to take a flier on him.
14. Derick Brassard might not be ready to begin the year following offseason shoulder surgery. That potentially opens up a center spot for Colin White immediately, and then there is always the possibility he clicks and never looks back. A top-nine role is almost guaranteed at this stage, and moving to the wing to ensure meaningful minutes is also possible. It's also worth highlighting the praise White receives in both the DobberHockey Prospect and Fantasy Draft Guides.
15. Claude Giroux failed to score 20 goals and top 65 points for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign last year, and his 0.94 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five was the second-lowest mark in the league among all forwards with at least 1,000 minutes. His 31 power-play points salvaged his season but without a significant rebound in even-strength production, the veteran pivot will be hard pressed to return to being a go-to scorer. After all, his goals and points totals have now declined in three consecutive seasons.
Still, Giroux registered a career-low 7.0 shooting percentage and he projects to remain the No. 1 offensive center. Modest statistical correction to his shooting percentage (especially his 5.3 five-on-five shooting percentage), so counting on a bounce-back campaign from the veteran is probably wise.
16. A model of consistency for Chicago and gamers, Corey Crawford has started at least 55 games in each of the past four seasons and posted 32 wins or more each year with an overall .921 save percentage and 2.36 GGA during that stretch. The ratios dropped in 2016-17, though, and the Blackhawks could be icing their worst team in years this fall. Additionally, Crawford cooled down the stretch and into the playoffs last year with a .916 save percentage and 2.60 GAA through his final 26 games.
With massive personnel turnover leading into 2017-18, there are a lot of unknowns for the Blackhawks and this current defensive corps could be the worst Chicago has iced in Crawford's tenure. Barring injury, the fantasy floor is still high but Crawford could struggle to post another high-end showing.
17. Perhaps it was the adjustment to a somewhat new roster. Perhaps he was fighting injury. Perhaps he just had one bad season. But there is a lot of data supporting the fact that Cory Schneider is an elite goalie that had one bad year. He is 31 years old now and decline is somewhat of a concern but he shouldn’t fall off a cliff like this in one year. Wins will be hard to come by playing for New Jersey but he should post very solid peripherals. I’ll be thrilled if I can grab him as my second goalie on fantasy rosters this year.
18. On Alec Martinez: A 39-point season might not be considered a breakout but finishing with as many points as Mark Giordano and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and surpassing Tyson Barrie, Justin Faulk, and John Carlson is solid enough, especially given his 2016 ADP. In multi-category leagues, Martinez finished with 15 power play points and exceeded 310 combined hits-plus-blocked-shots for the second consecutive season. His minus-17 rating would certainly hurt in such a format but there aren’t many leagues where he wasn’t fantasy-relevant. That’s a good year for a defenceman outside the top pair on the depth chart of a low-scoring team.
One thing that is always difficult to figure out is goal-scoring defenseman. Sometimes they shoot nine percent, sometimes five percent, sometimes it’s two percent (shout out to Torey Krug’s last four seasons). Martinez, over his first six full campaigns, shot an even eight percent. He also led defenseman with at least 275 games played and under 6000 total minutes of ice time in that span by a significant margin. He led Los Angeles D-men in goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five in 2014-15, and he finished second in 2015-16. His conversion rate is an outlier but over six seasons, it’s tough to not believe in that outlier.
Curiously enough, it wasn’t an outburst of goals that led to his breakout, it was assists, as he set a career-high with 30, nine better than his previous high. Part of it was additional ice time, part of it was his second assist rate rebounding, and part of it was a bit more of a presence on the power play. Some things went right for him and he ended up having a career year.
19. My hope is that people will just look at the raw totals (33 points) and don’t think Jacob Trouba is worth drafting. Maybe they’re worried about Dustin Byfuglien eating into productive ice time? Keep this in mind: Trouba was fifth among all d-men last year in points per 60 minutes at five-on-five (minimum of 1000 minutes played). Typically, that could mean a heap of secondary assists but his primary points per 60 minutes (0.78) was in line with guys like Victor Hedman (0.81), Roman Josi (0.73), and Byfuglien himself (0.7).
That 1.30 points per 60 minutes is an aberration, as he’s typically been around 0.6 over the previous two years. That number from 2016-17 will undoubtedly decline. However, he was given a significant jump in ice time, and an additional 20 games (remember he played just 60 last year) could mitigate a lot of that regression. Trouba was also among the league leaders in shot attempts per minute at five-on-five last season.
Too many cooks can be a problem but we’ve seen teams have solid fantasy seasons from multiple defenseman (Calgary, Los Angeles, Nashville, to name a few). Without those prime PP minutes, a full-fledged breakout isn’t coming for Trouba but I don’t think he gets the credit for being the talented offensive player he is because of how good he is defensively. He differs from Martinez (further above) in that sense but he’ll be cheap come draft day regardless and has 40-point potential in 2017-18.
20. As always, it is important to understand what happened in the past to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Understanding that hockey is a reasonably random sport helps in this regard as anything can happen in a single season: David Clarkson scoring 30 goals; Semyon Varlamov posting a .927 save percentage and finishing runner-up for the Vezina Trophy; Justin Schultz cracking 50 points. Predicting such seasons historically for non-productive players would have been near-impossible and it speaks to the randomness of a single campaign.
Ice time is necessary. If you’re stuck on the third line and second power play unit, a fantasy hockey breakout probably isn’t going to happen. Remember, too, that it took subpar performances from other players for Viktor Arvidsson to move up the lineup – the first game of the season had James Neal and Filip Forsberg in the top-six, but also Colin Wilson and Kevin Fiala. Arvidsson was only given 14 minutes of ice time per game in October. Had Fiala found early consistency, and Wilson not floundered at the start of the year, maybe this breakout doesn’t happen.
Have a good week, folks!!
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