20 Fantasy Hockey Thoughts

by Mario Prata on June 3, 2018

Every Sunday until the start of the 2018-19 regular season, we'll share 20 Fantasy Thoughts from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's "Daily Ramblings".

Writers: Michael Clifford, Ian Gooding, Cam Robinson, and Dobber

 

1. A player that I’ve been asked about a handful of times is Erik Haula. He went from being a fourth line center on a bubble playoff team in Minnesota to anchoring the second line and second power play unit on a powerhouse. He scored 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games. Recording career-highs in goals, assists, points, shots on goal, hits, power play goals, power play points (18 times as many as his previous career-high) and time-on-ice is groovy for a 27-year-old. But, is this a mirage or a trend to come?

It’s difficult to assess his previous work as his role is completely different than it was at any time during his tenure with the Wild. But, is that role secure? Vegas will be players in free agency this summer. If they fail to land the big fish in John Tavares, that doesn’t necessarily mean Haula is safe as the 2C long term.

The Golden Knights made two very astute draft picks last June in selecting Cody Glass (sixth overall) and Nick Suzuki (13th overall). Both players are tremendous talents. Both players are centers. Neither is able to be sent to the American Hockey League next year due to the CHL-NHL agreement, and it can be argued that at least one of them will be given a very long look at cracking the lineup as soon as this fall. Long-term, Glass and Suzuki present major obstacles to Haula maintaining his offensive deployment. If you’re a Haula owner, it’s a situation that needs to be watched very closely.

Another situation to keep an eye on is the psychological aspect of the entire Golden Knights’ squad. This is a team that could be ripe for an extra slow start out of the gate next fall. The Stanley Cup hangover is real. And this version may hold extra drowsiness. (june2)

 

2. Something I wonder sometimes: Does Alex DeBrincat get overlooked in drafts next year? As far as rookies go, he’s never discussed among the elite of this year’s crop, which isn’t necessarily a huge fault of the hockey community. This was an absolutely loaded year for rookies. All the same, DeBrincat had 28 goals, over 50 points, over two shots per game, and did all that playing under 15 minutes a night. He did garner more ice time as the season wore on, though, and this team needs scoring from its wingers beyond just Patrick Kane and hopefully a rebounding Brandon Saad. Maybe he flies under the radar and gives us a reasonable average draft position (ADP) for 2018-19? Maybe. (june1)

 

3. Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds was once a must-own power forward in leagues that counted penalty minutes. You could count on him for at least 25 goals (which he has reached five times) and at least 100 penalty minutes (which he has also reached five times). But, he reached neither mark in 2017-18, with his decline chronicled in a Geek of the Week article published in February.

So, what happened? Simmonds missed seven games in 2017-18. Although that might not seem like a huge deal, it sticks out more when you notice that his points per game has declined for the second consecutive season (from 0.74 to 0.66 to 0.61). His plus/minus has also taken a hit over that span, as he has been a combined minus-35 over the past two seasons. In fact, Simmonds hasn’t been a plus player since 2009-10. Frequent line shuffling also often made Simmonds the odd man out, as he spent significant time on the third line.

If you’re programmed to draft Simmonds as a top-100 player because of his history as a power forward, you’ll want to break the habit for your next draft. Having said that, he could provide solid value outside the top 100 if he can bounce back in one or more of those categories. (june3)

 

4. How much impact can we expect from Ilya Kovalchuk? The recent history of greats returning to seek former glory isn’t a lengthy one. There’s Jaromir Jagr as the gold standard. The Czech wizard returned from a stint in the KHL at age 39. He played at a 64-point pace during the first three years of his celebrated return and brought more than his value to each squad.

Alex Radulov returned to the NHL after an eight-year hiatus (plus a cup of coffee with Nashville sprinkled in) as a 30-year-old. He’s played at a 65-point pace in the two seasons since – with the tasty 72-pointer this past season. He was also five years younger than Kovalchuk will be and landed on a power play unit featuring Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg. Pretty primo stuff.

We’d like to assume that Kovalchuk won’t be returning simply to enjoy the nightlife in a city like New York but rather he’ll sign somewhere where he’ll have a chance to chase that elusive Stanley Cup. If that’s the case, then he should be provided with ample surrounding talent and positive deployment. Where he goes in fantasy drafts will depend on his landing spot and how people view his potential. But, judging him on his KHL performance, his NHL pedigree and his (hopeful) desire to win, he should be valued as a potentially impactful winger to add to the fantasy ranks. (june2)

 

5. Kevin Shattenkirk to get back to 50 points: Injuries derailed his season, but Shattenkirk was settling in nicely for the Rangers with 23 points in 46 games. Maybe it was injuries, maybe it was Alain Vigneault, but he was playing just over 20 minutes a game until he left the lineup for good. There are some talented young defensemen like Brady Skjei and Neal Pionk but he should be their go-to guy on the blue line, for better or worse. He should be able to add a couple minutes per game with heavy top power-play usage included. If there’s one thing the Rangers don’t lack, it’s speed and skill up front. Their defensive woes likely continue but they’ll be fun to watch in the offensive zone, and Shattenkirk should be a big beneficiary here. (june1)

 

6. Jack Eichel to finish top-5 in the Art Ross race: Eichel’s performance to this point of his career has put him in the same company as some of the greats to play this game in the past and the elite currently in the NHL. Two things hampered him last year: injury and team underperformance. That underperformance mainly came on the power play where their relative shooting percentage went down about 18 percent with him on the ice, leading to Eichel having fewer power-play points (20) in 2017-18 than in 2016-17 (24) despite six more games played. In a full, healthy season with that power play returning to form, he should be over a point-per-game player. (june1)

 

7. Bo Horvat to reach 70 points in 2018-19: Even if time together was somewhat limited due to injuries, Horvat and Brock Boeser gave us glimpses of the magic in the future for the two of them on the ice. Horvat’s 82-game pace was 57 points and he did that while not even being on pace for 20 power-play points. With both Daniel and Henrik Sedin retired, this is Horvat’s and Boeser’s team now. They should both be near or past the 20-minute mark per game and both with an added year of chemistry together. There is a lot of upside for this duo in 2018-19. (june1)

 

8. A recent article recently quotes Marc Bergevin as saying Montreal isn’t likely to deal the third overall pick. It never really made sense in the first place; the Habs need to start stocking the cupboards. This isn’t a team one-impact player away from the Cup.

From a fantasy hockey perspective, though, it’s kind of disappointing, I think? For fantasy hockey owners in redraft leagues, we don’t care if the team is going to be good in three years. We need the team to be good now. Fantasy owners need legitimate centers to feed guys like Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen, and Brendan Gallagher. It’s in the best interest of the team and its fans for the long-term to hold that pick but the selfish fantasy owner in me wanted to see them trade it in some sort of package for a top-end center.

Ah well. Maybe they’ll still sign John Tavares.

(Editor’s note: they will not sign John Tavares) (may31)

 

9. Alex Galchenyuk to get back to 30 goals: At some point, the Montreal coaching staff realized Galchenyuk could be a pretty good offensive option on the power play when he’s put in a spot to succeed; i.e. his weak side in a one-time spot off seam passes rather than in the slot like TJ Oshie. And lo! He tied a career-high with nine power-play goals. The issue was at five-on-five where he shot 6.5 percent, by far a career-worst, having never shot below 9.6 percent before, and possessing three seasons of at least 12 percent. If the team keeps him as a focal point of the power play (fingers crossed), and that five-on-five conversion rate regresses, there is a big rebound season coming in the goal-scoring department. (june1)

 

10. The Habs’ Artturi Lehkonen is one player whose ADP I’m interested to see in September. I doubt it’s even inside the top-200 given his horrific start to the year depressed his numbers (remember, he had two goals at the All-Star Break, and both goals came in the same game). All the same, his 82-game pace for shots was 203 and to do that as a 22-year old in his second season on this roster is impressive. He doesn’t even need a bigger role to be a fantasy contributor next year but consistent top-six minutes with top power-play time should help. (may31)

 

11. It’s hard to see Pierre-Luc Dubois being undervalued going into drafts next year given that by the end of the year he was on both the top line and the top power play unit for Columbus. But people are scared of Tortorella’s … let’s call it whims. Dubois was a monster down the stretch for the team with 16 assists and 26 points in 33 games post-All Star Game and on the top line there’s no reason not to think he can’t post similar numbers over a larger sample next year. Getting to 35 assists with guys like Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, or Josh Anderson on his wing is doable. (may31)

 

12. Reader Ian Duval asked: “I’m very curious to hear people’s opinion on Wheeler moving forward. What type of production would you expect over the next couple of years?”

The first thing that comes to mind with this question is Blake Wheeler’s age. This may not seem to be the case given the Jets’ group of young scorers, but Wheeler will turn 32 at the end of the summer. For an early first-round pick, Wheeler hasn’t taken a conventional path. He should be considered somewhat of a late bloomer, debuting in the NHL at age 22 and posting his career high in points at age 31. An age-related decline is inevitable and could begin next season, but to what degree?

About that career high in points: Wheeler has remained consistent in scoring between 20-30 goals over the last five seasons, yet he exploded for a career-high 68 assists, which was tied for the league lead. So with the bulk of the points coming in the form of assists, the question becomes whether the assists are primary or secondary. Well, you’ll be happy to know that 48 of Wheeler’s 68 assists were of the primary variety, which also led the league and was seven ahead of the next-highest performer in that category. So, no major fluke or expected regression.

Having said that, 91 points will be a very difficult number for Wheeler to reach two seasons in a row. But, with Mark Scheifele as his regular center (and hopefully for a full season this time), Wheeler should be fine. Eighty points should be within reach next season, then probably something like 70-80 points the season after. Wheeler has missed just four games over the past five seasons, so those numbers should include virtually no injury discount. (may30)

 

13. No one player’s fantasy stock has increased more this postseason than that of Braden Holtby, who was No.1 on Tom Collins’ Top 10 list this past week. Holtby should be back in the discussion of top 10 fantasy goalies, even after a subpar regular season. Then again, I get the feeling that you could pick goalies next season by throwing a bunch of names into a lottery drum. Okay, I won’t spoil the very measured and proven process that we have here at DobberHockey by suggesting that you be completely random.

But still: How will I know that a goalie that I would pick in the second round will be that much better than one that I pick in the eighth round? I expect a ton of debate and not as much variance than in the past between where individual goalies are ranked. (may30)

 

14. By the way, how much can a strong playoff performance improve a player’s fantasy value over the following season? You may want to read the article Playoff Heroes written by Rick Roos nearly a year ago, which really sheds some light on this topic. I’ll also put this out there, since I mentioned Guentzel earlier:

  • Guentzel career regular season: 0.66 PTS/GP
  • Guentzel career playoffs: 1.14 PTS/GP

We’re at a point in which we should be judging Guentzel more on his regular-season play than his playoff performance. Without regular first-unit power-play minutes, Guentzel’s upside is unfortunately limited. That is, unless there’s something to those Phil Kessel trade rumors. Then Guentzel keeper owners might have something to celebrate. (may30)

 

15. Lars Eller has been otherworldly in the postseason. Should the Caps win the Cup, there’s no chance that Eller wins the Conn Smythe. There are too many other worthy players that play more minutes at the top of the lineup. The significant improvement of Eller and his third line, though, is a big reason why Washington finds itself in the Final. (may29)

 

16. Aleksi Heponiemi appears to be heading for Finland. The second-round Florida pick from 2017 has absolutely shredded the WHL over the last two seasons to the tune of 204 points in 129 games. At the age of 19, he has nothing left to do in Junior. The move to Finland would get him a year playing at a very high level of men’s hockey at which time he would presumably find his way to the Panthers roster. I’m sure dynasty owners were hoping he would be in the lineup for 2018-19 but it appears they’ll have to wait another season. (may29)

 

17. Here is something that kind of quietly slipped into Elliotte Friedman’s ‘30 Thoughts’ this week and not really mentioned anywhere else – Ducks’ Ryan Kesler may not be playing next season. At all. His hip is in a bad way and although he won’t have surgery, they are trying a rehab method and he may end up taking the year off. Anyway, if that happens he won’t return until he’s 35 and I have my doubts if he can regain any fantasy relevance at that point. I also don’t like it for Jakob Silfverberg owners, unless they can find him a talented center to play with. He seems lost without Kesler – and the ‘real’ Kesler never really came back last year. (may28)

 

18. I was looking through the UFA goaltenders for this summer and I will list and rate them all here for you. A rating of 10.0 is a Connor Hellebuyck type, a rating of 0.1 is Antti Niemi-type, a rating of 5.0 is like a Steve Mason or Scott Darling …    

1. Jaroslav Halak, 6.5

2. Anton Khudobin, 6.0

3. Jonathan Bernier, 6.0

4. Carter Hutton, 6.0

5. Cam Ward, 5.2

6. Laurent Brossoit, 5.0

7. Harri Sateri, 4.5

8. Andrew Hammond, 4.3

9. Michael Hutchinson, 4.2

10. Ondrej Pavelec, 4.0

11. Kari Lehtonen, 3.5

12. Chad Johnson, 3.3

13. Scott Wedgewood, 3.0

14. Adam Wilcox, 2.5

15. Eddie Lack, 1.5

As you can see, there are no easy fixes for teams struggling to stabilize their goaltending and it’s why all teams should have at least seven and ideally nine or 10 in the system. Instead, what we see is five or six per team and then they cherry-pick from the NCAA or Europe as needed. (may28)

 

19. However, there are several goalies hitting RFA status this summer and a couple of them can be acquired I’m sure. Philipp Grubauer and Calvin Pickard lead this list, as well as David Rittich. And I think it’s a good idea to hit Juuse Saros with an offer sheet that Nashville will, of course, match but then they’d be stuck with $12 million or more just for goaltending. (may28)

 

20. It’s been disappointing to see Tomas Tatar on the sidelines for most of the playoffs since Vegas acquired him at the trade deadline but sometimes a player doesn’t mesh immediately. It speaks to just one of the issues that can arise post-deadline with acquisitions. Regardless, they acquired Tatar because both James Neal and David Perron are UFA and it’s not certain both (or either) return. Tatar has posted four straight 20-goal seasons, averaging 24 goals per campaign in that span, playing just over 16 minutes on average a night. He should find himself in the Vegas top-six next year with power-play time and a return to 25 goals seems possible in those circumstances. (may31)

 

Have a good week, folks!!

 

 

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