20 Fantasy Hockey Thoughts

by Mario Prata on June 18, 2017

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. Nathan Beaulieu heads to Buffalo into a situation that is in dire need of a defenseman with any offensive upside beyond Rasmus Ristolainen. Beaulieu recorded 28 points and 12 power-play points last season, which would have easily placed him second on the Sabres in both categories. This in spite of having the fourth-highest PP TOI and fifth-highest overall TOI among Canadiens’ defensemen last season. Buffalo’s defense still needs major work, but this is a start.


2. Mike Smith leaves the Coyotes (en route to the Flames) just as they appear to be on the way up. He’s a league-average goalie who played on a below-average team. As much as a move to Calgary should help Smith’s fantasy value to some degree because of a stronger and more experienced defense in front of him, it doesn't seem at initial glance that Smith is an upgrade in goal for the Flames from Brian Elliott (assuming Elliott does not return).

I can recall two seasons ago attempting to trade my Smith straight across for Elliott when Elliott was in a timeshare with Jake Allen in St. Louis (it didn’t work). Elliott obviously benefitted from a robust defense in front of him in St. Louis, but he struggled at times in his one Calgary season (2.55 GAA, .910 SV%) and seemed to miss the boat on being the long-term full-time starter in Calgary as a result. Smith has averaged about a .915 SV% over his last two seasons in Arizona, so there is an opportunity for him to improve on Elliott’s performance. Long-term, consider Smith a bridge goalie for Jon Gillies, since Smith has two years left on his contract and will be 37 when his contract expires.


3. One piece of news that flew under the radar this week: Ryan Kesler is expected to be sidelined for 12 weeks because of hip surgery. If that’s the timeline that occurs, Kesler should be ready for the start of the season, although he may miss the start of training camp. Whilr he appeared to be a diminishing asset when he was traded from Vancouver to Anaheim, Kesler put up his best point total (58 points) since all the way back to the 2010-11 season, when he scored 41 goals and 73 points.


4. A 77-point season as a 21-year-old is an incredibly impressive feat. In fact, Leon Draisaitl is the only 21-year-old player since the most recent lockout to post at least 75 points in a single campaign. The last time it was done was by Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and (soon-to-be former?) teammate Jordan Eberle in 2011-12. It appears this third overall pick is on the verge of annual fantasy stardom.

For now, Draisaitl has the level of upside shown this past year provided he remains on the top line. The coming months will be telling, however. If he is set to be moved to carry a second line by himself, the lack of production playing away from elite players and a very low shooting rate should be giant red flags to fantasy owners.


5. A healthy Oscar Klefbom is one of the more overlooked aspects of the Oilers’ successful season. McDavid gets the headlines, Cam Talbot gets the mentions, the emergence of Draisaitl gets people excited.

In Klefbom, we have a defenceman who should see a lot of minutes, takes a lot of shots, will likely run a frequently-used top power-play unit that features McDavid, drives the play, and is in his prime. This smells like a breakout fantasy season upcoming for Klefbom.


6. Is Nico Hischier going to edge out Nolan Patrick?

I'm leaning Patrick as the better choice for the Devils. His complete game and pedigree are can't-miss assets, and there is untapped upside considering the amount of time he's missed due to injuries. Patrick is a franchise building block up the middle, and there is potential he's the coveted No. 1 center that every team in the league is chasing.

Hischier is probably the better fantasy asset at this point and owns more dynamic offensive upside, so there is definitely a case for him to be the No. 1 selection. I just wonder if he's capable of being a go-to center at the highest level. The wing might be a better fit, which is likely where he would slot in with the Flyers.


7. It appears the Flyers are letting Steve Mason walk, as his agent hasn't had formal contract negotiations with Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall.

Mason's value can't be accurately analyzed until he signs with a team but he is a capable mid-tier goal that has been successful in the past. He could prove particularly profitable in our fantasy game if he lands in a timeshare position because of the upside to outplay his competition. Additionally, injuries can send the goalie position into a frenzy in a hurry and Mason has averaged 54 starts over the past four seasons. If he's in a timeshare, he could stumble into full-time starts through injury to a teammate, too. There's also a lot to like about the motivation of a fresh start.


8. Scott Darling is going to be a top-12 fantasy goalie next season and Carolina is going to push for a playoff spot. The Hurricanes owned a 29th-ranked .912 team save percentage at five-on-five, while the league average was .923. With just league-average goaltending, Carolina allows approximately 21 fewer five-on-five goals last year.

There is also a case that Darling is better than league average. He posted a .933 five-on-five save percentage through 75 games over the past three seasons, after all.

The Hurricanes posted a fifth-ranked 51.5 Corsi For percentage and 98.5 PDO at five-on-five last season, which further highlights the goaltending problems. Carolina also generated the fourth-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (11.8) at five-on-five. Everything is in place for a step forward from the Hurricanes and it was only goaltending that has held them back.

I'm a little more bullish about Carolina's chances to win than Dobber was when he broke down the Darling-to-Carolina deal in May. The important takeaway from looking back at Dobber's take is that there is a reliable fantasy floor and paired with the potential ceiling I'm suggesting, there is a lot to like about Darling as a mid-round target as your No. 2 fantasy netminder. That young core of forwards and defensemen are just going to get better in front of Darling, too.


9. A few more notes on the Lightning-Canadiens deal. Jonathan Drouin's fantasy value receives an immediate boost with the Canadiens. However, his long-term upside could be capped without the presence of a go-to offensive center.

Drouin’s five-on-five production: It hasn’t been bad for his career – 1.70 points per 60 minutes – but not the level we’d expect for a future star. Playing a top-six role with actual scoring forwards, combined with his shot increase, should mean greener pastures for Drouin and his five-on-five output. This is also going to hurt the depth scoring of Tampa Bay. He was often asked to carry the third line offensively and there’s no one left to do that.

Charles Hudon was quickly inked to a one-way contract by the Habs following the Drouin trade. It's an extension of confidence from the organization to the 22-year-old center. Hudon has scored 55 goals and 102 points through his past 123 games in the AHL.

Phillip Danault is almost guaranteed a top-six role entering the 2017-18 campaign, and he finished last season strong. He averaged 16:51 of ice time from Dec. 8 through the end of the regular season and posted a respectable 31 points, which included 29 at even strength. His 1.82 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five also trailed only Max Pacioretty and Paul Byron last year.

It's also impressive that Danault posted a 55.6 Corsi For percentage and 4.3 relative mark at five-on-five. He's a capable driver of possession and has proven – albeit in a short stretch – to be a serviceable top-six option.


10. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Alex Galchenyuk is going to be traded. Why, I'm not sure. Why Montreal has determined he's unfit to be a top-six center is beyond me. The circulating rumors are that Galchenyuk is expected to be dealt for defense help. It's a wait-and-see situation but a change of scenery could be huge for Galchenyuk.


11. Mikhail Sergachev should crack the Lightning blueline corps this fall and he'll probably ease his way into a reliable role. It will probably take time for him to fulfill his fantasy potential playing a secondary role behind Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. However, sometimes talent wins out, so Sergachev is definitely a potential asset beginning in October. Freshman inconsistency will likely limit his upside, though.


12. Let’s poke the bear. For years, we were treated to the “Who is better: Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin” trope by the hockey media. While that argument in real hockey is a bit silly (and always was), it does bring an important notion to the forefront for fantasy hockey: The difference between real-world value and fantasy value.

It’s a common-enough notion but it’s always important to keep in mind: Does what this guy do on the ice translate to fantasy hockey value? I would want Anze Kopitar as my top-line centre in the real world, but I’d rather have Tyler Seguin as a player on my fantasy roster, for example. Over the years, Ovechkin has been the better fantasy performer than Crosby, even if the latter has been the better real-world performer.


13. Back to poking the bear, I wonder if we don’t reach the same kind of conclusions with Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid in the coming years.

This past season, Matthews was fourth in shots on goal per 60 minutes at five-on-five and did so as a rookie teenager. McDavid posted a solid total but was outside the top-25.  McDavid also had over two more minutes per game at even strength, over 30 seconds more on the power play, and Matthews still managed to outshoot him.

The intent here isn’t to disparage one or the other; both players look to be every bit the generational player their respective fanbases had hoped for, as Crosby and Ovechkin both were. I do wonder, however, if Matthews doesn’t become the goal scorer/shooter with McDavid being more the distributor. I don’t mean a Joe Thornton-level distributor, either, as McDavid can be a perennial 30-goal guy. But if Matthews can routinely put up 40-goal seasons while posting four shots on goal per game, and McDavid routinely puts up 60-assist seasons with three shots on goal per game, there will be a disparity in fantasy value.

If you’re starting a dynasty fantasy hockey team tomorrow, who are you taking: McDavid or Matthews?


14. Brent Burns is the only defenceman to post at least 25 goals and 45 assists in a season since the 2005 lockout and he’s done it in back-to-back years. The high shot volume and bevy of power-play points makes him a truly elite fantasy asset. The question is what becomes of that power play should Joe Thornton not re-sign with the team. That is my only real concern here.


15. If Tyson Barrie’s fantasy value was low last season, was Erik Johnson’s value lower than low? Held to just 46 games because of injury, Johnson recorded a rather mediocre 17 points with a minus-6. If you go back one season, Johnson scored 27 points with a minus-19 in 73 games. You have to go back two seasons to find a near half point-per-game pace for Johnson, but that was also in a season cut short due to injury (23 points in 47 games).

There’s always a chance that Johnson’s fantasy value could improve if Barrie is traded. I tried to examine Johnson’s role when Barrie was out of the lineup for about two weeks in January. Unfortunately, Johnson was out during that time, as well. It’s not as if he missed out on much anyway given Colorado’s dead-last 12.6 percent power-play success rate.

It’s difficult to be optimistic about Johnson’s future prospects unless he or Barrie is traded. Even then, Johnson is hardly a player I’d recommend for next season because of his potential for injury and recent lack of production.


16. Marko Dano signed to by Winnipeg to one-year deal. He’s the kind of forward whose value could benefit by being picked up by Vegas. He has shown flashes of talent in the past, but he hasn’t been given extended opportunities because of either ice time or injury.


17. As we look for Stanley Cup playoff standouts for potential value next season, it’s good to check out the development leagues for future NHL contributors.

One such example is Tyler Bertuzzi, who was named the AHL playoff MVP with 19 points in 19 playoff games. Bertuzzi is the sixth-ranked Red Wings’ prospect on Dobber Prospects. Since the Red Wings are in somewhat of a rebuild mode, don’t be surprised if Bertuzzi (the nephew of Todd Bertuzzi) is on the Wings’ NHL roster next season.


18. Travis Hamonic re-upped with the Islanders and has three years remaining on his deal. Trading the 26-year-old defenseman would also be a sign of moving in another direction and that wouldn't align with trying to be a contending team that John Tavares wants to stick with. Obviously, Hamonic had requested a trade in the past, so perhaps that's still the angle.


19. Setting a four-year low in goals might seem like it would kill a player’s fantasy value but Gustav Nyquist managed 48 points in total, five more than he posted in 2015-16. Aside from a big downturn in shooting percentage, Nyquist’s production problem was on the power play, as it was for most every Detroit player; he averaged one power-play goal every 38 games in 2016-17 after averaging one every 8.2 games from 2013-16.

The downturn in shooting percentage was largely due to his five-on-four shooting, not five-on-five. In over 600 minutes of five-on-four play from 2013-2016, Nyquist shot 25 percent. In over 203 minutes in 2016-17, that plummeted to 3.57 percent.


20. It was a frustrating year to have Anthony Mantha on fantasy rosters. He was second among Red Wings forwards in points per 60 minutes at five-on-five (2.18, top-30 in the NHL among regular forwards), second among Red Wings forwards in shots per 60 minutes at five-on-five, and yet was healthy scratched, demoted, and benched all with regularity. Serenity now, insanity later.

Turning 23 years old before the season starts, the reigns should be loosened for the winger in 2017-18. He's a big player that can dominate shifts physically while generating a lot of offence and that is a rare combination. His story, however, does serve an important purpose fantasy-wise: It doesn’t necessarily matter how we as fantasy owners view a player. All that matters is how his coach views him. There are countless stories of players not being used to their full potential by their coaches (Morgan Rielly and Brandon Saad come to mind).

Mantha could keep improving his offensive game but if he gets 15 minutes a contest, is sometimes demoted to the third or fourth line, and is rarely given significant power-play opportunity, he cannot reach anywhere close to his fantasy potential. There is every reason to believe in Mantha’s ability but his usage will ultimately dictate his fantasy value.


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