20 Fantasy Hockey Thoughts

by Mario Prata on July 22, 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. Of all the Islanders, I believe Anders Lee is the player who will be least affected by the loss of John Tavares. His spot on the top line and top power play unit will be unaffected. And he will be given an elite center to work with who may just provide a better compliment of skills to his own.

Mat Barzal may have been a rookie last season but he impacted things all over the ice. He and his linemates were consistently controlling the play; providing positive a Corsi For percentage (CF%) despite being deployed in the defensive end as much or more than the fun end of the rink. Don’t let the 22 goals fool you, Barzal is as pure a passer as there is in the league. He averaged just 2.08 shots-per-game as a freshman. His 34 primary assists sat tied for eighth most in the league with Johnny Gaudreau, Leon Draisaitl and Jonathan Marchessault. His 0.77 assists-per-game sat seventh. Not bad company to keep.

Now a pure distributor gets to dish to one of the league’s most deadly finishers. Sure, Barzal will have a hill to climb. He is no longer insulated by Tavares and will earn the opposition’s top defensive pairing and shutdown line. He will be game-planned against and tested on a nightly basis. However, he’s already an elite talent and the safe money is to bet that he finds a way to be successful as the top offensive option.

Lee may not hit new career-highs in a myriad of categories again in 2018-19, but he’s ripe to slip on draft day due to the perceived loss of Tavares. You can take advantage of that by sneaking him in as category filler with a solid floor and legitimate ceiling. (july21)

 

2. The impending Erik Karlsson trade, what does this do to Thomas Chabot? It surely gives him more minutes, especially on the power play, but the quality of that team will be…lacking, let’s say.

Chabot was, predictably, caved in last year shots-wise when playing away from Karlsson. That’s to be expected from such a young defenseman playing on a team devoid of talent. But, who does he play with next year that could help in this regard? Cody Ceci?

Though he looks to have a bright future it could be tough sledding ahead for Chabot. It may be a few years yet before his fantasy potential is realized and it’ll have nothing to do with his play personally. Just the team surrounding him and the player he’s paired with. (july17)

 

3. Oliver Bjorkstrand had 11 goals and 40 points in 2017-18. Though technically his third season in the NHL, 2017-18 was Bjorkstrand’s first full season. Like most forwards on the Blue Jackets, his role fluctuated greatly, though he didn’t find himself on the top line with any sort of regularity. He often skated with Nick Foligno, Sonny Milano, Alex Wennberg, or Boone Jenner.

If that’s to be Bjorkstrand’s role this year, improving significantly on 40 points doesn’t seem likely. Bouncing around the middle-six with secondary power play minutes doesn’t bode well for a huge boost in production.

That it doesn’t bode well for a bump in points doesn’t mean one isn’t coming. Bjorkstrand is turning into a top-end playmaker to go along with solid shot rates. Had he not shot 6.7 percent last year, if he shoots just 10 percent, he has 16 goals and a 45-point season and maybe he’s viewed with some consensus as a rising star.

Bjorkstrand’s problem is a good one for Columbus in that they have solid depth on the right side. Josh Anderson had a breakout season despite the injuries, and following a slow start, Cam Atkinson reminded us he’s a very good, and very consistent, goal scorer. Bjorkstrand has the look of a top-6 winger but due to their depth, he might not see many more minutes per game than he did last year. (july19)

 

4. Habs’ Artturi Lehkonen fits the category of a potential deep sleeper. Don’t be fooled by the lack of offense last season. He’s a player who could pay off if drafted outside of the top 150. I’d even be willing to bet that he’ll still be available outside of the top 200. He was projected for 21 goals and 44 points in last season’s Fantasy Guide. Could he reach that total this season? You might just have to take a gamble, which is one that Dobber could back you on. (july22)

 

5. The Wild have signed Matt Dumba to a five-year, $30 million extension. With Dumba’s bridge deal of $2.55 million now expired, salary cap owners will now need to set aside an additional $3.5 million per season for him. He certainly made good on his contract year, recording his first 50-point season (14g-36a). Prior to 2017-18, Dumba’s career high was 34 points, so this was a breakout in the true sense of the word.

If you didn’t know that Dumba scored 50 points this past season, it might be because he got lost in the crowd. Dumba was one of 19 defensemen to score at least 50 points – a number that grew significantly from 2016-17 (just 9 d-men) and 2015-16 (12 d-men). This is the trend of the puck-moving d-man at work. (july22)

 

6. Evan Bouchard (Edm) and Ryan Merkley (SJ) arguably have the highest fantasy potential for 2018 NHL Draft blueliners outside of Rasmus Dahlin but both carry varying degrees of risk.

As a 1999 birthdate, Bouchard is physically ready to play in the NHL. He’s accomplished a great deal in his three years with the London Knights, including a monstrous 26-goal, 87-point draft-eligible campaign. His shot is large and in charge and he has very strong vision. He would instantly become a threat on Edmonton’s top power-play unit. That said, his skating and pace of play need to improve. Not to mention the sheer difficulty in teenagers playing defense against the very best forwards in the world. Bouchard should be targeted high in keeper leagues and is one to watch in one-year leagues if he’s still hanging around camp when the pre-season is coming to a close.

Meanwhile, Merkley is one of the most divisive prospects we’ve seen in several years. The late-2000 birthday means he’s one the youngest from the crop and also the most under-developed physically and mentally. Questions surrounding his commitment to all facets of the game, and attitude issues have followed the wildly talented blueliner for a few years.

There’s one thing that is not in doubt: when he has the puck on his stick, magic can happen. His ability to create offense is unmatched by nearly everyone in the 2018 group. The Sharks clearly aren’t too concerned with potential attitude concerns. They traded for and then committed major money to Evander Kane. You can’t have a soft stomach to make those moves. (july21)

 

7. The Canucks were clear when the signed Jay Beagle that it was to provide Brandon Sutter with an opportunity to no longer be buried in the defensive end – he started a ridiculous 22.65 percent of his draws in the offensive zone. The hope for the team is that they’re paying him like a second line center (4.35MM), hopefully, he can produce like one if freed up.

Having him play with an elite talent like Elias Pettersson and a bounce-back candidate in Loui Eriksson won’t hurt. However, I question his ability to drive offense on a consistent basis.

As for Pettersson, he should be able to carve out a role on the team’s top power-play unit in Henrik Sedin’s old spot on the right half wall or patrolling the right point. Having Pettersson and Brock Boeser on opposite sides will be chaos for opposing defenders but it’ll take the rookie some time to adjust. His ceiling remains sky-high. (july21)

 

8. This isn’t some sort of prediction of a breakout. What I’m saying is the ingredients are there for the Devils’ Blake Coleman to have a good season. Travis Zajac is in freefall and though I’m a believer in Pavel Zacha, it’s not certain he’ll be a full-time center next year. Coleman could find himself with more minutes next year depending on the performance of others and he has the skills necessary to put up a sneaky 20-goal season. Do not ignore him in deeper leagues. Even if he busts, he can be had at such a discount that replacing him on the waiver wire is easy. (july20)

 

9. Coleman got me thinking about Marcus Johansson, another Devils skater. Johansson missed nearly three months with a concussion thanks to a flying elbow from Brad Marchand. He eventually returned in the playoffs but for just a few games, not nearly enough to judge him, especially considering how much time he missed. He looks ready for 2018-19 and let’s hope the concussion issues are behind him.

It’s easy to forget that before getting to New Jersey, Johansson averaged 20 goals and 30 assists a season for three years. That was on a high-powered Washington team but Johansson was a fixture of the top PP unit with the Capitals.

Before the concussion issues started piling up, Johansson didn’t spend much time with the top PP unit in New Jersey. Does that change now? The three forwards seemingly locked into the top unit should be Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri. Could Johansson be the fourth? It may be tough because assuming Will Butcher takes that spot again, it would give them four left-handed shots. That may open the door for someone else.

All the same, I will be paying attention in training camp. The Devils used a lot of different combinations last year but Johansson will get overlooked this year in fantasy. If he seems to have the inside track on the top PP unit, be sure to pencil him in at the end of your drafts. If he doesn’t, he can probably be left alone in most leagues. (july19)

 

10. Whether Jimmy Vesey takes the next step in fantasy relevance depends on usage. He’s averaged about 14 minutes a game over his first two years and that’s just not enough to put up the raw totals necessary to be relevant in most leagues. Will a new Rangers coaching regime give him more minutes or will it be status quo? It’s worth the risk in deeper leagues to draft him late but in shallower leagues he’s probably still waiver-wire material until something changes. (july20)

 

11. Phillip Danault has shown chemistry with Max Pacioretty in recent seasons but the captain doesn’t seem likely to start the year in a Habs uniform, pending a trade. If Tomas Plekanec is reunited with Gallagher, that doesn’t leave much for wingers to line up with Danault.

Even with top-six minutes, Danault doesn’t contribute in peripheral categories outside of face-off wins. Unless it’s a deep points league or a league with face-offs, he can be left on the waiver wire. It’s a fine real-life signing but the fantasy hockey impact is marginal. (july19)

 

12. The Calgary Flames gave the long-term deal Elias Lindholm had been looking for and the contract will carry him to his age-30 season.

How Lindholm will be used will ultimately determine whether this contract gives the appearance of fair value, or a great value. He has four full seasons under his belt, averaging 17:38 per game in that span, and managing 14 goals per 82 games over those four seasons. To say that it’s just because he played in Carolina, Justin Faulk scored more often in fewer games played. Lindholm somehow developing into a perennial 25-goal scorer seems like a bridge too far.

Some may point to Jiri Hudler putting up 31 goals and 76 points seemingly out of nowhere when slotting with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. His previous career-highs were 25 goals and 57 points, which makes Lindholm’s situation a bit different.

What if Lindholm isn’t on the top line all year? Or, most of the year? Or, even half the year? If he plays 17 minutes a game in the middle-six, why would we expect more than 15 goals and 45 points? I don’t doubt that Lindholm gets minutes on the top line, it’s just a matter of how many and for how long. There’s a good chance his average draft position (ADP) gets too high for a reasonable profit. (july19)

 

13. Chris Tierney had 40 points last year for the Sharks. With Joe Thornton returning, Joe Pavelski still in the fold, and Logan Couture around for the better part of a decade, Tierney will be locked into that third-line role for at least one more year. That, combined with the lack of power-play time, means improving substantially on 40 points is difficult.

That doesn’t mean he can’t repeat, though. There is a lot of winger talent on this team, starting with Pavleski (though he’s really a center) and Evander Kane, then Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi, and an emerging star in Timo Meier. Regardless of how the lineup shakes out, Tierney will have at least one talented winger to skate with so putting up 40 points again is possible.

Pavelski has one year left on his deal and it’s uncertain whether he’ll return. If he doesn’t, Tierney could be bumped up the lineup in a year’s time. But for 2018-19, expect more or less the same as 2017-18. (july19)

 

14. The Predators have signed Juuse Saros to a three-year, $4.5 million extension. Saros is worth keeping an eye on this season, as Pekka Rinne has one more year left on his $7 million per season contract. If Rinne’s playoff struggles carry over to the regular season, we could be seeing a lot more of Saros. Plus that would give the Preds a chance to see if he’s ready to take over in net in 2019-20. If so, $1.5 million per season for a starting goalie is a sweet deal. (july18)

 

15. This has to be the year the Ducks finally throw Sam Steel in the lineup, right? He averaged a shade under two points per game in his Draft-plus-1 year and followed that with 83 points in 54 games last year. The injury to Ryan Kesler, and the uncertainty that brings, undoubtedly leaves them one center short. He has to figure into the lineup, right?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the need for the Ducks to move Ondrej Kase to the top line. I’m not sure that will actually be the case (no pun intended but welcomed nonetheless). A third-line duo of Steel-Kase is something that would be worth the look for the Ducks. Scoring outside of Rickard Rakell was hard to come by in 2017-18; Kase and Adam Henrique were a distant second behind Rakell’s 34-goal total with 20 each. Being able to run forward pairs of Ryan Getzlaf-Rakell, Henrique-Jakob Silfverberg, and Steel-Kase is a good way to spread out the talent while having solid lines throughout the roster. Provided, of course, that Steel can prove himself.

I’m intrigued here. He won’t get the top PP minutes to bring significant fantasy relevance but with so much time having elapsed since his draft, outside of dynasty owners, Steel is likely to go under the radar in keeper league setups. Take a flier on him late. (july17)

 

16. One player whose ADP I’m excited (scared?) to see in September is Yanni Gourde, a player in the vein of guys before him like Viktor Arvidsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and to a lesser extent Ondrej Kase. A guy certain pockets of the hockey community saw a player with good underlying results in small samples, solid minor league numbers, and hoped they’d get a chance. Gourde finally got his chance and managed 25 goals and 64 points as a 26-year old in his first full season.

Assuming the reports are accurate, Tampa Bay looks like the landing spot for Erik Karlsson. The question is the return. Is Gourde part of the package? Tyler Johnson? Alex Killorn? There will surely be picks and prospects. It’s still uncertain if any roster players are part of the package. Regardless, the lineup as it sits today is not likely to be the lineup in two months.

Gourde likely slots on the third line this year, be it as the center or winger. Who plays with him? Will either Killorn or Johnson still be around? Will he be lined up with Cedric Paquette? Maybe one of their young wingers in Boris Katchouk or Taylor Raddysh, unless they’re part of the Karlsson trade.

There’s also the shooting percentage, which was over 18 percent overall and over 14.5 percent at five-on-five. That put him just outside the top-10 league-wide among forwards with 1000 minutes.

Gourde is a very good player. In cap leagues, he’s an exceptional asset. I just worry that the steam behind Tampa Bay as a team, Gourde’s superb year, and everyone wanting to get The Next Marchessault will push his ADP too high to be had at a reasonable price. We’ll see in a couple months. (july17)

 

17. Sometimes I wonder about Chris Kreider’s ADP this year. His goal, assist, shot, and penalty minute paces (per game) were pretty much around his career norms. He’ll be on the top line with top power-play minutes. With the Rangers going through a rebuild and Kreider coming off a season where he missed a lot of games due to injury, does his ADP get depressed? He can be a very good across-the-board roto contributor when healthy. With a new coach and true top-line minutes, this seems like value in the making. (july17)

 

18. For the second straight year, Filip Forsberg’s overall time on ice declined. For the second straight year, his five-on-five ice time per game declined. For the third straight year, his five-on-five shot rate declined. For the second straight year, his shots per game declined. For the second straight year, his five-on-five individual expected goals rate declined.

Anyone watching Forsberg knows he’s not in decline. The guy’s hitting his prime. Injuries played a factor last year and the emergence of Viktor Arvidsson meant fewer shots to go around when the duo was on the ice together.

One thing that saved his season was his shooting percentage on the power play. His previous career-high was 15.4 percent. From 2014-17, he shot 11.3 percent on aggregate. In 2017-18, he shot 26.7 percent. Just playing 82 games will help mitigate the drop in PP goals but a return to normalcy could still cut his PP goal totals by three or four, even with the 15 extra games. The team shot 8.8 percent with him on the ice at five-on-five from 2014-17. Last year, that jumped to 10.2 percent. Despite the team’s expected goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five with Forsberg on the ice being 2.7, they scored 3.6.

He also set a career-high in individual points percentage – the rate he tallies points on goals scored with him on the ice – with his previous high coming in 2014-15. It was a marginal record, but still his best.

Forsberg wasn’t very far off a point-per-game pace last year. The question is if he can repeat that and be an 80-point player this year. Given the high percentages basically across the board, I find it hard to believe he’ll be near a point-per-game player. Maybe he can crack 70 points but I’ll be interested to see his ADP once September rolls around. It might be too rich to search for any profit. (july17)

 

19. A couple of recent two-way deals I want to point out: Andreas Johnsson with the Leafs  and Danny O’Regan with the Sabres.

Johnsson has to clear waivers in order to be sent down and he’s already proven time and again that he’s NHL-ready. I already have him as a lock to make the team. Why he signed his two-way qualifying offer was strategic – he’s banking on a full NHL season so that he can cash in next year. Meanwhile, my hunch is that Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas was thinking about how to get him to sign for two or three years – and I wonder if Johnsson signing his qualifying offer caught him off guard. The Leafs will never – never – waive him no matter how horrible his training camp is. I like his thinking there.

O’Regan would have been in tough to make the Sabres and he can still be sent down without clearing waivers. So, he’s as good as off the team to start the year. But, he has nothing left to prove in the AHL. (july16)

 

20. Another interesting one was when Nicholas Baptiste signed a two-way deal with the Sabres. He has to clear waivers and I was having trouble fitting him into the Buffalo lineup. He played 33 games for the Sabres last year but the team is significantly more crowded this time around. And I think he’s behind Justin Bailey in terms of the depth chart – Bailey also has to clear to be sent down, is also a right shot, is bigger (6-3, 214) and was drafted higher (52nd overall versus 69th overall) and I think those things make a difference when teams prioritize who they want to see succeed more. And soon after I wrote the above blurb, Bailey signs and it’s a two-way contract. So, he’s in the same boat as Baptiste. (july16)
 

Have a good week, folks!!