20 Fantasy Hockey Thoughts

by Mario Prata on August 5, 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. Nazem Kadri was extremely hot and cold during 2017-18. After a strong first two months of the season (13 points in 17 games), Kadri cooled off to a 12-game pointless drought that lasted all through December. Then it was back to the previous scoring pace (32 points in 41 games). Once all was said and done, Kadri had posted his second consecutive 30-goal and 55-point season.

So, with John Tavares now in the fold, will Kadri be able to repeat his production from the past two seasons? The easy take is to assume that he will be shifted toward a more defensive role. Something that is also lost among the Tavares hype is that several other scorers have departed from the Leafs, including Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. The Leafs’ first and second-power play units logged very similar ice time totals, so a spot should remain on whatever unit Kadri was on.

There’s also a couple of other factors that could help Kadri during the Tavares era in Toronto. For one, Tavares will help the power play, as his 30 PPP was more than anyone on the Leafs. As well, teams will probably focus on using their top shutdown units against the Tavares line and the Auston Matthews line. This should mean better scoring opportunities for Kadri. With 19 power-play points (fourth on the Leafs), Kadri shouldn’t be going anywhere.

We, in fantasy hockey, tend to think of the top two lines as the place to be for forwards. But, strong teams nowadays focus on rolling three solid forward lines. If Kadri centers the third line, that isn’t such a bad thing. He could have another quietly effective season on a Leafs’ forward group that is one of the deepest in the league. (aug1)

 

2. Interested in any Flames' forward prospects could make the opening-night roster as a result of Troy Brouwer being bought out? I don't think there are any obvious names but July 1 signing Austin Czarnik was thought to be someone who had an excellent shot to make the Flames' opening night roster. His chances only improve now. Czarnik has scored at a point-per-game pace in the AHL over the past three seasons but could not crack the Bruins' deep roster. (aug4)

 

3. Kyle Connor was not one of the Calder Trophy finalists but there was a valid argument that he should have been listed as one of the top three rookies. Connor led all freshmen in goals with 31, which is a number that placed him in the top 30 overall in the goals category. Over a full season, he was on pace for 61 points, checking in at 57 points in 76 games.

If you believe the voters in Cage Match Tournament #2, Connor will not reach 70 points this season (technically 71 points, since the question was will he exceed his career best pace by 10-plus points). Only 13 percent of the voters believe that Connor is due for that type of breakout. Of course, this is a point pace that assumes he will play a full season. The average NHLer does not play a full 82 games, so it might be safer to assume that Connor should reach 60 points in his sophomore season.

Connor was boosted by playing on a line with two of the NHL’s top scorers in Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler for over half of the season. His production may suffer if he is moved down to a secondary scoring line but you can’t blame him for the linemates that he is matched up with. The fact that he has a proven track record with Scheifele and Wheeler should only help his cause on draft day.

You may want to move Connor down your pre-draft rankings if your league counts hits or penalty minutes, however. Among all Jets players, Connor had the lowest hits per game played total, averaging just one hit every four games. In terms of penalty minutes, only Andrew Copp had a lower penalty minutes total than Connor (16 PIM) among Jets players who played at least 60 games. (aug3)

 

4. Jack Hughes is the projected consensus first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and for good reason. He’s the first U17 player to record two points-per-game in the USHL this past season. He centered a ridiculous line with Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee on the U18 team and those three should hook up again for the US at the WJC too.

I often get asked hypothetical questions on Twitter such as: “Who would go first overall if they were in the same draft, Jack Eichel or Hughes? Or how about, Rasmus Dahlin or Hughes?”

I scouted a ton of USNTDP games last season and watched Auston Matthews and Eichel closely in their lead-up to being drafted, and Hughes was more dynamic at the same age. He is one of the best pure talents I’ve ever seen. He has speed that makes you think of Connor McDavid. Hands and creativity that are reminiscent of Patrick Kane, and a motor that doesn’t quit. The cerebral, crafty, and playmaking center will be a pillar in the NHL for a very long time. So, start loading up on 2019 lottery picks in your leagues because those who are lucky enough to land the top spot next year will be adding an instantly-productive star to their squad that has an extremely high ceiling. (aug2)

 

5. Sleeper Alert! I believe people are very much snoozing on what Kailer Yamamoto could do next season. There’s a reasonable chance that he ends up beside Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at evens right off the hop. That’s a top 10 spot to secure in the league.

Yamamoto cracking the Oilers' lineup fresh from the draft floor last fall was impressive. He lasted his nine games before heading back to Spokane of the WHL. And the transition was difficult for him. He struggled to replicate the outlandish numbers that we'd become accustomed to. Even at the World Junior Championships, where he was expected to be a standout, he flew a little too far under the radar. However, something clicked in the New Year. Upon returning with his WJC bronze medal in hand, Yamamoto went on a tear that saw him produce 17 goals and 51 points in the final 25 contests. He concluded his final junior season with 21 goals and 64 points in 40 games. That 1.6 points-per-game sat seventh most in the league and his 1.2 primary points-per-game sat 10th.

Heading into 2018-19, two things need to happen for the Oilers to jump back into the playoff picture:

– They desperately need to fix their power play woes and overall offensive potency.
– They need solid goaltending.

Yamamoto won't be able to solve the issues in the crease (although a bounceback by Cam Talbot is quite plausible). He will, however, be able to contribute on the offensive side of things. Edmonton's power play was a DEAD LAST in the entire NHL last season. How a team can roll out McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and company and end up 31st on the PP is beyond me. That plummeted their overall goals-per-game output to 20th in the league.

Down the stretch, McDavid found chemistry with Nugent-Hopkins and oft-castoff, Ty Rattie. Rattie will get some rope to hold that spot on the RW next season but Yamamoto's speed and elite offensive instincts will be breathing down his neck. If he can pry that spot away, he'll be in the running for the best fantasy value of the year. (july30)

 

6. It was a difficult first season in Montreal for Jonathan Drouin. Brought in to be groomed as the No.1 center, Drouin struggled at the position with a low 42.5 percent faceoff success rate just one symptom. The adjustment unfortunately also affected his scoring numbers, as he only totaled 13 goals and 46 points to go with a brutal minus-28. For a player that was drafted in the top 100 in most fantasy leagues, that wasn’t much of a return.

So, is Drouin an effective rebound candidate? A better question might be whether Drouin will ever be capable of meeting his upside. In spite of the perceived low point total, Drouin reached a career high in assists (33) and only fell seven points shy of his career high from a season earlier. Drouin was also a minus-13 during that 2016-17 season in Tampa Bay. So, assist-heavy point totals and poor plus-minus have been a part of his recent history with two different teams.

Given the fact that Drouin might be outside of the top 100 in single-season leagues, he might be a buy-low candidate to consider. To give you an idea, I offered Matt Duchene for Drouin in one keeper league and was turned down. There are more league rule factors at play than what I can describe here, but this particular owner knows the value of what he still has. Either that, or he’s not interested at all in Duchene, which is a whole other discussion.

If you believe in a Drouin rebound/breakout/whatever you want to call it, you’ll cite the fact that he is only 23 years old. Maybe you’ll even mention the breakout of his former junior teammate, Nathan MacKinnon. Remember that MacKinnon’s value seemed to have hit rock bottom at this time last season. Now he’s an MVP finalist. That’s not to say that will happen with Drouin but he may have needed a season to adjust to his surroundings. If there is less turmoil in Montreal in 2018-19, that will also help. (aug1)

 

7. Although John Gibson is just 25 years old, he has already established himself as a reliable NHL netminder when he has stayed healthy.

Gibson played in a career-high 60 games last season, while his .926 save percentage was the fourth-highest among goalies who played at least 40 games. I believe it was Mike Clifford who first brought this up but Gibson’s save percentage while killing penalties was an incredible .916. That is a good six points higher than the next-highest goalie who played at least 25 games (Carter Hutton) and nine points higher than the next-highest goalie who played at least 40 games (Semyon Varlamov). The Ducks’ core might be getting older and they might be a bubble playoff team at this point but they should be solid in goal for the next little while. (aug5)

 

8. Carey Price, Matt Murray, Cam Talbot, and Braden Holtby failed to even come close to their 2017-18 preseason rankings as top-tier goalies. Those were the first four goalies off the draft boards in many leagues last season! Of those four, the best save percentage was from Talbot (.908 save percentage), while the best goals-against average was from Murray (2.92 goals-against average). Those aren’t numbers that will win you your fantasy league but they could have played a major part in you not winning your league.

So yeah, investing a first-round or even a second-round pick in a goalie is risky business. Something you will know all too well if you drafted Holtby, Murray, Price, or Talbot last year. I’d much rather draft scorers and hope like crazy that I don’t get dragged into a goaltending run early. (aug4)

 

9. It's not $9 million, but it's still quite a short-term haul. The Senators and Mark Stone have agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.35 million.

Whether he stays in Ottawa long-term isn't the only fantasy-related issue with Stone going forward. In spite of finishing with 1.07 PTS/GP in 2017-18 (14th among players with at least 50 GP), Stone has averaged just 64 games played over each of the last two seasons. Band-Aid Boy trainee material, maybe? So sure, you can project a point-per-game pace for him again, but you'll also need to deduct some games played from him again. But with this being (another) contract year and perhaps showcasing himself for other teams if the Sens continue to be a mess on and off the ice, Stone should be highly motivated to have a big year.

Another thing to consider about Stone in multicat leagues: He has never taken more than 160 shots in a season. This is from a combination of factors including the aforementioned injuries the past two seasons, as well as the gift of being able to consistently shoot at between 15-17 percent. Imagine what kind of fantasy monster he could be if he increased his shot totals! (aug4)

 

10. Do we really know how valuable William Karlsson is? After all, he jumped from being a 20-25 point checker to a nearly 80-point top liner. The 2018-19 season will give us a better idea of who Karlsson really is.

I know that Karlsson simply didn’t slow down all season – not even in the playoffs. Yet he finished the season with an amazing 23.4 percent shooting accuracy, a number that was matched only by Alexander Kerfoot (who scored 19 goals in spite of taking just 81 shots). In the playoffs that dipped to 14 percent, but he managed to score seven goals in 20 games because he took 2.5 shots per game (50 shots), an increase from the 2.25 shots per game he averaged during the regular season. So, if Karlsson is to equal his 2017-18 production, he must shoot more.

Some shooters have a consistently high shooting percentage, which is their normal. Yet Karlsson’s previous shooting percentage was around the 6-8 percent mark when he suited up for both Columbus and Anaheim. I’d be willing to raise that shooting accuracy projection a few more points now that he’s getting better scoring opportunities on the top line. But, we have to plan for some regression here. Forty goals again? Don’t count on it. Thirty goals might be a more realistic projection. But, he is a top liner with a strong team now and should be treated as such. (aug5)

 

11. Jeff Skinner was traded to the Sabres for a handful of magic beans: prospect forward Cliff Pu, a second-round pick in 2019 and a third-round and a sixth-round pick in 2020. That return obviously doesn’t consist of anything that can help the Canes today, although I do realize that they had to trade Skinner soon because he’s on the final year of his contract and reportedly seemed unlikely to re-sign in Carolina. Pu was the top right wing in the Sabres’ system, according to Dobber Prospects, so there’s that for the Canes.

Yes, this trade absolutely helps Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, and of course Skinner himself maybe more than anyone. It also potentially hurts Conor Sheary, who I wrote about for Bubble Keeper Week, though Casey Mittlestadt might not be a bad consolation prize. Our own Cam Robinson covered the Fantasy Impact of this trade for you. Not just from the Buffalo side, but also the Carolina side, unlike another fantasy impact piece that I read from another website. So I can’t really see much that he didn’t cover on this deal, although I’ll take one question from the comments.

 

12. I think the Skinner trade improves the chances that Valentin Zykov makes the Hurricanes. Not only could he make the team but he could also be featured in a prominent role. To jog your memory, Zykov impressed as a late-season callup for the Canes, scoring seven points over ten games. Zykov also has the advantage of playing left wing, the same position as Skinner, so there’s definitely an opening. His NHL success was largely on the top line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, so he could even find himself back on that line!

I like Zykov as a potential deep sleeper, even more so now that this trade has gone done. Andrei Svechnikov seems to be a slam dunk to make the Canes, while Martin Necas’ chances also seem very good. Both Svechnikov and Necas impressed at the Canes’ prospect camp last month. This is a trade that certainly helps the kids in Carolina, so you’ve got a few rookies to choose from in their lineup. (aug3)

 

13. The Winnipeg Jets came to terms with restricted free agent, Nic Petan. The 23-year-old and his agent were surely pushing hard for a one-way contract but had to settle for a one-year, two-way deal that pays him $874,125 in the NHL and a ‘paltry’ $70K in the minors.

Petan has been stuck behind an abundance of talent in the Peg. He suited up for 54 games with the big club in 2016-17, while seeing two minutes per night on the power play. However, that total was reduced to just 15 NHL contests last season with virtually no opportunities on the man-advantage. Petan was amongst the top players in the American Hockey League last season when he produced 15 goals and 52 points in as many games. However, the logjam of forwards in front of him in Winnipeg, coupled with the two-way contract, means he’s likely destined to end up there for long stretches again next season.

This screams of a player in need of a fresh start in an organization that can facilitate his terrific playmaking abilities but forgive his weakness in the corners. There should be at least a handful of bottom-feeders making calls to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff regarding the former Portland Winterhawks star. Pure speculation here but Canucks’ coach Travis Green was behind the bench in Portland when Petan was racking up triple-digit campaigns. He’s already showed an affinity for having his former junior stars in Vancouver with Derrick Pouliot and Brendan Leipsic in the fold; perhaps Petan could find his way back to the west coast. We all know Vancouver could use a little more offence. (aug2)

 

14. The New York Rangers inked restricted free agent Ryan Spooner to a two-year contract worth $4 million per season. The former Bruin shone brightly upon joining the Rangers. He recorded two goals and 13 points in his first eight games on Broadway, while seeing between 15-19 minutes a night. Twelve of those points came at even strength. Not a bad show of faith to your new club.

The 26-year-old came back to earth after that, recording just one goal and three points over the final 12 games as New York sunk near the bottom of the standings. Yet, he still managed to set or tie career-highs in goals (13), even-strength points (34), points-per-game (0.69), hits (66), and time on ice (15:18).

The Rangers have him on a friendly contract and are hoping he can fill in as the team’s third center behind Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes. Spooner will continue to work on the second power-play unit and create offence at even-strength. He’s a streaky player that can be utilized as a streamer off the wire. Just don’t hold on for too long. (aug2)

 

15. I’ve mentioned how important shot totals are. It should go without saying that they’re important for every player, including Sonny Milano. They might be the reason that his NHL career hasn’t gotten off the ground. In 55 games last season, Milano took just 69 shots on goal. That’s barely over a shot per game. He may have even been lucky to score as many goals as he did (14), as his shooting percentage calculated out to about 20 percent.

Milano’s 2017-18 NHL proportion of goals to assists (14g-8a) look nothing like his career totals in other leagues, where he resembles more of a playmaker. That should be somewhat surprising, as his most frequent linemate was Oliver Bjorkstrand, a player with some offensive upside. Bringing in Riley Nash could help the former first-round pick, as this could provide the Jackets with a solid third line.

For now, though, I’d prefer to take a wait-and-see approach with Milano. He just finished his first full NHL season, yet the talented Milano isn’t likely on my sleeper radar yet. (aug5)

 

16. Blackhawks’ Gustav Forsling is expected to miss the first month of the season after undergoing wrist surgery that will require about 14 weeks of recovery time. After starting the season with four assists in five games, Forsling made it onto one of my fantasy teams for a brief stretch. Finishing the season with 13 points in 41 games, Forsling holds some value in deep keeper leagues. (aug1)

 

17. Claude Giroux was late becoming a full-time NHLer, with his first full season coming at the age of 22. Was it really his fault they let him toil in the QMJHL and AHL before bringing him up? He had 48 goals and 112 points in 63 games in his D+1 year and 38 goals and 106 points in 55 games in his D+2 year. They had him start 2008-09 in the AHL and he was over a point per game for nearly half the season. While I don’t know the circumstances around keeping him off the full-time roster for so long (maybe Philly fans can shed some light in the comments), he appeared ready offensively long before he got to the NHL for an 82-game season.

Over the last eight years, he ranks 2nd in points (only Sidney Crosby is ahead), 5th in points per game (ahead of names like Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, and Ryan Getzlaf), and 1st in assists. Those are very impressive numbers that span nearly a decade.

There’s always the question of hardware. There are zero MVPs, zero scoring titles, and zero Cups. Those things matter to HOF voters. If the Flyers win a Cup in the next few years, this is a different conversation for a lot of people. The final sticking point is usually one of whether he was considered one of the top players of the sport at a given moment. I think some people might remember the ‘Baton Has Been Passed’ arguments from years ago which were always silly. Giroux did have a five-year span (2010-2015) where he led the league in points. Guys like Crosby and Ovechkin were certainly still the impact players ahead of him but of the non-generational players, it’s hard to look down your nose at a player who led the entire league in scoring for five years.

A final determination cannot be made right now, obviously. Giroux is heading into his age-31 season and there’s no telling what the future holds. What if he puts up a couple more 90-point seasons? What if he puts up a couple more 90-point seasons *and* adds a Stanley Cup? Or, maybe he continues hardware-less for his career, 2017-18 proves an anomaly, and he returns to the production levels of 2015-17? Regardless, where he stands right now, outside of the guys that are clearly HOF-bound, Giroux is at, or near, the top of the next tier. (july31)

 

18. Dylan Larkin had 63 points last year, and only eight of the came on the power play. Not only that, he was the first forward in a decade to tally at least 63 points while shooting under seven percent. The last forward under the age of 25 to do it was Brad Richards in 2002-03. That’s not actionable fantasy information, I just found that interesting.

Anyway, it’s not hard to see Larkin having a monster season this year. He had a career-best in individual points percentage but the level he found himself shouldn’t be a concern. He was at about 73 percent and the top playmakers and producers in the NHL, names like Anze Kopitar, Artemi Panarin, Nathan MacKinnon, Taylor Hall, and Johnny Gaudreau found themselves in the 70-80 percent range. If the belief is Larkin is a burgeoning star (that is my belief), his IPP level isn’t a concern.

If that shooting percentage rebounds (it will; he can’t shoot 3.7 percent on the power play again), and he can boost his power play production overall, there could be a huge year coming. If Larkin pushed to be nearly a point-per-game player this year, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. He’ll probably be on a lot of my teams. (july31)

 

19. Former Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher isn't the most defensively responsible player but he knows how to execute offensively. The 23-year-old jumped right into the fire to begin his rookie season. He scored a goal and 15 points in his first 19 games and had the fantasy world buzzing. He was seeing north of three minutes per night on the top power-play unit and 16 minutes overall. The team sheltered him at even-strength but starting him in the offensive end 60 percent of the time.

As the season wore on, his numbers began to slide a tad. By the 60-game mark, he had accumulated 30 points, but he lost a full minute off of his power play time per night. After recording 14 power-play points in his first 40 games, he earned just two PPAs in a 20-game stretch. That bumped him down to the second unit. Butcher refused to slink into the night. He produced 14 points in the final 20 games. Seven of those points came from the power play.

His 44 points in 81 games were good for a share of 21st most by NHL defenders with Dougie Hamilton. That’s ahead of players such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Nick Leddy, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Werenski, and Ivan Provorov. Most of those players will be kept. Will Will Butcher? (I don't think I've ever written Will Will before)

Heading into 2018-19, his place in the lineup remains unclear. He was the team’s best option to run a power play featuring the reigning Hart Trophy winner in Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. His performance down the stretch should earn him the first look on the top unit once again but he’ll need to prove consistent. If I'm a betting man, I'd say Butcher's will continue to produce a good amount of power play points in the future and should be capable of replicating his 40-plus point output. That's worthy of a keeper spot for most leagues. (july30)

 

20. A word to the wise: Do not give up on Dylan Strome just yet. 2018-19 will be a telling season for the 21-year-old. His eight points (3-5-8) during the final 10 games last season represent a window into the potential we've been waiting on.

Projecting his place in Arozona’s lineup next season only makes this keeper decision more difficult. The Coyotes went out and traded for Alex Galchenyuk and immediately stated he will be given every opportunity to play the middle of the ice. Derek Stepan is a proven top six center who has chemistry with the team’s best forward, Clayton Keller. That leaves Strome to battle with Christian Dvorak and Brad Richardson for a shot as one of the bottom six pivots. Realistically, barring injury to Stepan or Galchenyuk, Strome will end up playing on the wing. Likely somewhere in the middle six. His role on the power play should stay consistent with what we saw down the stretch last season – him working the half wall and quarterbacking things on the second unit.

Holding onto Strome will be an effort in perseverance. He has the pedigree. He’s proven to have impressive skills and has filled the scoresheet at every level. You’ll be banking on a player that likely won’t return huge value this coming season but holds tremendous upside yet to come. I know I'd be keeping him over a veteran player who you can count on for 50-points. Swing big. That's what fantasy hockey is all about! (july30)

 

Have a good week, folks!!
 
 

 

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