21 Fantasy Hockey Rambles

by Mario Prata on July 28, 2019

Every Sunday, we'll share 21 Fantasy Rambles – formerly 20 Fantasy Thoughts – from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's ‘Daily Ramblings’.

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

 

1. Keith Yandle or Jacob Trouba? Yandle is a steady eddie and he seems to just be getting better. I think flirting with 60 points this season is still in the cards, and probably next season as well. He’s in phenomenal shape. But Trouba will get 50 or 55, with upside for more. And he can still get better. The age gap here makes me go with Trouba, even though there is some risk of injury (and Yandle is an iron man). (july22)

 

2. Now Thatcher Demko has finally cracked the Canucks’ roster, he’s probably not getting as much attention in keeper leagues as he did when he was a recently drafted goaltending prospect. Believe it or not, Demko was drafted five years ago. That’s how long it can take to harvest a goalie, which is why they don’t always make the best keeper investments.

Demko won’t be the Canucks’ starter this season, as Jacob Markstrom’s game has improved under the tutelage of goaltending guru Ian Clark to the point where he can justify playing 60 games for the third consecutive season and it’s not because the Canucks have no one else to throw out there. After all, Markstrom was fourth in the NHL with 38 quality starts in 2018-19. If you don’t watch the Canucks on a regular basis, you might not have realized he was that good.

This is a situation worth watching, though, as Markstrom is in a contract year. There’s always the chance that the Canucks phase out Markstrom if he struggles and turn to Demko as the starter. If Markstrom is resigned by the Canucks, then that’s going to push Demko’s arrival time as a starter even further back. (july27)

 

3. A potential new-and-improved Avalanche second line includes Nazem Kadri centering Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi. With the Avs’ top line carrying the team in 2018-19, all three should receive a boost in value from a move from their old teams’ third lines. With that arrangement, Donskoi could very well crack the 40-point mark for the first time in his career, since it seems like he will receive more opportunity with his new team. At least we will find out what kind of player he is when he is not pushed down the lineup. Fantasy Take: Colorado Lands Donskoi (july27)

 

4. With a cap hit of $2.75 million per season, David Rittich will be earning exactly the same amount as newly-acquired Cam Talbot in 2019-20, which is a clear sign that the Flames’ goaltending situation will be a battle and could very well involve the two goalies splitting starts. Opinions seem to be mixed about whether Rittich can become the Flames’ full-time starter, as his first-half numbers were stronger than his second-half numbers.

For the Flames, this is a smart move. They’re not trusting him as much as the Oilers did when they handed Mikko Koskinen a larger extension after half a season. The contract tells Rittich that he has two years to prove himself as the starting goalie. Talbot’s contract is only for one year, so the Flames might be expecting either Jon Gillies or Tyler Parsons to fill that void in 2020-21.

Does this change my answer from yesterday about keeping Rittich over goalie prospects Thatcher Demko and Ilya Sorokin? (Before you chime in below, please read my original answer.) It doesn’t for the most part, though I would suggest to the owner that he attempt to find at least one more proven NHL-level goalie to help his team now, if he doesn’t have one already. I’m not sure if this is the case here, but one mistake I see with keeper teams is stockpiling too many prospects while the cupboard is bare when it comes to big-league options. That’s where I’m coming from here. (july28)

 

5. For commenter Braeden who inquired about Gillies, 2019-20 will be a make-or-break year for him. His contract morphs into a one-way deal, which means he will be paid the same amount ($750,000) at both the NHL and AHL level. Gillies might still be considered a prospect, but he was drafted back in 2012 and is now 25 years of age. If his AHL numbers don’t improve (3.51 GAA, .889 SV%), then don’t expect him to be back in the Flames’ organization in 2020-21. There are already some Flames’ fans who believe it is time to move on from him. (july28)

 

6. Tony DeAngelo seems like he’s been a prospect for a while, as he’s now 23 and just finished his first full NHL season. His power-play time was equivalent to second-unit in 2018-19, although 10 of his 30 points were scored on the man advantage. DeAngelo only got into 61 games in 2018-19, as he was at times healthy scratched by coach David Quinn, more often earlier in the season though.

DeAngelo should receive power-play time once again, although getting onto the first unit will become increasingly more difficult. Expect new golden boy Jacob Trouba to man the first unit, and don’t forget that the Rangers have also traded for Adam Fox, who was over a point-per-game scorer at Harvard. The Rangers also have Kevin Shattenkirk, who could potentially be traded or bought out now that the Rangers need to make a move to get under the salary cap.

Note that DeAngelo is also an RFA, so we’ll have to await his next contract while the Rangers sort out their cap issues. Shattenkirk or Brendan Smith could be bought out, while Chris Kreider or Vladislav Namestnikov could be traded. Since the Rangers’ situation is in flux and already seems somewhat crowded, and I need to make a decision soon, chances are I’m not going to wait on DeAngelo. There’s still considerable upside, so I could still decide to add him as a free agent in this league (it has something called a hometown discount to match any auction bids). (july28)

 

7. I know that the Islanders didn’t exactly upgrade their netminding by letting Robin Lehner sign with Chicago and signing Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract. This is a contract that may not age well for the Islanders; however, I’d rather wait to see how Varlamov will fare in a Barry Trotz/Mitch Korn system before declaring it a complete disaster. An under-the-radar reason for the Varlamov signing could also be to help lure fellow Russian Ilya Sorokin over to the NHL.

Whether I decide to keep Varlamov or not, I won’t be signing him beyond this coming season (as I mentioned yesterday, I have the option of retaining him for multiple years if I wish). The possibility of Sorokin signing with the Islanders could hurt Varlamov’s value. Varlamov isn’t necessarily in the clear this coming season either, as Thomas Greiss is still in the picture (2.27 GAA, .927 SV% in 2018-19). Greiss is under contract for one more season, although he could still be a Plan B for the Isles should Sorokin decide to take the rubles offered in Russia.

I wrote about Varlamov earlier this month, so I won’t go on any further. Cliffy also wrote a Fantasy Take on his signing with the Islanders. I probably like Varlamov in this spot more than a lot of others do and would be willing to give him at least a trial under the Islanders’ strong defensive system. (july28)

 

8. The 23-year-old Sorokin has dominated the KHL the past four seasons, posting a sub-2.00 GAA and minimum .929 SV% in each of those four seasons for powerhouse CSKA Moscow. Now imagine him in a Barry Trotz/Mitch Korn system. The results could be magical.

However, this is where I’m going to tell you not to keep Sorokin in this spot. He’s still under contract for one more season in the KHL. Even with that contract expiring, there’s no guarantee that he’ll sign an NHL contract, nor is there a guarantee that he’ll succeed in the NHL or even wrestle the starting job away from Varlamov (if you don’t believe me, look at the contract Varly signed). Sorokin’s a great keeper stash, but not that early – especially if he can’t help you this coming season. (july27)

 

9. Aside from that 51-point season, Justin Schultz has never reached 40 points in his career. Granted, he was on a 42-point pace last season, but he played in only 29 games because of a fractured leg. Having averaged only 46 games played over the past two seasons, Schultz’s main problem has been staying healthy. If he can stay in the lineup for a full season, then there’s some potential for something.

Without regular first-unit power-play time, however, Schultz doesn’t reach 51 points again. It’s important to note that Kris Letang played only 41 games that season, which resulted in Schultz receiving first-unit power-play minutes on a dilapidated defense. Schultz has demonstrated very recently that he can score at a 40-point pace, but that’s only if he can stay healthy for most of the season. He might be worth retaining on a roster with plenty of keepers, although it’s probably not worth it in my situation. (july27)

 

10. Phil Kessel is going to be one of the more fascinating players to discuss this offseason. He’s going from a team that scored the second-most goals in the NHL over the last three years to a team that scored the second-fewest goals in the NHL over the last three years. His production has been supported by an enormous 108 PPPs across 246 games, or 36 PPPs a season. To put that into context, the two highest PP producers for Arizona last year were Alex Galchenyuk and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who combined for 40 PPPs.

My current projection for Kessel, when adjusted for age, is 63.5 points, split across 21.1 goals and 42.4 assists. Considering he was nearly a point-per-game player over the last three years, it’s easy to see just how much a change in scoring environment and age can affect a player’s outlook.

Not to get all first-year philosophical on the readers, but to look ahead at what could be, we should look back at what has already happened.

The 2014-15 season was the year Toronto put their rebuild into high gear. They stripped down their team in an effort to accumulate high picks, a strategy that got them Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews in back-to-back seasons. But that 2014-15 team was real bad, managing just 206 goals and finishing 27th in the league. Arizona, by comparison, scored 209 in 2018-19. Considering scoring has gone up, that’s pretty bad, but it also gives us a gauge about what Kessel can give us, and in 2014-15, he managed 25 goals and 61 points.If Arizona is markedly better offensively in 2019-20 than they were in 2018-19, then there’s hope Kessel can be a 75-point guy, especially if he helps improve the power play. But a 32-year old Kessel is not a 27-year old Kessel so a lot of things would have to break right for him to get over 70 points. I don’t see him being worth the investment. (july26)


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11. Washington defenseman Christian Djoos was awarded $1.25M in arbitration for a one-year deal. My belief is that Djoos is a solid puck-moving defenseman but his issue is that Michal Kempny seems to be attached to John Carlson, which means Djoos would have to beat out Dmitry Orlov to get off the third pair. That seems unlikely right now, so it’ll be hard for Djoos to have much fantasy value.

 

12. Pavel Buchnevich provided a good deal of hype coming from the KHL where he was one of the more impressive U20 producers. He has battled inconsistency and the subsequent difficulties in gaining prime ice for the better part of his first three seasons. Last year, while failing to improve on his points-per-game mark, he began to show the production needed at even-strength to make a real run at being an impact player.

Buchnevich saw his power-play deployment dip by 45 seconds per contest but earned that back at even-strength. He also saw his offensive zone start percentage fall from 56 to 47 percent in 2018-19, indicating that he's finally earning some trust from the coaching staff. He scored a career-best 21 goals on a 17.6 conversion rate – a metric that is likely to fall. However, he has proven to be a capable and efficient finisher in the past, so somewhere in the low-teens appears like a safe estimate.

The true crux of his potential rise will be opportunity. While Kaapo Kakko is destined to be an all-world talent, he may not be fully ready to seize all the prime minutes and top defensive pairings that come with a first-line role. Enter Buchnevich who then would slot in as the team’s RW1. And with that comes a spot next to Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. He’ll then need to see if he can outlast Chris Kreider or Kakko for the same gig on PP1 – far from a lock, but we should likely see his PPTOI increase to two minutes per night.

If Buchnevich can maintain his health and his grip on a top-six role, he should be a prime candidate to breakout for over 50-points next season. (july24)

 

13. Jordan Kyrou likely won’t have the juice to be held onto in limited keeper leagues, but his long-term value should make him a very worthy candidate in deep leagues. He's a player who has had wild success at the junior level with Sarnia and with Canada at the U18 and U20 levels. Now he's making noise in the professional ranks.

While Kyrou began his pro career in St. Louis, the meat of the 2018-19 campaign took place in San Antonio of the American League. He concluded his season with 16 goals and 43 points in 47 games. That 0.91 points-per-game output sat third in the league for U21 players with at least 40 contests. Additionally, his 2.64 shots per game led his team. Also on a per-game basis, he was the team’s most effective special teams’ producer, recording five goals and 19 points on the man-advantage. This is all to say, he had a very successful first campaign in pro hockey.

The 2017-18 OHL Most Outstanding Player’s biggest weapon is his speed. He is one of the more gifted skaters in the world and that ability offers him opportunities all over the ice. It will also likely facilitate an NHL job before long. And while there isn’t a clear home for him in the Blues lineup next fall, his cheap contract coupled with the speedy, skilled game should be a welcomed addition to the bottom-six forward group. Long term, a spot beside a player like Robert Thomas in the top six will provide a secure home and a place to build some strong totals. (july24)

 

14. Colton Sissons is a realist. The 25-year-old just came off of a career-best 15 goals and 30 points and decided that was likely to be the high-water mark. Instead of taking a short term offer and pushing for greater heights, he and his agent accepted the Predators offer to lock him up to a seven-year contract at 2.857 million per.

I get the pros to Sissons. He’s a strong faceoff guy who specialized in defensive zone draws. And by specialized, I mean he absolutely lived in the defensive end of the rink. And did a good job too.

The Preds clearly feel that Sissons could continue to develop as a player and provide serious value. However, providing such term to a bottom-six defensive specialist you reduce your roster freedom. You limit the ability for a young player on an entry-level contract to push up into that spot and provide similar value for even more cost-effectiveness. Detroit has shown us that it’s not an overly successful recipe when they gave players like Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm seven and five-year deals respectively.

I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising that it was David Poile pulling off this move. He gave Calle Jarnkrok 6x2M a few years ago. He also banked on a young Roman Josi with a 7x4M. The latter ended up being spectacular, but the upside was also far greater with the Swiss defender. 

 

15. Need to cut three:

Brent Burns, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Vladimir Tarasenko, Mark Scheifele, Viktor Arvidsson, Andrei Svechnikov, John Gibson, Alex Radulov, Kris Letang, Oscar Klefbom.

It seems obvious to cut Klefbom. I won’t spoil the surprise as to why, but I do think the power-play blueline now belongs to Darnell Nurse (I discuss it at length in the August 1st Dobber Guide). It also seems obvious to cut Letang. While I don’t like keeping just one defenseman out of eight, and he can be great when healthy, Letang has averaged 60 games a season over the last six years and is 32 years old. Even if I could get 70 games, I would probably keep him. He just misses far too much time and because I have Burns, it allows me to be a little more wiggle room with which defensemen I draft/keep.

The automatic keepers, as I see it, are Burns, Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Gibson, Tarasenko, and Scheifele. That leaves us a decision to cut one of Radulov, Arvidsson, or Svechnikov. (july23)

 

16. There may not be a more frustrating player to own in fantasy hockey than Viktor Arvidsson, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Arvidsson’s 82-game paces over the last three years are as follows: 35.7 goals, 28.9 assists, 3.2 shots per game, eight power play points. Let’s repeat that last one: the guy who averages 36 goals and 66 points every 82 games does so while getting fewer than 10 PPPs.

The frustration is borne out of longing for Arvy’s true ceiling. Any guesses on how many players managed 65 points in 2018-19 while also getting single-digit power-play points? None. Zero. The closest was Pierre-Luc Dubois with 61 points and nine PPPs. Even with a 60-point threshold, Dubois was the only player with single-digit PPPs. And Arvidsson has averaged over 65 points per 82 games for three years.

Matt Duchene was added in the offseason and it brings a similar situation as Pavelski in Dallas. Surely, Duchene will improve the power play. But at the same time, the Predators can now spread Arvidsson, Johansen, Forsberg, and Duchene across two lines. Over the last three years, Arvidsson has spent over 53 percent of his five-on-five TOI as part of a Big Three line. That Big Three line scored 3.6 goals per 60 minutes, which is a monster number. When Arvidsson skated without Forsberg and Johansen, he was on the ice for 3.7 goals (a number supported by inflated shooting percentages). That’s about 75 percent of Arvidsson’s 5v5 time at elite scoring rates. Presumably, if they’re split up, each of the top two lines won’t score 3.6-3.7 goals per 60 minutes. Would the anticipated decline in production emanating from the Big Three minutes be offset by improved scoring in the remaining 25 percent as well as (hopeful) improvement on the PP? That is the question to wrestle with. (july23)

 

17. Zach Aston-Reese has 23 points in 59 career NHL games, most of which has been spent in Pittsburgh’s bottom-6. ZAR is interesting because if he can get regular minutes with Malkin or Crosby, he won’t need a lot of production for fantasy relevance; the guy has 193 hits and 43 blocked shots in those 59 games, playing 13 minutes a night. Imagine what he could do in 80 games with 15 minutes a night? The Penguins came to terms with him last week to the tune of a two-year contract worth $1M annually. (july23)

 

18. Tyson Jost or Nolan Patrick? Patrick all day long. I’m not seeing a lot out of Jost yet and think he’ll top out as a second-liner. I’m still confident in Patrick getting to the first line. (july22)

 

19. Adam Boqvist or Bowen Byram? This is very tough but I would prefer to have Byram. I think the wait time is the same. Upside is probably damn close. But I think Byram gets to those nice fantasy numbers sooner. (july22)

 

20. Regular readers of my Ramblings know that Kevin Labanc is a ‘Dobber Darling’. Ever since he was a prospect. His steady year-over-year points-per-game number is a beautiful thing. He’s going to keep going and I think he’ll be a first-liner in two to three years. (july22)

 

21. I love Cory Schneider as a buy-low opportunity. I only like for this year, and year-by-year going forward. He finished strong last season and now the Devils are a much better team. (july22)

 

Have a good week, folks!!