Cage Match Tournament: Most Sustainable Breakout Age 25+

by Rick Roos on December 20, 2017

Here is the second of the winter Cage Match Tournaments! Be sure to vote using the link at the bottom of this article. 

Welcome back to the second of three winter Cage Match tournaments! Last week your votes anointed Nathan MacKinnon as the player under age 25 whose higher than expected scoring is most likely to represent his “new normal.” This week we shift to the 25+ crowd, where, due to their age, breakouts are more unexpected and, with that, even more questions are raised about how sustainable they might be. That’s where, once again, your votes will come in. You’ll decide which of these players can sustain (if not improve upon) their current production rate not just for the rest of this season but at least the next few seasons to come.

Here’s a link to last week’s column where I covered what players aren’t included as voting choices (of relevance this week, no goalies and no forwards who’d scored 75+ points in a prior season or d-men who’d posted 50+ at least once previously) and how to base your vote (sustainability is the key, and you can factor in their age, contract status, Ice Time, depth chart on their teams, etc.) And remember, since readers will be looking to the poll results for guidance, try to be objective. In other words, don’t decide your vote(s) based on personal views of players or whether they’re helping/hurting your fantasy team. Consider each player based on the totality of his present – and likely future – circumstances to hone in on the best choice(s).

How Voting Will Work

Each player is put in a scoring pace category which roughly coincides with what he’d finish with if he maintained his current scoring output. And next to each player I’ve included his previous single season career best, noting where necessary if it was in a lower number of games than would otherwise be apparent. The voting polls will allow for multiple selections, which means you should vote for any and all players you think will retain their designated scoring pace for 2017-18 and at least the next couple of seasons. So vote for one player, a couple of players, a bunch of players, or even all of them if you think each and every one will in fact sustain their designated scoring pace this season and the next few.

All voting will again take place in the Hockey Hockey Hockey Hockey area of the DobberHockey Forums. I’ll put a direct link to this week’s poll at the end of the column. But without further ado, here are your choices for the week two tournament – players age 25 or older for whom you’re deciding whether their current scoring pace is their “new normal.”


Josh Bailey (Previous career high = 56 points)

Drafted ninth overall nearly a decade ago after a 96-point junior campaign, Bailey jumped right into the NHL and………proceeded to do next to nothing of note for his first few seasons. Then in recent years he’d get chances to play with John Tavares, and either wouldn’t produce or would do so in spurts before getting pushed aside. But last season things clicked, and Bailey remained within the top six – mainly with Tavares – all season, and posted 59 points. What’s he doing for an encore? Just finding himself in the top ten in league scoring! And although his IPP and team shooting percentage metrics are higher than would seem sustainable, they’re not far off what they were last season, so just maybe he’s a true late bloomer and can stay in point-per-game territory for the entire campaign and foreseeable future.

Sean Couturier (Previous career high = 39 points in 63 games)

Like Bailey, Couturier also was a former top-ten pick who posted 96 points in his final junior campaign (his final two, actually), so he too has a scoring pedigree. The question is whether the Flyers will keep him in his newfound role of top line center, and resist the temptation to have him go back to the second or third line role – matched against the other team’s toughest lines – he occupied for the first 400+ games of his career. There’s also the fact that his 2017-18 IPP and team shooting % numbers are the highest of his career. But Couturier hasn’t looked at all out of place in this new role, including, most importantly, on the power play, so we just might indeed be seeing the dawning of a new, sustainable chapter in Couturier’s career. Click here to read the recent Cage Match on Couturier.

Anders Lee (Previous career high = 52 points)

Also covered in a recent Cage Match, I pegged Lee as unlikely to be able to keep up his current pace, likening him to a “mule” type player like Patric Hornqvist or, previously, Johan Franzen and Erik Cole. They are/were forwards who receive(d) top deployment but weren’t able to be consistent 70+ scorers because they didn’t get enough assists and, in most cases, also were plagued by injuries. With each passing game at his current pace, however, Lee is making believers out of more and more poolies. And maybe he might end up being a mule who can also put up big numbers, ala Cam Neely, John LeClair, or Dave Andreychuk. Still, with a history of low IPP, including this season, and a team shooting percentage that’s still above 12% for 2017-18, objective data suggests Lee is unlikely to sustain this pace.

Jonathan Marchessault (Previous career high = 51 points)

Last year Marchessault seized upon an opening when Jonathan Huberdeau went down due to injury; and although there he slowed once he was pushed out of the top six picture, his spot on a scoring line is plenty safe in Vegas. Yet what we don’t know is if he’d have slowed last year too even if he stayed in the top six – in other words, is he, in fact, a player capable of top performance over the long haul of a season, or merely a fast starter who slows down amid the wear and tear of 82 games? With a team shooting percentage of 10% but an IPP that’s in line with last year, Marchessault’s output for 2017-18 might just be able to hold steady.

Brayden Schenn (Previous career high = 59 points)

Early on poolies might have figured it was Jaden Schwartz and Vladamir Tarasenko who were elevating Schenn and helping pad his points; however, as we near the hallway mark of the season Schenn still is above point-per-game pace despite being recently separated from Tarasenko at even strength and Schwartz going down due to injury. So that means we should lock in Schenn for 80+ points? Maybe not, as let’s not forget he scored at a point-per-game pace in the second half of 2015-16. Beyond that, his team shooting percentage has been 10-12% all season and his IPP is has been above 70%, which marks the first time that’s ever been the case for him. Then again we have to wonder if Schenn had this in him all along, and was unable to show his true talent in Philadelphia due to being deployed either as a wing (not his natural position) or a center with subpar linemates.

Jaden Schwartz (Previous career high = 63 points in 75 games)

Unlike Schenn, Schwartz had consistent success in the past, just not at this level. When I profiled him in an early season cage match, I noted that although his scoring in 2016-17 didn’t rise above previous levels, there were signs in terms of Ice Time and IPP which showed he might be turning a corner. Sure enough this season he’s been playing well above point-per-game pace. Yes – he has the same red flag in terms of team shooting percentage as Schenn, but not IPP, where Schwartz has a better track record. The true test though will be when he returns from injury, as after missing a large chunk of 2015-16 Schwartz’s production was unremarkable. Plus, by then the Blues might have settled into new lines that won’t leave room for Schwartz to be slotted alongside Schenn and/or Vladimir Tarasenko.


Evander Kane (Previous career high = 57 points in 74 games)

We haven’t seen this level of production from Kane since his career best in 2011-12. And poolies who drafted Kane in one-year leagues probably aren’t surprised, since 2011-12 marked the last campaign where he was playing for a new contract, like he is this season. Since then it’s been by and large injuries, disappointment, and seemingly wasted talent season after season. Yet if anything, his output in that 2011-12 season makes it all the more likely he’ll be able to maintain his current scoring pace for the remainder of 2017-18. You can – forgive the pun – take that to the bank.

Gabriel Landeskog (Previous career high = 65 points)

While Landeskog’s prior high in points is closer to the 70-point mark than any of the others in the section, I think he deserves inclusion because since that 65-point season his points total had dropped in three straight campaigns, first to 59 points, then to 53, then last season all the way to 33. But like teammate (and frequent linemate) MacKinnon, Landeskog has looked rejuvenated this season. What’s more, his IPP, which was always a strong point even amid his struggles, is the lowest it’s been in any full season and his ice times both at even strength and on the PP are back up to his previous level, so that signifies he could even up his scoring total, or at least keep it where it is if his team shooting percentage (which is nearing 11%) comes back down to earth somewhat.

Vladislav Namestnikov (Previous career high = 35 points)

Couturier’s opponent in that recent Cage Match, like Couturier Namestnikov’s rock solid line placement from the first quarter of the season has recently been broken up; but in the case of Namestnikov, that has arguably more consequences since he was playing alongside top two scorers in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Plus, whereas Couturier has been picking up power-play time as the season rolled along, Namestnikov has been shedding it in some games of late. The other concern is that to go along with a team shooting percentage which has been at or above 10% all season, Namestnikov has a low IPP. But it’s not just low this season – it’s been low his entire career. Although that means it has room to go up, it also signifies that Namestnikov might be too much of a floater to factor in scoring enough to post a 70-point season. Then again, with his role on this team, merely showing up might be enough.

Mathieu Perreault (Previous career high = 45 points in 65 games)

Many poolies figured Perreault would be the odd man out when it came to ice time in Winnipeg, what with all their other options. Yet once again he started the season in the top six and on PP1; and after returning from injury, he performed well briefly in the bottom six before being reinserted right back into a top role. Perreault is seemingly like an older version of Brayden Point – a solid player who finds success wherever he’s slotted. As for the outlook for the rest of this season, the questions are whether he can finally manage to stay healthy enough to play 70 games, and if his IPP, which has room to rise based on past season’s numbers, will be enough to balance his team shooting percentage, which is likely to decrease due to being above 10% for most of the season and recently near 12%.

David Perron (Previous career high = 57 points)

By now most poolies had likely written off Perron as an NHL journeyman whose best days were behind him, what with the Golden Knights being his sixth team (counting St. Louis twice) since 2013. In short, when he was dealt to Vegas, it felt like the last stop, at just age 29, for a once promising player. But much like others in Vegas, Perron has taken to his role and put up impressive numbers thus far, albeit with a team shooting percentage above 12% and an IPP which, although not unprecedented, hasn’t been seen from him since 2013-14. Then again, Perron has pretty much no challengers to his role and ice time, and seems to be playing with heart and skill, so he might have what it takes to keep up this scoring pace.

Mats Zuccarello (Previous career high = 61 points)

Normally mister consistency – with between 59 and 61 points in three of his last four seasons – when it comes to production, and despite turning 30 earlier this year, it looks like Zuccarello might have reached another scoring gear this season thanks to the somewhat more opened up Rangers offense. But can his higher scoring pace be sustained? On the one hand he’s receiving essentially the same ice time at even strength and on the PP as he did in his 59-61 point campaigns, yet his team shooting percentage and IPP are both lower than normal despite his uptick in production, suggesting he could indeed taste 70 points for the first time in his career.


Erik Haula (Previous career high = 34 points)

If you’re sensing a common theme this week, Haula is yet another case of a forward who, deservedly or not, was somewhat pigeonholed by his previous team; but with the Golden Knights his roles and responsibilities have expanded and he’s seizing upon the opportunity by producing. Now taking the ice for half his team’s time with the man advantage, up from single digits with the Wild, but less than 10% of its time on the PK, down from 25-50% in each of the past three seasons, it’s easy to see why Haula’s production has skyrocketed. He too has a somewhat elevated team shooting percentage, but an IPP which is lower than it was in two of his four seasons; thus, much like his teammates there’s a compelling case to be made that Haula can keep up his scoring level throughout 2017-18 and even beyond.

Nick Leddy (Previous career high = 46 points)

It seemed like every season poolies would reluctantly grab Leddy in drafts, hoping that a young prospect wouldn’t displace him on PP1 and he’d put up stats like a grade B version of a Drew Doughty or Ryan Suter. But a funny thing seems to have happened along the way – Leddy morphed into a genuine #1 rearguard, now complete with the points to go along with the role. With his scoring having gone from 37, to 40, to 46 in the past three seasons, and luck-metrics that aren’t off the charts, we might be seeing this year’s version of a Victor Hedman type of breakout, in which case Leddy should coast to 60 points when all is said and done for 2017-18.

Jason Zucker (Previous career high = 47 points)

Might Zucker be the second coming of Brad Marchand, namely a player who had plenty of top-six opportunities but never got a regular PP shift until it became clear, in his mid-20s, that he possessed enough talent to be an all-around star? More and more the answer is starting to look like yes, as the Zucker from seasons past, who’d get red hot for a while then ice cold, and who never skated for even 20% of his team’s power-play time in any season, is now seeing regular power-play duty and seems poised to continue his early season scoring ways, as although his team shooting percentage is above 10% it was actually even higher last season and twice before had been more than 9%, and his IPP has been inching upward for two previous seasons.

Link to Cast Your Vote(s)

To vote in the Tournament, click here. Remember – you can vote for as many players as you want. While you’re voting, be sure to post a comment on which player(s) you voted for a why, since my hope is this Tournament will be as useful for fantasy purposes as it is enjoyable. See you next week for the third winter Cage Match tournament!


3 responses to “Cage Match Tournament: Most Sustainable Breakout Age 25+”

  1. starz31 says:

    How would you view Lee for ROS this season-only? I understand he’s going to come back to Earth but with the team’s and his line’s success, he should be productive ROS, likely better than last year. He had a terrible slow start last year, 2 points in his first 18 games, but then scored 50 points in 63 games.

    As a prospective buyer, looking at an owner who is trying to sell-high, I still see an opportunity to upgrade my offense, just not going to overpay for him.

    • Rick Roos says:

      The answer is you can’t buy from a sell high Lee owner because at best you break even. Look for bargains instead. I know it will sound like I’m shilling for the site, but buy the midseason guide when it comes out – there will be all sorts of advice in there to help you.

      • starz31 says:

        I understand. In my league setting, draft picks can be included in trades so to me, that lowers any risk. I really don’t mind “paying high” if I acquire an asset that is an improvement over what I currently have and what I’m sending away.

        I was in talks to move Muzzin plus a high pick to acquire Lee, but I have since soured anyways because of some of the concerns. Lee’s play is unsustainable right now, but that said, this line and team will have success the ROS, it’s just a matter of not overpaying. I would rather use that same pick and include a lesser player to acquire a different asset.