In most of my fantasy leagues, I am known as a guy who places a premium on defensemen. This week, I’ll try to see if the pace of some of the defenders from the Eastern Conference can sustain their early season pace or are destined to take a step back.
The Penguins’ hard-luck defender was on pace for a 68-point season last year before succumbing to a herniated disc in his neck that ultimately required surgery. Letang hadn’t played since February 21, so it wasn’t too surprising to see him open with no points in his first couple of games back this season. In his last three contests, he has four points. Of all defenders thus far, only Alex Pietrangelo (28) has more shots on goal than Letang (24).
Pittsburgh’s opening games weren’t exactly against easy opponents: Chicago, Nashville, Washington, Tampa Bay and then Florida. The only thing holding Letang back from being a top-three fantasy defenseman is the seemingly endless ways he finds himself on the injured reserve list.
I keep thinking the rookie is going to get exposed, but coach Hynes is protecting him at regular strength and Butcher keeps on producing with five of his eight points coming via the man advantage. He has three multi-point efforts in those five contests and hasn’t finished a game as a minus yet, another good sign.
His first three matches were against teams that might be a little easier to score against (Avs, Sabres, Leafs), but the last two games have come against the Capitals and Rangers. Butcher’s ice time has ranged from 12:45 to 19:02 minutes and he leads all Devils in power-play ice time, averaging 4:04 minutes per game, but Damon Severson is close on his heels at 3:50 minutes. It’s interesting that 11 players on New Jersey are averaging over 3:00 minutes per game with the man advantage.
I’m a little closer to buying into Butcher continuing to roll, but I can see him ultimately settling into a 40-point pace in his rookie campaign, which would be a fantastic start to his NHL career and a higher debut than I thought possible.
I know Couturier isn’t a defenseman, but he might as well be with the way he plays. It’s hard to believe that the 24-year-old is in his seventh NHL campaign. He’s been so responsible, maybe even pigeon-holed, as a shutdown center, that it has worked against him with respect to his fantasy numbers. What’s different this year, is that he’s playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
Couturier has six points in five games and while he is getting second unit power play minutes, he has yet to register a point with the man advantage this season. He was tied for the second-best plus/minus in the NHL at plus-8. In the 2015-16 season, he was on pace for a 51-point season with 39 points in 63 games. It looks as if that line will stay intact for the foreseeable future, which means that Couturier will have a legitimate shot at hitting the 40-point mark for the first time in his NHL career.
With Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly in the fold, I wasn’t expecting Zaitsev to lead the Maple Leafs defensemen in points. He’s got five points in as many contests, sports a sweet plus-8 and is tied for sixth in blocked shots. There’s one huge problem though – he doesn’t log any appreciable power play minutes. Both Gardiner and Rielly average over three minutes more ice time per game with the man advantage than Zaitsev.
Toronto is deploying Zaitsev as the first pairing on the penalty kill. Combine the lack of power play time with his 5:35 short-handed minutes per game and that doesn’t bode well for his points output. He tops out at 35 points.
It feels like we’ve been waiting forever for the 23-year-old Maattaaaaaaaa (sorry, my keyboard sticks on the letter A) to follow up on his nine-goal, 29-point rookie season way back in 2013-14.
I’m not buying his six points in six games, even though he has a four-game point streak currently on the go. The reason? Maatta is only logging bottom pairing minutes and mop up duty with the man advantage, although he does have a pair of power-play points. With Letang and Justin Schultz ahead of him when it comes to playing in offensive situations, it will take another Letang extended injury for Maatta to hit even the 25-point mark, but what are the odds of that happening? (*crickets*)
Little known fact - his name actually gets easier to spell the more you type it. The Flyers blueliner is off to a fantastic start this year with eight points in his first five matches. There was some discussion, at least in fantasy circles, about whether or not it would be Ghost or Provorov getting the lion’s share of the power play duties. This is where Provorov’s all-around prowess works against him in fantasy hockey.
Gostisbehere receives nearly double the power play ice time per game and next to nothing on the penalty kill. Provorov leads the Flyers in overall ice time and is far and away the leader when it comes to short-handed minutes.
In his rookie season, Ghost surprised the hockey world by scoring 17 goals and 46 points in only 64 games, a 59-point pace. His sophomore campaign was a slightly disappointing 39-point effort. He should continue to build off his great start and it wouldn’t surprise me if he surpasses 50 points when all is said and done come April.
Thanks for reading.
Catch up on more Eastern Edge columns here.
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