Eastern Edge – Not your Typical Second Liners

by Eric Daoust on June 28, 2016
  • Eastern Edge
  • Eastern Edge – Not your Typical Second Liners
Jack Eichel - USA TODAY Sports Images

 

A closer look at a few secondary scorers to target in fantasy drafts …

 

In the fantasy hockey world, secondary scorers play an important role. While they usually do not produce at the same level as bigger-name stars, getting the most out of them is essential in separating your team from your fiercest league rivals. This is made more difficult by the wide range of point totals we see from these players. With the team’s top players played to their strengths and receiving top-level ice time, this can come at the expense of those lower on the depth chart.

There are many factors that will greatly influence these second-line players. As with most players, overall ice time and opportunities on the power play are key. Zone starts also play a role in some instances, especially when good two-way forwards play in difficult situations, freeing up others to play in more offensive situations. An underrated factor is injuries throughout the lineup. When the team’s depth thins out, secondary players could be left with weak linemates which evidently has a negative impact on the score sheet. On the other hand, injuries can also help new players rise to fantasy-relevance.

As mentioned last week in the Wild West, David Krejci and Evgeny Kuznetsov are extreme examples of players not on their respective team’s top line but produce like stars. Today, we will look at other examples of secondary scorers set up for success throughout the Eastern Conference. The goal is to look at these players and find which factors help them find success. This will help identify similar situations in the future.

 

Jack Eichel – Buffalo

Last year’s second-overall pick had a very successful rookie campaign with 56 points. In addition to his immense talent, the Sabres did well to surround Eichel with sufficient offensive players to put him in a position to succeed out of the gate. The top acquisition was Ryan O’Reilly, one of the better two-way centers in the league. O’Reilly logged a ton of minutes and was deployed more in defensive situations (47 percent zone starts) which allowed Eichel (53 percent) to play a more sheltered role.

Even though he is listed as the Sabres’ second-line center, Eichel still logged more than 19 minutes per game including an average of three minutes on the power play. This gave the rookie plenty of time to pick up points while his top-unit power-play assignment put him out there with the team’s best players.

There is a possibility the Sabres could make a splash this summer including their attempt to land star free-agent Steven Stamkos. If the team were to acquire a big name, Eichel would not be pushed down the depth chart. He has golden boy status and will always have good linemates whenever possible. In fact, landing someone at the level of Stamkos would bolster the Sabres’ power play where, as mentioned, Eichel is a fixture.

 

Marcus Johansson – Washington

Johansson’s 46-point effort marked the fourth consecutive year with a full schedule that he finished between 44 and 47 points. While the point total itself does not jump out, the consistency is impressive. Aiding his production in a secondary role is his offensive-zone starts which was about 56 percent. Helping make this possible is Niklas Backstrom (49 percent) and his linemates hovering around the 50-percent mark.

However, the biggest factor in Johansson’s success is his role on the power play, where he notched 14 points this year while playing on the top unit. In fact, he has a combined 49 power-play points over the last three years. Although the output is impressive and helps his value in offense-heavy, multi-category leagues, it makes Johansson a risk to own. If the ideal role on the power play disappears, things could get ugly.

Making matters worse is the emergence of Andre Burakovsky who has found great chemistry with Kuznetsov. In Johansson’s line combinations below we see a lot of time spent on the Capitals’ third line with Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. If this continues next year Johansson will have trouble continuing his string of consistency on the scoresheet.

 

Victor Rask – Carolina

In Rask’s second NHL campaign, he improved his point total by nearly 50 percent. He has been deployed pretty heavily in scoring situations since entering the league, including 57 percent of his zone starts in the offensive end this year. With Jordan Staal (43 percent) on the roster and very capable of playing tough defensive situations, Rask’s utilization should stay offensively tilted moving forward.

One concern is a lack of quality linemates available, as the Hurricanes do not possess a strong group of forwards. Rask’s most frequent linemates this year were Jeff Skinner, who had a nice bounce-back season but is inconsistent, and the unproven Phillip Di Giuseppe. However, with Eric Staal now out of the mix, Rask is now the team’s top offensive center and has one fewer obstacle in his way competing for positioning on the depth chart.

A significant part of Rask’s success came on the power play where he achieved 18 points this year while averaging 2:37 per game with the man advantage. Excluding the departed Staal, Rask is the most utilized forward in this situation. This bodes well for his future because he will likely get the best available linemates as the go-to option.

 

Sam Reinhart – Buffalo

A long-term injury to Tyler Ennis helped Reinhart establish himself in the Sabres’ top six on the right side as a rookie. As mentioned, the Sabres had the likes of O’Reilly, Brian Gionta and Jamie McGinn finish well below the 50-percent mark in offensive zone starts which enabled their young talent to be put in better situations to produce offense and gain confidence in the NHL.

In addition to constantly lining up on one of the top two lines, Reinhart saw heavy minutes on the power play and was often on the top unit. Here he produced 11 of his 42 points. This could take a hit if the Sabres bring one or more big-name forwards this summer, as Reinhart could be bumped while Eichel and O’Reilly keep their spots.

As for Ennis, his untimely injury could also prove to be disastrous on the ice. Reinhart’s solid rookie year and draft status as a former second overall pick gives him priority for a spot on the top power-play unit. Once thought to be in line for the first 50-point season of his career, Ennis might have to be moved to a different team to finally reach the mark.

 

Justin Williams – Washington

After producing 40 and 43 points in his final two years in Los Angeles, Williams reached the 50-point mark in his first year in Washington. Again, with Backstrom’s line taking on some of the faceoffs in the defensive zone, the Capitals’ secondary forwards are better able to produce with Williams’ starts in the offensive zone finishing at 55 percent. Additionally, while Williams only averaged about two minutes per game on the power play, he lined up semi-frequently on the top unit with Alexander Ovechkin.

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty with Williams moving forward. He will be 35 when the new season starts in October and everything went so well for the Capitals this year. Maintaining such a high level of play for another campaign will be nearly impossible and some point totals will suffer as a result. Not to mention, the battle between Burakovsky and Johansson for top-six minutes could also extend to Williams if one of the young forwards can shift to the right side. While this is far from being a sure bet, if Williams starts showing some signs of age the team will have to take action.

 

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