This week’s fantasy hockey cage match: Anisimov vs. Matthias.
Post-hype sleeper is a term you don’t hear often in fantasy hockey (it’s more of a fantasy baseball term) but I feel like it’s a term every poolie should get acquainted with regardless of his fantasy sport of choice. The reason is that the post-hype sleeper is quite possibly the best bang for your buck you can find. For instance, if you were patient or savvy enough to acquire any of Sam Gagner, Nazem Kadri or Jakub Voracek you’d have landed yourself a player far exceeding his projections and his draft slot if only because some of the shine had worn off because of exposure. These guys pop up every year though – after disappointing us for years they finally “get it” and produce. Joffrey Lupul and Blake Wheeler were two fine examples from last year and if you still aren’t convinced that the post-hype sleeper is a real thing well then I guess you can just keep on hitting the snooze button. This week’s Cage Match features two such post-hype sleepers, Artem Anisimov vs. Shawn Matthias.
Like any good post-hype sleeper Anisimov has been on our radar for quite some time. He popped up in 2007-08 like any good Russian prospect will when he leaves the KHL to apprentice in the AHL. And when Anisimov scored 81 points in 80 AHL games in just his second season in North America the hype machine started to churn. Anisimov has been slow in adapting to the NHL game but all that potential is still clearly there as indicated by his KHL showing during the lockout earlier this year (29 points in 36 games) and at just 24 years old he’s hardly too old to take his game up another notch.
The big thing for Anisimov (and really any young player) is getting the opportunity to demonstrate what he can do. This isn’t to criticize the idea of bringing a prospect along slowly but rather to criticize the way we can write off a player prematurely simply because a team has seemingly pegged him as a third-liner. Anisimov was most certainly brought along slowly by the Rangers after two years in the AHL Anisimov was brought up to the NHL for good but saw only sparse minutes. He saw an increase in minutes as a sophomore but that stagnated last season, which was a major reason he was written off. He caught a big break getting dealt to the Blue Jackets where he could start fresh and where the battle for ice time would be wide open. He is now seeing career highs in ice time:
Total Ice Time
Power Play Time
Those ice time numbers have gone up even further since the deadline trade made by Columbus that brought Marian Gaborik to town and opened things up even further down the middle by trading Derrick Brassard. What’s more, Anisimov has struck linemate gold since the trade deadline as he has been Gaborik’s most frequent linemate in Columbus per Frozen Pool:
|45.33%||EV||42 ANISIMOV,ARTEM – 10 GABORIK,MARIAN – 22 PROSPAL,VACLAV|
|16.82%||EV||42 ANISIMOV,ARTEM – 13 ATKINSON,CAM – 11 CALVERT,MATTHEW|
|7.01%||PP||42 ANISIMOV,ARTEM – 10 GABORIK,MARIAN – 22 PROSPAL,VACLAV|
It is entirely possible that this has simply been a ploy by the Jackets’ coaching staff to help Gaborik get comfortable in his first few games in Columbus by pairing him with a former teammate and that they don’t actually intend to keep the two together over the long term. After all, even with Brassard gone the Blue Jackets still have some solid depth up the middle with the likes of Mark Letestu, Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky. Johansen is the real threat, as a former top-five draft pick and golden boy of the organization Johansen will seemingly be given every opportunity to succeed but so far the Blue Jackets have been patient with him. A training camp battle could emerge but Anisimov’s advanced age and familiarity with Gaborik could give him a leg up until Johansen is truly ready. This could mean a breakout 60-point type season for Anisimov.
Anisimov is by no means a world beater but he has skills, particularly his size, and as he learns to better use them to his advantage he will continue to become more of an offensive threat. There’s absolutely no reason not to look at Anisimov as a nice sleeper for next season, even with Johansen looming. The silver lining if Johansen does overtake Anisimov is that the Blue Jackets actually have some intriguing depth with the likes of Matt Calvert and Cameron Atkinson having formed an intriguing second line with Anisimov prior to the Gaborik addition. If Anisimov loses out on the Gaborik sweepstakes a reprisal of this line could still pay dividends, especially when one considers how solid the Blue Jackets’ blue line is from top to bottom. That blue line should help them score despite Gaborik being their lone star up front.
Matthias has been on our radar just as long as Anisimov has. He was selected in the second round of the 2006 draft just seven picks before Anisimov but what really made him popular was the team that drafted him. The Red Wings took Matthias with their second pick (47th overall) that year but would eventually deal him to the Florida Panthers for Todd Bertuzzi, which gave Matthias the distinction of being one of the lone prospects the Red Wings have ever truly given up on and for a while that looked like a poor decision as Matthias would go on to light up the OHL and play for Canada at the 2008 World Juniors.
After that the Panthers rushed Matthias to the NHL as they are wont to do with prospects but stifled by the jump in competition he bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL for a few years before finally sticking as a depth player on the Panthers’ miracle Southeast Division win last season. This season he has made even further strides and a big reason for that is opportunity.
Matthias stumbled out of the gates this season with just eight points through his first 23 games looking every bit the third-liner the Panthers were treating him as skating him just 13:58 with less than a minute of power play time per game.
Since Weiss was ruled out for the remainder of the reason those figures have spiked. He is now skating 17:02 per game with a minute of power play time. The increased ice time has resulted in a similar spike in numbers as Matthias has scored nine goals and 13 points over his last 16 games. It is important not to get too caught up in those numbers as the sample size is small and Matthias is scoring on an unsustainable 22.5% of his shots over that stretch but it’s impossible not to see the correlation between production and ice time and not get a little bit intrigued by the possibilities.
Like with Anisimov the big question will be whether or not Matthias can hold onto these minutes long term. The Panthers just signed top prospect Nick Bjugstad to an NHL contract and he has already made his NHL debut. It’s hard not to see Bjugstad as the number one center at some point down the road. The Panthers have also introduced rookie centerman Drew Shore to the lineup this season and he has impressed. Furthermore, the Panthers still intend to re-sign top centerman Stephen Weiss despite his UFA status this summer. With all three in tow it’s hard to see where Matthias could possibly lineup, especially when you consider he is currently being passed over on the top line in favour of Tomas Kopecky.
Of course, in Florida getting passed over for the top line might be a good thing. It currently consists of Kopecky flanked by Tomas Fleischmann and a rotating cast of right wingers (mostly Marcel Goc of late who actually plays center in that configuration). Meanwhile, Matthias’ role as second line center has been much cosier as he is flanked by super rookie Jonathan Huberdeau and fellow post-hype sleeper Peter Mueller but the lack of power play time is disconcerting. Without more power play time Matthias is at risk of losing what traction he has gained this season.
It is a positive that Matthias is shooting at the highest pace of his career (2.23 SOG/game) and is scoring a lot in spite of his minimal power play time but eventually a player needs to get those easy power play opportunities to avoid falling into too deep of a slump. Right now, even Kopecky is keeping Matthias from prime power play minutes so how is he going to surpass the likes of Bjugstad and Weiss?
This one definitely favours Anisimov as he has seemingly just the one hurdle (Johansen) to overcome on his way to pay dirt and he skates on a team that is better built to compete now, with a particularly strong back end. The Panthers aren’t quite as far along in their rebuild despite last season’s playoff berth and their tremendous farm system is stronger up front than on the blue line so there are many more obstacles to Matthias’ emergence. He may need to find a new team as a pro just like Anisimov has in Columbus but one cannot count on such things when making decisions. So go with Anisimov if faced with this decision but remember that the point of the post-hype sleeper is that you should be able to acquire them for cheap so don’t over-extend yourself because of the hope of a breakout.
BONUS: Five more post-hype sleepers to think about:
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