Cage Match: Elias Lindholm vs. Andre Burakovsky

by Rick Roos on September 21, 2016

Who is the better fantasy own – Elias Lindholm or Andre Burakovsky? Why both players are better than you think…

 

With only three weeks left until the pucks drop on the 2016-17 regular season, poolies are increasingly facing tough decisions, including whether to keep (or when to draft) players who seem poised to succeed but have yet to truly shine. With that in mind, this week’s match is between Elias Lindholm and Andre Burakovsky –21 year olds who’ve already combined to play 353 NHL games but whose futures are still difficult to nail down. Fortunately Cage Match is here to determine who’ll be the better fantasy own in 2016-17 and beyond, so let’s get started!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

Lindholm was selected 5th overall in 2013, playing 58 games that same season and posting 21 points, with nine coming in his final 20 contests. If that didn’t whet the appetite of poolies, Lindholm nearly doubling his output (to 39 points) in his second season certainly did. Plus, he ended that sophomore campaign on a high note too, with 19 points in his final 33 contests. But 2015-16 saw Lindholm spin his wheels, as although Carolina scored 7% more goals versus 2014-15, his points were stuck at 39. There’s a silver lining in that Lindholm managed only one point in his first 16 games last season, which means he posted 38 in his final 66 games (47 point full season pace).

Burakovsky’s name was called 18 spots after Lindholm’s in 2013; but unlike Lindhom, Burakovsky wasn’t in the NHL that same season, instead dominating in the OHL to the tune of 87 points in 57 games. Not surprisingly that earned Burakovsky a ticket to the NHL in 2014-15, where he produced a similar stat line (22 points in 53 games) to Lindholm’s from 2013-14. Like Lindholm, Burakovsky continued to make strides as a second year player, with a Lindholm-esque 38 points in 79 games. But that total hides the feast or famine nature of his 2015-16, which included a stretch of 20 points in as many games but also only 18 in his 58 other contests.

The 2016-17 campaign will mark the first on Lindholm’s two year, $5.4M deal ($2.7M cap hit/AAV) and Burakovsky’s final season on his ELC ($0.894M cap hit/AAV).

Ice Time

Season

Total Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game (rank among team’s forwards)

2015-16

18:06 (E.L.) – 3rd

13:01 (A.B.) – 9th

2:35 (E.L.) – 3rd

0:47 (A.B.) – 8th

0:48 (E.L.) – 7th

0:00 (A.B.)

2014-15

16:25 (E.L.) – 4th

12:55 (A.B.) – 10th

2:30 (E.L.) – 2nd

1:09 (A.B.) – 7th

0:02 (E.L.) – 10th

0:00 (A.B.)

2013-14

14:31 (E.L.) – 9th

2:30 (E.L.) – 4th

0:03 (E.L.) – 12th (tied)

 

Lindholm’s Ice Time gains from 2013-14 to 2014-15 were consistent with scoring strides he made. At first, his Total Ice Time once having again jumped from 2014-15 to last season yet being accompanied by no added scoring raises red flags; but his increase in productive Ice Time (Total Ice Time minus SH Time) was exactly 1:00 less than 2013-14 to 2014-15, and as noted above he did play 80% of last season at a 47 point scoring pace. Thus, his failure to improve is less concerning than it would first appear.

 

But here’s some food for future thought – since 1990-91 there’ve been 11 forwards who, like Lindholm, played 200+ games during their first three NHL seasons by age 21 yet failed to tally 100 total points. Of the 11, only one – Jeff O’Neill – went on to score more than 60 points in at least two different seasons. Beyond that, the career high for any of the 11 was 67 points, by O’Neill and Scott Hartnell.

 

How many forwards since 1990-91 managed to score more than 100 points in 200+ games within their first three seasons by age 21? Try 42. Although some (e.g., Pat Falloon, Tim Connolly, Chris Gratton, Adam Deadmarsh, Radek Dvorak, Sam Gagner, Peter Mueller, Jordan Staal, David Perron) didn’t become long term fantasy assets, in certain cases that was due to injury. Plus others (e.g., Sean Monahan, Ryan O’Reilly Nathan MacKinnon) arguably have yet to peak. But the big key among the 42 who met this criteria is, if you look at those now age 26+ at least 75% posted at least one 70+ point season.

 

Does this “prove” anything with respect to Lindholm’s future? No, but it indicates that in the past when a forward – like Lindholm – becomes an NHL regular as a teen, if he doesn’t find a way to average even a point per every other game within his first three seasons then seemingly he’s less likely to develop into a truly elite fantasy asset down the road. In other words, it’s a useful data point for evaluating Lindholm, especially since it provides a possible glimpse into the future.

 

For Burakovsky, he went from a 34 point scoring pace in 2014-15 to 39.5 last season despite barely more Total Ice Time and less PP Time. Still, many poolies view his 2015-16 with the equivalent of a fantasy asterisk, maintaining that Burakovsky was piggybacking off Evgeni Kuznetsov. In truth, Burakovsky spent 59% of his 5×5 ice time with Kuznetsov, during which Burakovsky scored 67% of his 5×5 points, whereas 48% of Kuznetsov’s 5×5 ice time was spent with Burakovsky, during which Kuznetsov tallied 47% of his 5×5 points.

 

Therefore, Burakovsky was indeed a better player with Kuznetsov, but not so much so as to risk being lost without him if the two happen not to play together, while Kuznetsov had an identical production rate at 5×5 with or without Burakovsky. Moreover, even if Burakovsky somehow doesn’t play with Kuznetsov, the consolation prize likely would be skating wing with Nicklas Backstrom, who happens to have scored 65+ points in every full season he’s played and 78+ points in every non-rookie campaign where he’s suited up for more than 77 games.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2015-16

0.29 (E.L.)

0.19 (A.B.)

1.36 (E.L.)

0.47 (A.B.)

0.55 (E.L.)

0.30 (A.B.)

2.14 (E.L.)

1.59 (A.B.)

0.19 (E.L.)

0.05 (A.B.)

2014-15

0.17 (E.L.)

0.15 (A.B.)

1.31 (E.L.)

0.41 (A.B.)

0.37 (E.L.)

0.34 (A.B.)

2.10 (E.L.)

1.22 (A.B.)

0.18 (E.L.)

0.05 (A.B.)

2013-14

0.07 (E.L.)

0.88 (E.L.)

0.29 (E.L.)

1.20 (E.L.)

0.12 (E.L.)

 

Having written this column for more than two years, it’s not often I encounter firsts; but Lindholm might be the only player who’s improved in each of these five areas for two straight seasons. Unfortunately, his gains in the three categories most important to the widest range of poolies (SOG, PPPts, Hits) were far less pronounced from 2014-15 to 2015-16 versus 2013-14 to 2014-15.

 

Lindholm is still only 21; but with a full season already under his belt in 2014-15 and more minutes per game in 2015-16 it’s not ideal to see him still below 40 points. Although concerns are somewhat allayed in view of his one point in 16 games to start 2015-16, at minimum questions are still raised about how much more he can improve, which is especially concerning given the player data above suggesting he’d be lucky to even reach the 60 point level.

 

Burakovsky may have seen gains in PIM, Hits and SOG but he’s still below average in each, and worse in PPP. Seeing how infrequently he shoots the puck, I wondered about past player comparables. It turns out since 1990-91 Burakovsky is one of only 11 forwards who, by age 21, had played 125+ games while posting 50+ points despite firing no more than 200 SOG. The good news is among the other ten are several (Martin Straka, Henrik Sedin, Michael Nylander) who were key fantasy players for at least several seasons, plus others (Keith Primeau, Ales Hemsky, Stephen Weiss) who produced multiple 60+ point seasons despite injury issues, along with two barely okay players (Michal Grosek, Jan Bulis), and one (Alexander Wennberg) who’s as young as Burakovsky.

 

The last player on the list of 11 is Burakovsky teammate Marcus Johansson. The issue with Johansson is he’s received great PP usage but not managed to stick within the top six at even strength; as a result, he’s never broken through. In contrast, Burakovsky has the opposite issue in that he’s seemingly shored up a top six spot, but not a top PP role. Interestingly, we see that Burakovsky apparently can do well on the PP, albeit based on a small sample size, as he received a point on all five PP goals scored while he was on the ice in 2015-16 and his 4.80 points per 60 minutes at 5×4 put him 48th among 251 forwards who received 50+ minutes of 5×4. In other words, Burakovsky’s PP scoring issue could be lack of opportunity rather than lack of talent, which means there’s realistic room for him to grow in that area.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

PDO/SPSV (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2015-16

6.3% (E.L.)

13.5% (A.B.)

966 (E.L.)

997 (A.B.)

64.5% (E.L.)

72.1% (A.B.)

63.2% (E.L.)

100% (A.B.)

54.6% (E.L.)

58.3% (A.B.)

2014-15

10.0% (E.L.)

13.8% (A.B.)

950 (E.L.)

1024 (A.B.)

67.7% (E.L.)

51.5% (A.B.)

61.1% (E.L.)

37.5% (A.B.)

58.1% (E.L.)

64.1% (A.B.)

2013-14

12.9% (E.L.)

970 (E.L.)

56.5% (E.L.)

50.0% (E.L.)

62.3% (E.L.)

 

We benefit from being able to assess two full seasons worth of data for Lindholm. Although his IPPs have remained below 70%, which is not ideal, we see he was again very unlucky in terms of his PDO. Yet that was the same case in 2014-15 and he still managed to see a jump in scoring. So what happened?

The key piece of data is his 6.3% personal shooting percentage, which was fifth lowest among 81 forwards with 175+ SOG last season. If we disregard the 26 shots he took during his one point in 16 games stretch at the beginning of 2015-16, that’d still only raise his percentage to 7.3% for 150 shots, which would’ve tied him for tenth lowest among the 81. And had he scored at the same 10.8% rate he posted over his first two seasons, those 150 shots would’ve resulted in five more goals. All in all, Lindholm performed like a 50-55 point player over the last 80% of the 2015-16 season.

 

For Burakovsky, the data is very encouraging. What looked like an unsustainable high rookie shooting percentage was essentially matched despite Burakovsky’s total SOG nearly doubling. Also, he produced better despite a lower PDO and OZ%, and managed to exceed the all-important 70% IPP thresholds that I’ve found are linked to players who have what it takes to become fantasy successes.

 

 

Who Wins?

 

What a whirlwind for Lindholm, who when I first started writing this column seemed like a possible dud but by the end was revealed to still be a decent bet to improve. But for those of you holding hope he’ll be a 70+ point player, I think between the player comparables and his own data, and despite the fact he’s still only 21, it’s looking like that might be unrealistic. On the other hand, Burakovsky has talent in his own right, plus is likely to be a winger for either Backstrom or Kuznetsov for the foreseeable future, which is about as great a spot as exists for a 21 year old NHL forward. Burakovsky wins this match.

 

In one-year leagues, both should be drafted if you can get them for 45 point value since at worst both should net you that. In keepers, I’d look to sell Lindholm since largely due to him being a former top five pick he’s still overvalued in terms of long term possibilities. If possible though, wait until he puts together a hot stretch this season before pulling the trigger, for max value. Meanwhile, Burakovsky is a strong buy in keepers if not right now, then at any point in time when he slumps, as his ceiling is likely well higher than the cost you’d have to pay to get him.