Cage Match Tourney: Breakout Players 2016 (Round 2)

by Rick Roos on July 27, 2016

The eight finalists for the breakout players of 2016-17 based on your votes last week. Read the results and have your say

 

Welcome back to the DobberHockey Summer Cage Match Tournaments! Thanks to your votes, 40 forwards from round one have been narrowed to just eight for this week’s final voting in the first of two tournaments. I’ll discuss the round one results and offer some analysis, before going into detail about the eight finalists, one of whom – just four short days from now – will be champion!

 

Round One Results

After you voted in record numbers (more than in any other tournament I’ve previously run – I sincerely thank you for that), the eight forwards who advanced to round two are:

Top three vote getters (age 23 or younger bracket): Jonathan Drouin, Nikolaj Ehlers, Leon Draisaitl

Top three vote getters (age 24 or older bracket): Brendan Gallagher, Patric Hornqvist, Gustav Nyqvist

Two highest other vote getters from either bracket: Dylan Larkin, Max Domi

 

Thoughts on the Voting

Both brackets had three players who pretty comfortably separated themselves from the rest of the pack, with one player in each bracket (Drouin, Gallagher) receiving the most votes by more than 20%. But before we declare this a two horse race, we need to remember that in past tournaments we’ve seen instances of the winner being someone other than those who received the most votes in the earlier round(s). That can happen here too, especially since in this week’s finals you can vote for only one player, rather than three. Who knows – maybe Drouin and Gallagher were the second/third choice of many? One thing is for sure – this is not over yet, so be sure to vote again this round.

It was also nice to see that virtually all 40 players received at least one vote and nearly half had double digit vote totals. I figured it was best to err on the side of inclusion in terms of choices; plus, it gave readers useful food for fantasy thought. But as I stressed last week, everyone should pump the breaks on the idea that these players will, in fact, post 65+ points in 2016-17, since based on past results at best perhaps a couple – if even that many – will indeed do so. Fortunately, from the astute comments in the forum posts, it seems most of you are attuned to that reality. Do yourself a favor – go back and (re)read the threads (here and here); it’s worth your time.

In terms of who I figured would advance but didn’t, I’d go with Vincent Trocheck (23 and under) and Mikkel Boedker (24 and older). Trocheck had point per game production over essentially the final third of last season and was firing on all cylinders. Plus, he’s a former OHL scoring champ, so didn’t come from nowhere and is all the more likely to represent a stepping stone on the way to stardom. With Boedker, I figured his high profile UFA status and a weaker bracket would allow him to sleepwalk to round two. It wasn’t to be though; and that’s another aspect of what’s so great about these Tournaments –surprises happen at every turn!

One player from each bracket whom I voted for but didn’t advance were Sean Couturier (23 and under) and Tyler Bozak (24 and over). My guess is many still see Couturier as defensive-minded despite him producing above a 60 point pace over well more than half of last season. Had Couturier not gotten injured, he’d have likely scored at or above 50 points and, in doing so, would’ve received more votes. As for Bozak, I get that he’s disappointed poolies for several years and is somewhat of a forgotten man in fantasy amid Toronto’s youth infusion; but I think he’s going to be used in the cagey veteran role and get enough PP time that if Toronto clicks he could put up 65. And Bozak did score at a 69 point full season pace in 2013-14.

In terms of eliminated players who I was surprised received as many votes as they did, topping the list were Brandon Saad (23 and under) and Mikael Granlund (24 and over). With Saad, not only is he playing under John Tortorella, but he potted 31 goals last season while shooting a good bit above his lifetime percentage. Plus, Saad has never posted more than 29 assists in a campaign, which means even if he ties last season’s career high in goals and his previous career high in assists, that’s still only 60 points. As for Granlund, I realize it’s his “magical fourth year” and there’s added excitement over him possibly being paired with Mikko Koivu after those two clicked at the World Championships (where Granlund amassed 12 points in ten games); but let’s not forget Koivu is seemingly on the decline, while Granlund has never posted even 45 points in a season despite having been given many chances to succeed. For both Saad and Granlund, I think a small increase might be in the cards, but rising all the way to 65 points seems almost unthinkable, at least to me.

Okay – enough rehashing. Let’s get to the eight players still left to battle for title of the forward who’s most likely to rise to 65+ points in 2016-17 despite never having scored 55+ points in a prior season.

 

The Finalists

Max Domi – By posting 52+ points as a 20 year-old rookie in his debut season (as opposed to being a rookie despite previously playing NHL games), Domi joined an impressive list of forwards who’ve met those criteria since 1990-91: Pavel Bure, Alexei Yashin, Scott Gomez, Brad Richards, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Nicklas Backstrom, each of whom went on to score 86+ points in an NHL season. But before Domi owners get too excited, all but Gomez and Richards most likely didn’t debut until age 20 because they weren’t products of North America. Plus, Gomez and Richards each posted 62+ points as a rookie, so they succeeded more than Domi right out of the gate. In other words, it’s tough to compare Domi to these other players. Plus, although Arizona took strides to improve this offseason, most of that came in the area of defense. Then again, maybe the departure of Boedker results in Domi stepping up? It’s difficult to read the Domi tea leaves, but 65+ points certainly can’t be ruled out.

Leon Draisaitl – Which Draisaitl will poolies witness in 2016-17? The player who posted better than point per game scoring into January, or the one who ended his season with 11 points in his final 30 games? Also of concern is Draisaitl logging only the fifth highest PP Time average per game among Edmonton forwards, although that should improve with the departures of Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell. Plus, as I uncovered in a recent Cage Match, for his age Draisaitl manages to get a point on an astoundingly high percentage of goals scored while he’s on the ice – at a level on par with Hall (who had been Draisaitl’s most frequent linemate), teammate Jordan Eberle, Kyle Okposo, and major stars Jamie Benn and Sidney Crosby. All have scored 65+ points, so it’s likely a question of when, not if for Draisaitl.

Jonathan Drouin – Based on his totals, poolies clearly believe Drouin has gone full circle and should be counted upon for big scoring in 2016-17. It certainly helps that he’s playing for Tampa Bay, a highly potent offensive team that had finished in the top nine in goals scored for every season dating since 2010-11 until slipping a bit to 12th last season. And there is ample precedent for Tampa players making big production jumps – Nikita Kucherov (18 points in 52 games for 2013-14, then 65 in 2014-15); Ondrej Palat (four points in 14 games in 2013-14; 59 in 2014-15); Tyler Johnson (6 points in 14 games in 2012-13; 50 in 2013-14). But will the Tampa and Drouin situation stay harmonious? We know there will be whispers – or louder – if there are even small waves. We’ll have to see if Drouin can focus on what he and the team both want – his success, and whether that level of uncertainty can allow for Drouin to be the choice among voters in this poll.

Nikolaj Ehlers –Perhaps more so than any other player, Ehlers evoked “it factor” type comments in last week poll thread, with poolies pointing to his raw talent coupled with very solid second half numbers. And those numbers are even better than they’d first indicate, with eight of his 11 PPPts coming in his final 35 games, all but one of his 14 games with 19:00+ of Ice Time coming in his final 20 contests, and him firing two or more SOG in nine of his final 12 games. The only question is seemingly whether Ehlers can pick up where he left off, since if he does so then 65 points could be well within reach.

Brendan Gallagher – Since 2000-01, there have been 12 players who, like Gallagher, scored 40-50 points at least twice within their first three seasons between age 21-25. Only two (Jussi Jokinen, Henrik Zetterberg) went on to score 65+ points in any NHL season for their career, with Zetterberg first having done so at an earlier age than Gallagher but Jokinen hitting the threshold right near Gallagher’s current age. The big key for Gallagher likely will be his continued role and production on the PP, as although he played nearly 30 fewer games in 2015-16 than in either of his prior two seasons, he nevertheless posted more PPPts. He figures to hold an edge to keep his PP Time over enigmatic newcomer Alex Radulov, but who’s to know for sure. And if Gallagher is able to improve is SOG per game rate yet again (it was 2.60 in 2013-14, 3.09 in 2014-15, 3.20 last season), that could only further help his cause.

Patric Hornqvist – Another in a long line of Penguins top six wingers to both tease and entice poolies, last season was a tale of ups (27 points in 27 games from January to early March) and downs (eight points in his first 23 games) for Hornqvist. But optimistic poolies correctly point to his poor early season stretch being under former coach Mike Johnston. Plus, with the retirement of Pascal Dupuis, the aging of Chris Kunitz, and the lack of success of Phil Kessel with Sidney Crosby (four points for Kessel in 192 even strength minutes with Crosby last season), odds are Hornqvist will stick with Crosby for most of 2016-17. Yet will that be enough, or will the season unfold more like the playoffs, when Hornqvist only scored at a 44 point full season pace with everything on the line?

Dylan Larkin – It bears repeating that based on Larkin’s production and SOG as a teenaged rookie, he should score 63+ points by his second season. And there’s little question Detroit will be eager to give him every opportunity to succeed given his pedigree and the team’s situation. Seemingly his chance at 65+ will hinge on his PP prowess, as his meager five PPPts as a rookie stuck out like a sore thumb. The good news is this means he has huge room to grow in the area; but his output was so poor that the large jump he’ll need to hit 65+ points seems less likely to occur.

Gustav Nyquist – Despite easily making the final, Nyqvist didn’t receive much “love” in the poll threads. Instead, his votes likely were owed to memories of his 2013-14 season (48 points in 57 games) and the thinking that someone will need to step up amid the departure of Pavel Datsyuk and the seemingly rapid decline of Henrik Zetterberg. No question Nyqvist showed he can produce, what with his rookie output. But was that just a short term, unsustainable run of luck? It’s hard to know for sure, although there’s the reality that Nyqvist posted 97 points in his last 164 games, which is not only a 48 point full season pace, but was three less points than Carl Soderberg – the same Soderberg who received zero votes last round in the same bracket as Nyqvist.

Click here to vote

 

How Voting Will Work and Deadline to Vote

As noted above, we’re down to the final eight forwards, and this is the finals – there’s no next week for these guys. Plus, this time you can only vote for one player and there’s no division between age groups, so you’ll have to pick a true favorite.

Here again is the voting link. Voting will be open through Monday August 1st, so make sure your voice is heard before it’s too late. And while you’re there, please again use the accompanying forum thread to discuss why you voted the way you did. See you here next week, when we shift to defensemen for a one-week second tournament!