Cage Match Tourney: Breakout Players 2016

by Rick Roos on July 20, 2016

Which players do you see breaking out in 2016-17? Have your say as fantasy owners from around the world weigh in

 

Right about now many of you are wondering where to focus your fantasy attention, what with this summer’s free agent (and trading) frenzy having largely come and gone and only a precious few arbitrations and deals to tide us over until the World Cup of Hockey starts in roughly two months. But there’s no need to fear –the annual summer Cage Match Tournament is here to fill your fantasy plate!

This time I’m taking a page from the annual pre-season expert panel to ask you, the DobberHockey community, which forward is most likely to see a scoring jump to 65+ points in 2016-17 and which rearguard is most likely to break out to hit 40+ points. I’ll start with two forwards brackets this week, consolidating to one final forward bracket next week, then cover defensemen in just one week, for a three week tournament overall.

Before we get to the forwards you’ll be voting on, I’ll go over a couple of rules and reminders. Be sure to read them so you can make the most of your vote!

 

Rule #1 – Forwards who’ve scored 55+ points in any previous season are excluded

Although this narrows the list of possible choices, it also forces you to think more about things like Ice Time, potential linemates, how offensively potent teams will be, etc. I considered excluding players who, despite not having previously scored 55+, had finished a season with a scoring pace which, if projected over 82 games, would have put them at 55+. But in the end I didn’t disqualify such players, since it’s a lot different to actually post 55+ points than it is to be at that pace for 40-70 games.

 

Rule #2 – Incoming Rookies are excluded, as are forwards who’ve never scored 30+ points in a previous season………and Connor McDavid

There are three reasons I’m not including rookies, or forwards who’ve never previously hit 30 points. First, I think in many cases they’re already overvalued, and I don’t want to fan those flames. Second, there’d likely be too much temptation to vote for them over more qualified players. And third, this probably is a more useful exercise, for fantasy purposes, if we limit it to established players.

Also, although Connor McDavid technically doesn’t violate this rule (or rule #1), he’s ineligible because………let’s face facts……….he’d have been the slam dunk winner.

 

Reminder #1 – Vote objectively

While you might be tempted to vote for a less deserving player who’d benefit your team(s) by breaking out, or not for a more deserving player for the opposite reason, please choose objectively without any rooting interest or personal fandom/bias. In other words, vote with your head rather than your heart.

 

Reminder #2 – Don’t assume these players will actually post 65+ points in 2016-17

Last season, 19 non-rookie forwards posted 65+ points, with only one (Evgeni Kuznetsov) not having previously tallied 55+ but having previously posted at least 30+. In other words, this is something fun to speculate about and there will be useful takeaways; but don’t pin your fantasy hopes on the actual results coming to fruition.

 

How Voting Will Work

As noted above, forwards have been split into two brackets this week. I was going to separate them based on Conference, but many more Eastern Conference forwards seemed like viable candidates versus those from the West. So instead, I’m dividing them into two brackets of 20 players each, with the first bracket consisting of players age 23 or younger as of July 20th and the second one players age 24 or older. The top three vote getters from each bracket will advance to the finals next week, along with the next two highest totals regardless of which bracket, for a total of eight finalists.

This week you’ll be able to vote for up to three players in each bracket, or just one or two if you prefer. Voting will be in the Hockey Hockey Hockey Hockey area of DobberHockey Forums. I’ll put a direct link to vote for each bracket after its list of players. In order not to risk swaying the voting, I’ve listed players in alphabetical order within the respective brackets.

 

Bracket #1 – Forwards age 23 or younger

Andre Burakovsky – Despite posting 38 points all last season, Burakovsky had a 20 game stretch of point per game production. The questions are whether he’ll be able to stay in the top six, plus improve upon his 0:47 per game PP Time average.

Sean Couturier – Mark 2015-16 as the year Couturier flipped the switch from defensive-minded pivot to top six staple. Although he posted only 39 points, they came in 63 games (50 point full season pace). And considering just four points were tallied in his first 17 games, that means the other 35 were in his final 47, for a 61 point scoring pace over more than half a season.

Max Domi – With 52 points in 2015-16, Domi showed he’s the real deal. What’s more – he could still improve by moving past the “rookie wall” that limited him to only ten points in his last 19 games.

Leon Draisaitl – If the Oilers played the same guys in the same spots as last season, Draisaitl would be a solid bet for 65+ points, what with producing at a 58 point pace in his first full season. Yet with his most frequent linemate Taylor Hall now gone, it’s not clear how things will shake out for him in 2016-17.

Jonathan Drouin – The good news is Drouin came back from AHL banishment to post 16 points in his last 19 games. But with Steven Stamkos re-signing and Tyler Johnson having reawakened during the playoffs, it’s not clear whether there’ll be enough points to go around in Tampa for Drouin to hit 65 this season.

Nikolaj Ehlers – After looking lost (posting just four total points) in November and December, Ehlers had a great second half, amassing 26 points in his final 35 games and seemingly cementing a spot in the Jets top six.

Robbie Fabbri – It’s not a stretch to say Fabbri was among the best Blues forwards from February onward (34 points in his final 46 games, including 15 in 20 playoff contests). And with ice time being freed by the exodus of Troy Brouwer and David Backes (and thus far only David Perron being added), the stage seems set for Fabbri to continue his momentum into 2016-17.

Tomas Hertl – After being arguably one of the biggest NHL and fantasy let downs of 2014-15, Hertl reemerged in 2015-16, ending the season with 31 points in his final 46 games and posting 11 more in the playoffs.

Boone Jenner – Clearly Jenner has the goal-scoring ability to amass 65 points, as the third youngest of the only 28 NHLers to hit the 30 goal mark for 2015-16. But does he play a complete enough game to pile up assists too?

Dylan Larkin – Despite quieting down after emerging with 22 points in his first 28 games, Larkin still posted more than 20 goals and 20 assists while averaging 2.75+ SOG per game. Each teenager who’s done that since 1990-91 tallied at least 63 points by his second 80+ game season, suggesting the ingredients are there for Larkin to make a big jump.

Elias Lindholm – If Lindholm played on a different team he might’ve already hit the disqualifying 55+ points threshold. Fortunately, with Carolina poised to fully turn things over to its youngsters, Lindholm’s production could explode.

J.T. Miller – Like Larkin, Miller had his own stretch of 22 points in 28 games on his way to a Larkin-like 43 total points. But with Miller less of a “golden boy,” he’ll have to force New York’s hand in order to get the big jumps in Ice Time he’ll need to reach 65 points. Still – he’s a hard guy to bet against.

Rickard Rakell – Similar to others, Rakell is included because of his strong second half (27 points in 39 games). With the Ducks losing David Perron, Chris Stewart, and Jamie McGinn, Rakell’s role for 2016-17 should expand; and with that, his output as well.

Victor Rask – Much like Lindholm, Rask should benefit from the Hurricanes letting its young players take the reins. And with Rask having already posted 48 points last season, including a stretch of 22 in 29 games, he seems poised for a large scoring leap sooner rather than later.

Sam Reinhart – With the spotlight in Buffalo having shined squarely on Jack Eichel (whose 56 points disqualifies him from this tournament), Reinhart’s 42 points might have fallen through the fantasy cracks. But Reinhart was playing better by the day, even posting 14 points in his final 19 contests.

Brandon Saad – Not only did Saad score 31 goals last season, but by doing so in just 78 games he finished in the NHL’s top 20 for goals per game. The question is whether he can up his assists rate back to what it was in Chicago, especially in a John Tortorella system.

Ryan Strome – As bad as Hertl’s 2014-15 was, Strome’s 2015-16 was arguably worse, especially with it coming on the heels of his 50 points in 2014-15 at age 21. With Strome a year older and wiser, he should get a chance to prove himself again.

Vincent Trocheck – Although a former OHL scoring champ, Trocheck’s 2015-16 production came as a surprise to many. With his new multiyear deal, it’s clear Florida has big plans for Trocheck; but can he continue the magic that saw him post 26 points in his final 27 regular season games?

Alexander Wennberg – When Columbus made Wennberg a first rounder in 2013, they figured he’d eventually develop into a fine player. But at age 20 he already went and posted 39 points in his final 55 games of the season, opening the eyes of poolies in the process.

Mika Zibanejad – Still only 23, Zibanejad has seen his scoring pace increase in each of his full seasons. And considering the player – Derick Brassard – he was just traded for has averaged 59 points over the past two seasons, chances are the Rangers are prepared to put Zibanejad in a position to realistically produce more than he would’ve in Ottawa.

 

Click here to vote for bracket #1

 

 

Bracket #2 – Forwards age 24 or older

Cam Atkinson – Dobber favorite Atkinson was given a larger role in 2015-16 and responded with 53 points, tallying no fewer than eight in any month of the season. Does he have another gear though, or is this his ceiling?

Mikkel Boedker – The only marquee 2016 UFA on either list, Boedker figures to immediately become an integral part of the Sharks offense. But will that be enough to propel a player who’s twice scored 51 points into the next scoring echelon?

Nick Bonino – If 2016-17 plays out like this past spring, Bonino might be able to sleepwalk to 65 points centering Pittsburgh’s HBK line. But will the Pens stick with that trio long-term? And can he be that productive notwithstanding what will likely be zero PP1 time?

Tyler Bozak – Despite Toronto’s youth movement, Bozak figures to be a veteran presence on a top scoring line. He’s produced at a high level in the past (49 points in 58 games in 2013-14), so it’s not farfetched to expect him to post big numbers if the Leafs team offense explodes.

Joe Colborne – Not only does Colborne enter 2016-17 on a new team in the state where he starred during college, but he does so after finishing 2015-16 with 22 points in as many games. With many bigger players not truly breaking out until his age or even older, might Colborne be ready to post huge numbers in 2016-17?

Charlie Coyle – As encouraging as was Coyle’s 11 points in 16 games near the end of last season, what gives poolies hope for him exploding is news he’s the early favorite to be the third member of a line with Zach Parise and Eric Staal. If those two can recapture their old magic, Coyle could pile on the points.

Brendan Gallagher – Although Gallagher posted his third straight season of 40-49 points, this time he got them in only 53 games, making poolies optimistic that he has a path to big numbers for 2016-17.

Mikael Granlund – Despite being anointed by poolies (and his team) as a star in the making, Granlund has yet to hit even 45 points for a season. But entering his “magical fourth year” and seemingly still being locked into the Wild top six, Granlund could see his totals drastically increase.

Carl Hagelin – As the other eligible member of Pittsburgh’s HBK line, Hagelin is arguably more intriguing than Bonino because he plays wing and thus could also skate alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. And let’s remember – Pascal Dupuis once posted 59 points as a Pen despite no PP time and arguably less skill than Hagelin, so 65+ points could happen.

Martin Hanzal –More so than any other player on these lists, Hanzal’s ceiling is limited by his Band-Aid Boy status, which has led him to play 65 or fewer games each of the last five regular seasons. But he’s scored at a 52 point pace since 2013-14, so the possibility exists for big numbers if he finally manages to stay healthy for an entire season.

Kevin Hayes – Here’s an interesting fact – despite posting only 28 assists (and 45 points) in 2014-15 as a rookie, 21 of those assists were primary assists at 5×5, which led all NHL forwards! That’s not something one just lucks into. Sure – he seemingly took a step back last season, but that 2014-15 data shows he could make a big leap for 2016-17.

Adam Henrique –Like Atkinson, Henrique saw a nice bump in production in 2015-16, hitting 50 points. Yet the same question is posed – does he have another gear, or have we already witnessed his ceiling?

Patric Hornqvist – Every season Hornqvist, now 29, seems to be on the cusp of a big breakout. But he clicked with Sidney Crosby to post 23 points in 24 games during January and February, so maybe this will be the season?

Nazem Kadri – Not quite the elder statesman as Bozak, Kadri will nevertheless look like a grey beard compared to most 2016-17 Toronto forwards. The potential for Kadri to explode seemingly remains, especially with his elite SOG rate.

Evander Kane – Speaking of SOG, and as noted in my recent column, that and Kane’s ice time suggest not only should he be breezing to 65 points, but bigger numbers should be well in hand. Yet with his attitude, and more off ice distractions than arguably any other NHLer, Kane’s road to 65+ is cloudy.

Gustav Nyquist – The most popular choice in last year’s experts panel, Nyqvist had a 2015-16 to forget, with fewer points than he amassed in only 57 games in 2013-14. Although Nyqvist is still in his prime, it’s no longer clear whether he’s a “golden boy” in Detroit, so he might have a tough time finding the minutes and situations to post 65+.

Jakob Silfverberg – Like Rakell, Silfverberg now has less of an ice time logjam to contend with. But is he the real deal, or are we still too influenced by his 18 points in 16 playoff games in 2014-15? This year will tell us a lot.

Reilly Smith – With his newly inked extension, Florida anointed Smith a key part of their present and future. Yet it’s not clear whether 50-51 points (which he’s now posted twice) represents a stepping stone, or Smith’s ceiling.

Carl Soderberg – The oldest player here, Soderberg is entering his magical fourth NHL season, albeit following years as a pro in Europe. Soderberg has shown he can produce with various linemates and, now, on two different teams. But will he be leaned upon enough to take things up a scoring notch?

Ryan Spooner –Although the raw talent and drive to succeed (not to mention the spot on PP1) are seemingly there, for Spooner to get a further points increase he’ll likely need a trade (him or someone else) or to go back to playing wing full time.

 

Click here to vote for bracket #2

 

 

Voting Deadline

The links to the two voting polls are above. Voting will be open through Sunday July 24th, so make sure your voice is heard. And while you’re there, please use the accompanying forum thread to discuss why you voted the way you did. See you here next week for the forward finals!