Cage Match Tourney – Breakout Defensemen for 2016-17

by Rick Roos on August 3, 2016
Find out the winner of the breakout forwards tournament, and vote on which defensemen you think will have the best shot to post 40+ points this season.


By Your Votes, the Forward Most Likely to Break Out in 2016-17 Is……….


Thanks again to everyone for participating in match one of the 2016 Summer Cage Match Tournaments, where, by your votes, Brendan Gallagher was crowned the forward most likely to amass 65+ points in 2016-17 despite never having previously scored 55 points in any season. It was a fairly close match, with all but one of the eight finalists getting at least a half dozen votes and four each receiving 10% or more of the round two ballots that were cast. Also notable is the fact that the leading vote getter from the round one age 23 and under bracket (Jonathan Drouin) finished a distant fourth overall, proving that anything can happen in these tournaments and every vote matters!

Gallagher and the other seven finalists are definitely players to keep an eye on during upcoming drafts, or to consider trading for. But be careful – other astute poolies likely have at least some of these same players pegged for a breakout, so be sure not to overpay. And who knows – you might get such a great value if you were to trade one of them away, that selling now could be the right move. In the end, the results of this first tournament provided valuable information that will better position DobberHockey readers to succeed. Plus, we had fun in the process; and fun is what summer is all about, right?


This Week’s Tournament…..and More

And the summer fun isn’t over yet –as promised, we now turn our attention to voting on 2016-17 breakout defensemen. The good news doesn’t end there though, as by popular demand (special thanks to Irriducibile11 in the forums) I’m adding two more tournaments to cover the players most likely to see their production drop from 2015-16 to 2016-17. First next week we’ll cover forward fallers, followed by defensemen decliners in two weeks, so stay tuned!

But now, without further ado, let’s shift focus to defensemen breakouts. Specifically, your votes this week will decide which defenseman is most likely to break out to post 40+ points in 2016-17. Unlike with forwards, where voting first took place in two brackets before being narrowed to just one finals bracket, here we’re already starting with one bracket, making this week the finals. Before we get to the voting choices, let’s quickly do a rules/reminders refresh.

Rule #1 – Defensemen who’ve scored more than 35 points in any previous season are excluded

I thought of making the tournament about who’s most likely to hit 45+ points, or excluding any d-man who had previously posted more than 30 points; but in both cases I think it would’ve narrowed things too much, so I settled on 40+ points and players who’ve never previously posted more than 35. Also, I didn’t disqualify players from eligibility if they’d finished a season above a 35 point full season pace, since it’s a lot different to actually exceed 35 points versus being at that pace for 40-70 games.

Rule #2 – Rookies are excluded

I’m excluding 2016-17 rookies (meaning no Shea Theodore, Ryan Pulock, Mike Matheson, Anthony DeAngelo, or Zach Werenski, among others) because I think in many cases they’re already overvalued, there’d likely be too much temptation to vote for them over more qualified players, and since this probably is a more useful exercise, for fantasy purposes, if we limit it to established players.

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 40+ points in 2016-17

It might seem like a very small jump to make – from up to 35 points to just 40 – but data suggests it’s not that easy to do. For example, although last season 26 non-rookie defensemen posted 40+ points, all but one (Rasmus Ristolainen) had previously posted 35 or more in at least one prior season. 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

You can vote for up to two defensemen, or just one if you prefer. Voting will take place in the Hockey Hockey Hockey Hockey area of the DobberHockey Forums. I’ll put a direct link to vote after the list of players. In order not to sway the voting, I’ve put players in alphabetical order both here and the actual voting poll. Just remember – this is the finals, so vote now or you won’t factor into the results!

Cody Ceci – Despite playing in only 75 games and seeing his PP Time per game cut virtually in half from 2014-15, Ceci nevertheless improved his point total to 26. Still only 22 years old and entering his fourth season (counting his 49 games in 2013-14), Ceci could connect the dots in 2016-17, to the tune of much bigger numbers notwithstanding the presence of Erik Karlsson and Dion Phaneuf.

Jason Demers – Although Demers finished with only 23 points for 2015-16, that was in 62 games. And let’s not forget he tallied 34 points with San Jose in 2013-14 while receiving only 19:29 of Ice Time per game, which was fourth among Sharks d-men that season. Although Florida added Keith Yandle this summer, they subtracted both Brian Campbell and Dmitri Kulikov, so Demers figures to be walking into a nice spot for 2016-17 on a still improving team.

Matt Dumba – With his newly inked deal, Dumba’s offensive breakout could be on tap. After all, he posted 26 points for 2015-16 despite only averaging 16:50 of Ice Time per game; and he was improving as the season went on (15 of those points coming in 29 games in February and March).

Mattias Ekholm – By tallying 35 points in 2015-16, Ekholm nearly doubled his 2014-15 output of 18. And 2016-17 marks his “magical fourth season,” suggesting, along with Ekholm having amassed 24 of those points in his final 42 games of 2015-16, there’s still realistic room for further improvement.

Ryan Ellis – Although Ellis only posted 59 combined points in his past two seasons, those came in 137 games, for an 82 game average of 35 points. In other words, like Ekholm, Ellis is generating offense from the Nashville blueline. If he continues recent momentum, he could see his totals rise even further.

Jake Gardiner – Now 26, it seems like Gardiner has been on the cusp of a big jump in production for as long as poolies can remember. Yet thus far he only has three seasons of 30 or31 points on his resume. But with the Leafs taking strides to improve as a team, that might provide Gardiner with the spark and surrounding offense to see his scoring output significantly improve.

Noah Hanifin – The only teenager on this list, Hanafin acquitted himself extremely well as an 18 year old rookie in 2015-16. And although 12 of his 22 points were scored February onward – which overlapped with when Justin Faulk was out of the lineup – as left (Hanifin) and right (Faulk) handed shots, the two could line up on the PP together for the rebuilding Hurricanes, to help Hanafin make a big scoring jump as a sophomore.

Ben HuttonAlexander Edler’s annual injury struggles led to Hutton being designated the go to Canucks d-man for production from the blueline, and he responded with 25 points. Although the Canucks don’t figure to be an offensive juggernaut in 2016-17, Hutton could post much better numbers now that he has his first NHL campaign under his belt.

Seth Jones – Certainly based on the $32.4M deal Jones recently signed, the Blue Jackets expect him to hit 40 points before all is said and done. Yet with a crowded defensive corps that, even after the buyout of Fedor Tyutin, still includes veteran Jack Johnson, stalwart David Savard, and fellow up-and-coming youngsters Ryan Murray and Zach Werenski, then factoring in the John Torterella system, there is concern that Jones’ talent alone might not be enough to pile on the points.

Oscar Klefbom – It remains to be seen if Klefbom is being groomed to be a steadying presence type of defensemen who’ll be unlikely to flirt with 40+ points, or if he’ll instead be looked upon as more of a total package type for the Oilers, complete with solid scoring. Last season might have told us a lot, had Klefbom not missed so many games due to injury.

Dmitri Kulikov – Before this summer Kulikov had, in the course of just four seasons, morphed from posting 54 points in 130 games by age 22, to an oft-injured disappointment. But now, after being dealt to the quickly improving Sabres, the former 14th overall selection seemingly has everything in place for a productivity rebirth.

Adam Larsson – After a 24 point 2014-15 campaign that included a stretch of 15 points in 25 games, many had Larsson penciled in for a big 2015-16. The Devils had other ideas, using him in a heavily defensive role. But now that he’s been traded for Taylor Hall, it’s pretty clear the Oilers see him as a potential franchise d-man. The only question is whether the former 4th overall pick can live up to the pressure and expectations awaiting him in Edmonton.

Hampus Lindholm – Another player set to enter his “magical fourth season,” Lindholm is coming off his first sub-30 point NHL campaign. But he also has seen his goal total rise each year, and it’s still quite possible a deal will send him or Cam Fowler elsewhere, in which case the effect could be Lindholm taking on a more offensively favorable role.

Olii Maatta – After his 29 point rookie campaign, it’s been nothing but snakebitten bad luck for Maata, to the point where many poolies had written him off despite him still being only 21. But then a funny thing happened – Maatta posted seven points in 18 playoff games. Although much of that came when Trevor Daley was injured, Maatta is capable of producing, and Pittsburgh would like nothing more than to see that happen.

Alec Martinez – Although Martinez saw his total jump to 31 points after back-to-back 22 point outputs, the truth was his scoring pace essentially remained the same. Unquestionably a multi-cat beast, it remains to be seen if Martinez has what it takes to ratchet up his offense any further given his age (27) plus his role on the Kings being unlikely to change much, if at all, going forward.

Colin Miller – Although Miller only has 42 games of NHL experience, he’s made it count, posting 16 points. Plus, he’ll likely be given the keys to the Boston PP if indeed Torey Krug misses time due to offseason surgery. If Miller (who tallied 64 points in his last 90 AHL games) can impress, he could carve out a major spot on the potent Bs PP, which might hold the ticket for his production exploding.

Dmitri Orlov – After playing 129 of a possible 246 games from 2011-14, Orlov not only was back to full health in 2015-16, but he slowly but surely gained the trust of Caps brass. As a result, he finished with 29 points. Still just 24, if Orlov is able to find time on the Caps PP, he could see a big jump in scoring.

Colton Parayko – On the one hand, Parayko became a clear top four d-man as a rookie, posting 33 points despite St. Louis still leaning on the one-two punch of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo. However, poolies also must remind themselves Parayko only posted 13 points in his final 39 games (six in his last 19 regular season contests, then seven in 20 playoff tilts) so 40 might not be within immediate reach.

Justin Schultz – Is he another player who’ll never live up to his pre-NHL hype, or simply someone whose breakout has been delayed by the dumpster fire that was the Edmonton Oilers of recent years? This season should tell us a lot, as Schultz, whose scoring rate has dropped in each of his seasons since posting 27 in 48 games as a rookie in 2012-13, signed a “prove yourself” one year deal with the Pens, a team that would be more than happy to give him the opportunity to step up as another option for blueline offense after Kris Letang.

Jacob Trouba – If his scoring had been able to keep pace with hype he’s received from poolies, Trouba would already be an offensive force. Instead, after three seasons he’s yet to crack the 30 point mark and his rookie scoring pace still marks his career best. Still, with this being his magical fourth season and him likely to sign a mega RFA deal this summer, the feeling largely remains when – not if – Trouba’s scoring will explode.

Click here to vote


Voting Deadline

Voting will be open until Monday August 8th; and remember – you can vote for up to two defensemen, or just one if you prefer. Make sure your voice is heard before the poll closes, especially since this is the one and only week to vote. In other words, this is the finals.

While you’re voting, please post a comment in the accompanying forum thread so everyone can gain valuable insight from fellow DobberHockey-ites.  After all, although your votes speak volumes, your explanation about why you chose the players you voted for is what tells the story behind the story.

See you next week for the first of our two bonus tournaments – to name the forward faller most likely to see the biggest drop in scoring, followed, in two weeks, by deciding the defenseman dropper who’ll see the largest decline in production.