Welcome back to the winter Cage Match tournaments! By your votes, Pierre-Luc Dubois was proclaimed the player under age 25 whose higher than expected scoring this season is most likely to represent – at a minimum – his “new normal” going forward, edging out Dylan Larkin (by one vote) and Sebastian Aho (three votes). Our tournament this week is identical to week one except the age range is 25+, meaning you’re voting on which age 25+ players – who are enjoying better than predicted success – will at least maintain that level of success for the remainder of 2018-19 as well as the next several campaigns to come – or in other words, which age 25+ players are in the midst of establishing their “new normal.”
Here’s a link to last week’s column where I covered what players aren’t included as voting choices, and how to base your vote. Remember – although there’s room for instinct and hunches when deciding your vote, keep in mind that readers will be looking to the poll results for guidance, so you should try to be objective in your decision-making.
How Voting Will Work
As with last week I’ve listed each player’s prior career-best scoring output (or, if achieved in fewer than 82 games, his career-best 82 game scoring pace) and his “new normal” based on his current scoring rate. Once again in some cases, the “new normal” is a bit above or below the player’s actual 2018-19 pace as of today (12/17); but be sure to use it as your basis for deciding whether to vote for the player or not.
The voting poll will allow for multiple selections, so vote for any and all players you think will retain their designated scoring pace for 2018-19 and at least the next couple of seasons. That means vote for one player, a couple of players, a bunch of players, or even all of them if you think each and everyone will, in fact, sustain their designated scoring pace this season and the next few. If you think none will do so, I’ve even included a “none of the above” voting choice which you can select.
I’ll put a direct link to this week’s poll at the end of the column. But without further ado, here are your 17 choices for the week two tournament – players age 25 or older for whom you’re deciding whether their current scoring pace is their “new normal.”
Victor Arvidsson (Previous career high scoring rate: 64 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
Although it’s been over a month since he last played, Arvidsson was firing on all cylinders beforehand, with a point per game scoring and eight goals in just 13 games. Of course, the risk is he was on a hot streak, what with him scoring at a 60-65 point pace in each of his two prior seasons. Then again, while he is already 25 years old this is technically his magical fourth year, so perhaps it’s a true break out.
Cam Atkinson (Previous career high scoring rate: 62 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
Covered in my regular cage match column two weeks ago, Atkinson has carried through his end of season momentum from 2017-18 (33 points in his last 33 games) into 2018-19 and, if anything, looks to be playing even better. But he’s 29 years old; and other than playing with Artemi Panarin, who’s widely regarded as all but gone from Columbus by no later than this summer, his only hot stretch was early 2016-17, when his PP scoring was atypically high. Atkinson getting your vote – or not – likely depends on whether (and, if so, to what extent) you believe he can thrive without the Bread Man.
Patrice Bergeron (Previous career high scoring rate: 74 points; New Normal = 85+ points)
No one on this list has played more NHL games than Bergeron’s nearly 1000 regular season contests. Yet Bergeron is defying father time, first finishing with 41 points in his final 37 games last season and then starting even hotter this season before getting injured. Can Bergeron pick up where he left off once he comes back? Perhaps more importantly, can he keep up this pace for the next few seasons even as he pushes into his mid-thirties?
Logan Couture (Previous career high scoring rate: 67 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
Just when poolies might’ve been resigned to Couture being a sub-70 point player, what with him having played at that level for eight NHL seasons, lo and behold he emerges this season with a point per game output. Perhaps Couture had this in him all along, and only needed better quality linemates like Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier? Skating with those two at even strength while still being part of San Jose’s PP1 sure seems like a recipe for Couture to continue to produce like he has been thus far, despite the fact he’ll turn 30 before this season is over.
Evgeni Dadonov (Previous career high scoring rate: 72 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
There might not be a player more quietly producing at a point per game rate than Florida’s Dadonov, who seems to not score in droves but also tends not go more than a game or two without hitting the scoresheet. One issue though is he’s only signed through the 2019-20 campaign after coming back to the NHL following a six-season hiatus; and if the Panthers can’t pay him what he wants, he might have a tough time being as productive on a new team without such a talented surrounding nucleus, especially with him then being 31 years old.
Ryan Dzingel (Previous career high scoring rate: 42 points; New Normal = 60+ points)
The former seventh-round draft pick took five years to become an NHL regular, yet since then all he’s done is improve his production with each passing season. Now finally getting regular top-six time and taking the ice for almost half his team’s PP minutes, he’s seizing the opportunity and producing numbers that should lock him into that role going forward. Yet he’s also a UFA after this season; and the penny-pinching Sens might opt to let him go to another team, where although he’ll be paid enough to likely maintain him a top-six role who’s to say the magic will continue?
Tomas Hertl (Previous career high scoring rate: 55 points; New Normal = 70+ points)
It seems like just yesterday that Hertl was dazzling as a rookie, with 25 points (15 goals) in only 37 games to leave poolies drooling at what was to come. Yet that actually happened a full five seasons ago, and it took until last season for Hertl to once again produce at even a point per every other game level. But his 46 points last season is a bit misleading, as 13 of those points came in just his final 18 contests and then he topped that off with nine points in ten playoff contests. This season the chemistry he started to show this past spring with Couture has only blossomed with the addition of Meier, making it so Hertl playing at a 70+ point level seems well within reach for 2018-19 and beyond.
Mike Hoffman (Previous career high scoring rate: 67 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
The opponent in the recent cage match that also featured Atkinson, Hoffman found himself in the headlines for all the wrong, off-ice reasons last season but for all the right reasons in 2018-19, notably his 17 game point scoring streak that helped launch him into a point per game territory. One key with Hoffman is his elite PP scoring coupled with very high SOG rate, which, if you read the cage match, combine to put him a category of wingers who’ve all scored 77+ points at least once and all but one of whom have tallied 90+ points. And let’s not forget that although Hoffman is 28 years old, this is only his fifth full season, making a full-fledged break out at his age more plausible.
Jonathan Huberdeau (Previous career high scoring rate: 69 points; New Normal = 85+ points)
While some might think Huberdeau is playing above a sustainable level, one thing to keep in mind is he’s taken the ice for 69+ games in four previous seasons and his production rose in each. Even still, it's one thing to jump from 54 to 59 to 69 points, and something entirely different to springboard into 85+ point territory. But let’s not forget Huberdeau was a star in juniors and just turned 25 this year; thus, he’s only entering his peak. Accordingly, we might now be witnessing him hitting his realistic ceiling, as opposed to him playing above a sustainable pace.
Gabriel Landeskog (Previous career high scoring rate: 66 points; New Normal = 85+ points)
After pulling a reverse-Huberdeau and seeing his production drop three seasons in a row, last year Landeskog was the fortunate third member of the Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon line, as he is yet again this year. What’s different for 2018-19 is Landy is shooting the puck at rates not seen since he was a rookie and is far more dialled into the offence, raising his IPP. While no one is claiming Landeskog is in the same talent echelon as either Rantanen and MacKinnon, he’s no slouch either; and with his renewed offensive focus, plus still only 26 years old, he could maintain this production for 2018-19 and beyond.
Ryan McDonagh (Previous career high scoring rate: 44 points; New Normal = 50+ points)
Brought to Tampa Bay to help shore up the team’s defence, McDonagh has enjoyed an offensive rebirth that has him on pace to best his previous career high. With all the minutes he plays and the high scoring forward corps that’s in front of him, he could indeed end up reaching this number for 2018-19. Where questions arise is if this is indeed his new normal, what with him set to turn 30 next year and the highly touted Mikael Sergachev waiting in the wings for a larger role that would presumably eat away at McDonagh’s scoring.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Previous career high scoring rate: 68 points; New Normal = 75+ points)
After ending 2017-18 with 17 points in his last 18 games, RNH has picked up right where he left off, thanks to nearly 3:00 more ice time per game and taking the ice for over two-thirds of the total PP minutes for the Oilers. With that top-notch deployment, and finally also talented players to share the ice with, RNH looks to be living up to what was expected from him when he was made the first overall pick back in 2011.
Ryan O’Reilly (Previous career high scoring rate: 69 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
Lost amid the tire fire that’s been the St. Louis first half has been the transformation of ROR from a solid two-way center who was good for 55-65 points per season into an apparent point per game player. And while the temptation might be to think it can’t last, what with him never producing at even a 70+ point rate in the past, the key is for the first time ever he’s not being counted on primarily for a shutdown role and sharing the ice with the best wingers on his team. So what we’re seeing from him might not be a fluke, but rather what ROR was capable of all along.
Kyle Palmieri (Previous career high scoring rate: 58 points; New Normal = 70+ points)
Despite not even one 60+ point season to his credit, Palmieri might end up shooting past that threshold this season and finishing above 70, and all despite being 27 years old. There were signs he was gelling with New Jersey last season when he finished with 30 points in his final 42 games and tallied 23 PPPts in only 62 games. So far for 2018-19 he’s been nearly stapled to Taylor Hall in all situations, which can only help his scoring cause.
Alexander Radulov (Previous career high scoring rate: 72 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
There were some – myself definitely included – who felt Radulov returning to the NHL would be a failed experiment; yet then he produced 54 points with Montreal while on a one-year “prove yourself” deal. And then there were those – again, including myself – who thought that once Radulov signed a big UFA deal, his effort level would inevitably nosedive, only to see him post 72 points at age 31 despite a fat contract in his back pocket. Now, this season he’s set to bring his game to a still higher level and has been above the point per game level all season. While it would seem like a tall order for a 32-year-old to reach a career-high, Radulov is no doubt a special talent and, perhaps even more importantly, seems to have the motivation to play his very best.
Jeff Skinner (Previous career high scoring rate: 65 points; New Normal = 80+ points)
After he made an early career splash with the Hurricanes, only to be derailed by head injuries, many felt that Skinner was destined to produce in the 50-60 point range for the rest of his career. But oh what a change of scenery and improved linemates can apparently do. After finding instant chemistry with Jack Eichel, the sky seems to be the limit for Skinner, who is still only 26. Then again, this could just be him putting in the extra effort right before he becomes a UFA in order to maximize the contract he’ll receive. Your votes will decide if this is for real, or a UFA mirage.
Mika Zibanejad (Previous career high scoring rate: 54 points; New Normal = 70+ points)
For Zibs it has been a case of hot stretches followed by cold spells or ill-timed injuries. This season, however, his health has been fine and his early season scoring is showing no signs of subsiding. With the Rangers lacking firepower, Zibs should continue to be counted upon for supplying plenty of offence; and if his health cooperates he might even be able to improve upon his current pace as no one has ever questioned his talent and he only just turned 25 this year, so he’s in the midst of his prime.
Link to Cast Your Vote(s)
To vote in the Tournament, click here. Remember – you can vote for as many players as you want. While you’re voting, be sure to post a comment on which player(s) you voted for a why, since my hope is this Tournament – like last week – will be as useful for fantasy purposes as it is enjoyable. See you next week for the third winter Cage Match tournament, where the focus will shift to disappointing players.
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