Who is the better fantasy own: Evgeny Kuznetsov or Ryan Johansen?

by Rick Roos on April 5, 2017
  • Roos Lets Loose
  • Who is the better fantasy own: Evgeny Kuznetsov or Ryan Johansen?

In last week’s match, we covered two of the most pleasant surprises for 2016-17; so let’s pull a 180 and tackle two players who didn’t meet lofty expectations – Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ryan Johansen. At 24, both should be entering their prime; yet instead, it’s not even clear if/when they’ll again equal their previous highs (Kuznetsov’s 77 points from last season, and Johansen’s 71 from 2014-15). Let’s see what Cage Match can dig up!

 

Career Path and Contract Status

Kuznetsov was drafted 26th overall in 2010 and landed squarely on fantasy radars after 24 points in 13 total games spread among the 2011 and 2012 WJCs. By 2013-14 he’d debuted in Washington with nine points in 17 games; yet 2015-16 saw him post 37 in 80 games, igniting fears he might be another highly touted Russian prospect who’s DOA in the NHL.

Those concerns were put to rest in 2015-16 via Kuznetsov’s 77 points. Looking beneath the surface, however, Kuznetsov slowed significantly as the campaign wore on, ending with three points in his last 12 regular season games then just two in 12 playoff contests. The slowdown stretched into 2016-17, to the tune of nine points in his first 24 games. Then he righted his ship majorly, with point per game output for half the season (41 points in 41 games) before struggling since March, leaving poolies wondering whether he’s more fantasy Jekyll or Hyde.

Johansen was selected 4th overall in the same draft and transitioned to the NHL after a successful AHL stint (33 points in 40 games) during the lockout. He showed growing pains in his shortened rookie campaign, tallying only 12 points in 40 games. From there, however, he exploded with 63 points then 71, giving poolies visions of at least point per game output in his magical fourth season. Yet that wasn’t to be, as Johansen was at only 26 points in 38 games before being shipped to Nashville for Seth Jones. With the Preds, Johansen has scored at roughly a 64 point pace, but potted fewer total goals in his 122 Nashville games as he did in either of his 82 game seasons with Columbus.

Both players will head into this offseason as arbitration-eligible RFAs, with Kuznetsov having made $3M in 2016-17 versus $4M for Johansen.

 

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)

2016-17

16:55 (E.K.) – 5th

18:54 (R.J.) – 1st

2:01 (E.K.) – 6th

2:54 (R.J.) – 1st

0:01 (E.K.) – 9th (tied)

0:48 (R.J.) – 8th

2015-16

17:24 (E.K.) – 4th

17:45 (R.J. – NSH) – 3rd

17:20 (R.J.) – 3rd

2:11 (E.K.) – 5th

2:40 (R.J. – NSH) – 3rd

2:58 (R.J.) – 1st

0:01 (E.K.) – 12th (tied)

0:01 (R.J. – NSH) – 12th (tied)

0:20 (R.J.) – 9th

2014-15

13:19 (E.K.) – 8th

19:30 (R.J.) – 1st

1:22 (E.K.) – 6th

2:52 (R.J.) – 1st

0:01 (E.K.) – 11th (tied)

1:20 (R.J.) – 7th (tied)

2013-14

17:38 (R.J.) – 2nd

2:38 (R.J.) – 2nd

0:42 (R.J.) – 7th

 

Kuznetsov’s reward for his 77 point 2015-16 is, amazingly, less Total and PP Ice Times. Interestingly, his Ice Time isn’t performance-related, since it hasn’t varied much during his hot or cold streaks in 2016-17. What is boils down to is two words – Nicklas Backstrom. The same Backstrom who’s one of only three players (Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin) to score 70+ points each season since 2013-14 (including 2016-17), and who, at age 29, is on tap to have his best season since 2009-10, and who just so happens to lead all NHL forwards in PPPts since 2013-14 by double digits. In short, poolies shouldn’t hold their breath for Kuznetsov to syphon prime Ice Time away from Nicklas Backstrom.

 

But let’s keep in mind that Kuznetsov’s Ice Time situation, and playing second fiddle to Backstrom, are nothing new – that is, both also occurred last season, when Kuznetsov still managed to produce at an elite rate. Plus, Kuznetsov’s linemates are similar (swapping in Marcus Johansson for Andre Burakosvky at ES), and he’s again skating with Alex Ovechkin for roughly 30% of his shifts. Based on these factors, it’s difficult to reconcile his differing production this season versus last.

 

One possible bright spot for Kuznetsov is although Ovechkin and him are both having down seasons, Washington has averaged more goals (3.90) per 60 minutes at 5×5 this season when Kuznetsov and Ovi shared the ice, versus last season (3.72). So maybe the cure for what ails them both is having them play more together?

 

Johansen’s 2016-17 data is closest to 2014-15, when he posted his career best (thus far) 71 points, as although his Total Ice Time is down 0:36 versus 2014-15 he’s also saddled with 0:32 less SH Ice Time, and has virtually identical PP Time. Beyond that, Johansen is once again the player around whom his team’s offense flows, ranking first among forwards in both Total and PP Time just as he did in 2014-15. Plus, the 2014-15 Blue Jackets scored 227 goals, a total the 2016-17 Preds surpassed several games ago, which means Johansen is playing for a somewhat better offensive time. So the big question is, why, now more squarely within his prime and on a more productive team, isn’t Johansen at least matching his 71 points from 2014-15? We’ll have to look at SOG, PPPts, and luck-based metrics to get a better picture.

 

Secondary Categories

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2016-17

0.54 (E.K.)

0.76 (R.J.)

0.65 (E.K.)

0.97 (R.J.)

0.20 (E.K.)

0.34 (R.J.)

2.02 (E.K.)

1.91 (R.J.)

0.16 (E.K.)

0.29 (R.J.)

2015-16

0.39 (E.K.)

0.76 (R.J.)

0.89 (E.K.)

1.43 (R.J.)

0.35 (E.K.)

0.37 (R.J.)

2.35 (E.K.)

2.31 (R.J.)

0.24 (E.K.)

0.28 (R.J.)

2014-15

0.30 (E.K.)

0.48 (R.J.)

0.53 (E.K.)

1.02 (R.J.)

0.18 (E.K.)

0.40 (R.J.)

1.58 (E.K.)

2.46 (R.J.)

0.16 (E.K.)

0.31 (R.J.)

2013-14

0.52 (R.J.)

1.39 (R.J.)

0.47 (R.J.)

2.89 (R.J.)

0.24 (R.J.)

 

Johansen is the clear choice in multi-cat leagues. In fact, his outputs in each category for all seasons are better than Kuznetsov’s, with the sole exception of SOG for 2016-17. And although Johansen’s PIM and Hits remain especially strong for a scoring center, we can’t ignore his rapidly declining SOG rate, which is now down by a full shot per game from just three seasons ago.

Even elite centers who aren’t snipers still tend to shoot a lot. In fact, only 12 of the 103 instances of centers who scored 75+ points in any season between 2005-06 and 2015-16 corresponded to instances where the center averaged fewer than Johansen’s 1.91 SOG per game. And those 12 instances consisted of only five players: Henrik Sedin (five times), Joe Thornton (four), plus Backstrom, Saku Koivu, and Mike Ribeiro each once.

 

But before we use that data to all but write off Johansen’s prospects for elite scoring, let’s also consider that past PPPts data suggests better things still to come. After all, this marks the fourth time by age 25 Johansen has tallied 20+ PPPts; and since 2005-06, the following players have also met the same criteria by that age: Backstrom, Crosby, and Seguin, plus Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, and Thomas Vanek. What do they have in common, that Johansen doesn’t – at least not yet? One or more season of 76+ points, with all but Toews having two or more career 70+ point seasons.

 

So what it boils down to is whether Johansen’s dropping SOG rate or steady PPPt rate will bear more on his scoring. Of course we still have to factor in luck before reaching a conclusion, and we’ll do that next.

 

As already noted, Kuznetsov is an inferior multi-cat option. He excels in none of these areas, although in fairness he’s only a major drag in Blocks. What sticks out is Kuznetsov’s PPPts rate from 2015-16, since it was fairly high for someone who ranked only 5th in PP Time among team forwards, and especially since this season he had a lower rate despite similar deployment with the man advantage. One small plus is he’s managed to keep his SOG rate above two per game for this season, which shows he’s still dialed into the offense.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

Team Shooting % (5×5)

IPP (5×5)

IPP (5×4)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5×5)

2016-17

11.4% (E.K.)

9.3% (R.J.)

10.22% (E.K.)

7.83% (R.J.)

67.9% (E.K.)

60.8% (R.J.)

72.2% (E.K.)

87.0% (R.J.)

58.8% (E.K.)

54.8% (R.J.)

2015-16

10.4% (E.K.)

7.6% (R.J.)

10.25% (E.K.)

8.53% (R.J.)

76.6% (E.K.)

73.3% (R.J.)

73.1% (E.K.)

70.0% (R.J.)

56.3% (E.K.)

50.9% (R.J.)

2014-15

8.7% (E.K.)

12.9% (R.J.)

8.88% (E.K.)

8.59% (R.J.)

57.2% (E.K.)

70.0% (R.J.)

70.6% (E.K.)

69.7% (R.J.)

55.3% (E.K.)

48.6% (R.J.)

2013-14

13.9% (R.J.)

8.08% (R.J.)

84.1% (R.J.)

66.7% (R.J.)

45.7% (R.J.)

 

Kuznetsov’s 2015-16 metrics don’t indicate that he wasn’t significantly lucky last season, even on the PP; yet he’s doing worse this season despite being similarly lucky! How? Although Kuznetsov’s point per 60 minutes at 5×5 is 2.14 this season (23rd among 99 forwards who’ve skated 1000+ minutes at 5×5, and higher than Phil Kessel, Leon Draisaitl, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares and Blake Wheeler), it was 2.54 last season, which would rank him third this season behind only Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. I think Kuznetsov surprised teams last year; and this season he’s getting more attention, which also explains why Backstrom’s numbers are much higher. Bad news for Kuznetsov, and his fantasy owners.

 

For Johansen, we see his 5×5 IPP is the lowest of all four of these seasons, and 5×4 IPP the highest. Yet the impact of the former is more pronounced than that of the latter. If Johansen’s 5×5 IPP was merely the average of what it had been in his past three seasons, that would be 75.8, which would mean he’d have seven more points, whereas if his 5×4 IPP had been 68.8 (i.e., the average of his past three seasons), he’d have only four fewer points. Plus, Johansen’s 5×5 team shooting % is the lowest of these four seasons. In short, even despite shooting much less this season, it appears Johansen would be closer to – if not at or above – the 70 point mark had bad luck not frowned upon him overall.

 

 

Who Wins?

 

This is a clear-cut win for Johansen. A lot of attention is focused on Johansen shooting less this season and what it means for his long and short term production and value; but the truth is, had bad luck not dragged down his totals he might be at or even above his career high in points this season. With him entering his prime and there being seemingly no threats to his top line role he’s a decent bet for 70+ points for each near-term season, with a chance at 75+ due to his PP proficiency and if he resumes shooting more.

 

For Kuznetsov, clearly he’s talented — you don’t put up 77 points in today’s NHL, nor score 41 points in 41 games in an “off” season, without skill. He’s a victim of circumstance, not unlike a great goalie stuck behind an even better starter. Normally we could figure Backstrom is due for a decline at age 29, which would allow Kuznetsov to step in; but Backstrom’s game is well suited to flourish into his 30s, ala Joe Thornton. Thus, he figures to be a Kuznetsov roadblock for many seasons.

 

If you own Kuznetsov in a keeper, you owe it to yourself to shop him and hopefully trade off his high profile and still recent 77-point 2015-16 campaign. He’s a player to avoid in one-year leagues, as I can’t see a scenario where he’ll be worth where he’d need to be drafted. One possible silver lining is due to Backstrom’s superb year, teams might have no choice but to refocus on him more, and in turn put Kuznetsov back in position to perhaps produce more like he did last season.