Ten players who are the best bets to keep up their hot start…
Last week we looked at the top 10 players to worry about. We're flipping it around this week by looking at the top 10 players who can turn their hot start into a productive fantasy season.
Instead we're going to look at players that are having better starts than you might have anticipated. While there will obviously be a little cool off for the guys on this list, many of them stand a good chance of approaching career highs.
We're going to list three reasons why each player can continue his early-season success.
Onto the list.
10. Artemi Panarin
No one expected Panarin would challenge for the rookie scoring lead, but he's only two points back of Connor McDavid. Three reasons: 1) Panarin is pretty much stuck with Patrick Kane. 2) Panarin is averaging 18:36 ice time a night (second among rookie forwards), and 3:15 on the power play (also second). 3) He's notched a point in seven of his 11 games, so he's been pretty consistent so far.
Yes, he's going to miss 20 games. But he should still be good for 60 points in New Jersey this season. Three reasons: 1) He's averaging about three shots a game, which is more than usual. 2) Despite the bevy of shots, his shooting percentage is the lowest it's ever been at 8.8 per cent and he has just three goals. Once his shooting percentage goes back toward his normal 12.5 per cent, then the goals will come. 3) He's also getting plenty of ice time and power play ice time in New Jersey, as there's no one to really to challenge him for the top line there.
Three reasons: 1) He's secretly turned into an iron man, missing a total of two games since the 2012-13 season. So you can pencil him in for at least 80 games. 2) He plays on the top power play unit and with former Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban. That means he isn't the focus of the defence and frees him up to sneak up to the net. 3) His shorthanded time on ice per game is down to 1:38 per game this year compared to 2:30 last year. That means there's a less likely chance he will wear down as the season goes on and will be able to continue putting up great offensive numbers post-All Star break..
Fun fact: There were four defensemen tied for the league lead in points going into last night's games: P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Erik Karlsson and Klingberg. The sophomore has 11 points in 11 games. Three reasons: 1) He's the Stars only defenseman on the team's top power play. 2) He gets to play regularly with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn regularly. 3) And he's on a team that is offence first, and defence fifth or sixth.
6. James Neal
Neal leads the Predators with 10 points in 11 games, which may be surprising considering he had a miserable 37 points in 67 games last year. Three reasons: He is shooting the puck a ton. 1) His 44 shots is in the top 10. 2) He's playing a ton with Filip Forsberg (Forsberg is on the ice for 83.6 per cent of Neal's TOI, according to Behind the Net). 3) His shooting percentage is a whopping 15.9 per cent, the highest its ever been but not that far off his career average of 12.3 per cent.
Plekanec is the ultimate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He can get 60 points one season, and 40 points the next. Three reasons: 1) This year, he's playing a regular shift so far with Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty on the top line who are the team's best offensive forwards. 2) He's second on the team's forwards in power play time on ice per game and first in overall time on ice. 3) He's actually not shooting the puck as much as he usually does. Once that starts to change, there's a better chance he'll score more goals.
Think Wheeler misses Evander Kane? Not a chance. Once Kane was traded Feb. 11, Wheeler had 20 points in 23 games last season and 14 points in 12 games this year. Before the trade, he had 41 points in 56 games. Three reasons: 1) He's second on the team in power play ice time per game and third among forwards overall. 2) As mentioned, no Evander Kane to provide a distraction. 3) And like Plekanec, Wheeler isn't close to his average shot-per-game total. Once that rises, so too should the points.
Kuznetsov is already one-third of the way to his overall point total from last year. Sure, he got five points in one game to inflate his total. Outside of that contest, he still has eight points in nine games. Three reasons: 1) He's playing steadily on a line with Alexander Ovechkin. According to Behind the Net, Kuznetsov has been on the ice for 83 per cent of all of Ovechkin's even strength shifts. 2) He's getting his points without being on the top power play unit. If he can crack that unit, he's got a better shot of more points. 3) He's second on the team in even strength ice time per game among Caps forwards.
O'Reilly has been on quite a tear the last few games after a slow start to the season, with 10 points in his last six games and 13 points in 12 games overall. He's quickly become the go-to guy on Buffalo. Three reasons: 1) He leads all Sabres forwards in time on ice per game, and is second overall in power play ice time per game. 2) He's somehow putting up the points without much help from his teammates. No one else has more than six points. What will happen once they start going? 3) There's no pressure from anyone on the team usurping his top-line minutes this season.
1. David Krejci
Last season, everything went wrong for Krejci. This year, everything is going right. Already with 15 points in 10 games, Krejci finds himself among the league leaders in points. Three reasons: 1) He's averaging three shots a game, easily the highest amount he's ever averaged. 2) He's a beast on the power play, with seven points. He also has the highest average PP TOI. 3) He doesn't have a history of injuries. So last year was just an aberration to his 65-points-plus ways.
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