Top 10 surprises of 2018-19

by Tom Collins on April 15, 2019

Opportunities.

That’s what it takes for a player to have a successful year. Every player on this list had their opportunities this past season, whether it be on the power play, getting top-six minutes or finally getting a chance to play with elite linemates.

Last week, we used a basic math formula to figure out who the top 10 disappointments were. This week, we’re using the same formula to figure out the surprises. At the start of the season, I compiled the points projections of almost 300 players from 13 separate prognosticators. To figure out who was the most surprising, I looked at the average of all 13 predictions and compared them to the final point numbers.

With an increase in scoring, many of the top players saw higher than projected numbers. Nikita Kucherov, for example, had an average projection of 96 points and wound up with 128. While that is 32 points higher, most had Kucherov finishing in the top three in points. I won’t be including those players on this list.

One interesting note is that three players on this list (numbers 1, 3 and 5) had such low point projections that I didn’t even track them before the season began.

 

10. David Krejci

Krejci went from barely draftable to a must-own. Only drafted in three per cent of Yahoo leagues, and projected to get 49 points on average, Krejci finished the season with 73 points, 24 points higher than anticipated. It helped that he generally moved up the lineup anytime someone on the top line was injured. His most frequent linemates at 5-on-5 were Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak and a vast majority of his power-play points came with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the ice.

 

9. Timo Meier/Tomas Hertl

I’m combining these two for the obvious reasons: Both are former first-round picks that play with the Sharks and had a major breakthrough this season. They were also both 25 points above their average projection. Hertl had 74 points against an average projection of 49 and Meier had 66 points against an average projection of 41. For the most part, they had pretty identical seasons (Hertl had 57 even-strength points vs Meier’s 54 and there was only nine seconds difference between their even-strength ice time). These were the breakout seasons we’ve been expecting from Hertl for a while and thought Meier was still a couple of years away from having.

 

8. Brayden Point

After the top couple of Lightning forwards, it was pretty tough to gauge who was going to be the great Tampa breakout player going into the season. There were plenty of options, and it all depended on who was going to play on that top line with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. J.T. Miller had a great tryout there at the end of last season and many thought Yanni Gourde could build on a great 2017-18 rookie season. Instead, Point got that plum spot and wound up with 92 points, 27 above the average projection.

 

7. Jonathan Toews

I’ve mentioned this quite a bit in these columns, but I’m a big believer in winning hockey pools by letting others overpay for young talent while you pick up older established talent at a much cheaper price. It’s tough to project which of those older players are going to rebound, but you basically need to look at guys who will continue to get tons of opportunity even when they go through cold snaps. Although with older players, you can’t guarantee consistent great seasons but you can easily put together a championship team focusing on players 27 years and older. After three seasons averaging 56 points, Toews set a career high at 81 points, 25 points higher than his average projection of 56 points.

 

6. Zach Parise

We shouldn’t have been that surprised by Parise’s shocking season as there were promising signs going into last October that he could rebound. In 2017-18, he missed 39 games because of a microdiscectomy surgery for his back and it took him a while to get back into things. However, he had 12 goals and 17 points in the final 21 games. He continued that hot streak into this season, finishing with 28 goals and 61 points in 74 games. That was 22 points higher than the 39-point average projection, and no prognosticator had him at more than 45 points.

 

5. Thomas Chabot

Chabot was one of the biggest surprises in the first half of the season, as he put up 38 points in 38 games and made losing Erik Karlsson a lot easier for Sens fans. He cooled off somewhat in the second half thanks to injuries, but still finished with 55 points, 16 of which came on the power play. It will be interesting to see what happens with Chabot the next couple of years as he could be usurped by Erik Brannstrom.

 

4. Elias Lindholm

One of the best things about Dobber’s annual fantasy guide is the fact it is continuously updated until the regular season. But even so, Dobber had Lindholm finishing with 60 points when the Guide was released August 1 and stood pat on that number throughout the preseason. Only one other projection had him above 50, and the average was 48. Of course, Lindholm went off for 78 points playing on Calgary’s top line, 30 points higher than the average. Many of the other prognosticators, which goes to print in the early summer, had James Neal finishing with more points than Lindholm. Of course, Neal was one of the top disappointments in last week’s column.

 

3. Dylan Strome

Strome is probably the easiest example when it comes to showing how opportunity can change a player’s value. In 20 games with Arizona, Strome averaged 13:32 per game with little power-play time and inferior linemates. After two-and-a-bit seasons of this, Strome was finally dealt. In Chicago, his ice time jumped to 17:04 per game, he saw more power-play time and had much better linemates. He wound up with 51 points in 58 games in Chicago and 57 points on the season. He’s only 22 years old and a good example of why you shouldn’t necessarily give up on young players after a couple of subpar seasons.

 

2. Mark Giordano

In any other year, Giordano would have been easily the top guy on this list. His average projection was 38 points, which would have put him in in the barely draftable category. Former Dobber writer Steve Laidlaw had Giordano ranked the highest at 51 points. Giordano blew away all those projections with an amazing 74 points (and would probably have had a few more if the Flames didn’t sit him out for most of the final week of the season). With the average projection at 38 points, Giordano had the highest missed average missed projection of all players. Remember, Gio’s previous two seasons saw him post 38 and 39 points, so there was nothing that screamed he was going to challenge for the Norris trophy. He’ll be tough to gauge for next season, as he didn’t really do anything differently this season compared to last (his shots, shooting percentage, time on ice and power-play ice time were mostly static), so it will be difficult to figure out if this was a one-time thing or not.

 

1. Erik Gustafsson

It’s sometimes interesting how smaller decisions can have such a huge impact on a player. As of Dec. 14, Gustafsson had just come back after missing two games with an illness and was a healthy scratch for another game in early December. Although he flirted with time on the top power-play unit, he was mostly entrenched on the second group. Also at the time, the Hawks had the worst power-play in the league. Then Henri Jokiharju went to the World Juniors tournament. He wasn’t having the greatest season, but he was given an opportunity at times on the top man-advantage unit. So when the Hawks made a switch on the power play, it fell to Gustafsson. Would Jokiharju have been given that opportunity had he still been in Chicago? There’s no way to know, but what we do know is that on Dec. 16, Gustafsson became the Hawks top power-play quarterback. The Hawks then had the second-best power play the rest of the year and Gustafsson put up 46 points in 48 games the rest of the season, finishing with 60 points.