We’re only a couple of weeks away from NHL teams hitting the midpoint of the season, and that’s always a good time to have a look-see at the hits and misses of the first half.
Obviously, there are always surprises. No matter how many prognosticators you follow, or how many computer simulations are run, there are always players that inexplicably have a season that no one saw coming.
Think of it as the William Karlsson rule. There was nothing to suggest he was going to be a 40-goal scorer last year. Then he got the opportunity, the ice time and the linemates, and bam, a season that not even his family could have expected.
Below are 10 players that are defying expectations so far this season.
10. David Krejci
No one in the preseason would have projected Krejci to get back to a 70-point pace. He was down on the depth chart, many were hoping for big things from younger players and he isn’t exactly known for staying healthy. However, he is now on pace to hit 70 after picking up nine points in his last six games playing with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Don’t expect him to reach that lofty goal, as Patrice Bergeron is now skating on his own, and could start practicing with the Bruins on Wednesday and be ready for game action next weekend. If that happens, expect Krejci to be bumped back down the lineup where the points won’t be as easy to come by.
While there may have been a few believers in the preseason, there couldn’t have been many fantasy hockey general managers that expected by Christmas a 30-year-old netminder with a career four NHL games to have stolen the starting job from a goalie that has averaged 70 starts the previous two years. Koskinen has been exceptional this year and has started eight of the last 11 Oiler games. As long as he keeps winning, he’ll be the starting netminder.
8. Keith Yandle
Yandle is this year’s player that is overlooked while having a great season. While many are raving about Mark Giordano, Morgan Rielly and Thomas Chabot, there hasn’t been much mention of the Panthers’ defenseman, who was sixth in the league in points heading into Sunday’s action. His 29 points in 31 games puts him on pace for 77. He’s shooting at a rate that he hasn’t done since leaving Arizona and the NHL iron man — he hasn’t missed a game in 11 seasons — seems like a good bet to reach 60 points for the first time ever.
Let’s take a second to recognize just how truly great Fleury has been this season in points-only pools. If leagues that count two points for a win and three for a shutout, Fleury has already amassed 53 points. This easily leads the league. In second would be Frederik Andersen with 37 points. In a full year, a 40-win, six-shutout goalie would net 98 points. Right now, Fleury is on pace to smash that number. The biggest issues are that Fleury has spent extended time on the IR the last few years (so he’s always a health risk), and there’s a chance that by playing in 31 of Vegas’ first 35 games, he’s going to burn out.
Once a fantasy darling, Nyquist has fallen out of favour the last few years. Of course, averaging 47 points over four seasons, including only 40 points in 2017-18, will do that to a player’s value. However, he’s rebounding pretty good so far this year, with 30 points in 34 games. That’s a 72-point pace, which would easily be the best of his career (only once has he broken 50, and that was 54 points back in 2014-15). Nothing has really changed for him this year. His ice time, power-play time, shooting percentage and shot rate are all basically the same as they were a year ago. The biggest difference is probably linemates. Last year, Dylan Larkin was only on the ice for 5.8 per cent of Nyquist’s 5-on-5 shifts. This year, that has jumped up to 47.5 per cent, which is probably helping Nyquist pick up a significant extra number of assists.
5. Zach Parise
I’m not too sure if there are many people who can explain Parise’s comeback this year, but maybe he’s finally healthy for the first time in a long while. Indeed, he seems to be rejuvenated with 15 goals and 29 points in 31 games (that’s a 40-goal, 77-point pace). He’s getting lots of ice time and is on the top power-play unit, but there are also some troubling signs. His 17 per cent shooting percentage is about five points above his career average, and his offensive zone starts is below 50 per cent for the first time in his career.
It feels like we’ve been waiting forever for Zibanejad to break out, but despite being in his seventh year in the NHL, he’s only 25 years old. The Rangers centre has 28 points in 32 games and is on pace for 72 points. Injuries usually derail him, but it’s nice to see him breaking out this way. Keep in mind his ice time is up two minutes per game from last year (which was already a career high) and his shot-per-game average is the highest of his career.
3. Max Domi
Domi may not have the gaudy on-pace point totals as others on this list, but he has been a complete surprise. Very few people thought Domi could crack the 55-point barrier this season, but with 33 points in 33 games, he is on pace for 82 points. Maybe better still, he’s on pace 35 goals. He scored 36 in his 222 games with Arizona.
Much of the attention this year has been on linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, leaving Landeskog a little underappreciated in the fantasy hockey community. However, the Avalanche captain already has 40 points, and is on pace for 99. The third wheel has been shooting the puck a lot more this season, getting to just over three shots per game. His ice time is at a career-high 21 minutes per game and he already has 12 power-play points.
Of course, no list of top surprises would be complete without having a player that was tied for most points by a defenseman going into Sunday’s action. Everyone keeps expecting Chabot to slow down for a myriad of reasons (his inflated secondary points total, other teams will figure him out, his high shooting percentage will start to regress, he starts most of his shifts in the defensive zone, etc.). However, none of that has happened, and Chabot has 13 points in his last 15 games. He has recorded a shot in all but three games, but he should also be getting some love for blocking shots. His 63 blocked shots put him in the top 15 in the league.
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