Typically the Looking Ahead feature identifies one player to plug into lineups in both the short and long terms, and one player to be concerned about in both the short and long terms; given the season hasn’t quite started, this week’s Looking Ahead will take a look at the first half of the schedule – up to the All-Star break – and consider one player at each position who should jump out to either strong or weak starts.
The Hot Starters (Their value should be highest at the start of the season and could make good trade chips)
Antti Raanta, G, Arizona Coyotes (Yahoo! ADP: 135, 24th-highest goalie) – Although he’s getting a lot of positive talk among the more knowledgeable fantasy hockey set, Raanta is still extremely undervalued at his position as shown by his ADP. In the first half of the season, the Coyotes have only six back-to-backs which means barring injury, Raanta should play 33-36 games in the first half. Last season, the Coyotes improved immensely in the second half after getting used to a new coaching system, and Raanta was the lynchpin with a 0.930SV%, 24.82GSAA, and a whopping 32 Quality Starts (where his SV% was better than league average.) On a sleeper playoff team, Raanta should be targeted in drafts or via trade, immediately.
Erik Brannstrom, D, Vegas Golden Knights (Yahoo! ADP: N/A) – This is a high-risk/high-reward pick and should only be considered in keepers or extremely deep pools, but with the Vegas D corps a mess at the moment with Nate Schmidt suspended for 20 games and Shea Theodore still holding out, there’s an opportunity here for the Swedish rookie. Brannstrom recorded 1G-3A at the World Juniors last season along with a 2G-13A season in the SHL against players much older and stronger. He is a quick puck-moving defenseman in the vein of Erik Karlsson; in two pre-season games so far, Brannstrom has picked up matching games of 1G-1A and ran the point on the power play.
Mike Hoffman, LW, Florida Panthers (Yahoo! ADP: 99, 25th-highest LW) – The Panthers have a lot of back-to-back situations which is tough for all players (see below for more), but there are some highlights in the Cats’ schedule to start the season: they play the Islanders twice, Ottawa twice, and Buffalo and Detroit three times apiece. While the season has yet to play out, the goaltending of Robin Lehner, Craig Anderson, Carter Hutton and Jimmy Howard shouldn’t scare anyone, and last season all four teams ranked in the bottom-10 in penalty killing. Given Hoffman’s expected role on PP1 and playing 19+ minutes/game on the “second” line with Jonathan Huberdeau/Vincent Trocheck, he should outperform both over the season but more importantly over the first half.
The Disappointing Picks (They may come out weak and would make good trade targets)
Roberto Luongo, G, Florida Panthers (Yahoo! ADP: 128, 23rd-highest goalie) – In a 1A/1B situation in Florida – where his counterpart James Reimer is getting drafted ~50 picks later as the 50th goalie – Luongo has to fight a tough schedule to start the season: Florida has ten back-to-backs, which combined with a lack of clarity as to who’s starting, means Luongo should see no more than 20 games at the halfway point. Over his last two years in Florida, he’s played seasons of 40 and 35GP thanks to injury, scheduling and the timeshare in net, and this year should be no different; he could make for an interesting trade target later in the year if his play holds up to previous seasons.
Duncan Keith, D, Chicago Blackhawks (Yahoo! ADP: 147, 40th-highest D) – The ‘Hawks are jamming in ten B2Bs in the first half and are playing 51 total games before the break – tough on the body, especially tough on a 35-year old defenseman with 25,092 minutes played in his career (an average of 25:13/game.) With the incredibly poor season last year, expectations for Chicago are lower than they’ve been in a long, long time, and their division promises to be as challenging if not more than last season. Last season did see some positive trends for Keith, starting in the O-zone 60% of the time, but his PP production was the lowest since the 47 games he played in the lockout season and his best days will prove to be behind him. Avoid in drafts, monitor his minutes, and consider making an offer once the break hits if he’s keeping his TOI lower (which sounds counter to the norm, but needs to be kept in mind for the 35+ set.)
Derick Brassard, F, Pittsburgh Penguins (Yahoo! ADP: N/A) – Quick, guess who’s played the most NHL games (reg. season or playoffs) over the last five years? Shockingly, it’s Brassard, who has been getting some summer push as a bounce-back candidate in deep pools now that he’s healthy and on a much better team than he started last season with. Unfortunately, Brassard is more likely to crumble than anything else and should be ignored in all drafts. Last season, the Penguins had 19 back-to-backs and performed terribly in the second games of those B2Bs, and although this season sees that ease back, the team still has six B2Bs before the All-Star break. Pittsburgh also plays five games in nine nights on the road against tough Western Conference opponents.
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