Western Conference Playoff Heroes

by chriskane on April 8, 2019

Last year around playoff time we took a break to look back and examine what we called “unlikely playoff heroes.” The idea is that every year a couple of very surprising players emerge as key players for their team’s playoff runs. As a fantasy drafter you don’t really need me to tell you who are the best players to target on each team. What you might be interested in though is which depth players have the best shot at producing.

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Rick Roos started off this train with his research on unlikely playoff heroes, and then attempted to figure out if it was predictive of future performance. I went the other way and attempted to look at if there was anything in the season data that we could use to predict which players might be poised to be this year’s playoff hero. That way we could grab them ahead of time for our playoff pools. The below paragraph is an excerpt from that article and basically sums up what all of the playoff heroes had in common.

 

“So what was the prototypical unlikely playoff hero profile from 2014-18? An unlikely playoff hero, according to the above data, should have played 60+ games in the regular season (though Drouin and Guentzel show us that is might not always be required). The player should be averaging between .4 and .7 points per game, should be shooting around two shots a game, with a least a shoot percentage of 9%, be getting somewhere between 1:00 and 2:15 minutes on the power play, and skating between 13:00 and 17:00 minutes of total time on ice. The data points can fluctuate slightly depending on situation, and players might miss one point by a little, but this is the general target. Perhaps the single most important factor though is that they play for a team that is likely to get about 17 games during the playoffs.”

 

The idea is that an unlikely hero is a player that is already doing something with the opportunity they are being given, but has room for growth. That growth could be either in deployment (power play time, or total time on ice), or in favorable spikes of luck (team/personal shooting percentage, IPP etc.). A player who is already spiking a high shooting percentage or getting massive deployment isn’t likely to see a sudden, unanticipated increase in value. The most important factor though is that the player plays for a team that at least reaches the conference finals.

 

Last year there were 35 players who met the season criteria listed above and were on a playoff team. Four players on that list of 35 met the criteria Rick initially set out for playoff heros by the end of the playoffs. That means just picking randomly off of that list gave you an 11% chance of picking the hero. If you correctly guessed the final four teams, you had a 40% chance of picking last year’s unlikely hero. If you used the Dobber’s Expert panel predictions to give you the final four teams you had a 31%.

 

This season it looks like the potential pool of candidates is going to be quite a bit smaller. In the entire league we are looking at a pool of 11 players. We are going to briefly discuss the West Coast guys as that is my purview here, but I will leave the full list at the bottom. The West Coast list is (not surprisingly) smaller still and contains only five players.

 

               

ALEX TUCH

VGK

PATRIK LAINE

WPG

MAX PACIORETTY

VGK

CRAIG SMITH

NSH

TYLER BOZAK

STL

 

I am not going to spend too much time on Patrik Laine or Max Pacioretty. If they were playoff heroes, it would hardly surprise anyone. They both have had down years for sure (which is how they made this list), but they still carry enough name recognition that they will likely be snapped up fairly quickly.

 

Alex Tuch

Tuch plays for a deep Vegas team, and has had a difficult time finding his way into the top six since the trade deadline. In his last two weeks he has gotten some second line deployment with Mark Stone and Paul Stastny, but with the return of Max Pacioretty from injury he has been back down with Cody Eakin and Brandon Pirri. Tuch has demonstrated that he can do more when given the opportunity, but he is not currently getting it. With Tuch anyone who drafts him will be hoping Vegas goes far, and that Tuch sees a significant change in deployment.

 

Craig Smith

Over the last two weeks of the regular season, Smith has been seeing about 50% of his team’s power play time on a unit with Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Bryan Boyle. The ideal situation for Smith would be for Nashville to load up one unit and let him stay on it. Currently both units seem to be splitting time. Most of his even strength shifts has been with Mikael Granlund and Kyle Turris, which has not resulted in a ton of even strength production thus far. He is seeing only about 15 minutes a night, so there is definite room for growth there. If you draft Smith you are definitely looking for that power play time to bear some fruit and for his even strength time to jump up a bit.

 

Tyler Bozak

Being saddled with Pat Maroon isn’t a great look for Bozak, but he still has managed to put up a decent string of shots and points to end the season. There is some serious room for improvement in his power play deployment as he is only suiting up for about 25% of his team’s time. He has been spending most of his time on a unit with Jaden Schwartz and Robert Thomas, which is fine, but the top unit of Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, David Perron, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems pretty locked in at the moment. That unit is getting all of the time and if Bozak wants to up his production he will need to find a way onto that unit. He was there to begin the year, though that also correlated with the time when the Blues had the worst record in the league so they might not be in a hurry to try that one again. If you draft Bozak you are definitely hoping for a change to that top power play unit or that he finds an unexpected spark a la Lars Eller from 2017-18 from his third line deployment.

 

Overall, of these three, Smith seems to have the best deployment though I might argue that Tuch has the highest upside. Bozak seems relatively locked into his role, so will need a big swing in IPP, shooting percentage, or a flurry of third line production to make a big impact these playoffs. At the end of the day though which guy you want is really going to come down to which team you think is going to play the most games.

 

Full list as promised:

 

ALEX TUCH

VGK

ANDERS LEE

NYI

PATRIK LAINE

WPG

JAKE DEBRUSK

BOS

MAX PACIORETTY

VGK

ALEX GALCHENYUK

ARI

CRAIG SMITH

NSH

JORDAN EBERLE

NYI

TYLER BOZAK

STL

PATRIC HORNQVIST

PIT

MARCUS JOHANSSON

BOS