Four interesting training camp battles of fantasy note in the Western Conference
With the start of the NHL regular season roughly 10 days away and most players in camps with the completion of the World Cup camp battles are starting to sort themselves out. In some cases the results of these battles can result in players picking up a lot of fantasy value in short order, very close to the start of the season. Betting on the result of a training camp battle is a big gamble as just because a player wins a spot it does not mean he will keep it long term. Below are some battles that have the potential to bestow upon the winner a significant boost in their fantasy value. There is likely not a Lee Stempniak in this group but there are some good depth options in both points leagues as well as multi-category leagues.
Christian Dvorak vs. Dylan Strome
This is not a straightforward camp battle as there is a chance that the loser of this battle still grabs a spot on the Coyotes’ roster. Strome has the inside track on grabbing a roster spot if only because Dvorak can be sent to the AHL whereas Strome would have to be sent to the OHL. Sending Strome to the OHL would basically be a stagnation of his development whereas sending Dvorak to the AHL would still be a step up for the promising prospect. Thus if it came down to a decision between the two prospects it would make sense to keep Strome over Dvorak assuming similar camp performances. It should be noted that both have shown well during training camp and in preseason games. The possibility of both making the Coyotes roster is based on the Coyotes’ lack of depth at center. There are two givens at center in Martin Hanzal and Brad Richardson and then a lot of question marks such as the aforementioned prospects plus Ryan White and Laurent Dauphin. A lot will depend on how Dave Tippett builds his roster. There is already one offensive line: Hanzal’s, and one defensive line: Richardson’s. With a third line set to be centered by an offensive-minded rookie that means there are already two offensive lines on the books. The question then is how many offensive lines Tippett wants to roll out and whether he trusts Domi and Duclair to play heavier minutes alongside Hanzal. Tippett is generally a defensive-minded coach so it is hard to see him going with three offensive-minded lines, especially if has doubts about Domi and Duclair defensively. That suggests that either Dauphin or White, likely Dauphin, would be called upon to center a second defensive minded line which would mirror last year’s roster construction. Dvorak has been getting very positive reviews for how advanced his defensive game is at this stage of his development, giving him a bit of a boost. As it stands now the Strome looks like he has a 70% shot of landing on the roster, which would likely mean around 40 points. Earlier Dvorak’s chances would have been lower but his better than expected defense gives him roughly a 40% chance with a defensive center being somewhere in between. If Dvorak makes the team both have 40-point potential due to the Coyotes’ depth on the wing and the likelihood that they would both see power-play time.
Winger with Gaudreau and Monahan
Winger with Bennett and Brouwer
Winger with Frolik and Backlund
From reports around the Flames’ training camp Glen Gulutzan, the new Flames coach, has settled on three pairings as the basis for his lines this season. They are as listed above Gaudreau with Monahan, Bennett with Brouwer and Frolik with Backlund. The prize spots should be on the Monahan and Bennett lines as the Backlund line will almost certainly be used to take on the heaviest minutes for the Flames. A spot on that line is not a deathblow to the player who lands there, as Backlund and Frolik were tremendous together last year. While they do not score at elite rates they generally dominate the flow of play and, even with horrible goaltending last year, scored more goals than the opposition when on the ice. Last year Backlund had the most success with Joe Colborne, now in Colorado, and Micheal Ferland as the third member of the line. In 2014-15 he also had success with Lance Bouma, meaning that Bouma and Ferland should be seen as the most likely members of this line. Neither would have a ton of fantasy value, outside of leagues that count peripheral categories, in that role. Without a lot of offensively talented depth up front there are limited options for the top two lines. Given Gulutzan’s proclivity for playing agitators that would suggest Alex Chiasson and Ferland will be given big roles in this year's lineup, at least until Daniel Pribyl is healthy.
This could mean big things for both Chiasson and Ferland this year. A simple examination of Chiasson’s numbers under Gulutzan show what is possible this year. In 2013/14, his only full year under Gulutzan, Chiasson had 35 points in 79 games. In the two years since he only has 40 points in 153 games. The big difference is that under Gulutzan he played 15 minutes per game compared to 13-and-a-half minutes each of the last two seasons. More importantly he averaged more than three minutes per game on the power play in 2013-14. He will not receive those huge power play minutes but he also has never played major minutes on a line which scores as much as Gaudreau and Monahan. In 2013-14 Chiasson was on the ice for just over two goals per 60 minutes and has been on the ice for less than two goals per 60 minutes in the last two years. When Gaudreau and Monahan were on the ice together last year the Flames scored three goals per 60 minutes. That would be a huge change for Chiasson. In his best year Chiasson had 20 even strength points based on being involved in 64.5% of the two goals per 60 minutes that were scored when he was on the ice. A similar involvement this year would net him 25 points. The big thing for Chiasson though is that he starts shooting more again as his shot rate has fallen from two to one shot per game since the 2013-14 season, with no change in his shooting percentage. To wrap, if Chiasson and Ferland land spots on the top two lines – 30 points, 150 hits and 60 penalty minutes is possible for each player. That makes them worthy depth as long as peripherals are counted.
You can find Calgary's productive line combinations in the preseason by looking at this report here.
Nick Schmaltz vs. Tyler Motte
Cap problems have created an opening on the Toews-Hossa line for the second consecutive year. In actuality this year’s opening is basically just a continuation of the problems created by last year’s trade of Brandon Saad. Last year neither Teuvo Teravainen nor Andrew Shaw were able to step up sufficiently, not that Marian Hossa’s shooting woes helped. This year the battle for the roster spot has come down to two prospects fresh out of college. Schmaltz is arguably the more talented prospect but Motte has had the better training camp. Motte has been as good as Schmaltz offensively while displaying better consistency, poise and defensive awareness, even being used on the penalty kill. Given how the Toews line is used it is important that the third member of the line be responsible in the defensive end. Motte’s better two-way game gives him a better shot at landing on the Toews this year. With the emergence of Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin as a top flight duo the members of this line not named Toews will not see the power play time that would have two or three years ago. And indications are that the Hawks will split up Panarin and Kane, reuniting Kane with Toews. Either way, the extra spot in the top six will be worth its wait in gold. Should the winner, looking very much like Motte, stick on the Toews line this spot is worth at least 40 points.
You can run a report on all of Motte's linemates this preseason right here.
Tyson Barrie’s partner
There are a number of possibilities in Colorado’s camp for this position. There are a couple newcomers, Patrick Wiercioch and Fedor Tyutin, as well as a couple of younger internal options, Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov. Tyutin is the one option that sticks out as being significantly different from other three in that he is more of a stay-at-home defenseman. That gives him an edge should new coach Jared Bednar decide that Barrie needs a partner who will stay back while Barrie ventures up ice and joining the rush. There is no pattern in Barrie’s past that suggests he would thrive more with a specific type of defenseman. His numbers have fluctuated wildly from year to year even regardless of whether he played with Nick Holden or Nate Guenin. Without a seeming specific preference on Barrie’s part it is necessary to look at Bednar’s preferred style of play. Bednar historically has preferred an up-tempo game, which fits the Avalanche roster well. That does not however bode well for Tyutin being given a big role on Colorado’s offensive pairing. With Erik Johnson and Francois Beauchemin taking the toughest minutes the bulk of the heavy lifting offensively falls to Barrie and his partner. As such a pairing with a more mobile partner makes a lot more sense. Barrie has seen limited action this preseason so there are not a lot of indications as to who is most likely to play with him. Barrie’s partners over the last two years could be counted on for 12-15 points at even strength. Assuming that the Avalanche score more this year under Bednar that could jump as high as 20 points just at even strength. A more offensive partner, assuming a little power play time could hit 30 points this year. Given the available impressions of their training camp performances it looks like Wiercioch and Zadorov have the lead, and Wiercioch’s experience should give him an advantage.
Statistics in this week's column were drawn from Stats.hockeyanalysis.com and the reports found in Dobber's Frozen Pool.
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