Ramblings: Bold predictions for the upcoming season

by Michael Clifford on August 27, 2019

 

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There was a good article over at TSN yesterday from Travis Yost, discussing the decline of workload for goaltenders. You can read it here.

I wrote about the decline of goalie starts across the league a couple months ago. My conclusion at the time was that 2018-19 could be the start of a trend in the league moving towards more 1A/1B situations like we saw with the Islanders, but I didn’t do the analysis based on ice time and going back a decade as Yost did. His much more thorough research indicates that starter minutes have been declining basically since the lockout year, though in-season trends can fluctuate (which leads back to the conclusion I found). I recommend going through his article. 

Anyway, if this trend continues, goalie starts are just going to be at even more of a premium, and drafting goalie tandems will, I think, become more popular. I also wonder if this means that streaming goalies is more viable than ever due to more options on a nightly basis.

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Well, it’s almost time. This is the last week of the unofficial summer, with Labour Day weekend ahead and after that, the NFL season. Summer runs well into September but post-Labour Day is when things really start to heat up in the fantasy hockey realm.

I have a series of posts planned for my Ramblings in September that discusses everything fantasy owners need to know. Whether it be rankings or projections, discussing more positional battles, under-the-radar targets, and more. That’s basically going to be everything I write about for the first two weeks next month, and then adding in some training camp news once those get going.

My two Ramblings this week are going to be bold predictions, this one discussing forwards and the next blueliners and netminders. I also want to discuss the concept of bold predictions for a second.

It’s important to consider a range of outcomes. Having a player ranked 77th among skaters indicates what we think is the most likely outcome for a player, but there are a lot of possibilities to every hockey season. While I often think some ‘Bold Prediction’ columns are done with the intention of simply riling up the reader, I do think they can be useful to get readers to consider what’s possible for a player, rather than simply being pigeonholed at a certain ranking.

With that in mind, here are some bold predictions for 2019-20, starting with forwards today. Reminder: these aren’t probable, but that’s not the point here.

 

J.T. Miller is a top-75 skater in hits leagues

After back-to-back seasons exceeding 20 goals, 55 points, and 100 hits, Miller fell below the goals and points marks, considerably, in 2018-19. That was largely driven by three things: a four-year low in shooting percentage, a primary assist rate at five-on-five that was about 60 percent lower than what it was in the three years prior, and, relatedly, an individual points percentage (IPP, or the rate he garners a point when a goal is scored with him on the ice at 5v5) that was 15 percent lower than his three-year rate prior. The final thing was ice time, posting just 14:40 per game, or the lowest for him since 2014-15 and a complete reversal of his ice time gains made throughout his career. I suspect Miller will be skating with Bo Horvat both at 5v5 and on the top power play, which should mean 17-18 minutes a game at least with lots of opportunities to produce. This could push him towards 60 points again, and significant fantasy relevance. If he ends up with Elias Pettersson at 5v5, well, even better.

 

Timo Meier scores 40 goals

I wrote last week about just how good Meier is so there’s not much need to go further in that regard. At this moment, my projection for Meier is 31.5 goals, which is an improvement on last year, but a far cry from 40 goals. However, he checks all the boxes for a guy set for a monster year: hitting his prime scoring years, a couple players have been moved which should mean more ice time about both 5v5 and on the PP, and multiple years of monster shot volume rates. The stars are aligning.

 

Brett Ritchie gets to 20 goals for the first time

Sometimes, all a player needs is a change of scenery. A few years ago, Ritchie scored 16 goals playing often a bottom-6 role for the Stars. Since then, he has 11 goals in 124 games, which really doesn’t bode well for his future fantasy value.

It’s really been a tale of two careers for Ritchie from a certain perspective: shooting. From 2014-17, a span of 117 games in a bottom-6 role, Ritchie led the Dallas Stars in shot rate at 5v5 by a significant margin, landing more than an extra shot every 60 minutes than the next-closest Stars forward. League-wide, out of 348 forwards with at least as many minutes played as Ritchie in that span, he was 11th in shots on goal per minute, just 0.3 shots/60 minutes behind Jeff Skinner. That’s a lot of volume.

Of course, the Stars were a different team back then. They were the most high-event team in the NHL from 2014 through 2017, and then Hitchcock took over (and then Montgomery), and it’s been a downward offensive spiral since, going from first in shot volume as a team to 20th in the last two years.

Ritchie’s shot rate followed suit and he never regained his footing. Now he’s in Boston, on a team that is desperate to find consistent secondary scoring. There’s room on the right side of the top-6 for Ritchie if he can grab a hold of it. That they’re a higher-paced team than the Stars can only help. Also, Ritchie can pitch in big hit totals so he’s a guy cap leaguers should be all over.

(Just so we’re clear here: I’m ready to take the L on Ritchie. I’ve been taking them on Ritchie for at least two years now.)

 

Jordan Kyrou outscores Robert Thomas

In the AHL last year, Kyrou had 43 points in 47 games playing on a team that finished a distant last in their division and scored the fourth-fewest goals in the league. He finished third on the team in scoring, four points behind the leader, in 24 fewer games. That was his first full year in the AHL, and he was 20 years old. Kyrou has all the skills necessary – a knack for scoring, great speed, and great hands – to be an offensive force in the NHL.

Thomas had a great rookie year for the Cup-winning Blues but I do wonder if they use him more as the 3C this year. It would make sense to have someone like Brayden Schenn slide to the wing, bolstering the left side, while moving up Tyler Bozak to the 2C and having Thomas be the 3C. That would likely mean having a winger like David Perron on the third line to help out Thomas, leaving Kyrou with some room in the top-6.

There are obviously a lot of moving parts here. The Blues, even with the departure of Pat Maroon, have a deep forward group, and have guys like Kyrou, Bokk, and Kostin knocking on the door (to various degrees; I don’t think Bokk and Kostin are significant challengers for roster spots this year). My thought process is that talent wins out and Kyrou has as much talent as almost anyone not in the NHL on a full-time basis in 2018-19. That should change in 2019-20.

 

Sam Reinhart breaks both 30 goals and 70 points

I don’t have Reinhart realistically close to either mark in my projections. As of today, I have him at 21.3 goals and 59.7 points. But there is a path to where he has a big year.

Over the last three years, Buffalo has really struggled to score with Jack Eichel off the ice. Consider this: over the last three years, Reinhart has more points (162) than Nikolaj Ehlers (161), and yet, when Reinhart was on the ice without Eichel, the team scored 2.02 goals/60 minutes at 5v5, or about as often as the woeful Ducks did as a team last year. There is very little scoring depth here to speak of.

This depth scoring problem was addressed with the additions of Marcus Johansson, Jimmy Vesey, and Conor Sheary (though he came around earlier). Those three players have six seasons of at least 15 goals between them over the last three years, and Johansson only played 87 games over the last two years which severely limited his production. Last year, Buffalo only had four players manage at least 15 goals, and one of them (Jason Pominville) doesn’t look to be returning. While names like MJ90, Vesey, and Sheary might not seem like significant additions over the last year, they’re significant upgrades on what existed in Buffalo. (Not to mention the hopeful progression of Casey Mittelstadt.)

This obviously helps Reinhart in the minutes he plays away from Eichel. With Eichel coming into his prime, and that power play hopefully improving on its middle-of-the-road status, Reinhart could really turn a lot of heads. I think a lot of people don’t realize he had 65 points last year, his fourth straight season of point total improvement.

 

Travis Konecny finishes as a top-75 skater in hits leagues

I want to show everyone a list. This is the list of players with multiple seasons with at least 24 goals in their age-20 and age-21 seasons since the 2013 lockout campaign (from Hockey Reference’s Play Index):

 

 

There are 12 names on that list and 10 of them are probably going to be drafted in the first five or six rounds. Nikolaj Ehlers might be the 11th if the Jets would ever use him on the top PP unit. The 12th is Travis Konecny.

Now, of course 24 goals is an arbitrary cut-off point. But even if we lower to 20 goals, we add names like William Nylander, Mikko Rantanen, and Aleksander Barkov. The only real kind of fantasy bust was Alex Galchenyuk, and he’s still just 25 years old and is now playing with Malkin, Crosby, Letang and company. In other words, getting to that mark at that age should bode very well for Konecny’s future.

The question is where he slots in the lineup. Does he get to the top-6? Something like Giroux-Couturier-Konecny on the top line and JvR-Hayes-Voracek on the second line makes a lot of sense to me. On the other hand, maybe they want Konecny down on the third line to help lengthen the lineup a bit more. I also doubt that Konecny gets much run on the top PP unit, which does cap his upside.

Konecny’s problem is he’s not very good defensively. Now, he’s only 22 years old but even a significant improvement in this regard would get him to average levels. That may actually work in his favour though because I doubt the team wants Konecny skating with Nolan Patrick, where they might get run over in tough road matchups. Rather, putting a guy who has defensive issues but can score on the top line with one of the best two-way centres alive seems a good way to get the most out of Konecny. Even just bouncing around the lineup, Konecny can pop 25 goals, 50 points, nearly 200 shots, and hopefully rebound his hit totals to a hit per game. That would be a good year, but I think Konecny has more in him, especially if he can get the right line mates at even strength.