Ramblings: Defencemen, PP roles for Okposo, Nichushkin, Jost, and More – August 14

by Michael Clifford on August 14, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Defencemen, PP roles for Okposo, Nichushkin, Jost, and More – August 14

 

Don’t forget to grab your copy of the 2018-19 Dobber Hockey fantasy hockey guide! It’s available now in the Dobber Shop and is constantly updated. For those who’ve purchased already, all that is needed for the updates is to re-download the guide. Get to the Dobber Shop and get a leg up on your competition now!

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NBC released their NHL schedule yesterday, complete with a re-branding of Rivalry Night – which was always a joke – to Wednesday Night Hockey. It's for the main network, NBCSN, and their streaming service. The highlights include 19 games for the Chicago Blackhawks and none for Vancouver and Ottawa. Everything can be viewed here.

For a more detailed breakdown of the NHL schedule from a fantasy angle, our own Adam Daly-Frey has a full review and analysis in the fantasy guide.

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Well, the NHL Network released their Top-20 defencemen. As far as network lists go, this isn’t too bad:

Colton Parayko and Hampus Lindholm belong here somewhere. Maybe Ivan Provorov? Discuss.

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With the Hlinka Gretzky Cup behind us now, there really isn’t a whole lot to get excited about for a month. We are truly in the dog days of August.

Last week I mostly discussed power plays and today will be the same. Rather than review production stats, though, I thought it would be worth looking at roles. The focus will be mainly on teams employing a heavily-used top PP unit and the composition of those units.

Not every team employs a top-heavy power play. There are teams like Toronto, Vegas, and Minnesota which favour splitting, more or less, across two units. Amassing monster power-play production totals in that setup is very difficult. The Mitch Marner PP unit for the Leafs did well but that unit will look much different in 2018-19. Between Vegas and Minnesota, only Ryan Suter had at least 20 PP points individually, and he saw much more ice time than anyone else on the Wild, essentially playing between two units. Even with all that, he topped out at 23 PPPs.

As a percentage of available power-play minutes at five-on-four (at least 58 percent, which works out to about 70 seconds per power play), these are the teams identified as using a top unit heavily: Washington, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, San Jose, Florida, Los Angeles, Edmonton, Columbus, Calgary, St. Louis, NY Islanders, Calgary, Boston, Montreal, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Vancouver.  

One thing to keep in mind is that not all heavily-used top PP units constantly feature the same players. Edmonton is on this list because their PP setup was, “Give Connor McDavid a lot of PP minutes and then figure out the rest later.” That’s why he had nearly 232 minutes at 5v4, Leon Draisaitl had nearly 211, and no one else on the roster cracked the 175-minute mark, though that’s likely due to Oscar Klefbom’s injuries. It was even more exaggerated in Columbus where Artemi Panarin had over 226 minutes at 5v4 and the next-closest forward was over 50 minutes behind. Their setup was Panarin with one of Jones or Werenski and then fill in the blanks.

Regardless, I wanted to go through some of these teams and identify players who could see themselves on the top quintet and thus bring good fantasy value. I will ignore teams whose setups largely won’t change from last year. We know who will be on the top units for the Penguins, Sharks, Blues, and Lightning, or we can make a pretty good guess assuming Patric Hornqvist, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, and Brayden Point are used as expected. This is more finding those players who will be going later in drafts that could bring power-play value.

 

Buffalo

With both Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane gone, there is going to be some change with Buffalo’s top PP unit. Rasmus Ristolainen, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart are going to be holdovers. Newly-acquired Jeff Skinner is almost certainly going to be featured with them. The question is of the fourth man.

This fourth man will have one of two positions: bumper (in the middle of the 1-3-1) or the right-wing wall. It depends how they want to use Skinner. Skinner had frequently been used in some sort of net-front role, which is where Reinhart would be playing. My best guess is that those two guys occupy the net-front and bumper roles, leaving the right-wing wall the spot to fill. To me, that screams of Kyle Okposo. He was often used there last year when Kane wasn’t on the top PP unit and he should be again.

Injuries have slowed Okposo of late and the concussions/illnesses have been very serious at times. With that said, earlier this month, GM Jason Botterill stated that Okposo was having a very good offseason as far as training goes so hopefully those injuries are behind him.  

It’s worth noting that despite missing 17 games two years ago and six games last year, Okposo has managed at least 20 power-play points in both seasons, 45 total. What his overall fantasy value looks like will depend on five-on-five production, which has been an issue with the Sabres for years now. As long as Okposo stays on that top unit, though, there’s a floor for his overall production and a rebound season could bring solid late value.

 

Dallas

The Big Four in Dallas are set in stone and there’s no changing that barring injury or abysmal performance. Like Buffalo, the final option is the most intriguing.

I’ll be honest here and just shrug my shoulders. If we look at Dobber’s Frozen Tools, Devin Shore got the most run on the top PP unit last year, but both Brett Ritchie and Jason Spezza cracked the 10 percent mark. All three players are returning this year, and with them a new coach.

It always made the most sense to me to have Spezza on his strong-side wall with Radulov/Benn in the bumper and net-front roles with Seguin on the far side. The acquisition of Alex Radulov changed the equation last year as he came off the strong-side wall, effectively eliminating Spezza’s role. Should they stick to that setup, we can exclude Spezza from contention.

That leaves Shore and Ritchie. Or will it be the returning Valeri Nichushkin? Or do they just try to jam a square Spezza in a round hole? There are too many options and it’s probably going to be a frustrating own all year. I’ll have Nichushkin on my rosters just because I’ve been enamoured with his talent for years but that has nothing to do with the power play. If anyone has insight here, please advise.

 

Montreal

Alex Galchenyuk is gone and Max Domi is in town. Shea Weber is injured which means a lot more run for Jeff Petry. Max Pacioretty was supposed to be traded but apparently he might not be? Moving parts, indeed.

We can safely assume that Domi, Petry, and Jonathan Drouin will be on the top unit. Pacioretty, unless he’s traded, will be there as well. It’s a question of who rounds out the top PP unit.

The natural assumption is Brendan Gallagher. The problem here is they need someone to replace Galchenyuk’s spot, which was an off-side one-time position. Gallagher is a right-handed shot. They could move Pacioretty to that position and then leave Gallagher/Domi down the middle. Pacioretty is not a guy known for one-time shots, though, and he’s not really a facilitator. His skill set is not really suited for the Phil Kessel role. They could certainly try it out but I’m not sure it’s the long-term solution.

I submit the possibility of Artturi Lehkonen on the top PP unit. Going with the names mentioned above, it would leave Gallagher off the top PP unit, which does sound crazy, but they’re not leaving Pacioretty off, ditto for Domi and Drouin. They need a left-handed shot who can play a one-time role and that fits Lehkonen to a tee.

The question of role is always uncertain. We can say with relative certainty that Drouin will be on his strong-side wall like last year with Petry patrolling the blue line. Beyond that, where the coaches see players fit is up in the air. They could use Domi in Galchenyuk’s spot from last year but Domi isn’t really a shooter, he’d fit Drouin’s role better.

I’ll throw this one out to the Dobber community. I see a setup like this:

Domi

Drouin – Pacioretty – Lehkonen

Petry

What do you guys see? Domi replaced by Gallagher? Domi in Lehkonen’s spot and Gallagher in front? Hit up the comments.

 

Boston

Just draft Jake Debrusk in literally every league. Doesn’t matter the format unless it’s Defenceman Only. Every single league.

 

Colorado

Like Dallas and Boston, there’s a clear Big Four here of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie. Like Dallas, there were different options used as the fourth forward including Sven Andrighetto and Alexander Kerfoot but the majority of the minutes went to Tyson Jost.

I wrote on Jost a month ago but that covered his five-on-five performance. Readers are encouraged to go see what was said about Jost in that post (tl;dr he’s probably good).

Setting aside five-on-five for now, if he’s locked into that top PP spot, Jost is immediately relevant in most formats. It’s fair to wonder if Andrighetto’s injury played a factor but it’s worth noting that when he returned in early March, Jost remained on the top PP unit and the discrepancy in PPTOI per game was extreme. Jost was earning nearly two full minutes more per game than Andrighetto was. That’s what makes me think this is Jost’s spot to lose.

Now we can start to piece together Jost’s fantasy value. In a full(ish) season on the top PP unit, we can probably double Jost’s PP production from last year. That gets him to 30 points in 65 games. Even just playing a full season with top PP minutes would see him close to 40 points. That doesn’t even factor age-related improvement. Sprinkle in a couple more minutes per game and this seems like a 45-point season incoming, with solid peripherals aside from hits and blocked shots.

Jost will fly under the radar in drafts and he’s probably not worth targeting in anything shallower than 12 teams. Just keep him in mind. Any player that seems locked into a top PP role with the talent he’ll be skating with is worthy of at least taking a second look in drafts.

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Further on Colorado, I recommend reading Cam’s Ramblings from a few days ago as it relates to Rantanen. He nailed it completely. Rantanen has exceeded my expectations but the time for skepticism is over.