The Flyers expect Carter Hart to have a full practice Thursday after going through a vigorous on-ice workout on Wednesday. Philadelphia only has one game in the next four days so there will be a couple more opportunities for Hart to get himself where he needs to be to get back into games. This is a team with a four-game week next week, the start of H2H playoffs for many people. That would be a big return for a lot of fantasy owners, though how many games he actually plays is another discussion entirely.
Jake Gardiner’s back injury is a new back injury, according to Kyle Dubas. In other words, not related to the one from earlier in the season. I’m sure it’s some sense of relief that he didn’t re-injure the same thing, but at the same time, having different back issues in the same season doesn’t strike me as something to be excited about.
Marcus Johansson is still at a Boston hospital undergoing tests after taking a hard hit on Tuesday night in their game against Carolina. The Bruins said he will be re-evaluated in a week after being diagnosed with a bruised lung.
There had been hope that Kris Letang would have returned by now but we’re still a little ways away as he was practicing in a non-contact jersey on Wednesday. That would indicate to me that he won’t play at least Thursday night against the Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh’s next two games are both against Columbus, and given how important those points are, I assume they’re trying to get Letang back in the lineup ASAP, so there’s no chance the Penguins are dragging their feet on this like, say, San Jose has done with their defencemen this year.
Christopher Gibson emergency recall by the Islanders presumably because of the injury to Robin Lehner on Tuesday night. We didn’t get a real update on Lehner’s status, just assume he’ll be out at least for their game Thursday night in Ottawa.
There’s a neat tool (graph?) that has been added to Dobber Prospects profiles projecting a prospect based on production at different levels in different leagues (PNHLe), as calculated by Mason Black. The one linked above is of Jordan Kyrou but you can check in on any of your favourite prospects to see what could be expected of them.
There was a good read over at The Athletic on comparisons for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, namely that of Anze Kopitar. That is a lofty goal –Kotkaniemi reminds me more of Eric Staal anyway – but recognition of just how good he is is starting to spread around the league. This is a guy I’m keeping in my back pocket for 2019-20. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility he’s at least the team’s number-2 centre next season.
Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist in Washington’s 5-3 win over Philadelphia. The assist gives him 47 on the season, and three away from cracking the 50-assist mark for the six straight season. If (when) he reaches 50 assists, he’ll be the only player since the 2013 lockout to register 50 assists in each campaign.
Andre Burakovsky also scored for the Caps, giving him 4 goals and 10 points over the last month. He’s still just play about 10-11 minutes a night even though he’s lining up on the third line so I’m not sure he’s reliable for fantasy playoffs. With that said, it is encouraging to see him produce with minimal minutes, if for no other reason than to give hope he’ll have fantasy relevance, perhaps in another city?
The Leafs blew a 2-0, third-period lead to lose 3-2 in overtime to the Canucks. Alex Edler scored the game-winner in OT, his sixth of the season. Edler also sported a plus-2, had six total shots, five blocks, and four hits.
Adam Gaudette assisted on Vancouver’s first two goals, the first multi-assist game of his career. Again, like Burakovsky, he’s still not earning enough ice time for fantasy relevance.
In his first game back in over two weeks, Brayden Schenn had a goal, assist, and two penalty minutes while skating on the top line and top PP unit. He skated 19:32 and looked just fine. Let’s hope he can stay healthy now because it makes that Blues squad just that much deeper.
Robert Thomas had a pair of goals, the first two-goal game of his career, while Alex Pietrangelo had a goal and an assist. Petro had five shots, a couple blocks, and a pair of hits to go along with it.
Travis Sanheim, the 22-year old sophomore defenceman for the Flyers, is one goal away from 10 and one point away from 30 (going into Wednesday night). Given he’s played under 19 minutes per game this season, that’s pretty good production. In fact, at five-on-five, Sanheim’s 21 points tie him with Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, Noah Hanifin, and Zach Werenski. When looked at through that lens, it’s been a very stellar second year for the blue liner.
Of course, we need to dig deeper than just his raw point output to really measure his impact.
Sanheim has shown the ability to drive the play this year, even when considering him getting more offensive zone faceoffs than most Flyers defencemen. From HockeyViz, we can see how the Flyers perform with Sanheim on the ice at five-on-five:
With Sanheim on the ice this year, the Flyers have been able to generate a high rate of shots from the front of the net. Without Sanheim on the ice, well, not as much.
Looking at his last two years of five-on-five play through the lens of shot assists (passes that lead to shots), shot attempts, and zone entries, we see a player still trying to find exactly what he is and what he can be at the NHL level. This is each of his last two seasons, from CJ Turtoro’s tableau:
When we look at his two seasons in aggregate through this same lens, Sanheim looks pretty solid: he ranks near or in excess of the 70th percentile in shot contributions (shots and shot assists per 60 minutes), possession entries per 60 and by percentage, and is the 63rd percentile in possession exits. He’s not a top-pair defenceman yet, but he’s working his way there.
Whether Sanheim ever becomes an elite defenceman is certainly up for debate. There are still concerns about his defence though let’s keep in mind he’s played just 115 games at the NHL level (going into Wednesday night) and is still just 22 years old. This isn’t the end of his development.
In order to take the next step in fantasy relevance, Sanheim needs to do two things: shoot more and earn meaningful power play minutes. One of those things is in his control and one is not. He’s currently third on the depth chart for PP minutes behind Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. In that sense, it’ll be very hard for Sanheim to have significant fantasy relevance. Consider that in 2017-18, Provorov was the only defenceman with 10 or fewer PPPs to crack 40 points. This year, Mattias Ekholm has already cracked 40 points with just 7 PPPs, while Spurgeon (39) and Ryan Ellis (36) are the only other two within striking distance with 8 or fewer PPPs as of today. In other words, for Sanheim to get to that magical 40-point mark with his current level of PP production (which is related to his PP minutes allotment), he’ll need a lot to go right. It’s not something to rely upon.
Now, he can control how much he shoots, and I’m not overly concerned about the dip this year. It’s really his first full season and there is a laundry list of guys who are high volume shooters now who weren’t earlier in their career. Names like Roman Josi, Dougie Hamilton, and Tyson Barrie all shot less earlier in their careers, even if Barrie’s career numbers are a bit wonky because of those awful Avs teams from a few years ago. It could take two or three more years before Sanheim really finds whatever his normal shot level will be.
Until he takes over PP duties for one of Gostisbehere or Provorov, Ekholm’s 2018-19 season should be seen as some sort of ceiling for what Sanheim can achieve. With a bit of luck, he can be a 10-goal, 45-point defenceman. However, it’s most likely he settles in somewhere around 7-8 goals and 35 points for now.
Another young defenceman worth discussion is Jakob Chychrun. Despite all the injuries to himself and the Coyotes, and the team being 28th in goals per 60 minutes, Chychrun’s 82-game pace this year is for 30 points. That is in conjunction with over two shots per game, 1.5 blocks per game, 1.3 hits per game, and a healthy 24 penalty minutes in 44 contests. All considered, not a bad fantasy output for multi-category leagues.
The thing with Chychrun is that this is his third year, he’s played nearly two full seasons (162), and I still don’t know what to really make of him. I was very high on him coming out of the draft but it’s been one injury after another for him and then when he finally got healthy this year, it seemed like half the team was on injured reserve. Not to mention the Coyotes have been the lowest-scoring team in the league during his tenure. He’s also still just 20 years old, turning 21 later this month.
Here’s what we do know: since entering the league, Chychrun has amassed 0.78 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five. Here’s a list of very fantasy-relevant defencemen and their points/60 rates since the start of the 2016-17 season:
- Shayne Gostisbehere – 0.8
- TJ Brodie – 0.79
- Colton Parayko – 0.78
- Aaron Ekblad – 0.75
- Drew Doughty – 0.75
As mentioned earlier, in this span, the Coyotes had the lowest goals rate in the league at all strengths, second-lowest at five-on-five (just ahead of Buffalo). He was (is) a player at the crawling stages of his career producing points at the same rate as several defencemen we draft among the top-25 blue liners. That’s pretty good.
There is still a lot of growth to be done, especially defensively. All the same, he has been able to drive offence marginally and done so as an oft-injured, mostly teenage defenceman in an oft-injured, offensively inept environment. But the team realizes his potential and it’s why he’s been around the 2:30 mark in 5v4 ice time per game all season, trailing only Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the team’s blue line. He’s been used on both the top PP unit and the second unit (from Dobber’s Line Tools), which gives me at least some hope that he can take over the top unit completely in the next couple years.
I think a fair assessment is that the jury is still out here. Not on him being a good NHLer, I feel confident in saying that, but in just how high his upside can be. Arizona desperately needs more elite offensive talent (on top of what Clayton Keller becomes), so hopefully they go fishing in free agency this year. It may be a while before Chychrun supercedes OEL on the PP depth chart, but if this team can improve their scoring environment, Chychrun can be a 40-point guy even without 3-4 minutes a game on the power play.
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