Ramblings: Line Combinations and Third Wheels – September 18

by Michael Clifford on September 18, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Line Combinations and Third Wheels – September 18

 

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One thing that is always worth discussing in fantasy hockey is the concept of third wheels. Those guys who skate with two elite (or near-elite) talents and reap the rewards of doing so. The laundry list of players to take full advantage of this in the last four or five years is lengthy. Just think of skaters like Jiri Hudler, Vladislav Namestnikov, Sven Baertschi, Josh Bailey, Kyle Connor, and so on. All good players in their own right, but their fantasy value went to another level when slotted alongside top talents.

There’s always a risk with drafting these players. If a guy goes from top line/top PP unit to third line/second PP unit, his value goes from high to nil. Sometimes, the supposed third wheels don’t work out; names like Brett Ritchie and Andre Burakovsky come to mind. I haven’t given up on either as far as fantasy value is concerned for the future, they just haven’t worked out as hoped in the past.

All the same, we know what the upside is. We saw a 70-point season from Hudler. We saw Namestnikov tear it up for a few months last year. We saw Kyle Connor guy from the AHL to a 30-goal scorer in one year. If the right guys get the right slotting, even for a few months, their fantasy value is enormous.

I thought it’d be worth discussing some of these third wheels. This will focus mainly on guys I think are undervalued right now and worth the gamble at the draft table. As always, things can change in the preseason and ADPs can get inflated. This is just as of right now.

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In case anyone missed it – the game was on in the middle of the night – there wasn’t much to take away from the Calgary-Boston preseason game from China other than this:

As always, things are subject to change, but for now this should settle the debate between James Neal or Elias Lindholm for the top PP unit. Lindholm, as a right-handed shot, always made sense but now we have confirmation.

For now, it appears that Lindholm will be both on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan as well the top power play unit. I changed his TOI and on-ice goal numbers to reflect this change in my rankings and he came out as the 25th right winger in a standard 12-team Yahoo! league starting three at each forward position. He’s in the same range as guys like Tyler Toffoli and Nino Niederreiter.  

Lindholm’s upside is tied to his usage. That can be said for most non-elite players. If Ondrej Kase or Kailer Yamamoto are on their respective teams’ top line, they are instantly fantasy-relevant and must-owns. If they’re on their respective teams’ third lines, not so much. Same here for Lindholm. You won’t have to pay much in drafts to find this out, though. Yahoo! has him ranked well outside their top-200 players and he’s being consistently drafted outside the top-50 right wingers. You can draft him as a bench option and slide him into your starting lineup. Maybe he lasts just two months on the top line. Maybe a month. Regardless, the draft investment is so minimal that even if he’s bumped down the lineup by American Thanksgiving, he can be dropped to the waiver wire and replaced easily. If he stays there most of the season, there is a player with a lot of profit potential to be had.

Remember this about Lindholm: he posted back-to-back seasons with 150+ shots, 95+ hits, and 40+ points all while averaging 10 PPPs a season. He can easily be a 50-point player with some additional PP time on a skilled top unit while providing reasonable shot totals and healthy hit totals. Buy him at his current price and continue buying him even if his price rises a few rounds.

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Anyone who has read my Ramblings this summer knows I’m a big fan of Josh Anderson. There’s just one little problem:

John Tortorella isn’t likely to keep his lines together for long but it does give insight into where the coach seems Anderson fitting into the hierarchy at the moment. Anderson has the talent to score 30 goals in this league, but if he’s on the third line with Brandon Dubinsky as his centre and not on the top PP unit, he’s probably undraftable outside of deep leagues. He’s a guy to monitor as the season progresses.

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The draft position of JT Miller will be fun to follow for the next couple weeks. Among right wingers, I have him literally right next to Elias Lindholm, coming in as my 26th right winger. He’s listed as a left winger on Fantasy Pros so that’s why if you go back to my Friday Ramblings to look for him he won’t be among the right wingers.

Regardless, this is another player being drafted far too low. Just look at what Vladislav Namestnikov did on the top line for the Lightning last year. He had a little over 1380 total minutes at all strengths last year and spent 710 of them (or about 51.3 percent) with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Despite being traded to the Rangers for the final six weeks, and despite only spending roughly half his season’s ice time on that top line, he finished just inside the top-150 players in standard Yahoo! leagues by season’s end (player 146). Miller is being drafted later than that for this season.

I get people are apprehensive about drafting third wheels. As we saw with Namestnikov, once they lose their role, they lose their fantasy value. Here’s what I say to that: so what? Worse-case with Miller is you’ve spent a 13th or 14th-round pick on a guy who is starting the season playing with two of the most dynamic players in the game and playing with them at all scoring strengths. If you’re that worried, look to trade him after a couple months. Even if he flat-out busts in October, all you’ve spent is a mid-round pick.

Miller is a proven 20-goal scorer and has one of the top line mate duos in the league to skate with. Take this gamble once you get past the 12th round.

(Just for clarity: I have him with 17.3 PPPs and 62.9 points this year. If he can reach those marks with triple-digit hit totals, he’ll cruise past his draft-day cost.

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Over the last four years, these are Anders Lee’s 82-game paces for standard Yahoo! leagues:

29 goals, 20 assists, 14 PPPs, 200 shots, 156 hits

His current ADP is slightly behind Conor Sheary.

What?

Ok, I get it. The Islanders lost John Tavares. Here’s how Tavares and Mat Barzal compared last year to things like shot assists (passes that lead to shots), zone entries, and zone exits:

 

Of course, Barzal won’t have Tavares around to eat some of the tougher minutes, but that also means a lot more minutes for Barzal overall. He should be hovering near the 20-minute mark per game this year. If Lee is riding shotgun for those minutes, I don’t care if they have to play against Patrice Bergeron or Jordan Staal once in a while.

Early returns from camp have Anthony Beauvillier on the top line with Barzal. That’s a problem but consider this: Timo Meier finished last year as a top-200 player in standard Yahoo! leagues with 21 goals, 15 assists, 210 shots, and 105 hits. Suppose Lee is stuck on the second line all year, that’s still a reasonable scoring line for him. He provides a lot in peripherals, so even if his goal scoring is cut in half from the 40 goals he tallied in 2017-18, he is still a relevant fantasy option. And Lee should have a lot more than the 4 PPPs Meier put up last year. Lee’s points production could decline by 30 percent and he’s still worth his current ADP.

Maybe Lee is stuck on the second line all year. That means, at worst, he’ll return roughly where he’s being drafted (just inside the top-50 left wingers). Or maybe he’ll move to the top line for half the season and smash his ADP.

I know plus/minus is a concern, but to be honest, it’s less of one if he avoids the heavy minutes he’ll play with Barzal. That’s the trade-off here.

Lee is basically free in 12-team leagues. You may not even have to draft him. You might be able to grab him on the waiver wire. He is a guy, though, who I want as my bench option in 12-team leagues. If he really tanks, you can cut him and the replacement cost is low. Or he won’t tank, and you’ve drafted a guy who will return a massive profit.

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There are some interesting line combinations I want to keep an eye on through training camp. This is what’s stuck out to me the last few days.

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All data from Corsica, Dobber Frozen Tools, or Natural Stat Trick. Three-zone comp from CJ Turtoro.

 

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