Ramblings: Post-Hype Sleepers Including Nichushkin, and Strome (August 13)

by Michael Clifford on August 12, 2016
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Post-Hype Sleepers Including Nichushkin, and Strome (August 13)

Looking at some post-hype sleepers for drafts this year, including Nichushkin and Strome.

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Regardless of the fantasy sport, the term “post-hype sleeper” is prevalent. With the proliferation of fantasy information, sleepers don’t really exist anymore. In that sense, I suppose “post-hype undervalued player” is probably more accurate, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

There is no uniform definition as to what constitutes a post-hype sleeper, but in my experience, it’s a player that has gone at least three years in the league, or three years since they’ve been drafted. It seems pretty arbitrary, but that is the constraint I will use for the following four players.

With that in mind, here are a few players that should come at a good value in drafts, and fit the post-hype sleeper criteria.

Valeri Nichushkin

It doesn’t take long to go from highly-touted prospect, to value pick, to post-hype sleeper anymore, does it? Well, that’s precisely what has happened with Nichushkin, but there are reasons to be optimistic here.

For his three-year career – a good chunk of his second season was derailed by a hip injury – Nichushkin has managed a 1.57 points/60 minute rate at five-on-five. That’s not an impressive number on its own, but it is when considering the following:

The rate at which Nichushkin garnered a point when a goal was scored with him on the ice (Individual Points Percentage) over that span was 59.6-percent. Out of the 264 forwards that played at least 2000 minutes in the last three seasons, that ranks 244th. When looking at the majority of the names in his vicinity, they’re grinders, fourth liners, and players past their prime. Nichushkin doesn’t fit those descriptions. If he can involve himself more in the play, a rise in IPP should help in production.

Nichushkin was on the ice for 94 five-on-five goals in his three seasons, and managed 56 points. If his IPP were more normal, say, 69-percent, his points/60 minutes is closer to 1.8, and that would be much more palatable.

What gives the most hope is Nichushkin’s massive jump in shooting rate, as he went from 6.1 shots per 60 minutes over his first two seasons to 7.6 last year. That is an increase of nearly 25-percent, and if he continues to fire the puck, he’ll start scoring more.

The big issue for Nichushkin will be ice time. There were rumours last year that he was unhappy with his deployment, and he played less in 2015-2016 than he did as an 18-year old rookie in 2013-2014. If the coach doesn’t trust him to play him 16 minutes a game, it’s a wasted fantasy pick.

For now, Nichushkin won’t get prime power play time, and may not have the trust in the coach. There are signs that he could make a jump at five-on-five production, though, and if he can get a couple more minutes a game to complement that, he will be valuable at the end of a fantasy roster.

Ryan Strome

I thought I’d just slide in that tweet because, honestly, I couldn’t believe the names around Strome’s.

To clear the air, last year probably could not have gone any worse for Strome, barring a catastrophic injury. He was demoted, he was buried on the roster, and even when he was given top-six minutes, those were inconsistent.

The Islanders lost Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo to free agency, though, and that’s a top-six centre, and a top-six right winger that need to be replaced. Sure, they brought in Andrew Ladd, but he wouldn’t be blocking Strome for getting first line minutes. P.A. Parenteau, on the other hand, probably will, which means at best, Strome will be on the second line for most of this year.

According to Dobber’s Frozen Tools, the Islanders used a four-forward power play over half the time last year. Looking at the roster, I see John Tavares, Ladd, Parenteau, and…? If that fourth spot is Strome’s – and having him on his off-wing half-wall was something they’ve done a lot in his tenure – double-digit power play points isn’t out of reach at all.

Supposing that Strome gets up to 17 minutes a game including top power play time, seeing him crack the 50-point mark is not a stretch. This is a very talented player, and though I don’t put much stock into narratives, he should be as motivated as can be following a poor year last year.

As mentioned before in these Ramblings, the year after a player burns fantasy owners is usually the best opportunity for value. This will be true for Strome.

Elias Lindholm

To paraphrase Mr. Johnson, “FINALLY, some talent HAS COME BACK toooo Carolinaaaaaa.”

For a few years now, the big issue with the Hurricanes has been a lack of pure talent. Over the last three seasons, they’re tied for ninth in the league in unadjusted CorsiFor percentage at 51.4-percent (tied with Pittsburgh, by the way). That’s really good! Of late, Bill Peters has implemented systems that provide good defensive zone coverage, and appears to give the Hurricanes a good transition game going through the neutral zone. (To that effect, if any Carolina fans have tracked this more closely than I, please leave your work in the comments. I would love to read it.)

Carolina just hasn’t had any talent. While that’s not particularly easy to quantify, rankings ninth in possession over three years, and sixth in shot attempts per minute, but 27th in goals for per 60 minutes, and 29th in shooting percentage is an incredibly clear indicator of what’s wrong with this team. They are well-coached, and well-structured, but don’t have the players that can score.

This trend has started to turn a bit with the team signing Lee Stempniak, a guy who can score 20 goals, and also traded for Teuvo Teravainen, thanks to Chicago’s cap crunch, and getting Bryan Bickell along the way. Now a team that has been starved for goals finally has more than just Jeff Skinner.

This is what gives me hope that we finally see a real breakout from Elias Lindholm. A top-six that was once starved for goals now could feature Jordan Staal, Skinner, Lindholm, Stempniak, Teravainen, and an underrated Victor Rask. Sure, they’re not the cream of the crop in the East, but they’re looking better than they have in a while.  

Lindholm has only put up back-to-back 39 point seasons, but last year was a bit unlucky. After shooting 10.8-percent overall in his first two seasons, Lindholm shot just 6.3-percent last year. Lindholm’s average shot distance didn’t change too much from 2014-2015 to last year, and sometimes bad luck happens. If he shoots 10-percent instead of 6.3-percent, he has 45 points, and the conversation around Lindholm in fantasy is probably one of an ascending talent, rather than one that appears to be spinning his wheels.

Coming into his Age 22 season, finally surrounded by actual top-six talents, and with a defence corps that still features Justin Faulk, an improving Noah Hanifin, as well as growing defencemen Jaccob Slavin and Ryan Murphy, and this could be the breakout season from Lindholm. There won’t be a lot of fanfare surrounding him in drafts, which means he can probably be had for cheap. Don’t be shocked if he cracks 50 points and 200 shots this year.

Jonathan Drouin

Last but not least, la pièce de résistance, the much-maligned, yet incredibly talented, winger for Tampa Bay. Expect a lot of press on this guy leading up to the season. He doesn’t fit the true definition of a post-hype sleeper, as he should be a fairly high pick, but I felt his inclusion was warranted.

The problems between Drouin and Tampa Bay have been well-documented, so no further comment here is necessary. In a Ramblings back in early May, there were two things I mentioned that fantasy owners should be looking for from Drouin in the playoffs: primarily his shot rate, and secondarily his production. Well, Drouin shredded the playoffs with 14 points in 17 games, and also managed 2.06 shots per game. That shot rate is a gigantic leap from what he had done in his regular season career, averaging just 1.11 shots per game. Coming into his Age 21 season, that shot rate should at least stabilize at two shots a game, if not rise beyond that. Yes, the playoffs are a small sample, but it was a drastic improvement for a player whose improvement was expected.

It seems all but certain that Drouin will be locked into a top-six role with the Lightning. There is the Triplets, Drouin, Steven Stamkos, and Alex Killorn. The latter three would make a mighty fine top line, though we could probably call the two lines 1A and 1B.

With Stamkos injured in the playoffs, the duties fell to the other forwards to pick up the slack. Even with that injury, I still find it curious that Drouin was second among Lightning forwards in power play ice time per game in the postseason, garnering a shade over three minutes a game. If he can play 17-18 minutes a game next year, including top power play minutes, it seems a breakout is imminent.

The one issue with drafting Drouin will be the steam that picks up as draft season nears. Playoff performances are the most recent memory people have of hockey – not including that sham of a tournament going on in September – and Drouin’s performance will be remembered. It is a valid concern that he will be steamed into a top-75 pick, and thus removing all semblance of value. Keep an eye on his ADP, though, because if he’s going anywhere around the 100th pick or so, this could be a 55-60-point season coming. Those are probably famous last words, but I believe in the talent and the opportunity.

*Stats from Hockey Reference and Hockey Analysis. Cap information from Cap Friendly, line tools from Dobber’s Frozen Pool