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One thing I have tried to focus on in my Ramblings this off season is the importance of the power play. A little over a week ago, I wrote extensively about how Evgeni Dadonov may struggle to reach his fantasy ceiling due to a loss in power-play minutes. I also wrote about how Dylan Larkin may be ready to take that next step because of a potential uptick in PP production. I’ve covered changing shot rates and TOI allotment over the last few years. For those that haven’t read those Ramblings, those are a good place to start.
There’s a reason for the focus on PP production. Unless your name is Connor McDavid, PP production is crucial to attaining truly elite-level fantasy status. As I mentioned in that piece on Larkin, he had the most points in the league last year for any player with single-digit PPPs, and he managed 63 total points. Out of the 21 players with at least 80 points, all of them had at least 20 PPPs, and just Johnny Gaudreau, Artemi Panarin, and Brad Marchand failed to reach 25 (and Marchand missed simply due to games played). Out of the 36 players with at least 70 total points, only Leon Draisaitl and Sean Couturier had fewer than 15 PPPs.
For much of this week, I’m going to discuss not just last year’s production and underlying numbers, but from the last two years. Unless otherwise indicated, it will be five-on-four power plays only, and all data is from Corsica. The reason to focus on just five-on-four is the relative infrequency of four-on-three and five-on-three power plays. Those types of PPs often offer different personnel as well. It’s not to discount 4v3 and 5v3 power plays, it’s just to figure out who did what in the game state with the most data.
Just to get to the meat of it, the leaders in five-on-four goals over the last two years features a lot of names to expect and a handful that warrant further discussion. This is the list of players with at least 20 such goals over the last two years:
Let’s talk about a few of those names.
I remember a week ago (or so) that fellow writer Cam Robinson was on Twitter discussing Jake Guentzel and his hopes that he would see top PP minutes this year. As a Guentzel owner in multiple keeper leagues, nothing would delight me more. Hornqvist’s proficiency on the power play, however, is going to be a big stumbling block. He does a very good job at playing that Wayne Simmonds-type role around the net and Guentzel is more of a slot shooter like TJ Oshie. Guentzel isn’t going to replace any of the other forwards so it’s hard to see him getting consistent top PP minutes without someone suffering an injury.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited for this season for a Leafs fan but there are also a lot of reasons to be worried about Nazem Kadri’s fantasy value. He is the unquestioned third-line centre now, though, and both James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are gone. Last year, that trio was on the ice for over 13 goals per 60 minutes at 5v4 and that number was 11.2 in 2016-17. Compare that to 7.2 in 2017-18 and 8.6 in 2016-17 for the duo of Auston Matthews and William Nylander. That JvR/Bozak/Kadri trio was great on the PP together and two of them are gone. If Kadri is moved to the ‘third’ line (presumably without Mitch Marner), and his production drops off on the power play with his usual running mates gone, can he come close to repeating 30 goals or 60 points? It seems hard to imagine.
The name that really sticks out is Sam Reinhart. It’s not a huge surprise given he was a fixture of the Sabres top PP unit over the last couple years but even then, I’m not sure most would imagine him having one fewer 5v4 goal over the last two years than Patrik Laine or Jamie Benn. Keep in mind that these are 5v4 goals. Laine had 29 total PP goals because he would play 4v3 and 5v3 situations whereas Reinhart was usually the man left off 4v3 PPs.
Anyway, Reinhart is going into his fourth season (something we love around here at Dobber Hockey), will almost certainly play on Jack Eichel’s wing (good spot to be), and is going to be on the top PP unit again. How the team fares without Ryan O’Reilly or Evander Kane in the fold is another story but the ice time and quality line mates should be there for Reinhart. Will a true breakout follow?
One name I found interesting a bit further down the list: Nino Niederreiter with 15. That’s as many as Artemi Panarin, Brad Marchand, Joe Pavelski, and Sean Monahan. Minnesota is one of those teams who splits their PP time and that leads to abnormal alignments at 4v3 and 5v3 which is why Nino’s PP production hasn’t been studly. But when he’s been given the ice time, he’s been great with it. In fact, here are the top-10 in goals/60 minutes at 5v4 over the last two years (minimum of 250 total 5v4 minutes):
Most of the names are again familiar (hello, Kadri!), but Niederreiter has been great at finishing at 5v4. The problem is that unless the team goes to a heavily-used top PP like Dallas or Washington, and Nino is on it, he won’t reach his fantasy potential.
Let’s move on to shots.
I wanted to note something kind of funny here. Over the last two years, Shayne Gostisbehere is second in the league (among everyone, not just defencemen) in shot attempts at 5v4 with 314 (Alex Ovechkin is way in the lead at 421). In other words, among non-Ovechkin skaters, Gostisbehere has taken the most shots. Brent Burns isn’t very far behind, though, with 303. The discrepancy comes in unblocked shots. In the case of shots that don’t get blocked, Ghost drops to fourth with 204. Burns, however, drops even further to 179. In other words, 40.9 percent of Burns’ shot attempts are blocked whereas just 35.3 percent of Gostisbehere’s were blocked. Anyone that watches both probably isn’t surprised.
Anyway, here’s the entire top-10:
None of those names are overly surprising but there is one name not on the list providing a surprise: Kyle Palmieri.
Though he’s not among the top-10, he’s just outside at 11th right below Mike Hoffman.
We had a few writers cover Palmieri during Bubble Keeper Week:
- Cam Metz on Palmieri’s 2017-18 season
- Alex MacLean on what to do with Palmieri in cap leagues
- Bren Des on the choice between Palmieri and Jesper Bratt
That last one is of particular interest. Should Palmieri be moved to the second line, I would be lower on him (obviously) but whether he’s on the first or second line at five-on-five, he’ll be on the top PP unit. He has 30 PP goals (all game states) over the last three years and had 10 goals at 5v4 last year despite just 62 games played. It seems very possible he returns to the 30-goal plateau.
Let’s get to the final part of our discussion today: assists. If we look at this top-10 leaderboard over the last two years, there’s not much of a surprise:
Most of those names, again, make sense to those who follow the NHL. I kind of laughed at the fact that three Flyers names are on this list. Power plays like Tampa Bay and Washington get a lot of ink but the Flyers power play, at least the top unit, has been great for fantasy over the last couple years.
As I’ve mentioned before in these Ramblings, it’ll be curious to see what the Flyers do with their power play. They were tied for 10th in PP goals last year so maybe they don’t want to rock the boat, but how do they leave someone with James van Riemsdyk’s prowess on the bench? His replacing of Wayne Simmonds would make the most sense stylistically but Simmonds has been one of the top PP goal scorers for years now. Does JvR replace Sean Couturier? Their top-line centre and a guy coming off a 76-point season? There’s no real easy decision to make here.
Shout out to Blake Wheeler on this list. One of the most underrated players of this generation has been lethal on the power play for the Jets (having Laine and Scheifele helps). Can he replicate the 40 power-play points (!) he had last year? That’s a pretty tall task. Seems likely he comes down to the 75-80 point range he had been the previous couple seasons. Then again, there is a lot of talent on that top PP unit.
He has one year left on his deal and will be 33 years old for the 2019-2020 season.
The last name I want to point out is Rasmus Ristolainen. I know he’s a polarizing player but he’s been the go-to blue liner for the Sabres for years now. That’s the big reason I’m not as high as some others on Rasmus Dahlin for 2018-19. He just won’t see the PP minutes.
One name I wanted to mention, finding himself a little further down the list, is Mitch Marner. I discussed above about how good the JvR/Bozak/Kadri trio was on the PP, and Marner was a big reason why. If there’s hope for Kadri’s PP production to be status quo, it’s Marner.
Of course, maybe they just stack the top PP unit. Throw Matthews-Tavares-Nylander-Marner-Rielly at the opposition and wish them luck for the next two minutes. Mike Babcock has been hesitant to do that since taking over as head coach, though, so I don’t see why he’d start doing that now. Though if Tavares joins the Kadri/Marner duo, maybe I’m worrying about nothing?
I’ll have more on power plays as the week wears on.
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