Ramblings: Prospects and the Combine; Nielsen, Sutter, Landeskog, Schmaltz, and More – June 4

by Michael Clifford on June 4, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Prospects and the Combine; Nielsen, Sutter, Landeskog, Schmaltz, and More – June 4

Over at Dobber Prospects, Cam Robinson compared centres available in the 2018 Entry Draft. This draft, as Cam notes, is littered with high-end wingers and defencemen, particularly at the very top. For those in dynasty leagues that may have rookie drafts in the next month or so, it’s worth looking at Cam’s centres comparison. Despite the lack of truly high-end centres we’ve seen come to through the draft over the last few years, that doesn’t mean they should be ignored entirely. In fact, it may make for a good buying opportunity in rookie drafts as everyone else focuses on wingers and defencemen.

This was the continuation of a series from Cam and Part 1 can be found here.

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Speaking of prospects, there was a really good post from Mitch Brown at The Athletic a few days ago discussing his tracking project for the Canadian Hockey League. For those familiar with work by people like Ryan Stimson and Corey Sznajder, this will look and feel familiar to you.

One thing, as Mr. Brown notes, is that the sample is limited, so do not take it as gospel. But it is a fascinating way to continue scouting prospects.

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One more thing from The Athletic.

Tyler Dellow looked at the biggest black hole lines from a goal differential perspective this year. This has obvious fantasy implications, particularly for those playing daily fantasy. Reading the section on the third line from Ottawa (for me, some mix of Pageau, Pyatt, Hoffman, and Smith came to mind) made me laugh. They were frequently used against opposing top lines when Ottawa was at home and they were a favourite to pick on from a daily fantasy perspective. Not only did they get crushed by goal differential, they were obliterated by shot share as well. It was something to behold.

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The NHL held their combine over the weekend. I don’t know how much this could influence a fantasy owner’s point of view on a player. Remember when Casey Mittelstadt couldn’t do a pull-up? Does anyone in dynasty leagues want to trade him away because he couldn’t do a pull-up? I get why for some scouts they will take some of this information in when formulating a final opinion prior to the draft but I don’t know why fantasy owners would be interested at all. Maybe I’m in the minority here.

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A lot of what has been written in these Ramblings over the last month or so has been discussing changes in the NHL. Be it shot rates, goal rates, save percentages, power-plays, ice time allocation, or a bevy of other issues, we’re trying to prepare fantasy owners as best we can for a game that is changing basically every season.

To get back into those topics a little bit, let’s talk power play ice time. All data from Natural Stat Trick.

Play fantasy hockey long enough and the realization quickly sets in that ice time with the man advantage is crucial to production. Not only are PPGs and PPPs often their own categories in roto leagues, but they’re necessities for high-end production. In 2017-18, there were 21 players with at least 80 total points and none had fewer than 20 come from the power play. Of the 36 players with at least 70 points, only seven had fewer than 20 and all had more than 10. To get league-winning production, power-play time (and lots of it) is nearly a necessity.

With that in mind, it’s worth looking at forwards who garnered a lot more ice time on the power play in 2017-18 compared to 2016-17. To be considered, a forward must have played at least one game in both seasons, and managed power play TOI. Some of these are obvious; Mathew Barzal leads everyone in PP TOI difference because he played two games in 2016-17 while William Karlsson went from almost no PP time in Columbus to a lot in Vegas. Some guys had a change in situation (team) like Nail Yakupov. There are others, though, that could point to either a breakout, or a new norm in terms of production.

Here are the top-20 increased PP TOI per game among forwards:

Some notes on the guys who stuck out to me.

Jason Zucker

The breakout we’ve been waiting for from Zucker finally came and the power play had a lot to do with it. Zucker amassed 16 power-play points, which doesn’t sound like a lot, until you realize had six (!) power-play points in his first 248 games with the Wild. He’s an RFA and is deserving of a healthy raise over the two-year, $2M AAV contract he just finished.

One issue is just whether there’s growth to be had or not. Minnesota is one of the teams that still splits its two PP units evenly – first through sixth in PP TOI per game among Wild forwards was separated by 18 seconds – so unless something changes with the coaching staff, it’s hard to see him racking up more PP points. If he’s back with the Wild, though, in this same role, I wouldn’t anticipate much of a decline in production.

 

Nick Schmaltz

Back in late February, I wrote about how good of a season Schmaltz was having, all things considered. It is recommended to go back and read that.

Going forward, Schmaltz certainly seemed to have earned the second-line centre role behind Jonathan Toews. Skating with Patrick Kane boosted his five-on-five ice time from his rookie year but a huge chunk of the jump also came from the power play; he finished fourth among their forwards in PP TOI per game.

To my eyes and by the numbers, Schmaltz looks like a good playmaker right now, and that should only improve for the 22-year old. The lack of shots means the across-the-board production may not be there, but he seems in line to have season like Mikko Koivu has had in recent season. Expect somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15 goals and 35 assists.

 

Kevin Fiala

Here at Dobber Hockey, we’ve probably written enough on Fiala over the last 18 months to fill a book. There’s not much need to go into more depth here other than to see keep believing, Dobber heads. That breakout is coming.

 

Micheal Ferland

Ferland saw a career year with 21 goals and 20 assists, career highs in both stats. Part of the jump in goals came from his power-play usage in that he tripled his career output to that point in PPGs with six (he had three for his career before 2017-18). Maybe he stays on the top line under the new coaching regime, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the power play. It was a sore spot for the team most of the season and needs to be better next year. Do they just eschew the second unit completely? Does Ferland finish in the top-6 mix for forwards PP TOI again? Open-ended questions with a new head coach in town.

 

Gabriel Landeskog

The top-end Avs forwards all saw a jump with the team drawing more penalties (they led the league in power-play opportunities), being on a heavily-used top unit, and the trade of Matt Duchene. Landeskog, though, saw the biggest jump of all of them which bodes well for next year. There is a young crop of forwards coming up that might put some pressure on but it’s hard to see him being moved off the top unit at any point unless there’s a severe decline, which shouldn’t be anticipated. After a brutal 2016-17 season, he was back to the roto monster he can be, and that looks to be the case for the near-future.

 

Now, to the other end of the spectrum, the guys forwards with the biggest declines in PP TOI:

Let’s dig in.

 

Brandon Sutter

Vancouver was basically a four-forward power play team for the majority of the season. It was the Sedin twins with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, unless one of them was injured, in which case guys like Sam Gagner, Sven Baertschi, or Thomas Vanek were used. They shuffled in and out a bit but that was generally the case. That left Sutter out of the mix.

With the Sedins gone and Vanek traded (do they bring him back?), there may be a spot for Sutter on the top power-play unit. Do they give it to him? That’s another question. He’s never been a power-play producer so maybe he’s left off.

 

Frans Nielsen

One reason Nielsen’s production cratered to the lowest point of any season in which he’s played 60 games? The power play. Does anyone realize he was given 52 seconds of ice time with the man advantage per game. That’s 33 seconds fewer than Tyler Bertuzzi. He had 15 power-play points in his first season with Detroit, a total which fell to seven in 2017-18.

The Detroit PP was pretty bad, ranking 28th in shots generated and 23rd in goals per 60 minutes. Mike Green is presumably gone as an unrestricted free agent. Who can step up as the PP QB? Trevor Daley? Do they keep going to Niklas Kronwall? It’s not certain that the Red Wings PP will improve and whether Nielsen will get his PP TOI back. At this point, he doesn’t seem draftable in 12-team leagues.

 

Ryan Kesler

Injuries derailed his entire season and it looks like they might derail all of 2018-19 as well. Even when he was in the lineup, the coveted top PP spot was Adam Henrique’s, not Kesler’s. Even if he’s healthy to start the year, it’s hard to see the Ducks changing much with their power play personnel. Without that power-play TOI, the 50-point seasons of the past are over and done with.

 

Troy Brouwer

Predictably, the Troy Brouwer contract has been a complete disaster and shows no signs of getting better. The hope for fantasy owners is that maybe he could be some sort of net-front presence on the power play which would see him return to the fantasy production levels he enjoyed in Washington.

That was not the case.

Does a new coaching regime see something in him that the previous one didn’t? It doesn’t seem likely. With his overall time disappearing, even his once-stout hit totals are in severe decline. Even in leagues counting hits, it’s hard to rely on him as a fantasy option moving forward.