Ramblings: Thoughts on Sprong, Krug, Zadorov, Morrissey, and More – May 10

by Michael Clifford on May 10, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Thoughts on Sprong, Krug, Zadorov, Morrissey, and More – May 10

It was locker-clearing day for the Penguins yesterday and though no one from the team would expand on any injuries players suffered or were playing through, there was this little nugget from general manager Jim Rutherford:

Dynasty owners everywhere: rejoice!

Sprong has nothing left to prove at the AHL level, posting a point-per-game mark last year to go with 32 goals in 65 contests. The 21-year old could help inject some offence in a team that struggled to score in the regular season at five-on-five.

Two things here.

First: keyword should. Lots of things should happen. People should be nice to each other. The Oilers should require fewer than three rebuilds to be a perennial playoff threat. Whether or not they will happen, well, who knows what the future holds.

Second: even if he does end up on the roster, what’s his role? Does he get fairly consistent top-six minutes like Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel have in the past? Does he play a third-line role with Derick Brassard to help lengthen the scoring in the lineup? He won’t be on the top power-play unit, that is certain.

Regardless, it’s good news that the GM even says should than outright says something like, “he has to work his way onto the team,” or, “we’ll give him a look.” A full offseason of training and a full camp with the main roster will help Sprong take the next step. I’m excited and I know fantasy owners are as well.  

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The full extent of Torey Krug’s injury was revealed and it was indeed a fractured ankle:

That he should be ready to go by training camp and will even get some time in the offseason to train is good news. With the information given, it should be all systems go for Krug come September. This injury shouldn’t be concerning for fantasy owners.

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Brad Marchand, beyond all the antics, looked a little slow at times during the playoffs. He didn’t see to have that same burst to beat defencemen one-on-one and now it makes sense why:

The injury is not considered serious and he is another one who should be fine and ready to go when training camps hit in September. Don’t worry about his health when drafts roll around unless something changes between now and then.

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There have been Ramblings written over the last month covering the changing nature of scoring from the blue line. This includes a decline in goals on the power play, and the rising production and involvement in offence.

All that doesn’t change the fact that for those in real-time stats leagues (leagues that count things like faceoffs, hits, and blocked shots), defencemen are still a big part of success in these formats. Rearguards are the ones who rack up the highest rate of blocked shots, and because they play the most minutes, are always at the top of the league. As far as rates go for hits, it’s more forwards than defencemen at the top of the list but again, because of the ice time volume, the top of the list in actual production is more of actual a mixed bag; half of the top-20 in total hits last year were defencemen despite just five of the top-20 being defencemen on a per-minute basis.

With that in mind, here are some defencemen who produced high rates of shots and blocks even though they didn’t have a lot of ice time. This is in an effort to identify some players who could see a bigger role next year and thus their real-time stats could see a big boost.

Note: I wrote something similar a few weeks ago but it was more geared toward daily fantasy so it didn’t include hits. If that’s something you might be interested in reading, take a gander here.

All data from Natural Stat Trick or Corsica Hockey.

This sample is limited to players with at least 800 minutes played at all strengths but 21 total minutes of ice time or less per game. For a reference, here is the top-20 defencemen from 2017-18 in hits+blocks per 60 minutes with these parameters:

Nikita Zadorov

It’s hard not to see Zadorov playing a bigger role on this team in 2018-19. He helped drive the play and played a lot of minutes on a shutdown pair with Erik Johnson until the latter suffered an injury. In the 25-game stretch from mid-December until mid-January, Zadorov played just under 21 minutes a game. In that span, Zadorov played about 60 percent of his five-on-five time with Johnson. Zadorov had better results playing down the pecking order but this looks like a potential shutdown pair going into 2018-19. 

There are also more minutes to be had on the penalty kill. Johnson led the way in TOI per game while short-handed but Patrik Nemeth wasn’t far behind. Nemeth is an RFA this year but he’s also 26 years old. The team needs to decide how big a part of the future he’s going to be for this team. Mark Barberio also got significant PK minutes and he’s a UFA. Colorado has the same decision to make for him as they do Nemeth. If both don’t return in an Avalanche uniform, Zadorov makes sense to pick up some extra PK slack.

Unless the blue line is ravaged by injury, the new-age Big Z probably won’t be a significant point producer given Zadorov is, at best, fourth on the depth chart for PP minutes. Maybe he settles in that Radko Gudas 20-25 point range. With the hit total he’s already putting up, and the upside that still exists in the blocked shots department through increased ice time, 20-25 points would be just fine.

 

Brandon Davidson

A pending RFA, Davidson may not be in the plans for the Islanders in the future. Though the team defense was horrific last year, there may not be an avenue to playing time. Both Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy are signed for several years, Calvin de Haan is an unrestricted free agent but is likely to be re-signed, Ryan Pulock showed very well after being recalled and is an RFA so he’s almost certain to return, and Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield are signed for three more years at least. That doesn’t even include the potential for Thomas Hickey to be re-signed. In short, at best, Davidson is probably going to be their seventh defenceman, if not AHL depth, should he be back in an Islanders uniform.

The 26-year old blue liner saw a huge spike in hits last year, going from just over one per game in 2016-17 to just over two per game in 2017-18. Registering 105 hits in just 51 games while playing under 17 minutes per night is solid production.

It’s very possible Davidson finds himself in another destination next year. He had solid shot-share and goal-share marks during his tenure in Edmonton, at least relative to his team and in a non-starring role. If he can find himself in a spot where he’ll get consistent minutes and games, he can put up 125 hits along with triple-digit shots and blocks. Keep an eye on where he lands this summer.

 

Josh Morrissey

Two players from the Jets have really impressed me this postseason: Kyle Connor (mea culpa on everything I’ve written in the past on him) and Josh Morrissey. Morrissey seems to be jumping up much more offensively than I remember through the regular season, in particular during the second round.

I’ve written on him in the recent past so I won’t dive in much more here but the one thing holding back is across-the-board fantasy value will be the power-play minutes. He’ll be behind Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba (assuming he’s re-signed, which he should be), and Tyler Myers for one more year. Despite being able to put up very good peripheral stats, he won’t have a Byfuglien-type season just yet. Give it a few years, though. There is a lot of upside here in real-time stats leagues; over the last two years, he’s averaged 100 shots, 142 hits, 153 blocks, and 23 points. As a 21- and 22-year old playing just 20 minutes a game. He should be handed more minutes next year which means more production in the hits/blocks category.

 

Kevan Miller

Another defenceman whose opened some eyes this postseason was Kevan Miller. Charlie McAvoy had a rough first round and Torey Krug seemed to be the only consistent option until he was injured. That is, outside of Miller.

The 2017-18 season saw Miller post a career-high in minutes per game at 19:28 which helped lead to 164 hits and 111 blocks. He posted a season similar to this in 2015-16 so it’s not as if it came out of nowhere. He did all that in just 68 games, mind you. 

Miller was third in five-on-five TOI per game for the Bruins and saw a healthy dose of PK time, coming in just under two minutes a game. What the Bruins decide to do with Zdeno Chara next year will be important for Miller, particularly when it comes to time on the PK where he can rack up some extra blocked shots. Chara looked absolutely rundown in the playoffs and the secret was he had been helped along greatly by McAvoy in the regular season. Miller could pick up some extra PK time and if he’s locked at the hip with Torey Krug, he could be over the 20-minute mark at all strengths. Add in a full season of games rather than just 68 and there could be a reasonable jump in real-time stats to come.

Point upside isn’t there because he’s not that type of player and the power-play minutes won’t exist. If he can crack 20 points, that’s a good season. There is a path for more playing time, though, and he showed very well in playoffs. He should see a bigger role next year and that could make him a value in real-time stats leagues when drafts come about.