Ramblings: Vrana’s Skill Vs. Opportunity, Marner’s Time Frame, & The Return of Wennberg? (Sept 4)

by Cam Robinson on September 3, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Vrana’s Skill Vs. Opportunity, Marner’s Time Frame, & The Return of Wennberg? (Sept 4)

 

We are T-minus nine days until training camps open across the league. Fantasy draft dates are being set. Air B&B rentals are being obtained with the complete expectation of having to open a new account after the inevitable destruction occurs. I’m talking 1996 USA Olympics Men's Hockey team destruction. 

As you prepare to take down your friends this year, you’d better be armed with Dobber’s 14th Annual Fantasy Guide – now available en français! 

 

I’m raffling off a free guide via twitter as well

 

 

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Fellow Associate Editor, Michael Clifford, aka Slim Cliffy, and I were chatting about Jakub Vrana recently. We’re in agreement that the former 13th overall selection is trapped in a box. 

 

The 23-year-old has witnessed steady improvements in both goals and points over his three-year career. That culminated with his 24 goals and 47 points a season ago. He accomplished that with just 14 minutes of ice – and only 68 seconds of that coming from the second power-play unit. Normally, we would project a young, skilled prospect who is clearly on the upswing to be given more responsibility and increased deployment. And we should see a little of that from Vrana in 2019-20 just not to the degree we’d like. 

 

Last season, Vrana’s most common linemates at even-strength were Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie. That trio will almost assuredly be a locked-in second line next year as well. We can expect them to maybe roll out for 14-15 minutes of EV ice per game. That will jump Vrana up to around the 16-minute mark. However, his power-play ice is unlikely to improve now, or even in the near future. 

 

Alex Ovechkin is turning 34 this year. Backstrom 32, Oshie, 33, and John Carlson 30. This core is not getting any younger, but together with Evgeny Kuznetsov, those four also join together to create one of the most dominant top power-play units in the league.  You might think that Vrana would have an opportunity to supplement Oshie at some point – even as early as this season.

 

However, Oshie is a proven net-front presence on that unit. He provides the juice down-low. Here is a look at Oshie’s heat map on the PP for the last seven seasons. This guy lives in the home plate area.

 

 

That has not traditionally been Vrana’s role in any situation. He is at his most comfortable around the right circle where he can act as the play creator rather than a proximity shooter like Oshie.

 

So now we’re talking about a player who has a three-year wait until that forever-core finally ages out? And then he can take over a top power-play spot with a 30-year-old Kuznetsov and….? This is an organization virtually void of any exciting prospects. They literally lack a single forward in the pipeline that could realistically be expected to be a front line player. 

 

All this being said, Vrana is one injury away from jumping on that top unit and who knows, maybe he’s so good that the club has to find a way for him to stick long term. He's a highly talented player who has produced with sustainable metrics and appears to only be tracking upwards. However, all the warning signs are that this player will hit his statistical prime and be trapped in the secondary-deployment box. The skill vs opportunity ratio needs to make sense in order for players to witness tangible steps forward and hit the next level. 

 

I like Vrana to break the 50-point mark this season, perhaps even hit 55, but it’s difficult to expect much more until his role elevates and that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. 

 

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I recently released my 2019-20 Projections. This year I’ve pledged 50 percent of the total raised to the Rainforest Alliance. This is a non-profit organization that has been diligently fighting to protect the Amazon Rainforest for over 30 years. 

 

Help save the world’s lungs while also getting another leg up on your competition! 

 

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Tuesday saw 14-year vet, Niklas Kronwall retire from the NHL. There was a several-year stretch where Kronwall was a worthy fantasy own. But his reign as one of the most devastating back-side hitters ran for nearly the length of his career. Kronwall will join the Red Wings in a front-office role. 

 

 

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Chris Johnston was on Sportsnet 590 on Tuesday talking about the Mitch Marner situation. Johnston believes the Leafs will make their greatest push over the next week in order to sign the 22-year-old. 

 

After that, all bets are off. 

 

I’ve said all along that Marner is the only remaining RFA (from a sizable and noteworthy group that still remains) that scares me a bit. This situation seems complicated enough to end up in a similar vein as Willy Nylander a season ago. As amazing as Marner is, I’d keep him down a peg or three on draft day in single-season leagues. 

 

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I’ve dropped my Preliminary 2020 Draft Rankings over at DobberProspects. Get the first glimpse at what is shaping up to be a disgustingly deep crop of talent. 

 

 

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With the mass exodus occurring in Columbus this offseason, there hasn't been enough chatter to the potential of Alexander Wennberg becoming relevant once again. It wasn't that long ago that the soon-to-be 25-year-old was considered an interesting and projectable asset in point leagues. Hell, he even chipped in a few blocks and hits too.

 

2016-17 witnessed the former first-round selection produce 59 points – 23 of which came via the man-advantage. Unfortunately, the last two seasons combined have seen him produce just 60 total points, with just 11 coming on the power play. You'd think this would be due to a reduction in deployment, but that's not entirely true. 

 

Wennberg skated 18:30 a night from the top-six in 2016-17. 2:38 of that came on the top power-play unit. 2017-18 was virtually identical. He skated the same minutes and still saw action on the top unit. His shooting percentage remained consistent, but his primary assists plummeted from 27 to 15 over the two campaigns. His inability to distribute high-danger chances for his mates slipped significantly. 

 

2018-19 was just ghastly. He fell out of the top six, saw his PPTOI to under two minutes, and his all-situations shooting percentage crater to 3.1 percent. It was ugly. 

 

Now, with Matt Duchene gone, Wennberg becomes the de facto second-line center again. Sure, we could call Boone Jenner's line L2, but they're an energy unit, not expected to produce consistent offense. Wennberg is now likely to line up with a growing Oliver Bjorkstrand and potentially impactful rookie, Alexandre Texier – two players who know how to finish. Together, they could form a very interesting line. 

 

Call me crazy, but I could see Wennberg regain some traction and crest the half-point-per-game mark once again. 

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