20 Fantasy Hockey Thoughts

by Mario Prata on August 13, 2017 | (0 Comments)

Every Sunday this off-season, we'll share 20 Fantasy Thoughts from our writers at Dobber Hockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week's "Daily Ramblings".

Contributors: Ian Gooding, Michael Clifford, and Neil Parker

 

1. Wayne Simmonds turned in another monster fantasy showing with strong cross-category coverage. He topped the 30-goal mark for the second consecutive year and supported his 32 tallies with 54 points, 224 shots, 122 PIM and 162 hits. His 25 points with the man advantage were also a career-best mark.

Unfortunately, Simmonds' minus-18 rating was crippling, and it's also worth noting that he cooled off considerably after recording 16 goals and 29 points through the first 32 games of the season.

Still, the 28-year-old winger is locked into a go-to role for the Flyers at even strength and with the man advantage, so his fantasy floor is high. He also receives a huge virtual boost in formats including hits and PIM and it wouldn't be surprising to see improvement in the plus-minus column this season.

 

2. Even though he played 72 games in 2016-17 compared to just 56 in 2015-16, John Carlson finished with two fewer points last year (37) than the year before (39). It was a disappointing season for fantasy owners, many of whom probably drafted him as their No. 1 defenceman (in 12-team leagues), or at the very lowest a top-end second defenceman.

The addition of Kevin Shattenkirk at the end of February didn’t help matters, that’s true. Carlson managed just seven points in 17 games post-trade, which hurt his overall numbers. It’s not as if he was a big-time producer before that, though, with 30 points in 55 games working out to about 45 points in a full 82-game season. A solid number but not what owners would be hoping for from him.

Power play points weren’t really the issue, either. He had 16 such points in 2016-17, the same number he had in 2014-15 when he set a career high in points with 55. The problem, then, was five-on-five scoring. Specifically, it was the lack of secondary assists.

This stat is kind of hard to fathom, but it’s true: Carlson had two (2!) secondary assists at five-on-five last year. He had six the year before (remember, in just 56 games), and 12 the year before that in a full 82-games. His rate of secondary assists was near the bottom of the league, tied with Ben Hutton of Vancouver, and just below names like Jason Garrison and Josh Gorges. Add six or seven secondary assists to Carlson’s final point total and all of a sudden he’s pushing 45 points in 72 games and his season looks much better.

Maybe Dmitry Orlov can eventually challenge for the top PP spot (which I doubt because he can’t set up Alex Ovechkin for one-timers), but it’s still Carlson’s for now. That cushy slotting, with a (hopeful) rebound in secondary assists could add 10 points to his totals from last year. He should be cheaper at the draft table this year than last, presenting a solid value.  

 

3. I’m curious to see if Nate Schmidt emerges as the go-to guy on the blue line for Vegas. While that roster is, at this point, mostly devoid of high-end skill, they have enough to put together a solid top power play unit. But is it a four-forward unit, or a three-forward one? It’s worth noting both Schmidt and Shea Theodore are left shots, which means depending on what the coaching staff chooses to do, they are likely interchangeable.

It will probably be a frustrating situation for fantasy owners but the upside is that I don’t think any of the Vegas defensemen will require a significant investment at the draft table. Selecting either of those two will be less of a cornerstone of a roster (unless it’s a huge fantasy league) and more of a lottery ticket. Theodore may be the heir apparent but it could be a fluid situation all season unless one stands out clearly above the other.  

 

4. Coach Randy Carlyle's return was great for Cam Fowler's fantasy output last season. The defenseman posted 39 points by logging a career-high 24:51 of ice time (3:06 with the man advantage) per game.

Fowler's hefty role offers a high fantasy floor and he's also just entering his prime and age-25 season, so continuing to post rock-solid numbers for the next five years isn't a stretch. It will likely be difficult for him to build on last season's production because of the stacked Anaheim blue line, though.

 

5. With approximately 55 starts behind a good team, Mike Smith is in position to have a solid fantasy campaign in his new digs. Smith is huge (6-4) and his puck-handling ability should prove to be an excellent fit with Calgary's elite blue line corps.

It's easy to highlight that Smith has been nothing better than a league-average goalie for a number of years but league-average numbers are nothing to shake a stick at, especially when it's easy to fade him in daunting matchups. He's not necessarily a goalie to reach for but Smith shouldn't be ignored in the middle rounds, either.

 

6. Pierre-Luc Dubois is an important piece for the Blue Jackets and while he's not necessarily going to be a universal fantasy option anytime soon, settling in as a serviceable two-way center in a middle-line role would be huge for Columbus.

With Brandon Dubinsky ripe for a shut-down role and Alexander Wennberg in a top-line offensive role, Dubois could land in a lot of soft five-on-five matchups. Columbus also has enough depth on the wings to have three solid lines if Dubois can take the next step.

Additionally, looking at the Columbus depth chart, there doesn't seem to be an alternative option up the middle. A lot is riding on Dubois.

 

7. Miro Heiskanen is going to crack the Dallas roster to begin the season, according to Stars beat writer Mike Heika. It obviously would put Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Johns on notice that their long-term outlook with the team is bleak without improved play.

Additionally, if Heiskanen can tread water in a sheltered role and improve over the course of the season, it's a significant boost. Realistically, Heiskanen is unlikely to carry much fantasy value as a rookie but he could be utilized similar to how the Rangers deployed Brady Skjei last year. If Heiskanen begins close to 60 percent of his five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone and logs power-play minutes, he could surprise.

 

8. On Dylan Larkin: Scoring 23 goals and 45 points as a teenage rookie, in addition to his performance at the 2016 All-Star Skills Competition, had the fantasy hockey community excited for the next big rookie. Things didn't work out at all.

In his sophomore season, Larkin managed 17 goals and 32 points, saw his shots per game drop by over 0.5, and for those in roto leagues with plus-minus, his cratered to minus-28. In every sense of the word of the fantasy game, he was a bust in 2016-17.

The drop in shots is what is concerning. It’s not as if that decline was due to ice time; he was given about 32 fewer minutes in the same number of games from his rookie campaign to last year. Rather, his shots per 60 minutes at five-on-five took a nosedive from 9.41 in 2015-16 to 6.98 last year. His shot attempts came down by about 25 percent as well, so it’s not as if he just couldn’t hit the net. He was shooting a lot less.

His team effect here is obvious, as the Wings went from near the middle of the league in 2015-16 in shot attempts generated at five-on-five to second-worst in 2016-17. But the team alone wouldn’t account for all that. Most every struggled for Detroit last year but Larkin stood out.

There is still a lot of speed and skill in the repertoire of the 21-year-old but the Wings don’t look to be improving. At the very least, the defence won’t be better. His long-term future should be fine but the short-term future is bleak, and it’s not entirely his fault.

Lesson: Beware of non-elite young players on a team that doesn’t appear likely to succeed.

 

9. Let’s be clear – I’m a fan of Mikko Rantanen. I think he has a bright future in this league and in the fantasy game. It could be hard to come by in the 2017-18 season, however.

The Avalanche needs to be further stripped down. As constructed, that roster isn’t getting anywhere close to the playoffs anytime soon, so while it’ll be hard to imagine them being worse, I can’t see them getting better in the near-term.

On the bright side, Rantanen could be a running mate for Nathan MacKinnon moving forward. Aside from those two, and Tyson Jost, there’s probably not another ‘untouchable’ on the roster and this team going into full rebuild mode is not great for Rantanen’s fantasy prospects. It’s hard to see him improve too much on this past season in the near-term.

 

10. There are probably some fantasy owners who were frustrated owning Andrei Vasilevskiy last year but he did finish the season with a .917 overall save percentage. A young goalie on a team expected to do well next year is going to be drafted highly.

Despite that reasonable save percentage, Vasilevskiy’s Expected Goals Saved Above Average was poor last year, and high-danger save percentage was just above average. Yes, he’s young, but relying on him to be a goalie-1 on a fantasy roster next year is a very big risk.

 

11. Bo Horvat has increased his goal- and assist-per-game rates every year since entering the league – and he finished with his first 20-goal and 50-point season of his career last year. The 22-year-old center led the team in both categories despite finishing fifth among their forwards in time on ice per game, though that was still a healthy 18:02.

I get that 52 points might not seem like a huge total but keep in mind that just 10 of those came with the man advantage. His points per 60 minutes at five-on-five was 1.88, which also led the team. That in and of itself isn’t a huge number, either, but considering that Sven Baertschi was the only other forward anywhere close to Horvat, it gives some context of just how productive this season was. For reference, that 1.88 points per 60 minutes from Horvat would have led the Flyers, finished second on the Blues behind Vladimir Tarasenko but ahead of Robby Fabbri, Alex Steen, and Jaden Schwartz, and finished third on the Ducks behind Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell. In other words, this was a very, very good output by Horvat on a very poor scoring team.

It is kind of a shame. Horvat is improving offensively but there’s just not much help on this roster. Yes, they have some nice prospects that can maybe help in two or three years but as for the 2017-18 season, how much better can he really be? The one hope is some additional power-play usage – he was outside the top-four forwards in PP minutes per game – and he could add a handful of PPP if he’s used as such. But will he? And how much can he really add on a team lacking significant scoring threats? It’s hard to see much improvement in the near-term in his fantasy value.

 

12. Just as an aside, and I don’t mean to really pick on Vancouver here, but there’s just not much to get excited about for the upcoming fantasy campaign. Maybe Sven Baertschi can become the player people thought he could be, building on his success from last year; Alex Edler still has value in real-time stats leagues; perhaps Brock Boeser continues to show promise.

Realistically, though, unless you’re in a dynasty league or a deep redraft league, how many players off this roster are going to be drafted? The Sedins will probably come at a good value in case they can magically rebound for a season, while Horvat looks to be a decent end-of-the-roster option in points-only leagues. But again, how many players on this roster in, say, a 12-team league with 20-player rosters will be drafted? Keep an eye on ADPs but this is going to be ugly in 2017-18.

 

13. Mike Hoffman has topped 25 goals in each of the past three seasons with consecutive point increases. He received a career-high 3:11 of power-play ice time per game last year and exploded for 26 points – 13 goals – with the man advantage. His points per 60 minutes at five-on-five dropped to its lowest mark (1.9) of the past three seasons but it's still encouraging to see the 27-year-old receive the prime offensive minutes to shine. He boasts high-end speed and a sniper's shooting arsenal, so now that he's locked into a role to succeed under Guy Boucher, another rock-solid showing is well within reach for Hoffman.

 

14. A popular breakout candidate entering the 2016-17 campaign, Mark Scheifele posted a 32-goal, 82-point showing with an elite 67 points at even strength. He capped off the season on an absolute tear with seven tallies and 22 helpers through the final 24 games of the campaign, and the 24-year-old pivot is just entering his offensive prime.

The Jets are stocked with talented wingers and Schiefele has solidified himself as Winnipeg's No. 1 offensive center. After averaging a career-high 20:34 of ice time per game (3:06 with the man advantage), it's also encouraging that coach Paul Maurice is willing to lean on Scheifele. It'll be difficult to top last season's numbers but more of the same keeps Scheifele in the conversation as one of the best fantasy options up the middle.

 

15. Alexander Nylander wasn't at the World Junior Summer Showcase this past week. In short, it's because he's playing for Buffalo and isn't expected to be available to Sweden over the holidays for the World Junior Championship.

It's easy to overlook Nylander and he's not a lock to see a significant role out of the gate. While he's noted in the DobberHockey Guide as a potential Calder Trophy candidate, his point projection is just three over 10 games. Dobber is typically very conservative but that has to be Nylander's basement and not his floor.

His floor is probably 55 games and 20 points and the rookie's ceiling is much higher. The Sabres beefed up their wings to make Nylander's outlook much more difficult to project but he still has a lot of positives working in his favor. Nylander might already be the most offensively-gifted winger on the roster, while most of his peers on the flanks are either low-upside veterans or have battled injuries over the past couple of seasons.

There's always the possibility that Nylander lands in a top-six role during camp, shows excellent chemistry immediately and never looks back, too.

 

16. Aaron Ekblad declared himself 100 percent healthy last week, which is a huge positive for the Panthers. Despite Florida's surprising lack of offseason additions to its forward ranks, the defense corps is impressive. That blue line is paired with a solid goalie tandem, so the Cats should show improvement this season.

Ekblad is obviously also in position to rebound after a career-worst 2016-17 campaign that began and ended with injuries. He was limited to only 68 games because of a concussion that cost him the final 10 games of the regular season. When all was said and done, the defenseman posted just 10 goals and 21 assists with a crippling minus-23 rating.

It's important to note that Keith Yandle's addition didn't impact Ekblad's ice time last year – both at even strength and with the man advantage. And Ekblad actually recorded a career-high 225 shots even while playing fewer games, so it wasn't all doom and gloom.

Entering his fourth NHL season at just 21 years of age, this is a ripe buy-low spot for Ekblad. He's going to be available well into the middle rounds of drafts and sets up as a solid third or fourth fantasy blueliner with the potential to be a serviceable No. 2 for your club.

 

17. Alex Steen went into the 2016-17 season coming off shoulder surgery, which was an immediate red flag. How much it affected him is tough to diagnose but he did average his lowest shots per game of his career at 1.54, and that was over a full shot lower than just the year prior.

To call Steen a true bust might be a bit unfair, as he still managed over 50 points, but he didn’t contribute much in roto leagues. With a minus-2 rating and just 117 shots on goal, the 51 points wasn’t enough to make up for his lack of success in peripheral stats.

Even if it was an injury, it wasn’t an aberration of his decline. His shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances per 60 minutes declined from 2014-15 to 2015-16, as well. Perhaps it’s the injuries that have accumulated over his career – he hasn’t played more than 76 games since 2008-09 – but for fantasy hockey, it’s irrelevant. If he’s declining due to age, or due to injury-related factors, there’s a problem going on here.

I suppose there was hope last year that a guy who had scored 57 goals from 2013 through 2015 could recapture his form but that looks like a long shot. If the young wingers on the team can stay healthy, and with the return of Vladimir Sobotka, there could be a continued loss in ice time, as well. Steen was a very solid, and underrated, player for many years. Time catches up with everyone.

 

18. With tremendous offensive upside, Dylan Strome is expected to be the No. 1 center at some time in the near future and he showcased why during his final OHL campaign. Strome led Erie to the Memorial Cup Championship and took home tournament MVP honors, while posting jaw-dropping numbers the entire way.

After a seven-game stint with the Coyotes to start 2016-17, Strome enters training camp this year with a better feel and will probably need to play his way off the roster and not the other way around. However, Arizona could decide to start Strome in the AHL. He needs to fill out his 6-foot-3 frame and he also might still need to work on his 200-foot game. The sky's the limit, and Strome could just as easily thrive in camp and take a run at the Calder Trophy.

 

19. A crucial conversation to have at this moment is just how to go about drafting the Leafs for 2017-18. They should be one of the top offensive teams in the league again, and even without including their Big Three sophomore players –  Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander – guys like Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev, and Jake Gardiner will all warrant fantasy consideration at varying levels.

The question is how to draft them, and how many?

I’m sure there are people out there who will be targeting both Matthews and Nylander. Drafting linemates can be a huge boon for fantasy rosters – just think of players who wrangled both Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin in 2015-16, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in 2013-14 (and later), Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin for the better part of a decade, and so on.

It’s important to keep in mind the fragility of such a strategy, however – one injury can ruin two seasons. Think of how Seguin performed without a healthy Benn beside him for 2016-17; how Sean Monahan has struggled when Johnny Gaudreau was injured; the scoring of non-Triplets skaters when Steven Stamkos has been out of the lineup. There are countless examples like this, and yes, if a player gets hurt that does give a rise in value to another, but then you’re also fighting with league mates for the same player at the waiver wire.

There is immense upside to such a strategy, obviously. If Matthews keeps improving and has a 40-goal, 80-point season, with Nylander at 25 goals and 70 points, drafting both of them in the first and third rounds (or wherever the ADP falls) can be wonderful for fantasy owners. But what if Matthews breaks his hand and Nylander is playing with Matt Martin for 20 games? Or, if Nylander suffers a high-ankle sprain and Matthews loses his playmaker? That’s the kind of risk/reward fantasy owners need to keep in mind and figure out how much risk they’re willing to tolerate. It’s a strategy that can put you in the running to win a league, or sink a season.

 

20. Nazem Kadri finally lived up to the hopes fantasy owners had for him for years, posting his first 30-goal season, as well as his first 60-point one. Kadri’s 13.6 percent shooting might seem high but keep in mind that from 2012 through 2015, he shot 13 percent. It’s not like what he managed was out of the ordinary from him, it was just the 2015-16 season where he had a high volume and low percentage that was out of the ordinary. I hate to credit everything to shot selection but looking at his shot maps at five-on-five from 2015-16 and 2016-17, it’s clear he took fewer shots from 30-40 feet away at the tops of the circles and focused more on shots from 20-30 feet in the slot.

His 12 power-play goals were a lot – he had 18 in his career before that year – but at the least, his percentages weren’t extreme. He scored on 10.4 percent of unblocked shot attempts he took but he also achieved that conversion level in 2013-14, as well as nine percent in 2012-13. His percentages suffered as the team declined from 2014-16 but as the team improved, so did he. He probably doesn’t reach 12 PP tallies but he can push for double-digits if he’s given similar deployment as last year.

The shot rate declined but he was more aware of where he was shooting from, an indication that he wanted to avoid that 6.5 percent conversion rate again. With all the ice time being spread out on the roster and Kadri’s role unlikely to change very much, I don’t know if it gets any better than what he did in this season. However, I do think he can be a 25-goal, 55-point player with solid peripherals, particularly in leagues that count hits. He has a few other teammates with more pure upside offensively but Kadri might be the best value come draft day.

 

Have a good week, folks!!