At this point in the season, several players are still scoring at a pace that’s well above their career high in points. Of course the question is whether their current jump in production will continue down the road, or just amount to a blip in the radar once we get to next season and beyond. This is a big issue, since in some cases it could turn a fantasy unworthy player into someone you'd want to draft or pick up, or it could help convince you to take steps to acquire a player (through the draft or by trade) that might already be on your fantasy radar. With these things in mind, we'll look at four forwards who have seen a big increase in point production pace this season, and I’ll issue a “Final Verdict” on what point production you should expect from that player in the coming years.
Note that all four of these forwards are under 30 (unlike those in my recent column about 30+ players with the potential to put up a career high in points next season – be sure to check that out if you haven’t already) and are scoring at a pace that would improve upon their previous career best by at least 10 points.
Troy Brouwer – 26 points in 38 games (56 point pace) – previous career high was 40 points
It’s been a lot of fun to watch Brouwer transform from his past role as a jack of all trades workhorse into a legitimate top six forward this season. He’s fast becoming the next Mike Knuble (who, after turning 30, put up five seasons of 53+ points playing with Joe Thornton, Peter Forsberg, and, like Brouwer, Niclas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin), in that Brouwer can act as a defensive-minded presence on a line with offensively-talented players without dragging down the production of the line. It’s a win-win situation in that the Capitals benefit from Brouwer’s two-way mindset, and fantasy GMs see points dividends when Brouwer reaps the benefits of playing with proven scorers.
Just like Knuble, Brouwer also gets his share of prime power play time – 3:35 per game this season - with over 65% spent lined up beside Ovy, Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro according to the ever useful Frozen pool resource, giving him one of the best PP spots in all of the NHL. What’s also nice is although his hits are down slightly from three per game last season to around 2.25 per game in 2012-13, he’s managed to improve to -3 in plus/minus, after finishing last season at -15.
And for those who might have been worried about Brouwer’s spot in the top six being secure after the Capitals went out and acquired Martin Erat at the trade deadline, not only has Erat already suffered an injury, but even before that occurred it looked like the Caps were sliding Erat into a third line spot, leaving Brouwer to remain nicely settled on a scoring line. My “Final Verdict” is that Brouwer is a candidate to put up the kind of points Knuble did in his best seasons (53, 54, 55, 59, 65) for at least the next several years, with little risk of him going below 50 points and an outside shot at even more than Knuble managed if Washington returns to its former scoring levels and he stays in his current role.
Andrew Ladd – 34 points in 40 games (70 point pace) – previous career high was 59 points
I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who figured that Ladd had hit his points ceiling in racking up 59 during 2010-11, especially once he followed that by sliding back to 50 points last season. But here Ladd is, breaking out to score at a 70 point pace despite the fact that he's now in his 9th NHL season. What makes the breakout seem even more surprising is that, according to Frozen Pool, he’s once again playing the majority of his even strength shifts and 40% of his power play time with the same forwards (Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler) as he did last season, and both of those guys are actually scoring at a worse pace than last campaign. What’s more, Ladd's power play time is holding steady from last season at about 2:30 per game and his power play scoring pace is actually down (four points in 40 games this season, compared to 12 points in 80 games last season).
So why the uptick in points pace now for Ladd? His shooting percentage is up by about 40%, so to some degree it could be some lucky bounces and more secondary assists that he didn’t get last season, but I actually think it’s more a function of the Winnipeg team improving overall. The team's success has put the Jets on the cusp of the playoffs and led to Ladd – the Jets captain - not having to shoulder the blame and self-doubt that may have held him back him last season. Instead, the team's strong play has infused him with increased confidence, which has resulted in increased production while he’s on the ice. And given that Ladd is still young (he turned 27 in December) and Winnipeg figures to be only getting better, my “Final Verdict” for Ladd is that he should be a virtual lock for 60+ points for the next several seasons, with a decent shot to hit 65 in a couple and maybe even topping the 70 point threshold at least once.
Jannik Hansen – 22 points in 37 games (49 point pace) – previous career high of 39 points
Would you believe that Hansen is tied for third in Canucks scoring this season (not counting recent acquisition Derek Roy)? The 27 year old is quietly putting together a solid campaign and becoming very much a go to guy for the Canucks, even managing 1:36 of power play time per game, up from a mere eight seconds and seven seconds per game in his past two seasons. Some could make a case that his power play time might decline with the imminent return of Ryan Kesler or now that Derek Roy has arrived in Vancouver, but I think that Hansen has done so well this season that he’s opened the eyes of the Canucks coaching staff enough to become legitimately entrenched in his current role and maintain his ice time (which is up overall by more than two minutes from last season) so long as he can continue to produce.
Hansen reminds me a lot of a slightly younger version of Pascal Dupuis or Alexander Steen, two players who barely cracked the 35-40 point barrier in their early seasons, but each of whom ultimately proved he could produce offensively and has now had a season of 50+ points under his belt and can be reliably counted on for offense each year. My “Final Verdict” on Hansen is that he could flirt with 50 points as early as next season, and perhaps exceed 55 at some point within the next three years.
Mark Letestu – 20 points in 37 games (44 point pace) – previous career high was 27 points
Of these five forwards, Letestu is the one I think has the best chance to explode next season. Even though he’s already 28 years old, keep in mind that next season technically will be his magical fourth year (he’ll actually have played four seasons already, but suited up for only ten games as a rookie in 2009-10). Also, he was recently rewarded with a two-year $2.5 million contract by Columbus, showing him not only that the Blue Jackets organization recognizes what he’s brought to the table already but also that they expect him to do even more in these next two years.
I remember seeing how well Letestu did in 2010-11 with Pittsburgh when given a brief chance to play on a scoring line, starting the season with seven points in seven games before being relegated to a role outside of the top six. Slowly but surely with Columbus he’s played his way into better spots, and shown at each step that he’s up to the task. Plus, even if he doesn’t end up playing regularly on a line with recent acquisition Marion Gaborik, the presence of Gaborik on a different line should help Letestu avoid having to play against the top checking line of Blue Jacket opponents. The “Final Verdict” on Letestu is that he strikes me as a great sleeper for 50 points next season, and that like Hansen he also has a realistic shot at 55+ points in the next three years and perhaps even an outside shot at 60.
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