In this first instalment, we’re going to be looking at some team’s top lines and how they have been producing to start the year. Although we’re working with a small sample size, these players have been spending most of their time on ice together and as a result their production as a unit can be used to predict their future success. Don’t fret if your players aren’t featured in this edition, as we’ll most likely cover them in the coming weeks.
Vladimir Sobotka - Paul Statsny - Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues)
Team 5on5 Production = 9 | Line 5on5 Production = 3 (33% of team)
Although Paul Statsny’s injury history is a-Paul-ing, the Vlad-a-mere thought of this line has me excited. Statsny is a pretty well-known name in hockey, and probably also at the doctor’s office because injuries have prevented him from playing a full season with the Blues. However, if he remains healthy this year (knock on Miles Wood), there’s a good chance he finally breaks the 50-point barrier for the first time since his days in Colorado. For those of you unfamiliar with Vladimir Sobotka (he played the last three seasons in the KHL), he was a fourth-round pick by the Boston Bruins in 2005. Simply put, his offensive numbers have never been anything to write home about, his best production being the 33 points in 61 games he amassed in 2013-2014. But since then, his game has developed, and so has Vladimir Tarasenko’s. Speaking of Tarasenko, I could have easily included one of the highlight-reel goals he’s scored in this young season, but I chose to showcase this line’s ability instead:
Alex Iafallo - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)
Team 5on5 Production = 10 | Line 5on5 Production = 7 (70% of team)
Alex Iafallwho? Duster Brown? How do you expect Anze Kopitar to rebound from a poor 2016-2017 campaign when you’re surrounding him with these scrubs? But wait, Kopitar has eight points in his first five games this season and is not being hindered by his seemingly underwhelming line mates! While most of us are familiar with two-thirds of this line, it’s Alex Iafallo who is beginning to make a name for himself in the NHL. After four seasons with the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, in which he put up 121 points in 152 games, Iafallo signed an entry-level deal with the Kings. Although he has only one point in five contests, his presence seems to have reignited Dustin Brown, who has seven points in his first five games! Let me put this into perspective for you: in previous seasons, Brown’s PIMs were giving his point totals a run for their money, and neither total was above 40. Now obviously his production is the definition of unsustainable, but don’t be surprised to see this line to continue scoring as Kopitar continues to prove last season was an anomaly.
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Richard Panik (Chicago Blackhawks)
Team 5on5 Production = 20 | Line 5on5 Production = 7 (35% of team)
The reason I chose to include this line over the Ryan Hartman - Nick Schmaltz – Patrick Kane line is because of Jonathan Toews. I’m a believer that Chicago’s captain is going to return to the upper tiers of fantasy relevance, and wanted you to know that while some owners still believe he’s a ‘sell-high’ player, Brandon Saad’s return to Chicago seems to have sparked Toews and it makes sense if you look back to the 2014-2015 campaign (Saad’s last season with the Blackhawks before being traded to the Blue Jackets). Among all of Chicago’s lines that season, their highest scoring one was composed of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Brandon Saad, with 67 points. The next highest scoring line included Patrick Kane, Brad Richards, and Kris Versteeg at 35 points. I guess there is some truth to Saad having a more positive impact in the locker room than Artemi Panarin. Now before you panic, I’ll get to Panik. Once a 2nd round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 26-year-old is entering his second full season with the Blackhawks. We all remember him for his hot stretch last season (15 points in 18 games) which fizzled out as many predicted, but I believe playing alongside Toews and Saad could see him flirt with the 50-point mark for the first time in his career.
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov (Dallas Stars)
Team 5on5 Production = 4 | Line 5on5 Production = 1 (25% of team)
It’s no secret that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have chemistry, they’ve shown the league what they’re capable of for years. But the spot alongside these two superstars has never had a permanent holder. Enter Alexander Radulov, and a recipe for the most talented line in the league. I was able to tune into a lot of Habs’ games last season, and on an offensively challenged team, Radulov was a ray of hope, that one player you could count on to make a play when everyone else was taking perimeter shots. But the Dallas Stars aren’t the Montreal Canadiens. Sure, it’s likely that Radulov stays on this line and his production will probably see an increase, but I would temper my expectations and concede that this is line is more of a dynamic duo with a talented sidekick.
Claude Giroux- Sean Couturier – Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers)
Team 5on5 Production = 12 | Line 5on5 Production = 6 (50% of team)
Similar to the Stars, the Flyers also have a proven pairing playing with someone new, but this situation is different for a number of reasons. For starters, Couturier was drafted by Philadelphia 8th overall in the 2011 draft. Along with the pedigree, he’s had a chance to develop chemistry with his teammates and familiarize himself with the team’s system. This season, the results are starting to show as Couturier is being praised for his play on both ends of the ice. Couturier doesn’t make this line better because he’s an offensive superstar, but because his talents compliment those of his line mates. While many were proclaiming Giroux’s downfall this season, it now seems that Couturier’s emergence will prevent that. All this said, it is important to note that this trio isn’t inseparable, as Wayne Simmonds takes Couturier’s spot on the first power-play unit.
This is a surprise position for Couturier to find himself in as Giroux has moved successfully to the wing position to start the season. Watch this carefully, as a return to the middle will spell the end of such a plum assignment for Couts.
Vladislav Namestnikov – Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Team 5on5 Production = 14 | Line 5on5 Production = 3 (21% of team)
The firepower this line possesses is unfair, I mean two former first-round picks beside Nikita Kucherov? Imagine Steven Stamkos, a career point-per-game player being considered the second best player on a line! There’s no question Kucherov and Stamkos have chemistry, there was shades of it last season and it has most certainly carried into this season. But the nice surprise has been Vladislav Namestnikov, entering his fourth real season with the Lightning, and if you were smart enough to get the Dobber Fantasy Hockey guide, you know what that means! Each member of this line is carrying their own weight, making point-per-game production seem like it’s a requirement to be on Tampa’s top line. Unlike a lot of other trios, this one remains intact on the power play, allowing them to build on their chemistry as they get even more familiar with each other.
Max Pacioretty - Jonathan Drouin – Arturri Lehkonen (Montreal Canadiens)
Team 5on5 Production = 4 | Line 5on5 Production = 2 (50% of team)
There’s no doubting the offensive talent that Jonathan Drouin brings to the Montreal Canadiens, but boy have the Habs had a rough start to the season, scoring just seven goals on 189 shots over five games. Take one look at that team shooting percentage (3.7%) and you can conclude things are going to get better, the lowest shooting percentage in the league last season belonged to the Colorado Avalanche at 7.16%. Although the Canadiens have preached depth scoring through guys like Philip Danault and Paul Byron, if they are to have any success this season it starts with their top line. As a 55th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Lehkonen has the tools to be a top-six forward, but I wouldn’t consider him a mainstay. While Lehkonen was on the Habs’ top line most recently, his spot was held by Brendan Gallagher at the beginning of the season, and I think Gallagher will get a few more cracks beside Drouin and Pacioretty, who seem to have a connection.
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