A lot of these Ramblings over the last couple weeks – and really months – have been stat-heavy but at a point, it’s worth taking a step back. For that reason, let’s look at some stories that have emerged over the last week, as well as some stories to keep an eye on heading into training camps.
A few days ago we learned that Edmonton winger Anton Slepyshev suffered an ankle injury during training and would miss training camp. That puts his season debut in danger, and though there’s no official word, I find it hard to believe that a player who spent time between the AHL and NHL last year would be a lock for the opening night roster without having taken part in training camp, especially if he can’t get in exhibition games.
This should clarify things a bit, at least to start the year, for the Oilers up front. Working under the assumption that Leon Draisaitl opens as the second-line centre behind Connor McDavid, it likely means Ryan Strome will be McJesus’ line mate at right wing. I suppose it could be Jesse Puljujarvi (and that linked piece earlier suggest even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, though I can’t see that), but Strome would make the most sense. It would allow Puljujarvi to ease into softer minutes with a talented centre, the Oilers to maximize the utility of Strome, and the team to run McDavid-Draisaitl-RNH down the middle.
What to do with that information is a different story. Supposing Strome starts the year on McDavid’s right wing, how long does he last? If they don’t click through the first five or six games, and Slepyshev is healthy at that point, do they move Puljujarvi to the top line and Slepyshev to the second line? Does Slep move to the top line? Does Draisaitl get moved back to McDavid’s wing at some point? Despite the clarity now, this is a situation that will likely be muddled all year.
For a more severe injury, Nashville defenceman Ryan Ellis underwent knee surgery and has a timetable to return of four to six months. General manager David Poile seems to think it’ll take the full six months, and that would likely have Ellis out of the lineup until after the All-Star break. That is a devastating injury for the budding star and for his team.
Ellis is part of that elite-tier top-four defence corps the Predators have, and logged nearly 18 minutes of five-on-five time and over two minutes of power-play time per game. Those are a lot of minutes to replace. As a right-shooting defenceman, there aren’t many internal options. I suppose Yannick Weber will see more ice time because their immediate NHL depth – Alexei Emelin and Matt Irwin – are both left d-men.
Last year, the Predators frequently used a 1-2 defence setup on the blue line for the power play. That often meant Roman Josi on the top quintet with Ellis and PK Subban on the second pair. Assuming they keep the same setup, there is no immediate right-shot replacement for Ellis. Again, it could be Weber, but I don’t imagine they use him often on the PP. My guess is they’ll just use Mattias Ekholm instead, and he and Subban did see stretches of time together in 2016-17.
I don’t think this really helps anyone fantasy-wise at five-on-five – is Weber really going to produce much? – but this should lock Ekholm into the PP2 role. Though he’s not an offensive defenceman, it is a small boost in value.
At the prospect tournament over the weekend, Dallas prospect Denis Gurianov was slotted on the top-line right wing. This isn’t much of a surprise given he’s probably their team’s top forward prospect but it does raise an interesting conversation: what happens if Brett Ritchie doesn’t pan out for the Stars this year?
With all the turnover from last year, especially up front, the team isn’t very deep at right wing (Valeri Nichushkin, please come back). Back in May, before the team signed Radulov, I wrote about Ritchie being a potential breakout for this upcoming fantasy season. I still stand by that. I think he’s a talented offensive player who can finish.
But guys don’t always pan out. Even established players in good situations have bad years – Andrew Ladd, Jordan Eberle, and Corey Perry from last year, to name a few. Though I do think Ritchie can be a guy who can fill in nicely at the RW2, it is far from a guarantee he will do it.
To bring us back – does Gurianov get a long look this training camp and exhibition season? If (a big IF) Ritchie doesn’t work on the second line, there aren’t many other immediate internal options (Tyler Pitlick, anyone?)
I don’t think Gurianov has immediate fantasy value in most leagues as of today. But I also think with a good camp, he can at least get a brief look to start the year in the NHL. It’s definitely a situation to monitor for now.
Bo Horvat signed his RFA deal with the Canucks a few days ago. The total value of the contract is $33 million spread out over six years, giving us an average annual value of $5.5 million. With Mika Zibanejad coming in at $5.35 million per season over five years, that contract sounds about right for Horvat given the established market.
The 22-year old had 20 goals and 52 points for the Canucks last year, leading the team in both categories.
A month ago, I wrote about the offensive progression of Horvat so far in his young career. There have been very good signs, and considering the quality of the team around him, 52 points last year is a very productive season. He should be a lock for at least 18 minutes a game again this year. One area that hopefully improves is his allotment of power-play time. There is no good reason why Brandon Sutter should be on the top power-play unit while Horvat is not other than handedness. If the young centre can get those top PP minutes, even with the Sedin twins in clear decline, it would help make 50 points his floor.
For those in cap leagues, it’s a question of league settings, I think. If it’s a points-only league, fantasy owners can probably survive with Horvat on their roster. In roto leagues, though, where Horvat doesn’t rack penalty minutes, shots, hits, and will likely be a minus player given the quality of the team, it’s hard to justify rostering him.
Until the team improves around him – and that may take a few years – it’s probably not worth having him on rosters in cap leagues. For those able to wait, it could pay off down the road. In the immediate future, however, this is not a contract that is easy to stomach.
Below is the list of players under the age of 25 who, since the start of the 2013-14 season, have played at least 200 games and managed at least two shots on goal and 0.73 points per game. Why that points mark? That works out to 60 points every 82 games:
One of those players, Jaden Schwartz, is ranked outside the first nine rounds of 12-team leagues on Fantasy Pros. If he is locked into the top-line role in St. Louis, and is healthy, he could easily find the 25-goal, 60-point form that he enjoyed a couple years back. Even in roto leagues were he may not stuff peripherals, he’s being underrated.
One team I’m excited to see how the forward lineup shakes out is Winnipeg. With obvious names like Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Bryan Little, it’s a litter wonder why. But it’s the second-line left wing spot that has me intrigued.
Clearly, the best option for that slotting on the second line is Mathieu Perreault. He is a phenomenal real-life hockey player (less so in fantasy), and would work well with Little and Wheeler in some sort of checking line that has a lot of scoring pop. That leaves their bottom-six a little thin, though, and it makes me wonder if we don’t see Perreault on the third line (he was at times last year) in a true checking-line role.
That would leave the 2LW spot wide open for Kyle Connor.
Connor started the year in the NHL last year but eventually made his way to the AHL. He finished second on the team in points despite playing just 52 games (he did lead the team in points per game), and was the team’s only 20-goal scorer (he finished with 25). In short, it was a very good AHL year.
We were kind of spoiled with all the elite rookies in the NHL last year, and it’s easy to forget that it is not normally the case. Young players usually can take a season, or a few seasons, to get their feet under them professionally.
This is a bit of a different situation than Gurianov’s outlined above in that Connor probably has a spot on the team regardless. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least, though, if Connor ended up on the second line with Little and either Wheeler or Laine. It is definitely a situation to keep track of through the preseason.
This is your periodic reminder that as of right now, the best bet to skate on the top line in Calgary is probably Micheal Ferland. Despite the egregious way he spells his first name, he fared well skating on the first line for the Flames last year. Below is a little without-with you graphic from PuckIQ.com that shows how Ferland and Johnny Gaudreau performed when skating together (in about 20 games’ worth of ice time), and apart:
Let’s not forget this is also a slotting due to a lack of other real options. Troy Brouwer was, and will continue to be, nowhere near suited for top-six minutes. There is no way they should break up the 3M line unless they play poorly for a long stretch, and the only real threat is Kris Versteeg, who can play both wings.
Ferland’s upside is limited because he won’t see much in the way of power-play minutes. But especially for those in leagues that count hits, Ferland warrants deep-league consideration.
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