Information changes constantly through NHL training camps and exhibition games. What is true for line combinations one day may not be true to the next, be it for injury, looking for chemistry, or a litany of other reasons. All the same, it’s important for fantasy owners to stay current to keep in mind what changes and what doesn’t.
First, we need to start with the injuries. They’re starting to pile up. First, the Blues will be without defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to start the year:
Bouwmeester has broken ankle, re-evaluated in 3 weeks.
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) September 19, 2017
It has been years since Bouwmeester has been fantasy-relevant, and he wasn’t going to be this year, either. The importance here is that it opens a spot for a bubble defenceman to make the NHL roster. The sentiment seems to be that it will be either Vince Dunn or Jake Walman that stays with the big club once the season begins.
Dunn is the name that intrigues me here. With Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, he certainly won’t see top PP minutes. But can he slide onto the second unit with a third-pair role at even strength? He topped all AHL rookie d-men in points last year, and has solid offensive upside. He’ll only be relevant in deep leagues, but Blues training camp just got a bit more interesting.
The team will also be without Alex Steen to start the year, which should mean good things for Jaden Schwart'z's power-play time:
Ottawa may be without rookie forward Colin White for at least the first month of the season:
#Sens forward Colin White, who took a one-timer to the left wrist last night, is out 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair it.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) September 19, 2017
Not that White was a guarantee to make the roster out of camp – he very well could have started in the AHL – but it’s a certainty he won’t now. With Derick Brassard still not a full participant and Erik Karlsson’s availability up in the air, the injuries are piling up for the Sens.
This is a huge blow to White’s potential fantasy value this year. If he’s out for six weeks of the season, that’s about 15 games missed. I would imagine he gets some games in the AHL before a call up, if he’s called up at all, so at the least, owners should be ready to be without him for at least 20 games. For owners in dynasty leagues, it may be another season before he starts contributing.
In what can only be considered a fleecing, Arizona continued their solid off-season by trading for right-handed defenceman Jason Demers a few days ago, with Jamie McGinn going the other way. Not only did Arizona acquire a top-four blue liner, they did so while convincing the Panthers to retain 12.5 percent of the remainder of the deal. That works out to be about $562K a year.
Not long ago I mused that I was worried about Antti Raanta this year because the team in front of him still had a ways to go before contending for playoffs, but this changes things. Obviously, one non-elite defenceman doesn’t change everything, but this team now has a very solid top-four on the blue line with Ekman-Larsson/Hjalmarsson and Goligoski/Demers. Once Jakob Chychrun is healthy, they’ll be able to boast a very solid defence corps from top to bottom.
The forward group still needs work, but this team is reminding me of Carolina from a year ago; a very solid blue line with a forward group that still needs a year or two to grow. Carolina, even with its flaws, was still a top-10 team by adjusted shot attempts allowed, though, and could have produced a good season from a goaltender if they had a good goaltender. Things are looking up for Raanta, and I’m a little more bullish on him in fantasy with this trade.
Stars morning skate lines:
— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) September 19, 2017
Here they are with Devin Shore, but they had been skating with Jason Spezza (Spezza had the day off, which is why Shore is there). That line of Janmark-Spezza-Ritchie could be very solid at both ends of the ice.
Janmark missed all of last year with a knee issue while Ritchie was often relegated to the bottom-six. Janmark showed to be a solid two-way player while Ritchie’s offensive prowess just needs an opportunity to shine. If that line can get some soft matchups – which I think they will, as the tougher assignments go to the Seguin line or Martin Hanzal’s line – they could flourish. Spezza will be the only one on the top PP unit so upside is capped for the wingers, but both Janmark and Ritchie have 20-goal upside in 2017-18.
At least in the early portion of drafts, the Red Wings are being completely disregarded; by the aggregate ADPs, not one Detroit player is being taken inside the first 10 rounds of a 12-team league, and only Henrik Zetterberg is being drafted inside the top-200 players. That might be a bit extreme; fantasy hockey owners are basically treating the 2017-18 Red Wings as the next 2016-17 Avalanche. It could be a good value opportunity.
All that aside, we got a somewhat-new combination at morning skate on Tuesday for the game Tuesday night:
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) September 19, 2017
This trio would give Larkin a play-making and goal-scoring winger on either side, so it would be about as good as it would get for him on this roster. If he can start shooting as often as he did in his rookie year, 20 goals, 40 points, and around 200 shots on goal seems reasonable. Let’s hope that combination stays together; I’m intrigued as to what they can do if the Henrik Zetterberg line gets all the tough matchups and zone starts.
For a couple years, Sam Reinhart has been a favourite of mine because of his slotting with Jack Eichel at five-on-five and on the power play. With both players in their third full season, I was hoping for a big year from Reinhart. And then…
Looks like your No. 1 #Sabres line tonight is Jack Eichel with Evander Kane and Jason Pominville.
— Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL) September 19, 2017
From the team’s perspective, this makes sense. Their third and fourth lines have been a problem for years, and Reinhart has been very good at driving the play in his young career. If he can help carry a third line, it just makes the team deeper and better. Reinhart played with Steve Moses and Benoit Pouliot in a Sabres preseason game on Monday.
This is bad for fantasy, though. If he can stay on the top PP unit, that’s great, but not playing with Eichel at five-on-five is a huge ding. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out towards the end of the month once rosters are nearly finalized, but this really puts a damper on my optimism for Reinhart this year.
Though it’s not set in stone, it does appear that Patrick Marleau is headed for the Auston Matthews PP unit for the Leafs:
Leafs PP at morning skate
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) September 19, 2017
The Mitch Marner unit remains unchanged from last year, and it was the team’s most-used combination in 2016-17, even. Marleau lining up with the AHL players indicates that he will indeed be slotting with Matthews.
At five-on-five, at least early in camp, Marleau seems to be in a checking role with Nazem Kadri as his centre. However, Marleau’s value in the last couple seasons has largely come from the power play anyway, so this is just more of the same. At least we have an idea of where he’ll slot, though.
The Oilers had an NHL practice on Tuesday, and it shed a little clarity on the right-wing situation for the team:
NHL group lines:
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) September 19, 2017
Drake Caggiula lining up with Leon Draisaitl is interesting. With Anton Slepyshev injured, it seemed a possibility that Jesse Puljujarvi could at least line up with the German pivot, maybe even with Connor McDavid. It’s Caggiula that cracks the top-six, however.
I’ve reiterated often that I think this will be a muddled situation all year, and this does nothing to dissuade that notion. I can’t see Caggiula spending the year in the top-six, as talented though he may be. For me, this is still a week-to-week situation.
Get used to seeing Ovechkin and Backstrom on separate lines https://t.co/5DEZNaOV44
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) September 19, 2017
What’s curious in that article is that it’s Jakub Vrana who got the crack on Wednesday night to play with Ovechkin and Evgney Kuznetsov. It also means that Andre Burakovsky lining up with Backstrom and TJ Oshie.
I really hope Vrana gets an extended look with Kuznetsov. Though he had just six points in 21 regular season games last year, including zero five-on-five goals, he has 75 points in 88 career regular season AHL games. He has long been considered a high-end offensive prospect, and in his stint with the Caps, spent it mostly in the bottom-six. He should have good chemistry with Kuznetsov, an extremely talented and creative centre. We’ll see if it actually sticks, and he won’t get top power-play time, but Vrana dynasty owners can start getting a bit excited.
Three months ago, the NHL announced that they planned to call more slashing penalties this season. That comes off the heels of incidents to Marc Methot, who got part of his finger lopped off, and Johnny Gaudreau, who ended up with a fractured finger. It’s leading to double-digit penalty calls, a trend which may carry over into the regular season.
Of course, the problem is that the NHL stopped calling penalties relative to a decade or so ago: in the season immediately following the lockout, we saw 5.85 penalty opportunities per team per game; that fell below three in 2016-17. Four of the five least-penalized seasons in NHL history were the last four seasons from 2013-17. With slashing being a player safety issue, it’s little wonder why the focused on it.
What this does for fantasy hockey owners is put more importance on players that not only play the power play, but on heavily-used top units. Teams like Washington, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Buffalo, and Dallas (among others) use their top offensive players about a minute (or more) than others. If power plays do double, that means a significant boost in power-play production to those players.
We’ll see if this trend lasts as the season wears on. Maybe the refs go back to their old style of penalty-calling after the first couple of months. For now, though, put a premium on those heavily-used players. We can’t overlook the fact that such a drastic increase in power-play opportunities could afford some players double-digit increases in power-play points.
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