BAIE VERTE, NL. — The NHL season is right around the corner and fantasy hockey leagues will begin drafting very soon. We’re happy to help you get ready for fantasy hockey with the second in our three-part series.
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As outlined in my previous article about fantasy busts, drafting smart is imperative to winning any fantasy hockey league. Part 2 of the Fantasy Hockey Primer focuses on the players that everyone wants to draft; the player who will breakout in terms of production. These so-called “hidden gems” can make any fantasy manager look like a genius amongst his/her peers. Said draft picks are very hard to predict and they are typically taken during the later part of the draft due to the high risk involved.
Whether it be a young player who has a huge amount of skill and potential, a player who may see a possible promotion this season, or someone who has been on a steady incline in terms of production, there will many options out there when the draft heads into the final few rounds. Without further ado, here are my top candidates for players who will breakout this upcoming season and earn you massive value from the later rounds of your draft.
Many fantasy draft pundits out there consider Kuznetsov to be on the verge of a huge season, and it would be criminal for me to write an article about breakout fantasy hockey players and not include Kuznetsov. Washington Capitals fans have been very patient watching Kuznetsov dominate the KHL for over three and a half seasons since being drafted in the first round in 2010.
Since getting to see him play his first game of NHL action, on March 10, 2014, we have all seen flashes of his immense skill. To demonstrate Kuznetsov’s gradual rise to fantasy relevance, lets look at last season in 20 game sections (he only played 80 games last season):
One important thing to notice here is the gradual increase in his ice time, even though some of his stats dipped in the third quarter of the season. Next season, with more ice time and a return to a normal shooting percentage (he doesn’t have enough games to provide an accurate career average, but last year’s 8.7 per cent is quite low), we could see a huge increase in Kuznetsov’s fantasy value. Kuznetsov has an added value as he also plays center, which may pay dividends for both the Capitals and fantasy managers alike if Nicklas Backstrom is unable to start the season due to his ailing hip (pairing Kuznetsov with Alexander Ovechkin and T. J. Oshie).
My prediction: 15-20 goals and 55-60 points, with a healthy portion (18-20) of those coming on the power play. Keep an eye out for him in rounds 8-9 of your draft as he should be taken much higher than his rank of 163 in Yahoo rankings.
Continuing on with young players who possess a tremendous amount of skill, Strome now enters the spotlight. While many of the players drafted after Strome in the draft class of 2011 were establishing themselves as NHL regulars (ie. Brandon Saad, Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton, Mark Scheifele, Ondrej Palat and Andrew Shaw), Strome was honing his skills in the juniors and the AHL. While in the OHL and AHL, Strome put up huge numbers (295 points in 225 games in the OHL and 56 points in 47 AHL games), showing everyone that he was ready for his chance in the NHL. The former Niagara Ice Dog finally got his chance last season, averaging 16 minutes of ice time per game in the second half of the season and put up a very respectable 50 points over the course of the full season.
Potting 17 goals on 179 shots (a shooting percentage of 9.5 per cent) leaves me to believe that we should see a modest increase in goal production during the 2015-16 season as his shooting percentage rises closer to average (NYI forwards averaged 10.59 per cent last season) and he produces more shots on net. With two of Frans Nielsen, Anders Lee or Josh Bailey as his projected linemates (neither of which topped 41 points last season), the Isles’ secondary offence is in the hands of Strome this upcoming season.
My prediction: a 60-65 point season accompanied by around 20 goals. He will also add modest value in the PIM, PPP and Hits department so keep an eye out for him as your second line center in rounds 7-8. The Hockey News’ ranking of Strome at 105 is much more accurate than NHL.com or Yahoo (141 and 178 respectably).
Next up is the fan favorite, Brendan Gallagher. While his best asset may be how hard he works on the ice, many fail to see that Gallagher is developing into a valued offensive asset for the Canadiens. With a “never say die” attitude, Gallagher often gets under the skin of the opponents both on the score sheet and with his work in the corners and front of the net.
Gallagher has a firm grasp on the top line (with only Alex Semin and Zack Kassian vying for the other top-6 RW spot), and should play predominately with Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec/Alex Galchenyuk. With a top line position shored up, we can expect similar ice time as last season, an average of 16:35 per game. He was just one goal shy of hitting 25 goals this past season, and increased his shot total by 43 over the previous season to 254. Ending the season with 47 points (a modest six point increase over his sophomore season), many fantasy draft pundits placed Gallagher outside the top 125 places in their rankings (or in The Hockey News’ case, outside the top 200). A nine game pointless streak from October 18 to November 5 could lay reason to why Gallagher’s point production wasn’t higher this past season.
For those of you who think I may be biased on my decision here, the advanced stats numbers are even further proof that Gallagher is going to set new career highs this upcoming season. In terms of Corsi For percentage of total and Fenwick for percentage of total this past season (in players who played at least 20 games), Gallagher was the run away leader on the Canadiens (by 3.11 per cent and 2.16 per cent respectably). Scoring chances? Gallagher trailed only our newest captain, Pacioretty, in that category with 204.
My Prediction: I can see Gallagher reaching 30 goals and 60 points this upcoming season. This isn’t elite point production by any means, but with the RW position so hard to fill with viable talent throughout the fantasy season, Gallagher fills the need better than most waiver wire options. Target Gallagher in round 7-8.
I put a lot of deliberation into which young defenseman to choose here and I eventually narrowed it down to Seth Jones and Hampus Lindholm. I believe both have the potential to break out, but with Jones playing behind possibly the best defensive duo in the league (Shea Weber and Roman Josi) and Lindholm only having Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler (who Lindholm is actually ranked higher than on Yahoo) ahead of him on the depth chart, it was a no brainer.
Anaheim surprised everyone back in 2012, drafting Lindholm 6th overall, but it definitely has worked out so far for them. In his first season in the AHL, Lindholm didn’t produce at a high rate, scoring 11 points in 44 games. Being very responsible in the defensive end lead many people to think he would need further time in the AHL to develop his scoring ability; well that never happened. He burst onto the scene with 30 points in his rookie year during the 2013-14 season, and followed that up with 34 points last season.
Lindholm is the stereotypical all-around defender in fantasy circles; he isn’t exceptional in any category but does contribute quite well in most (assists, points, hits, PIMs, +/-, and blocks). Averaging 21:45 per game last season (up 2:20 over his previous season) on an Anaheim team that was in the top 10 in goals for last season (with 236), can only mean good things for the future.
My Prediction: Lindholm will score 6-7 goals and get 40-45 points. As always, he will continue to contribute in many other categories outside of points and this should warrant him a place among the top 30 in defenseman rankings, higher than his current rank of the 39th among defenseman on Yahoo (and 192 overall among all players). Target him in rounds 10-11.
As many of you already know, there have been a number of trades over the offseason that has drastically changed the goalie scene. Through the whirlwind of trades and goaltender inconsistencies, a number of inexperienced goaltenders gained the opportunity to earn a starting role for their team this upcoming season. Three names I found most intriguing were Martin Jones, Cam Talbot and Petr Mrazek. Talbot and Jones are entering the season with the starting position theirs to lose, whereas Mrazek will have to battle it out with Jimmy Howard throughout training camp. Both the Sharks (Jones) and Red Wings (Mrazek) are in much better position than the Oilers (Talbot), therefore I’m leaning towards the fact that Cam Talbot’s statistics will not be as favorable. This left me to fall upon Jones as the goalie in the best scenario and therefore was my pick for the best breakout goaltender this season.
Martin Jones has a total of 34 games experience in the NHL, yes, the Sharks are entrusting a goalie with only 34 games played as their best bet for a starter (and to add salt to the wound, their backup, Alex Stalock, only has 49 games experience).
Let’s take a look at VERY limited NHL statistics for both goalies:
The difference is apparent from the chart, but we cannot put too much stock into this chart due to the small sample size. One thing that gives Jones the edge over Stalock, is that San Jose gave up a first rounder in 2016 to acquire him; they wouldn’t have traded away a first rounder if they were confident that Stalock was a legitimate NHL starter. Add that to the fact that Jones is about 2 and a half years younger, and you have your front runner for the Sharks starting goaltender.
Before entering the NHL, Jones had three consecutive seasons in the AHL where his save percentage was 0.919 or higher. Although undrafted, Jones has worked his way from the WHL, to the AHL and now the NHL (even playing a game in the ECHL) and yet he is still only 25 years old. Standing at 6’4, Jones also has the size that is typically needed to succeed in the NHL.
My Prediction: Jones earns the starting role in San Jose and makes 50-55 starts throughout the season, earning 25-30 wins in the process. Compared to his peers, his numbers will seem very pedestrian as the Sharks aren’t the powerhouse they once were, but I think he can achieve a 2.35 GAA and 0.917 SV% with 4-5 SO. These stats may not seem extravagant, but he will be a solid backup goalie on any fantasy team. Keep an eye out for him as I would rank him in the 17-19 position of goaltenders.