20 fantasy thoughts: Playing with McDavid gives Puljujarvi a boost

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, left, celebrates his goal with right wing Jesse Puljujarvi. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Every Sunday during the regular season, we’ll share 20 Fantasy Thoughts from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week’s “Daily Ramblings”.

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1. There’s no situation more intriguing than a player getting top minutes on a struggling team and potentially moving to a strong team where his minutes could decrease. Mike Hoffman hasn’t been all that bad for Ottawa. He has been one of their more consistent scorers. The offence has dried up with no goals and just four points in the last 12 games as things have spiralled out of control, but he’s still on pace for 53 points. He is seeing career highs in minutes and PP time but is also being tasked with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Tom Pyatt as his most common linemates.

We have seen Hoffman excel in a secondary roll before and he could benefit moving to a better team where he sees fewer minutes but better linemates. The bottom line for Hoffman is he’s a career 11 percent shooter currently shooting 7.4 percent. Obviously, the Sens playing so poorly is helping to drive that down but he should still move towards his career rate, which would mean more goals in the second half regardless of where he is playing. Hoffman should score at least 25 goals on any team, regardless of his linemates.

2. Daniel Sprong was recalled by Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. Sprong has 18 goals and 28 points as a 20-year-old in the AHL this year — a year after averaging over a goal per game in the QMJHL.

With the Pens at the bottom of the league in five-on-five shooting percentage – which is hard to fathom – they are clearly looking for a scoring spark. Maybe Sprong can provide it. Without PP1 time, he won’t be otherworldly in fantasy, but we are just a season removed from Conor Sheary putting up 23 goals and 53 points in 61 games in a similar situation. If you have room on your bench, it’s worth the shot. If he can draw into that top-six, and the team starts heating up, there’s serious upside here. It looks like he’ll start in the bottom-six, though.

3. With Mark Scheifele on the shelf, Blake Wheeler was moved to the middle of the top line on Friday with Patrik Laine joining him on the right side and Kyle Connor on the left. On the second line, both Bryan Little and Nikolaj Ehlers stay put while Mathieu Perreault joins them on the left.

The interesting part of all this is that neither top line was tasked with the responsibility of shutting down John Tavares and company but rather it was Adam Lowry’s line that was hard-matched against them. Scheifele and company had typically faced opposing first lines but with him out of the lineup, I thought things might fall to Little and company. It didn’t. If this keeps up, it could mean a lot of depth matchups at home for a lot of skilled players. Scheifele’s injury is obviously devastating to his fantasy owners but this is a (very small) silver lining.

4. In 2017 calendar year, there were five forwards who managed 20 goals and 80 penalty minutes: Evander Kane, Wayne Simmonds, Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic, and Ryan Hartman. It should be noted, of course, that Hartman has done this in way less ice time per game (12:51) than anyone else (next closest is 16:26, and three of the five are over 17 minutes).

With coach Joel Quenneville’s proclivity for going all boggle on his lines, though, it’s hard to rely on Hartman for consistent top-six minutes even if he lines up there for a game or two. Regardless, in deeper leagues, Hartman contributes across the board, and he can be viable in shallower formats if he ever gets a bigger permanent role.

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5. Elsewhere, there were four players to score at least 40 goals from January to December in 2017 and they are as follows: Nikita Kucherov (51), Anders Lee (44), Brad Marchand (44), and Alex Ovechkin (40).

It’s stunning just how good Lee’s year was. His 44 goals tied him for second in the league, his 73 points were as many as Vladimir Tarasenko, and his 23 power-play points were more than Patrick Kane. Over his career, he’s now averaging 30 goals every 82 games. Of course, the big shoe to drop is what happens with John Tavares in the offseason. Not that I would advocate outright trading Anders Lee in keeper leagues, and if Tavares does leave, maybe he fits as well with Mathew Barzal. All that said, his value will never be higher than it is right now.

6. In World Junior play, I have been absolutely smitten with Martin Necas. Most impressive about Necas is that he makes plays at high speed, which is how players are excelling in the NHL. I still advise selling high on players after the World Juniors but I’d be confident in Necas making an NHL impact very soon. He damn near cracked the Hurricanes’ lineup as an 18-year-old.

7. David Rittich continues to intrigue as the Flames’ backup. He posted great numbers in the AHL and is now doing so in the show. All four of his starts have been of the quality variety. Mike Smith is entrenched and playing well so Rittich is no threat at this stage, but I wonder about using him as a spot starter going forward. The Flames’ schedule is light on back-to-backs but we could see more of Rittich if Smith starts showing signs of fatigue.

8. Nick Bjugstad is flirting with fantasy relevance. He is on pace for well over 200 SOG, which will always excite me. I also like that he gets you exposure to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau on Florida’s top line. No top PP minutes, however. He has strung together a run with 10 points in the last 15 games, which is relevant in a lot of leagues.

Evgenii Dadonov’s production has taken a hit with Bjugstad riding shotgun on the top line. Dadonov has three points in eight games since returning from injury and seven in 19 games since the start of November. He has just one point from the power play in that stretch. Some of that is because the Panthers’ PP stinks. Some of it is from getting bounced in favour of a two-defenceman look. Some of it is just flat out struggles. He’s looking like waiver fodder in shallower leagues.

9. James Reimer is in the zone. His full-season stats are junk, but he has won five straight and has a quality start in seven straight. I scooped him up as a replacement for Roberto Luongo and am no longer as afraid of using him as I was before. Mind you, this hot run has not exactly come against top-notch teams. His winning streak is comprised of victories over Arizona, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Montreal. But you want your guys to beat up on bad teams. He has done so effectively.

10. Erik Johnson has taken over PP1 duties with Tyson Barrie out. There is some big time potential here. Mind you, Johnson has been logging heavy minutes all year but the PP1 time and the exposure to Nathan MacKinnon will help him gain relevance over the next month and a half. Johnson has already been piling up peripheral stats and is on pace for 238 SOG. He won’t fully replace Barrie but is adequate.

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11. Ryan Kesler probably won’t make an immediate impact coming off of hip surgery so set your expectations low for now. It could be another month before he’s back to skating 20-plus minutes a night. Once he’s up to speed, he’ll be the nightmare we all remember.

It’s good news for Adam Henrique that Kesler’s return didn’t squash his spot as No.2C with PP1 time, but it’s bad news that Henrique has only two points in his last nine games, both of which came in a revenge game against New Jersey. He’s heading straight to the waiver wire for fantasy owners.

12. I know some assumed that the 55 points that we projected for Shayne Gostisbehere was a bit high. But if you include the three games he missed due to injury, Ghost is currently on pace for 65 points. Sure, there’s the worry that Ivan Provorov will bump him out of the first power play unit at some point, but why would the Flyers mess with something that already works? A total of 17 of Ghost’s 29 points have come on the man-advantage, a number that leads all defencemen. Meanwhile, Provorov is stuck with one power-play point all season. Say what you want about Ghost but his game is made for fantasy leagues.

13. Jesse Puljujarvi hasn’t been particularly productive thanks to skating just 14:02 per game with minimal PP time but the exposure he’s getting alongside Connor McDavid is encouraging. I suspect Puljujarvi’s shot rate will continue to soar if he sticks on McDavid’s wing, as it’s the most lucrative spot in pro hockey. Eventually, Puljujarvi will displace Mark Letestu in the Alex-Ovechkin-spot on the Oilers’ top PP unit, which will turn him into a 30-goal threat at the very least.

One quibble with Puljujarvi, though, he’ll have to battle with Kailer Yamamoto for this role. Yamamoto put up gaudy shot rates (19.4 shot attempts per 60) during his nine-game trial. Puljujarvi needs to take advantage of his opportunity to gain a foothold before Yamamoto arrives. Ultimately, Puljujarvi could develop relevance even without exposure to McDavid and makes an excellent bet long-term.

14. Columbus has stumbled onto something great with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson, as they boast the ability to tilt the ice at elite levels. Their goal-scoring still leaves something to be desired but this trio is developing into a legitimate top line. I see plenty of potential for Dubois in the second half.

15. Seth Jones’ point total of 49 in the 2017 calendar year eclipses Zach Werenski’s mark of 42. Both are studs and there is room for both to be relevant but Jones is inching ahead as the top dog in Columbus. As teams trend towards the four forwards, one defenceman look on the power play, there is often room for only one D-man of prominence. Jones has gained the upper-hand.

16. Joe Pavelski’s point total in 78 games in 2017? 57! He has been hurt and has picked up his scoring of late but still represents the worst kind of underperformer: the kind you cannot drop. Kudos to those who have hung on and stayed in the running. Pavelski should be better in 2018.

17. This year’s Brad Marchand is Josh Bailey. I’m on board with him as the real deal. Players don’t normally break out at 28 but Marchand did and now Bailey is doing it. Marchand hinted at it when he was 27, just like Bailey did – with a bigger than expected season that we all figured would regress a little the following year but instead things exploded to new heights.

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18. So who is next year’s Bailey/Marchand? It’s hard to say, but I’m hanging onto my talented players who are 26 and 27-years-old and are slightly exceeding expectations. You don’t want to include guys who are already at superstar production rates – like Brayden Schenn. Look a little below that, at the players in the mid-20s for points right now. This player needs to be fairly well established as a 35- or 45-point player. Getting 55 this year will be a surprise and just like with Marchand and Bailey, it seems like there’s no way they’ll get 75 next year.

Erik Haula is a good example. Jason Zucker is another one. Craig Smith? Gotta include him. Especially because you (and I) say “no way!”

There are several players you may suggest, but I’ll stop you right now because they’re too young to be true surprise candidates: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Rickard Rakell, Gabriel Landeskog.

Players who are too old, but otherwise fit the criteria: Mathieu Perreault, David Perron, Dustin Brown.

But a guy like Yanni Gourde is a rookie, yet he’s 26 and surprising at a 55-point pace. I’ll count him in with Haula, Zucker and Smith.

19. King Henrik Lundqvist turns 36 in March and makes an excellent ‘sell-high’ opportunity for keeper league owners who have fallen out of the race this year. At the same time, he’s a fairly good acquisition if you are going for it.

Lundqvist will be 39 when his contract is up. Can he be like Hasek, Cujo or Brodeur and continue success late in his career? He can probably still be a capable goalie behind a strong team, even with Igor Shesterkin likely heading this way by 2020. And in keeper leagues, I don’t look beyond two years anyway, so landing him could actually be a ‘buy low’ option as owners start to get uncomfortable with his age. That is, as long as your expectations are for a .915 goaltender that will get 30 to 34 wins a year after this one (as I think he tops 35 this year).

20. Elias Lindholm hasn’t quite been able to pick up where he left off last year with 22 points in 38 games so far. If Lindholm continues at his current pace, he’ll slightly surpass his 45-point total from last season with 48. If he’s truly a second-half player, there could be better things to come.