20 Fantasy Thoughts: In defence of Jonathan Drouin’s output

Watch as a blocked shot leads to a Jonathan Drouin breakaway and he beats Sergei Bobrovsky to score.

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”.

1. This has been the best season of Jonathan Drouin’s career in terms of consistent deployment. He won’t match the 26 power-play points he collected in 2016-17 but with 19 PPP already, Drouin will come close despite playing on a team with much weaker special teams than what he had in Tampa Bay.

Another victim of Montreal’s team-wide power outage, you can likely blame his switch to the centre position for some of these struggles, although you’d expect more of those struggles to come defensively. There have been reports about Drouin’s fitness level not being up to the demands of the centre position, something he could improve upon next year. There are also still questions about his ideal NHL position. Ultimately, four years in and we still don’t quite know what we have in Drouin. Is he the type of player who can drive shooting percentages above average? Is he a winger or a centre? Is he merely a power-play specialist?

He’s only 23 with plenty of time to sort these things out. Even if he’ll never be a play driver at even strength he has obvious talent which has been on display on special teams. Having a basement of 20 PPP is a damn good starting point to bet on.

2. Vincent Trocheck of the Panthers continues to get better and better, as he has now reached 30 goals and is on the verge of reaching 70 points. Trocheck does so much for his real-life team with over 21 minutes of ice time per game, which is top five among forwards. He has also been providing for his fantasy teams, as he is a near top-10 option in shots on goal and a top-20 option in power-play points. He won’t come nearly as cheap in fantasy hockey drafts next season, as his average draft position this season was 168 in Yahoo leagues.

3. How’s this for a turnaround: The Blues’ Jake Allen has wins in five consecutive games and seven of his last eight games. Sometimes it helps to wait it out, as we had seen Allen banished to the waiver wire in many leagues. The turnaround was driven at least partially out of necessity, as Carter Hutton has been sidelined since early March, forcing the Blues to turn to Allen.

Compare his splits over the past three months:
• January: 0-2-0, 4.93 GAA, .871 SV%
• February: 1-5-0, 3.32 GAA, .877 SV%
• March: 7-2-0, 2.00 GAA, .927 SV%

You would have struck gold if you picked him up at exactly the right time.

4. Evander Kane’s value was falling as the season went on in Buffalo, so his fantasy hockey owners should be relieved with his trade to San Jose. Kane continues to be a great fit for the Sharks, scoring another two goals with 11 penalty minutes on Saturday. That gives him seven goals and 12 points in 12 games with his new team. Kane has also been shooting a ton with the Sharks, averaging over four shots a game since the trade.

Before the trade, things weren’t trending in the right direction for Kane with just six points in 23 games over January and February with the Sabres. Even though he had racked up over 200 shots before the trade, Kane had averaged one shot less per game with the Sabres than he is now with the Sharks. It will be interesting to see where Kane lands in the off-season but his keeper owners have to be pulling for a return to the Bay Area.

5. It’s time we accept Rasmus Ristolainen for who he is. His per-game rates this season are pretty much the same as they were, across the board, the previous two seasons. He hasn’t really taken a step forward in his game but he’s a volume monster.

Until the Sabres improve on the ice – and he’s a big part of that – expecting him to take the next step in the fantasy game to 50-point seasons regularly is misguided. It’ll be interesting to see where his average draft position shakes out next year. He was a top-20 defenceman by ADP this season but with time missed and no further improvement, does that drop next season? I would think so.

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6. The problem for the Jets’ Josh Morrissey, of course, is that he’s going to be stuck behind currently injured Jacob Trouba (assuming he’s re-signed, which he will be) and Dustin Byfuglien for years to come, at least in regards to the power play. He could still eat up a lot of five-on-five minutes as he’s probably the team’s top left-shot D-man (I say probably because Tobias Enstrom is still pretty good defensively) but power-play time will be sparse.

Until (unless?) the hierarchy changes, the best way to view Morrissey in the fantasy hockey game is probably Mattias Ekholm with more hits, for leagues that count that. He’s very talented but with the glut of offensive options ahead of him on the blue line, unless there are injuries, PP points will be tough to amass, meaning a 35-point season is as much as we can hope for.

7. It was a rough first half for Kyle Palmieri who broke his foot in November and missed four weeks. He hasn’t missed a beat since returning just before Christmas, though, posting 17 goals and 28 points in 43 games.

In fact, since the start of the 2015-16 season, he’s one of just 21 forwards with per-game averages of 2.5 shots or better, 0.35 goals or better, and 0.32 assists or better. Of those 21 forwards, he’s one of 11 players with at least 100 penalty minutes. Quite simply, over the past (nearly) three season, he’s been one of the better across-the-board performers in the fantasy game. He got his chance to shine when he came to New Jersey from Anaheim and he has not wasted it.

We’re bullish on Palmieri next year. The top line for the Devils should be the same for the most part and there’s no real threat to his top-line status. Let’s hope that his month missed suppresses his ADP, which was already low this year, being routinely drafted outside the top 10 rounds of 12-team leagues.

8. Matthew Tkachuk appeared on the verge of breaking out this year until injuries caught up to him. It’s also worth noting that shooting percentages worked against the 3M line this season. With better 5-on-5 results, Tkachuk could have been near a point-per-game pace. He proved himself the best net-front option on the Flames, which opens up big potential alongside Johnny Gaudreau.

9. Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat probably has a clear path to a breakout next year. What he has accomplished without much PP time or Patrick Kane exposure is truly remarkable. It seems inevitable that DeBrincat will fill the void left by Artemi Panarin as a dynamic goal-scoring righty across from Kane.

10. We’re not sure there are (m)any established players who took as big a step forward this season as the Flyers’ Sean Couturier. He has literally smashed all of his personal offensive career highs.

Ice time and teammates have a lot to do with it, to be sure. His previous three seasons saw him average about 18:30 per game, while this season he’s added about three minutes to that number. It’s a lot. He also seems to have found a lot of chemistry with Claude Giroux, who was moved to the wing. Long story short, if he maintains this role next year, his production may not decline by that much. We wouldn’t be worried about too much regression.

11. Dylan Strome’s call-up by the Coyotes is more about next season. Can he find some chemistry with other players on the roster? Can he be a shooter, or will he be more of a facilitator? We won’t have much of a sample to work with but it’s going to go a long way in determining his September ADP.

The third-overall pick from 2015 started the season with the big club but was sent to the AHL after just a couple of games. He was called back up in November but sent back once more after nine games. In those 11 games, he amassed one point. He did tear up the AHL though with 50 points in 47 games.

12. It’s incredible the season that Antti Raanta is having given the injuries to his blue line. Jason Demers has been shut down and was apparently playing injured for a while, Jakob Chychrun missed the first two months of the season, and Niklas Hjalmarsson missed a month and a half himself. A healthy blue line next year will go a long way in this franchise taking a step forward and Raanta repeating his numbers.

13. We went out looking to see if we could find some statistical indicators that a player is cooked and wound up finding a bunch of examples of players who had fallen off a cliff, only to rebound. Look at what Giroux is doing. The season that the Flyers pivot is having is proof that players can bounce back from just about any level of miserable play. He had 58 points in 2016-17 but over half (31) of those came on the power play.

There are other recent examples of players climbing back from the brink from just this season alone. The Kings’ Anze Kopitar is back in the Hart Trophy mix. Matt Duchene has rebounded nicely from whatever terribleness occurred in Colorado, and that includes a miserable first couple of months in Ottawa. Eric Staal looked dead by the end of his run in Carolina but has been back to elite scoring in Minnesota. Hell, even Dustin Brown appears rejuvenated after years spent as waiver fodder.

We’d bet on everyone named above to regress next season. Based on age and shooting percentages Giroux, Kopitar, Staal and Brown are all wildly out-performing expectation. Still, they are proof that a player can look cooked only to rediscover high-end value.

14. Milan Lucic’s minutes are down in his second year with the Oilers but only after struggling woefully for months. Lucic did have a few runs of productivity on Connor McDavid’s wing but he failed to replicate last season’s productivity away from the superstar.

In particular, Lucic has suffered from his bubble bursting on the power play where he scored 12 goals and 25 points. That was the only season of Lucic’s career where he was a difference maker on the PP.

Using the eye test, there’s little doubt that Lucic is in decline. However, people are so eager to trash the Oilers and the horrible contract they signed him to that the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. If Lucic’s shooting rebounds, he’ll be back in the mix as a 20-goal, 45-point option. That’s not what you want from a player with the contract Lucic signed but from a player with excellent peripherals it can still be fantasy relevant.

15. While he has skated roughly 60 per cent of his shifts on Sidney Crosby’s wing, Jake Guentzel has periodically been trapped on the third line, occasionally even forced to play centre.

Guentzel has gotten hot any time he has gotten a chance on Pittsburgh’s devastating top PP unit. Unfortunately, Patric Hornqvist is entrenched as the top net-front man and even received a hefty five-year extension. It shuts Guentzel from top PP usage for the foreseeable future.

16. William Karlsson somehow got his shooting percentage up even higher last Sunday when he scored three goals on four shots. He has 39(!) on just 169 shots. In the prior two years, he had 15 goals on 204 shots. He’s sitting at 23.1 per cent. Karlsson has 22 points in his last 23 games – we were all expecting a slowdown but it’s just not happening.

17. Anthony Duclair, who is out with an LBI, has eight points in 23 games with Chicago. Richard Panik has 11 points in 25 and is seeing about 2:30 more ice time per game. Neither are fantasy relevant but just interesting to see that it wasn’t this huge robbery by Chicago that everyone was clamouring about on the Internet when it happened. Yeah, Duclair is only 22 but we don’t believe in him. He’s just not the player he was as a rookie and we can’t say why. In fact, we believe in Panik’s chances of getting 50 points over Duclair’s chances next year.

18. You don’t need us to tell you that the Red Wings are a mess. And there’s no way out of this mess in the foreseeable future without a superstar in the pipeline or a goaltender. Jimmy Howard has gone 1-8-1 in his past 10 games and Jared Coreau has been absolutely brutal in his four games. And that’s the best they have right there.

We’ve seen time and again how difficult it is to land a goaltender once you struggle without one. You start taking gambles on successful backups (Carolina with Scott Darling; Edmonton, Cam Talbot), or you roll the dice on a European. So, perhaps the Wings will look to Czech goalie Pavel Francouz, who is again dominating the KHL and received some notice at the Olympics. Or, perhaps they make a pitch for Calgary’s David Rittich. With this stuff, you roll the dice and if it works then you get a great fantasy asset. If it doesn’t, you get a Darling.

19. Here is an interesting option for you down the stretch: Ryan Donato. Too bad he’s on the Bruins, though. That’s a very deep team and certainly a tough roster to crack, especially when you see the likes of Danton Heinen fighting to stay in the top six. On most teams, Donato would make a quick impact after tallying 43 points in 29 games for Harvard in this his junior year.

He was Boston’s 56th-overall pick in 2014 and notable for making Team USA during the Olympics last month. He’s also Ted’s son. Remember Ted?

20. We continue to obsess over the conundrum that fantasy hockey owners will face this summer when considering who to draft first overall in prospect drafts. Rasmus Dahlin is a lock to go No. 1 overall in the NHL Draft and looks like he might be the best defenceman prospect we’ve seen in a long time. We continue to lean towards drafting Andrei Svechnikov No. 1 in fantasy drafts because of how much easier it is for forwards to come in and make an immediate impact.

We simply do not have much track record for blueliners making the leap to the NHL straight from their draft year. It was basically unheard of to make that leap in the 90s and really didn’t become commonplace until the mega-defencemen draft of 2008. Not counting nine-game (or less) tryouts, we’ve seen 16 defenders make the leap from the draft to NHL over the past two decades. They’ve all been first-round selections. The best-case scenario is something in the Cam Fowler/Aaron Ekblad/Drew Doughty range where the player got all the minutes he could handle including loads of power-play time. However, even with all that usage the best season was a 40-point outing.

Over the same span there have been 48 forwards to jump straight from the draft to the NHL, roughly three per season, scoring an average of 35 points in 63 games. Half of those forwards scored at a 0.5-points-per-game pace or better. There are much higher odds of getting an immediate impact out of your highly drafted forward.

This isn’t to say that Dahlin can’t buck the trend, it would just be historic if he did. Not since the early 80s with guys like Ray Bourque, Larry Murphy and Phil Housley did you have guys jumping straight from the draft to superstardom at the defence position. The game just isn’t wide open enough for that any more.

The track record for these early debuts in Year 2 isn’t much hotter averaging 22 points in 66 games. The best-case scenario is Drew Doughty’s 59-point explosion but most guys didn’t do much until Year 3 or 4.

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