20 Fantasy Thoughts: Matthew Tkachuk rising with all-around value

Matthew Tkachuk got things going early for Calgary after he scores on the Flames first shot on net.

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. Matthew Tkachuk’s offence has taken off since grabbing the net-front gig on Calgary’s top power-play unit with 12 points in his last 11 games. Six of those points have come with the man-advantage highlighting how important these top PP minutes are. He has potential to be one of the best multi-category options out there with this top PP deployment.

2. Kris Versteeg was a killer power-play specialist for Calgary before getting hurt. If he can make his way back, does that push one of Tkachuk or Mikael Backlund off the top unit? Both have excelled since jumping onto that unit, albeit at the expense of the second unit.

Tkachuk, as a net-front guy, is unlikely to be threatened by Versteeg, but I’ve little doubt we could see Backlund bumped back to the second unit. That doesn’t change much for Backlund, as he’s on pace for another season in the low-50s thanks to some poor fortune in terms of even-strength shooting that has been buoyed by this recent run of power-play scoring. However, losing out on PP minutes could crush the hopes of a giant second half. Then again, the latest update on Versteeg is that he may return by mid-March. Backlund could pile up a ton of PP points in the meantime.

3. This is really splitting hairs. When it comes to the fantasy game, Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and New York Isles’ Mathew Barzal are neck-and-neck. In goals, Boeser leads by eight, while Barzal has 16 more assists. Boeser has four more power-play points and 0.8 more shots per game but Barzal has a clear edge in plus/minus. I think Barzal is clearly the best real-life player (I’m not saying Boeser is bad, Canucks fans, I’m saying Barzal has the makings of a franchise centre, and that is coveted over just about any winger) but I would lean to the goal-scorer playing for a much worse offensive team in the fantasy game.

I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll eat my crow on Boeser. I didn’t think he had the talent to overcome the lack of supporting cast but his release is unbelievable. He’s also just shy of three shots on goal per game (2.98 to be exact), and that mark has only been surpassed by one rookie from 2013-17: Auston Matthews. No, he’s not Matthews, but it does show just how high a level Boeser is playing even setting aside his 43-goal/82-game pace.

4. When it comes to Connor Hellebuyck, there are two lessons here. First, don’t give up on a goalie for one bad season. I wrote about this in a Ramblings this past summer with regards to Sergei Bobrovsky but the same could be said about the Winnipeg starter. Yes, he obviously had a much smaller sample to work with, but he also tore up Hockey East, the AHL, and was above average in his rookie year. There was a decent sample to show us that this was, indeed, a good goalie who had one bad year.

The second lesson is that goaltending numbers for fantasy are largely affected by the penalty kill, and more specifically the save percentage. Winnipeg is expected to give up the seventh-most goals per 60 minutes while short-handed, but have actually given up just the 20th-most. That’s because Hellebuyck’s PK save percentage is .913, a very good mark (second in the league, behind only Semyon Varlamov). Last year it was .858. The difference has meant about 2.4 fewer goals per 60 minutes of PK time or, rounding down, eight fewer goals to this point of the year. That might not sound like a lot, but if you add eight goals to Hellebuyck’s season, his save percentage drops from .924 (sixth among goalies with 20+ games) to .918 (outside the top-15 goalies). That’s not a huge margin of error for a significant drop.

5. Preds’ P.K. Subban is currently tied for his career-best in goals per game (0.26), highest points per game in an 82-game season (0.79), is nearly a penalty-minute-per-game player (0.94), and has already surpassed last year’s power-play output (16 points) at this juncture (17). His shooting percentage will regress but his across-the-board performance has been elite this year.

6. Arizona’s line of Clayton Keller, Max Domi, and Derek Stepan was broken up for their game on Nov. 14. In the 19 games leading up to that, when the trio was together, Keller had 17 points in 19 games, including 11 goals on 61 shots. After that point, Keller has 19 points, including three goals on 74 shots.

It’s clear there’s been a drop-off since the line was split but Keller is also shooting 4.1 per cent. That’s obviously not sustainable. Even if he shot 10.4 per cent (his season average), he’d have had eight goals and 24 points in 31 games. As it is, 19 points in 31 games is a 50-point pace over 82 contests and that’s playing with depth players on one of the worst offensive teams in the league. That’s pretty good.

7. Nico Hischier’s season seems to be dwindling from fantasy relevance. He has only five points in 10 games in 2018. That’s a bounce or two away from sustaining his 50-point pace but is also a continuation of his downward trend that started in December when he scored just six points in 14 games.

It was always going to be tough for Hischier to produce while not skating on the Devils’ top PP unit and nothing has changed in that regard. A low-shot 50-point centreman is still valuable in a lot of leagues, and awesome for a rookie, but the average league wouldn’t value that type of player and we have to acknowledge the downward trend.

8. Cory Schneider is now dealing with a groin injury that has cost him a couple of games. If you recall, Schneider was derailed by injury woes last season. This, along with low expectations for the Devils, was why I had concerns about Schneider coming into the season. He was a stud in the first half but now the groin area is acting up again. I have a tough time trusting 30-plus aged goalies with injury woes. It’s hard to keep those guys upright and in peak condition for 60-plus starts.

9. You already knew this was the case but Jake Gardiner’s hot streak with Morgan Rielly out confirms that there is only room for one fantasy relevant defenceman on the Leafs as currently constructed. Gardiner was the man last year but Rielly has blown him out of the water.

Gardiner’s recent run with nine points in five games makes for a good opportunity to try and sell high. Rielly should be back after the all-star break, which will presumably push Gardiner back below a 40-point pace.

10. Sam Reinhart has heated up recently, scoring seven points (three goals, four assists) over his last five games. The Sabres aren’t many people’s idea of an up-and-coming team but they have won three games in a row in Western Canada, outscoring their opponents 13-1. So things are looking up in wintry Buffalo.

Reinhart is in his third full season in the league, so it’s easy to forget that he’s only 22. If you believe in the magical fourth season theory, better things will start to happen for him next season. But even with the recent hot streak, his points per game is down from 0.59 last season to 0.39 this season. This is despite the fact that he has spent over 50 per cent of his even-strength ice time with Jack Eichel as his centre.

Many players don’t peak until beyond Season 5. Josh Bailey, as we know, is having a career year. Did you know that this is already his 10th NHL season? In Bailey’s fourth season, he recorded a grand total of 32 points – hardly anyone’s idea of a must-own keeper.

So, it’s far too early to write off Reinhart. He won’t be Eichel in terms of production, but a 60-70-point career high is still not out of the question.

11. Alex DeBrincat scored his second hat-trick of the season this past week. This one came out of nowhere as he had scored just three goals and nine points over the past 23 games since the start of December. This highlights the immense potential that he boasts. I don’t know if he’ll ever consistently skate on a line with Patrick Kane because the Nick Schmaltz/Kane marriage seems firm, but I do suspect that he could play on the Blackhawks’ top power-play unit. They are still looking for the right fit to play in the Artemi Panarin spot.

Of course, it sometimes takes a long time for efficient scores to earn consistent top PP usage for whatever reason. Tyler Toffoli still can’t get it in Los Angeles. Or, how about an example from the Blackhawks, where it took until this season for Brandon Saad to get consistent top PP run only for him to fail miserably.

12. Even after getting bombed by the Coyotes earlier this week, the Blues still rode Carter Hutton for the final two starts pre-all-star. They are really riding the hot hand here but perhaps more importantly, giving Jake Allen enough time away to rebuild his fundamentals. Remember, Allen was trash until the break last season before going on a 16-8-2 tear with a 1.93 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Hutton represents a hurdle but we cannot rule out another wild run from Allen.

13. We have never really seen what the Sharks look like without Joe Thornton. In 13 seasons, he has missed 12 games and never more than four in any given season. What a battler. At his age, multiple knee surgeries could wind up being catastrophic. At a certain point, the body just doesn’t recover as quickly and if you are committed to gritting through, you may never fully heal.

So much of what the Sharks do has had to run through Thornton, so they may implode here. I wonder how many more minutes Kevin Labanc will see, particularly on the top power-play unit. He is probably their most dynamic playmaker after Thornton (but obviously no one is on the future Hall of Famer’s level). Labanc has been very inconsistent, but I like his chances. He was in Thornton’s spot on the top PP unit Thursday, though a rough turnover leading to a short-handed goal won’t help his cause.

14. No one personifies the first-place Vegas Golden Knights quite like William Karlsson. Wild Bill has 27 goals, which ties him for second in the league in that category. We all know that team and player have both far surpassed expectations. I’ll focus on the player here, though.

Karlsson has never scored like this – at any level. This is taking into account seasons where he has played a similar number of games as he has played so far in Vegas. Do note a now 26.7 per cent shooting accuracy, though, and you can see where this could be heading. He won’t completely turn into a pumpkin, as he has the ice time, the strong linemates, and the power-play minutes. Fantasy owners should enjoy while it lasts – or maybe even try to sell very high.

15. Colin Miller was sneakily one of the top gets for Vegas in the NHL Expansion Draft. Yes, obviously, Karlsson, his top linemates, and guys like Shea Theodore, Marc-Andre Fleury, and James Neal will get the headlines, but Miller is on pace for 12 goals and 44 points playing under 19 minutes a game while putting up stellar shot-driving rates (as he always has). Depth is important in the NHL and he’s giving it to Vegas in spades.

16. Ask any Canucks fan and they’ll tell you that they would rather have given Thomas Vanek the long-term $6-million contract than Loui Eriksson. Yet, Vanek could be on the move in what could be an interesting trade deadline, although there have also been rumblings that the Canucks may want to keep Vanek around to mentor the younger players. I like what Vanek has brought but the best thing the Canucks can do with him is trade him for a future asset.

17. Detroit’s Petr Mrazek’s numbers have imploded over the past season and a half so it’s easy to forget what a promising young netminder he was.

You never know what to believe when it comes to the rumour mill but there was word of attitude issues surrounding Mrazek, enough that he has been available on the trade market, was left unprotected in the expansion draft, and went unclaimed in said draft even (although perhaps the Golden Knights just really liked Tomas Nosek, who has been a lineup regular for them.) Whatever the case, you do wonder if there couldn’t be a resurrection somewhere else. We’ve seen plenty such happenings.

18. Andreas Athanasiou remains hot on Dylan Larkin’s wing. He is up to 10 points in his last 10 games. They seem fairly committed to keeping Athanasiou with Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, which has been effective. I’m high on Athanasiou as a strong waiver option in the second half.

19. Colorado’s Jonathan Bernier has been awfully useful for fantasy owners. But now there’s the matter of Varlamov’s return, which is expected after the all-star break. Even if Bernier keeps bringing the heat, Varlamov is likely to eventually take over the crease.

We’ve also seen Bernier get wildly hot only to collapse, the most recent example coming last spring. If we’re talking about goalies you’ll want come March/April, I wouldn’t count on him being a strong option but ride this as long as it lasts.

20. The Ducks have been through a lot of injuries this year and were without both Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler for long stretches. Corey Perry is still a good player but there are few wingers who can lose their team’s top two centres and still be expected to produce at anywhere near the level we expect.

Of course, this is a problem moving forward. The 2016-17 campaign saw the 32-year old winger fail to crack 30 goals in an 82-game season for the first time since 2009-10, and 25 goals for the first time since 2006-07. He needs 17 goals in the team’s final 33 games to get to 25 and that seems unlikely. He’ll be 33 years old in May, so him regaining the form that saw him put up 30 goals and 60 points like clockwork looks less and less realistic.

All this isn’t to say he can’t be useful in fantasy. He still racks up penalty minutes, and if Getzlaf is healthy, there is still chemistry there. It’s time to adjust expectations to 20 goals 50 points rather than 30 goals and 60 points, though.

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