20 Fantasy Thoughts: Morrissey’s offence untapped due to Jets defence

Matt Dumba scored twice in the third as the Minnesota Wild beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-1.

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. Due to some names on the Winnipeg blue line, it’s pretty easy to forget about Josh Morrissey. After all, Dustin Byfuglien has been a top defenceman for years, while Jacob Trouba is expected is assume that mantle in the next year or two if he hasn’t already. Morrissey, though, is off to a great start in his career — not just as a rookie or sophomore or as a young defenceman, but among all defencemen league-wide.

The Jets are clearly hoping for Morrissey to become a shutdown defenceman, which is why he and Trouba have been eating a lot of the tough minutes for over a month now. That’s partly due to Byfuglien’s injury, but they have started to reduce the latter’s minutes with him back in the lineup.

With Byfuglien signed for a few years more, Tyler Myers having a year left, Trouba hopefully being re-signed, and the wealth of talent among the forwards, it’s doubtful Morrissey can reach his full fantasy potential because of a lack of power-play time. He could fall into that Alec Martinez-type territory: push for double-digit goals, 30-plus points, and solid peripheral numbers. It’s far from what he’s capable should he ever earn two-plus minutes of PP time per game but it’s still valuable in roto leagues.

2. Overall, Byfuglien has lost over four full minutes of action off his 27:27 per game average from last season. Less should mean more for Byfuglien as he could be less run down playing fewer minutes, but the results haven’t been there. Hell, they haven’t even kept Byfuglien from getting banged up as the defenceman has already missed a dozen games.

Maybe it’s just been some bad luck keeping Byfuglien’s scoring pace down. There’s something to be said for him feeding off of playing heavy minutes, but his most prolific season came in 2013-14 when his minutes average was the same as this season. He’s
also 32, so we have some age-related decline baked into the mix.

There aren’t reservations about Byfuglien as a fantasy option despite his struggles. Expect a bigger second half. His shooting percentage should continue to rise. He’ll still offer strong multi-category production, though perhaps not as prolific as his
peak. For instance, 200 SOG is pretty much off the table. Also, he’s barely blocking more than one shot per game now that his PK usage has diminished.

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3. So, what could explain Phil Kessel’s success this season, leading the Penguins in both goals (19) and points (50)? Simple: he’s firing the puck again. Kessel is averaging 3.64 shots per game, nearly a full shot higher than last season. If he keeps this pace up and can avoid injury, Kessel will come close to 300 shots, a total he hasn’t reached since 2013-14, when he was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

4. Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored his first goal in 17 games on Saturday. In an ideal situation, you want to own him in a multi-category league that does not count plus/minus. His minus-40 (including a minus-3 on Saturday) is by far a league-worst (the next worst is minus-22!), so it’s a serious drain to his fantasy value if you own him in any league that counts plus/minus. But he’s still a top-20 defenceman for shots on goal and a top-25 defenceman for power-play points. That might not be a huge
silver lining but it’s something that you can salvage.

5. Jakub Vrana has been something of a revelation for the Capitals this year. With Marcus Johansson gone and T.J. Oshie’s new contract ensuring they weren’t bringing in a top-tier left winger, the Caps were in need of either Vrana or Andre Burakovsky to take a step forward and occupy that second-line left wing position. The former has been able to do just that.

Vrana is the youngest player in the league with at least 10 goals, two shots on goal per game, and one power-play point or fewer. That last fact is important. He could crack 20 goals this year with only a couple coming on the man advantage. Playing basically third-line minutes. Not bad.

The problem for fantasy, of course, is that Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Oshie are all locked up for at least two more years. That means it’s unlikely Vrana gets any meaningful power-play minutes in the near future, which caps his upside and hurts his fantasy value. He’s doing everything that can be asked of him, though, and is performing extremely well in the role he’s been given. This might be the time to buy him in dynasty because there is evidence emerging that he’s very good offensively, yet the raw production isn’t there yet because of his role. If fantasy owners wait a year, it may be too late.

6. Quick shout out to Mike Smith, who was a top-10 fantasy goalie when the Flames hit their bye week break. The Flames are back in action Sunday against Carolina. It was easy to be skeptical about acquiring a 35-year old goalie to help them solidify things in net at a level we really haven’t seen since Miikka Kiprusoff. The team had been in the bottom-half of the league in five-on-five save percentage each of the previous five seasons, and in the bottom-five teams on three separate occasions. They’re ninth this year.

The Flames never needed best-in-the-league work between the pipes. They just needed to not be near the bottom of the league. Smith has been everything they’ve needed and more. If they get to the playoffs, he’ll be a big reason. Let’s hope he can keep it up for the second half.

7. He might not be on your radar at the moment, but Darnell Nurse might be a fantasy defenceman worth owning in your league. With the overtime winner against Vegas on Saturday, Nurse now has four goals in his last four games. Although Nurse isn’t known as an offensive force, the goals shouldn’t be considered a huge shocker. With 106 shots on net, Nurse is a top-25 defenceman in that category. He’s also in the top 20 in penalty minutes, the top 25 in hits, and just outside the top 25 in blocked shots. Remember that he’s also only 22.

8. What, exactly, are fantasy owners hoping for with Alex Wennberg? He’s now 248 games into his career, and that’s just over three full seasons. In those 248 career games, he has 29 goals and 334 shots. On an 82-game basis, that’s 10 goals and 110 shots. That isn’t in minimal ice time, either. That’s with nearly 17 minutes a game with infrequent penalty killing. Those might be passable numbers for a second-pair defenceman, not a top-six centre that was expected to be a significant fantasy contributor.

He did have a load of PP points last year. That was a poor power play that rode a super-hot first-half to relevance. That’s not a good power play and with the emergence of Pierre-Luc Dubois, there’s no real need to force Wennberg on the top PP unit anymore.
So, again, what are fantasy owners hoping for from Wennberg? His absolute upside would be a season like Ryan Johansen had last year, and that was a top-100 fantasy season. What if he’s David Desharnais, circa 2015 instead?

Wennberg doesn’t have the skill set or role to be a significant fantasy contributor year in and year out. This seems to be a case where he’s a much more valuable real-world player than fantasy option.

9. The Rangers have inexplicably lost faith in Pavel Buchnevich, pushing the productive youngster down the lineup and at times even scratching him. If Buchnevich is going to keep getting scratched or spending nights on the fourth line, he likely won’t achieve the shot volume you’d need to get anything out of that roster slot. Burying Buchnevich is inexplicable. If he can win his way back up with Mika Zibanejad, these two will make magic once again. Buchnevich could likely be more of a standalone option if his minutes reflected his status as the Rangers’ most dangerous offensive weapon. They don’t, so fantasy owners are subject to the coach’s whims.

10. The Islanders clearly need to do something in goal if they are going to hang in the playoff race in the stacked Metro. A name being bandied about is Detroit’s Petr Mrazek. He’s an intriguing option, but his last two seasons have been so bad that they have undermined what was a very promising start to his career. A fresh start could help, but he might need time in a new system with a new goalie coach before rediscovering his game. That’s not a mid-season project.

Mrazek is an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer, but Detroit may simply renounce his rights rather than make the sizeable qualifying offer required to keep him. That puts him in the mix to be a surprisingly strong backup for someone next season.


11. Dougie Hamilton is starting to stumble into more offence. He’s scored in three straight games. It’s kind of crazy how he does it, but Hamilton always seems to pick up steam as the season wears on. He scores at a 40-point pace or better in December-March while scoring at a mere 30-point pace in the season’s first two months. Look for more ahead from Hamilton, especially if the Flames add the kind of depth scoring that would boost their second PP unit.

12. Zach Bogosian has been ruled out for four to six weeks, which led to Brendan Guhle getting a two-game cameo with the Sabres. He’ll be headed back to Rochester with Buffalo on their bye week, but we could see him back up next Thursday when the Sabres return to action.

Guhle has some strong scoring numbers at the AHL level and is considered a solid prospect. There probably isn’t room for him to be fantasy relevant this season, however. The Sabres are struggling to produce even one fantasy relevant defenceman in Rasmus Ristolainen, let alone finding room for two.

13. Consider dropping Patrick Marleau, who has gone silent since Nazem Kadri’s return. Marleau did score five points in a four-game stretch where he saw top PP minutes but has since been held off the board. Marleau has just seven points in 18 games since the start of December and is trending towards being a 40-point question mark.

Marleau still has merit since he’s on pace for over 200 SOG, but in a lot of leagues any forward scoring below a 50-point clip is instant waiver fodder.

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14. Acquired by the Coyotes for Anthony Duclair, Richard Panik has shown some flashes previously, with his best pro season coming last year with 22 goals and 44 points. Given that Panik is now with a poor scoring team, don’t be inclined to give him much benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his net-front play is exactly what a young team like the Coyotes needs. Martin Hanzal did have some intriguing runs as the top net-front man in Arizona despite not being the most gifted offensive talent.

There should be top-six minutes available to Panik given how he’s replacing Duclair. If Panik fails, it will mean more minutes for Christian Fischer and Brendan Perlini. It will also likely mean Panik is on his way out of the league as this is now his fourth NHL franchise. If he can’t make it here, who else is giving him a shot?

15. Vincent Trocheck has been firing the puck lately. And by that, I mean a lot. Trocheck is having a great year (41 points in 43 games), but what really makes him stand out is his shot total (153), which is in the top 10 in the league. He’s also third among forwards averaging 21:40 of ice time, behind only teammate Aleksander Barkov and Anze Kopitar, and just ahead of Connor McDavid.

16. Brent Seabrook was a healthy scratch Tuesday of this past week. In case you hadn’t noticed, the symptoms are present. At that point, Seabrook had not recorded a point in nine games and had scored just one goal all season, the latter of which is not that unusual among fantasy-relevant defencemen this season for some reason.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that Seabrook has exceeded 20 minutes of ice time just once in the past 10 games, including just 15 minutes and change in each of his last four games. This from a defenceman who has averaged at least 22 minutes throughout
his career and nearly reached 50 points two seasons ago.

The Hawks have invested too heavily in Seabrook (six more years at $6.875 million per), so it’s not as though we’ve seen the last of him in Chicago. But outside of very deep leagues and/or leagues that count blocked shots (he is a top-25 option in that
category), I would start looking for another blue-line option.

17. It’s Jordan Oesterle who has emerged lately in Chicago. In fact, Oesterle has an intriguing run with seven points in his last eight games. He also has nine points in 15 games since being recalled and thrust into that top-pairing role. Oesterle demands use in leagues scoring hits and blocked shots even if it’s unlikely the offence sticks around.

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18. Sean Couturier is on pace for more goals this year (48) than his previous career-high in points (39). It has been a remarkable offensive season from Couturier, but please exercise some caution. He’s now shooting 19.2 per cent. His previous career-high was 11.7 per cent and he was a career 9.4 per cent shooter coming into 2017-18. Yes, he’s shooting nearly double what his career rate was.

That’s not to say that with better linemates and more ice time (he’s well over 21 minutes a game) that he can’t be a good offensive player. But don’t rely on him to push, or break, the 40-goal barrier on a regular basis. On another note, Couturier and Claude Giroux being moved together on a line has helped both tremendously.

19. Since being a top-10 pick a few years ago, Sharks fans have been waiting for Timo Meier to be part of the next generation of top-end scorers the team needs. It looks like it’s finally starting to happen. If you were going to try and buy him in deep keepers, or dynasties, then time is running out. It seems a matter of time before a full-blown breakout hits (even without top power-play minutes).

20. As far as rookies go, there wasn’t much was expected of Nolan Patrick. Unlike Nico Hischier, who was given (you could say earned) the top-line role once Adam Henrique was traded, or Clayton Keller, who is probably the best offensive player Arizona has, or Brock Boeser, whose shooting was lauded by some, Patrick seemed destined to not be featured on this particular roster in this particular season. Maybe he could slot in as the second-line centre, but that wasn’t a given.

So, it’s hard not to be disappointed with his season. He has just eight points in 34 games on the year and, at times, has been a healthy scratch. His shot rate isn’t very good, though that should improve over the years. One would think that with sheltered
competition and favourable zone starts, he’d be a little better in this regard, but he hasn’t been.

Not all young players develop in a straight line. Some guys like Clayton Keller come out guns blazing. Some guys like Victor Hedman can take a few years to really hit their stride. There hasn’t been too much good to come out of Patrick’s rookie season, though.

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