Every Sunday this season, we’ll share 20 Fantasy Thoughts from the writers at Dobber Hockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week’s “Daily Ramblings” on DobberHockey.com.
1. Was Cam Talbot a Vezina Trophy finalist snub? The playoffs don’t count in the voting, but he was close to recording his third shutout of the first round in Game 6 versus the Sharks. His regular-season stats provide a strong argument by themselves, as he tied for the league lead in wins (42) and was the only goalie to play 70 games this season. Pete Jensen of NHL.com currently has Talbot ranked at 28 among all players in single-season formats, while Dobber has Talbot as his 3rd-ranked keeper goalie. You knew how big Dobber was on Talbot entering the season. Needless to say, I could be sold on Talbot as a top-5 goalie right now.
2. So far in these playoffs, I have been very wrong about the Nashville Predators. I have also been wrong about Henrik Lundqvist, who has been better in the playoffs (1.70 GAA, .947 SV%) than in the regular season (2.74 GAA, .910 SV%). I thought the Rangers/Canadiens series would come down to goaltending, and that Carey Price would be better than Lundqvist, referencing my Lundqvist ownership for much of the season. If King Henrik’s stellar goaltending can carry forward to the next round (and perhaps beyond), it will be interesting to see if his playoff performance will affect his draft position next season.
3. Could a rough playoff series against the Rangers drop Max Pacioretty’s fantasy value? Seems unlikely, since he reached 30 goals and 60 points for the fourth consecutive season before his late-season slide. But this series was clearly one he’d like to forget. Dating back to the regular season, Pacioretty had not scored a goal in 10 games, and he was held to just one assist in the six-game series.
4. Artturi Lehkonen had a wonderful rookie season. The raw numbers might not pop out with just 28 points in 73 games, but he did score 1.01 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play. That is the exact same rate as Rick Nash and David Pastrnak. And according to Corsica Hockey, he also generated the second-most individual scoring chances per minute of all Habs forwards, trailing only Brendan Gallagher.
All this is something to keep in mind for next year. Assuming the Habs re-sign Alexander Radulov, they could have a nice top-4 winger set with Radulov, Lehkonen, Gallagher, and Pacioretty. A jump in ice time could make him a solid late-round pick depending on the size of your fantasy league.
5. Timo Meier is an interesting fantasy asset because of his pedigree and dominant production in the QMJHL. The Sharks are also in an interesting spot with both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau pending unrestricted free agents. The next few weeks will be very telling.
Looking to the long-term outlook, Meier’s standing and upside improved with the trade of Nikolay Goldobin at the deadline. Not only is Meier the unquestioned No. 1 prospect and young winger, but he’s already gaining valuable experience. Building chemistry with Tomas Hertl will probably prove helpful, too.
6. Boone Jenner is a buy candidate for me heading into 2017-18. Jenner enters his fifth season in the league at age 24 and already has a 30-goal campaign on his resume. He’s a high-volume shooter (225 and 211 shots over the past two seasons, respectively), and he also provides juice in the PIM and hits columns.
The primary concern is his cut in power-play time from 2:04 per game in 2015-16 to just 1:12 this past season. Jenner only accumulated one assist with the man advantage, and if you add his nine power-play goals and five power-play helpers from ’15-16 to his 2016-17 numbers, he finishes with 27 goals and 48 points.
7. The Selke Trophy seems to go around to most of the same players. Ryan Kesler is a finalist, and he won in 2011. Same for Patrice Bergeron, a three-time winner. Mikko Koivu is a new name to the list, and he also had a fantastic season.
I just wanted to give some love to Mikael Backlund. He was a big part of arguably the best ‘second’ line in hockey, which is a term used loosely because they were superior to the Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan line for most of this season (when they were together, anyway). His line had among the highest rate of defensive zone starts – near the top with Kesler and Koivu – and most of his minutes were against some of the best in the league like Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, and Joe Pavelski. His line also had a 53.1 percent goal share at five-on-five (Getzlaf was 54.4 percent, for reference) while getting a .913 save percentage behind him. That is stellar play.
Backlund will likely not be a significant offensive contributor (his 53 points this year was the first time he cracked the 50-point mark) but it’s clear he and his linemates were significant factors in the Flames reaching the postseason.
8. We found out the Calder Trophy finalists on Thursday night. Auston Matthews was the first rookie in over a decade to score 40 goals, with he and Alex Ovechkin being the only two to do so since 1993. Patrik Laine was the first 18-year-old since Sidney Crosby to score at least 35 goals, and they were the only two to do so in the last 30 years. And Zach Werenski was just the second teenage defenceman in the last 20 years to manage at least 45 points in a season, along with Tyler Myers in 2009-10. It is hard to argue with those three selections.
9. It is also hard not to think about the players that weren’t included: Both Mitchell Marner and William Nylander, with 61 points each, would likely win in most seasons, yet aren’t among the top-3; Brady Skjei was a godsend for an awful Rangers blue line; Mikko Rantanen led Colorado in goals (low bar, but still); Sebastian Aho had 24 goals and 25 assists, something only Jack Eichel did as a teenage rookie in the last two years. All this fails to mention Matt Murray, who became the youngest rookie goalie with at least 30 wins and a .920-plus save percentage.
10. Marner is the smartest ‘pure hockey sense’ player on the Leafs and, at this point, I’m absolutely convinced that comparisons to Patrick Kane are apt. Matthews isn’t quite a Jonathan Toews, because he has more offensive upside yet lacks some of the intangibles but the dynamic that these two bring to the team is very similar to what Chicago had eight or nine years ago. The production that Kane has posted every season since entering the league – Marner can match it.
11. I wonder sometimes what the long-term plan is with Drake Caggiula. He has looked good on the wing alongside Connor McDavid (yeah, most people do), but that top-6 is loaded with both money (present and future), and talent. He probably won’t become anything significant in the fantasy game but he just seems to impress in some manner in every game, even if it’s not always on the scoresheet.
12. Kevin Fiala turning into the player he has this year has been a revelation for the Predators. He not only scored an overtime goal earlier in the series sweep versus the Blackhawks, he played very well just about every game. That has been crucial for a team that struggled at times this year to find goals outside of their top line.
13. Over the last five 82-game seasons, there have been two players age 20 or younger to manage 30 goals, 30 assists, and at least 250 shots on goal in a single season: Pastrnak and McDavid, both this year.
Going back to the 2005 lockout, names that have done it include teammate Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Ovechkin. That is a short, and highly distinguished, list for Pastrnak to find himself on. Quite simply, it was one of the best offensive seasons a 20-year-old has ever had.
Can he sustain a 13 percent shooting rate? Well, it was over 12 percent in his first 97 regular season games. He is also assured top-6 minutes, and is a focal point of the power play, which should remain solid given the top-end quality. Just how high his ceiling can be is a discussion for another day, but even the most pessimistic projections should have him as a 60-point player moving forward.
14. If there was one breakout that was kind of an easy call before the season, it’s that Torey Krug would take the next step in production. The top power-play unit would undoubtedly be his, and after posting 26 goals from 2013-15, he managed four in 2015-16 thanks to his shooting percentage crater. While that shooting conversion didn’t come all the way back, eight goals and 51 points is a very nice season.
15. I wonder if Jake Gardiner gets a bit overlooked for the next fantasy season. He cracked 40 points for the first time in his career. The team, conceivably, should be similar offensively next year. It’s also clear Mike Babcock has no intention of giving Morgan Rielly heavy power-play minutes (he was given less than a minute per game this past season, and under two minutes the season before).
Assuming, at worst, that Gardiner is the number-2 power-play option on the blue line next year, for a team that should split their units again, 40 points seems eminently doable again. Peripheral stats will never be his strong suit, so Gardiner will be less valuable in roto leagues, but a 40-point defenceman in points-only leagues is nothing to short-change.
16. The confidence Rielly is building during this playoff run will translate into his true breakout campaign next year. He needs to see more consistent power-play time to make it a true fantasy breakout, but you can see the game slowing down for Rielly. There is 50-point potential if everything breaks right, but banking on him meeting the 40-point mark is more realistic. He’s using his speed more effectively and picking his spots more successfully. The high-scoring supporting cast helps, too.
17. On Jonathan Bernier: The pending unrestricted free agent should be popular on July 1, as he proved to be a capable stopgap and backup/1B option this year. It wouldn’t be overly surprising if Bernier returned to Anaheim, either. This was a successful season for both.
18. There is a lot to like about the long-term upside of Radek Faksa, and it was surprising to see him so high among regular-season leaders in high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes. The obvious concern is that a lot of his shifts were against soft opponents, but 2016-17 was also his first full season in the league, so it’s a bit of a wash. Considering the talent in Dallas, he’s a top-six role and consistent power-play time away from flirting with 50 points.
19. If Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and Crosby are all healthy for at least 75 games each next season, then all three will top 85 points. I’m saying it right now. Putting it out there. This is the most talented, in-sync line that I’ve seen in a decade. Maybe two decades. Every shift something happens, and they always seem to know where each other will be. I only wish Sheary were two inches and 15 pounds bigger because he does get pushed around too easily. But he can keep up with his linemates and his motor is always running.
20. Just because a prospect made the NHL at the age of 19 doesn’t mean that he’s a lock to remain in the league next season in 2017-18. Here are a few players that you should be keeping an eye on because they stand a strong chance of being in the AHL in the fall. Likelihood is the likelihood of being sent to the AHL next season (in my opinion).
Lawson Crouse, Arizona: His minus-20 season along with the fact that Christian Fischer is probably a better prospect, Clayton Keller’s arrival, and Dylan Strome knocking on the door, could see to it that Crouse is with Tucson in the fall. Likelihood: 8/10
Anthony Beauvillier, NY Islanders: He was a healthy scratch more than 15 times, but he started to get leaned on heavily late in the season when they needed him most (and John Tavares was hurt). Still, a half-season in the AHL couldn’t hurt. Likelihood: 6/10
Pavel Zacha, New Jersey: This is a tough one, because Zacha showed flashes of stardom during a six-game points streak in March. But he also suffered two head/face injuries including a concussion, plus several healthy scratches. Would he be best served having one full AHL season in which he’s among the league leaders in scoring? Well, the Devils don’t have a ton of talented options on the big club. Likelihood: 4/10