NHL Fantasy: Top 10 bounce-back candidates for 2022-23 season

Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel warms up for the team's NHL hockey game against the Avalanche. (David Becker/AP)

Nazem Kadri and Anthony DeAngelo were two of the biggest bounce-back candidates to hit for fantasy owners in the 2021/2022 season.

With many of you getting set to draft, it’s time to identify a new batch of possibilities ripe with potential to exceed expectations in 2022/2023.

Customarily, a bounce-back candidate can be characterized as someone who’s had previous career success but is coming off a disappointing season – for one reason or another (poor play, injury etc.) – who has the potential to outperform their average draft position.

With that in mind, here’s a top-10 list of players to target for this season:

1. Jack Eichel, C, Vegas Golden Knights (SN Rank: 44) – ADP: 42.9

Following a November trade from Buffalo and a lengthy recovery from neck fusion surgery, Eichel somehow still managed to pot 14 goals and 25 points in 34 outings for Vegas last season. Having said all that, unequivocally, the 25-year-old, who’s proven in the past that he’s fully capable of being a top-20 fantasy file, has another level to get to offensively. With a full offseason of training and Mark Stone flanking his wing, the sky’s the limit for the star pivot as he attempts to return to elite fantasy status.

2. Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets (SN Rank: 61) – ADP: 75.8

In 66 appearances in 2021/2022, Hellebuyck posted a 29-27-10 record to go along with a 2.97 goals-against average, 0.910 save-percentage and four shutouts. Considering what the 29-year-old has already accomplished in his career, that’s not going to cut it. And unsurprisingly, those were the 29-year-old’s worst numbers since his sophomore season. As Hellebuyck enters his eighth NHL season, it’s imperative to not lose sight of two things here: 1) Rick Bowness is a fantastic defensive coach, 2) Hellebuyck is just two years removed from winning a Vezina Trophy (2019/2020).

3. Dougie Hamilton, D, New Jersey Devils (SN Rank: 81) – ADP: 103.6

The opener of a seven-year, $63-million commitment with the Devils was a downright disaster for Hamilton. To be fair, the 29-year-old got off to a pretty good start with seven goals and 20 points in his first 30 games. After that however, the injury bug hit, and things took a drastic turn for the worst. The blueliner ended up missing 20 games last season, 17 of which due to a broken jaw. In 2018/2019, Hamilton notched the second most goals in the NHL by a defenceman with 18. Additionally, prior to last season’s dip in production, he tallied 82 points in 102 total games over two seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.

4. Mathew Barzal, C, New York Islanders (SN Rank: 83) – ADP: 158.7

By his standards, Barzal is coming off a very inconsistent campaign where he tallied 15 goals and 44 helpers in 73 outings. And frankly, a lot of those points came via a late-season heater when the Islanders’ playoff hopes were dead to rights. Moving forward, the number to watch with Barzal this season is his shooting percentage. Last year, the 25-year-old fired at a career-low 9.3 per cent clip, well below his career average of 11.2. In addition to presumably improving upon a career low in goals (15), the playmaker should see an uptick in assists as well, depending on who he plays with, of course. It’s also important to note that Barzal is entering a contract year. Say cheese.

5. Ryan O’Reilly, C, St. Louis Blues (SN Rank: 103) – ADP: 156.4

For what it’s worth, O’Reilly’s another player with eyes on a big pay-day sooner rather than later; he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The 31-year-old, who’s been a top-100 staple in the fantasy world for several years now, had an up and down regular season in 2021/2022 registering 21 goals and 58 points in 78 outings. Most players would take that and run, but considering what O’Reilly did in the postseason last year, he’s obviously fully capable of much more. St. Louis’ captain tallied seven goals and 12 points in 12 games as the Blues bowed out to Colorado in Round 2. At this point in his career, O’Reilly’s pretty much a virtual lock for 20 goals and 40 assists —at the very least.

6. Semyon Varlamov, G, New York Islanders (SN Rank: 118) – ADP: 157

First thing’s first, Varlamov’s also entering his walk year, so be cognisant of that. Like most of his team, the veteran goaltender is coming off a subpar season where he posted a 10-17-2 record with a 2.91 goals-against average, 0.911 save-percentage and two shutouts. Even though the veteran’s trending towards being a backup this season, he still holds considerable weight, especially if New York elects to move him prior to the trade deadline. If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, attempting to handcuff Varlamov with Ilya Sorokin could prove to be a wise strategy.

7. Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers (SN Rank: 190) – ADP: 98.5

Don’t let the discrepancy between where I have Nurse ranked and his average draft position fool you, the defender has the potential to make everyone look foolish. Coming off signing a big contract last summer, the 27-year-old was an easy regression target, and unfortunately, that’s the way things unfolded. After tallying 16 goals and 36 points in 56 games two seasons ago, Nurse notched just nine goals and 26 points in 71 outings last season. All things being equal, the sum of the parts is probably somewhere in between the past two seasons.

8. Jakob Chychrun, D, Arizona Coyotes (SN Rank: 194) – ADP: 150.3

Again, because of the position scarcity, Chychrun is being drafted well ahead of where I have him ranked —but don’t let that scare you off though. Back in 2020/2021, the 24-year-old produced at an elite clip notching a career-high 18 goals and 41 points in 56 games. To be fair, maybe the trade rumours got to Chychrun a tad last season. Suiting up in just 47 games due to injury, the blue chipper tallied just seven goals and 21 points for the woeful Coyotes. Adding insult to his troubles, Chychrun even lost his first power play quarterback duties to newcomer Shayne Gostisbehere midway through the year. Long story short, the dude’s way too talented, and there’s also still a chance he could get traded.

9. Jaden Schwartz, LW, Seattle Kraken (SN Rank: 208) – ADP: N/A

Over the past few seasons, Schwartz’s stock has taken a severe nosedive —almost to the point where he’s become an afterthought in the fantasy world. Having said that, the 30-year-old’s resume speaks for itself, so it’s not outlandish to predicate a return to form. Afterall, the winger has hit the 20-goal mark four times and the 55-point plateau five times in 10 NHL seasons. Moral of the story: Never say never. In his first season with the Kraken, the oft-injured speedster notched just eight goals and 23 points in 37 contests.

10. Jeff Petry, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (SN Rank: 214) – ADP: 146.5

For a variety of reasons – family logistics during a world pandemic included – Petry was off the mark from puck drop last season in Montreal. In 68 games, the 34-year-old scored just six goals finishing with his worst statistical output in five seasons with 27 measly points. Now with Pittsburgh, the veteran rearguard could be primed for a return to form, especially with the likes of Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin there to insulate him. Before last season’s misstep, Petry had hit double digits in goals and the 40-point plateau in four consecutive seasons. Value buy!

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