Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: What is the ceiling for Canadiens’ Slafkovsky?

Montreal Canadiens left wing Juraj Slafkovsky skates prior to NHL preseason hockey action against the New Jersey Devils in Montreal on Monday September 26, 2022. (CP)

The 2023-24 season is already off to a less-than-ideal start for Torey Krug.

Training camps haven’t even started yet and it was announced Krug is sidelined with a foot injury, where he’ll be re-evaluated on Oct. 1. After missing significant chunks of the past two years, it sounds like Krug could be headed that way again this season.

That means Justin Faulk should be a definite target in your drafts. Faulk is already underrated, in my opinion, and with Krug now likely to miss time, he’ll be headed for even more ice time and power-play minutes. In the past two seasons, Faulk has hit double-digit goal totals and around 50 points, while producing strong blocks and hits numbers.

I’m always amazed Faulk isn’t targeted more in drafts.

Let’s get to your questions.

I’m going with Lukas Dostal here. For this season, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen might end up having more value, as the Buffalo Sabres could take a step forward and he doesn’t have as much competition for playing time, but it feels like Devon Levi is going to be the goalie of the future there.

The Anaheim Ducks will probably struggle once again this season, though it feels like John Gibson could be on his way out sooner than later and Dostal will eventually be the No. 1 when the team turns a corner. Anaheim has a lot of talented young players and Dostal could have major value if the Ducks are a strong squad again in two or three years.

Loaded question here, so first I would say refer to my top 250 player rankings, and then keep an eye out for the Thoughts column over the next few weeks, where I’ll tackle some sleepers, breakout and regression candidates.

Generally, though, players who appear poised for a big season but haven’t really broken out yet are the ones you want to target. Someone such as Evan Bouchard, who finished with 36 points in his final 31 games (when you include the playoffs), should be a trendy pick. With Tyson Barrie gone, he’ll have no competition to quarterback the great Edmonton Oilers power play.

Conversely, players to avoid or to at least not overreach for in drafts, would be those who could regress based on numbers from last season. Someone such as Jared McCann could be a concern, as the 40 goals he scored in 2022-23 came on a 19 per cent shooting percentage, which was well above his career average. That’s likely to come down this season, along with his goal totals. That doesn’t necessarily mean to avoid McCann, just don’t draft him as a 40-goal scorer because the likelihood of him duplicating that is slim.

Without knowing the parameters of your draft, I would prioritize Ilya Sorokin ahead of both of those goalies, assuming Igor Shesterkin goes first. I think Sorokin can give you very similar value to Shesterkin, but you should be able to get him at least a few picks lower.

I do have Andrei Vasilevskiy ranked slightly ahead of Jake Oettinger this season, simply because I think he has a decent chance at a bounce-back campaign. Vasilevskiy had a bit of a down year, but I suspect that was mostly because of all the hockey he’s played in a tight window over the past few seasons.

Since the Tampa Bay Lightning were knocked out early, that should give Vasilevskiy some much-needed rest and a chance to come back refreshed.

Oettinger struggled in the post-season and I think he wore down after playing a combined 81 games in the regular season and playoffs. He had played only 77 career games total before 2022-23. I have a feeling the Dallas Stars may try to limit Oettinger’s workload a little in 2023-24. If this is a keeper league, though, Oettinger would definitely rank above Vasilevskiy and arguably above all three aforementioned netminders.

Slafkovsky is still a mystery after playing only 39 games last season, so predicting his production for 2023-24 is tough. I wouldn’t go any higher than 40 points in a best-case scenario and even that seems unlikely, simply because the Montreal Canadiens don’t have a ton of talent up front for Slafkovsky to play with. Outside of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach, things start to get pretty thin.

He’d also benefit from some power-play time as well, but Montreal ranked only 29th with the man advantage last season. Even if Slafkovsky played on the top power-play unit regularly, it would probably only aid his numbers slightly.

Slafkovsky isn’t a generational talent like some other first-overall picks in the past 10 years, so it’s going to take some time before he starts providing real fantasy value.

It’s probably too early to write off a top-10 pick like Alexander Holtz, but there are some things working against him.

Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer will likely be mainstays in the Devils top six for the foreseeable future, so that doesn’t leave much room for Holtz.

Both Joel Hofer and Joseph Woll could have decent value eventually, maybe even as early as this season, but predicting the long-term value of goaltenders is a big gamble.

If I was considering moving Holtz, I might do it for the deal with the picks, though I think I’d ultimately keep him, especially if your team is already strong. Give him this season to see if he gets real ice time before shipping him out.

Tough call and I think it depends on your league rules. If you can keep players forever, then I would probably go with Connor Bedard.

If there is a limit of a few years on keepers, though, then Auston Matthews makes more sense. It’s probably going to be a couple of years before Bedard really starts producing big numbers, whereas Matthews can help you in the immediate future.

There’s probably an argument that all three could be taken in the top 20 based on their age and in that format. Maybe Tim Stutzle goes just outside the top 20, though if your league counts hits, he could go higher.

Jack Hughes will likely be in the top 10. Older players such as Sidney Crosby or Nikita Kucherov will be bumped down in keeper formats because of their age.

Elias Pettersson, Stutzle and Hughes are all in their early 20s and have already proven to be elite talents, so don’t hesitate to use a high pick on any one of them.

Is Connor Brown going to click running shotgun with the other Connor? We know he puts up good metrics, does he finally put it together offensively, or is it too late for him and he tops out at 40/50 points?

Connor Brown will at least start on Connor McDavid’s right wing, which is good news if you’re targeting him as a late sleeper.

Now, I don’t see Brown getting time on that potent Oilers top power-play unit, which will limit his numbers, but if he’s next to McDavid and can stay healthy, I’d say 30 goals and 50 points is realistic.

Which 40-goal scorer from last season is going to go way too high in drafts this year?

I mentioned someone like McCann earlier and I think you can add Andrei Kuzmenko as a consideration as well. He shot a whopping 27.3 per cent last season, scoring 39 goals on only 143 shots.

Naturally, his goal totals will come down, but by how much? If you think Kuzmenko can increase his shot volume to around 200, let’s say, maybe he can still be a 30-goal scorer. I still think Kuzmenko will have a solid season of around 65 points or so, but he’ll probably be taken a round or two higher than he should.

Since you don’t have IR slots and limited drops, be cautious about players who are injury risks.

Players such as Patrik Laine or Evgeni Malkin may be examples of those to avoid because they’ve had a difficult time staying healthy in recent years.

Also, make sure to be aware of who is going to be sidelined to start the season. Jake Guentzel, Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad are all skaters who might not be ready to start the season and you’ll be wasting a roster spot for a while if you grab them.

As far as goalies go, I always think you can find a lot of value in the later rounds and, similar to my earlier comment, be cautious about goalies such as Frederik Andersen who frequently miss time. I’d carry at least three goalies in your format, in case you do get an injury to one who you may have to drop because you can’t utilize IR.

Can we expect to see Ryan Johansen have a similar productivity jump as Nzem Kadri enjoyed a couple years back playing 2C behind Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado?

I’m not sure I’d go that far, though Ryan Johansen is probably a good bet to make, given his deployment on that second unit for the Colorado Avalanche and the fact that you can probably get him very late in drafts based on his current ADP. I think a lot of people targeted Johansen last season because he had 63 points in 2021-22, but remember, that came on a 22 per cent shooting percentage.

I don’t think we see Johansen get back to 60 points again simply because he’ll probably get minimal time on the first power-play unit and both Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen will probably be on the first line. Still, if you’re grabbing Johansen with one of the final few picks of your draft, that isn’t a big investment to make in someone with some upside.

I do like Joel Hofer as a “Zero G” candidate and I talked a bit about him in my bargain goalies piece earlier this week. Given how Jordan Binnington’s numbers have steadily declined in the past few years, I think Hofer could realistically steal starts and playing time from him.

That said, how good are the St. Louis Blues going to be? They weren’t a playoff team last season and if that doesn’t change, Hofer could end up getting decent playing time on a struggling squad, which isn’t always ideal.

I have Mikhail Sergachev slightly ahead of Victor Hedman in my rankings. It’s definitely not a sure thing that Sergachev keeps that top power-play spot over Hedman this season, though, so grabbing both of them would insulate you.

My only concern would be how high you’d have to grab them, because if Hedman continues to trend away from being an elite fantasy defenceman, you may miss out on someone else who could benefit your roster more in the early rounds. I’d take just Sergachev and hope he keeps building on that breakout season.

What is your take on Devon Levi? Is he going to make the team or will jump back and forth since he doesn’t have to go through waivers?

Devon Levi is going to have a lot of upside, but I do have the same concerns as you. He could probably benefit from some time in the AHL, and it’s rare for someone of Levi’s age and experience to just jump right in as a full-time starter.

Plus, Luukkonen and Eric Comrie are there if the Sabres want to give Levi some development time in the minors. Levi is still a low-risk, high-reward option, though, especially if Buffalo becomes a playoff team.

Tyler Bertuzzi, Tyler Toffoli and Vladimir Tarasenko are players I think are set up to really succeed based on the top sixes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators. Especially if Bertuzzi plays with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

As far as someone who is going to be negatively impacted, I’ll go with Bo Horvat. I know he played part of the season with the New York Islanders last season, but a full season with that squad is really going to hurt his numbers. They took a big hit when he arrived on Long Island and, given their playing style, I don’t think he will get close to 70 points again.

Jacob Markstrom should be a decent bounce-back candidate, simply because he doesn’t have to do much to improve on last year’s awful season.

With coach Darryl Sutter gone, though, a new head coach may not be as loyal to Markstrom, and Dustin Wolf is lurking as the goalie of the future. Markstrom should at least still be playing a fair bit for the time being, and he’ll be a smart bet based on where you could probably snag him in drafts.

Is this finally the year we see L1/PP1 Nikolaj Ehlers playing 18-20 min TOI in Winnipeg and he becomes a mid-round steal?

If Nik Ehlers does play 18-20 minutes a night, he will have major value, but that’s a big if. Coach Rick Bowness played Ehlers only 15 minutes and change per night last season, which was the lowest TOI Ehlers has averaged in a season for his career.

However, you’d think with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler gone, Ehlers would have to play more by default. If he slips a bit in your draft, Ehlers is definitely worth taking a chance on.

Best last-round goalie steal?

Give a read to the bargain goalies piece I mentioned earlier, but Joseph Woll is someone I’d look at. Ilya Samsonov has never played more than 44 games in a season, so I’m not buying he’s just going to start 55-60 times for the Leafs this year. I think Woll gets 30-35 games in a worst-case scenario and if Samsonov misses some time, he could play even more.

Keeper reboot, 10 teams, would it be insane to snag two top goalies at No. 9 & No. 12??

That seems way too early for me, unless your league has a strangely high number of goalie categories. I always think you can find great values with goalies in the late rounds or even off waivers, as netminders such as Filip Gustavsson, Stuart Skinner and Pheonix Copley showed last season. Target skaters with those high picks because goaltenders are much more unpredictable.

Miller or Zegras??? G A PPG PPA SHG SHA GWG +/- ty as always

Even without hits as a category, I’m still going with J.T. Miller. Unless you think Trevor Zegras is going to really break out then you could consider him, but Miller should easily give you about 80 points on the low end and his ceiling is even higher than that. Miller is the safer option.

Need my last keeper. Cats league pp, sog, hits, blks, faceoffs. Narrowed down to J. DeBrusk, R. Johansen and K. Miller

Since your league counts faceoffs, I’d go with Johansen. K’Andre Miller is a better real-life player than in fantasy and I worry about Jake DeBrusk’s numbers taking a hit without Patrice Bergeron. Johansen will help you in faceoffs and has a decent upside for offence.

I mentioned Wolf earlier but I don’t know if he makes a major impact this season, though it’s not impossible. I really believe Pyotr Kochetkov will have good value this season. Andersen and Antti Raanta likely won’t be able to stay healthy, so Kochetkov is definitely going to get good playing time. He also has more term on his deal than Andersen and makes more money than Raanta, so that’s a good indicator that Kochetkov is definitely factored into Carolina’s plans.

As far as Robin Lehner goes, I haven’t heard anything about him coming back, so I think Adin Hill and Logan Thompson are going to be a really strong tandem to roster.

Who’s the rookie/sophomore in a prime situation for a breakout this year?

I’m very intrigued by Luke Hughes. The Devils have a ton of offensive talent and Hughes should be in line for some decent power-play time. I think Hughes could flirt with 50 points if he can stay healthy and get around 18 minutes a night.

This is a bit complex, given none of these names are locks to have strong value this season. I’d probably go with Cam Talbot and Jack Campbell, though, as they both have strong teams in front of them and could get a decent amount of playing time, depending on how things shake out.

Then I might take a chance on holding Mads Sogaard, if you can swing it. He has potential and might be the goalie of the future there. He could be a big asset if the Sens are really competitive in a couple of years.

He will probably get a fair bit of ice time based on the San Jose Sharks depth chart, but I don’t see Mario Ferraro as an offensive contributor.

He’s already played well over 21 minutes a night in three of his four seasons and Ferraro still has never had more than 17 points in a season, so temper your expectations where he’s concerned. You can rely on him for solid hits and blocks coverage but not much else.

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