As the NHL season nears its conclusion, so does fantasy hockey. It’s been a year unlike any other, but a shortened, postponed-full season has surely beaten the alternative of no hockey at all.
My 10 takeaways for this week will do some reflecting on the year that was, but also a little view of what’s to come in the off-season.
1 - C/RW Sam Reinhart (60% rostered on Yahoo) having an unexpected career year
It’s been a tumultuous year for the Buffalo Sabres. Their captain and franchise cornerstone, Jack Eichel, has missed most of the season with a neck injury, top off-season acquisition Taylor Hall has already scored five goals in 10 games with the Boston Bruins despite scoring just two in 37 contests with Buffalo, 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin owns the worst plus-minus in the league, and I haven’t even touched the NHL-worst 18-game losing streak its fan base had to endure. All of this would be reason enough to write off this season for all its members, but 2014 second-overall pick Sam Reinhart has somehow managed to have a career year despite it all.
Potting six goals in his last four games, Reinhart’s season total is up to 23, which is just two behind the 25 goals he scored during a full 82-game campaign in 2017-18. The 25-year-old also owns a respectable 55.91 all-strength Corsi For percentage despite playing on a struggling Sabres squad, according to Natural Stat Trick which leads all active team members. In a year and on a team where seemingly everything has gone wrong, Reinhart has been able to churn out some solid production.
2 - LW Jonathan Huberdeau (99% rostered on Yahoo) proving he’s a bonafide superstar
Since the 2018-19 season, Jonathan Huberdeau has recorded 228 points, ranking seventh in the NHL. He sits ahead of players like Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, but he certainly hasn’t received the same recognition as these players. In previous years, the excuse “It’s because the Florida Panthers aren’t good,” while lazy, held true. Now with the Panthers locked into a playoff spot in the Central Division, it’s about time we start giving this superstar the credit he’s due.
Only Patrick Kane (61 points) has more points than Huberdeau (58) this year amongst Central Division forwards, as the 27-year-old currently sits eighth across the league in the category. His impressive 63.14 Corsi for percentage sits 11th in the NHL, and ranks ahead of players like Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin and Sebastian Aho. What may be the biggest testament to the playmaker’s skill is his ability to prop up his linemates, as both Anthony Duclair and Sam Bennett have recently benefited from playing alongside Huberdeau. The two have combined for 21 points in the eight games since Bennett was acquired and the line was formed, although it has recently been broken up. He’s a special, special player that has made his fantasy managers look like geniuses this season as he’s outplayed his 28.7 average draft position (ADP).
3 - Breaking out at the right time, C Josh Norris (21% rostered on Yahoo) is showing he could be a first-line centre
The Ottawa Senators have won five of their last six games and it’s hard to not be impressed by the play of its young talent during this stretch. The top trio of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson has combined for 22 points during this time and it's the recent emergence of middleman Josh Norris that should really have Sens fans and fantasy managers excited.
Norris has a respectable 15 goals and 32 points in his rookie campaign, but nearly half of his points (14) have come in the 14 games he’s played during the month of April. The 2017 first-round pick has really turned into a valuable member of Ottawa’s power play as his six power-play goals lead the team, with four of those coming this month, too. Available in over 75 percent of Yahoo fantasy leagues, Norris is certainly worth an add if your league finishes on May 9 as he plays four games next week.
4 - If your league plays until May 9, scoop up LW/RW Teuvo Teravainen (68% rostered on Yahoo) if he’s available
Healthy and back in the Carolina Hurricanes’ lineup, it took Teuvo Teravainen just two games to remind fantasy hockey managers just how impactful he can be. On Thursday, the Finnish winger impressed by recording a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Playing alongside Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov inside the team’s very talented top-six, Teravainen is a player that, because of his extended absence, has been dropped in a number of leagues. If ‘Turbo’ is available in your pool and your league-end date is May 9, he is worth an add as he’s produced 150 points in 165 games since 2018-19 and has four contests scheduled for next week.
5 - Where does D Adam Fox (95% rostered on Yahoo) go in fantasy drafts next season?
You can make a very compelling argument that Adam Fox has been the best defenseman in all of fantasy hockey this year, especially in leagues that count blocks as a category. His 42 assists lead all blueliners, his plus-21 rating is tied for ninth, his 23 power-play points rank second and his 93 blocks tie him for 11th. This elite category coverage has made Fox a massive asset in fantasy and warrants the question: Where should he be taken in fantasy hockey drafts next season?
This past year, Fox’s ADP sat at 118.3 which made him the 27th defenseman off the board. His breakout 2020-21 season will likely make him a top-5 selection at defense next season, putting his ADP inside the top-40. A 23-year-old rearguard playing this well in just his second NHL campaign means his ceiling is through the roof. He’s a must-hold in keeper leagues and someone you can build your team around in dynasty.
6 - Fantasy’s best goaltenders are not who we thought they were going to be
Trying to figure out goaltenders this season in fantasy hockey was about as easy as picking ponies at the Kentucky Derby. As former Tampa Bay Lightning backup goaltender Louis Domingue once put it, Andrei Vasilevskiy is a horse, but to further the analogy, he’s like a Bob Baffert trained horse. Everybody knew entering this year that Vasilevskiy was going to produce another excellent season on a very good Lightning team. Reflecting back, however, the rest of the goalies that populate the top-10 in fantasy hockey turned out to be a bunch of outsiders.
Philipp Grubauer (G15), Semyon Varlamov (G27), Marc-Andre Fleury (G18), Juuse Saros (G22), Connor Hellebuyck (G2), Mike Smith (G37), Alex Nedeljkovic (No ADP available), Jacob Markstrom (G14) and Cam Talbot (G34) round up the top-10 netminders in leagues that count wins, saves, goals-against-average and shutouts. As noted, only two of these goaltenders (Vasilevskiy and Hellebuyck) were top-10 selections, and they were the top-two puckstoppers according to ADP. None of the goalies selected after these two until Markstrom (78.4 ADP) really ended up panning out for fantasy managers. A good lesson to take away from this season is to wait on goalies unless you can land Vasilevskiy at a value, because it is such a hard position to forecast on a yearly basis.
7 - LW Alex Ovechkin’s (99% rostered on Yahoo) injury coming at absolute worst time
Fantasy managers that were able to make it to the final or semi-final with Alex Ovechkin haven’t been able to use the superstar at all this week as he’s been sidelined with a lower-body injury. Unlike other leagues such as MLB and the NFL that are more specific with injuries, the NHL is typically very vague with its reporting, and this Ovechkin situation is just one of many that should infuriate the fantasy hockey community.
The only thing the Washington Capitals have made abundantly clear regarding the matter is that it is a lower-body injury, which is not clear in the slightest. A lower-body injury could range from a bruised toe to a broken hip, which really makes things difficult for fantasy managers to forecast how long Ovi will be out. Additionally, what makes things even worse is the inconsistent stream of information. Entering last Saturday’s game, Ovechkin was listed as a game-time decision. Nearly one week later, we still haven’t seen the Russian goal-scorer on the ice during a game. Ovechkin is on the “Can’t Cut List” in a number of Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues, but in the leagues where he can be dropped, it’d be nice to have some sort of idea on when he will be returning so you can plan accordingly. If the NHL is serious about growing its presence in both the betting world and the fantasy scene, it should probably start with some clarity on the status of its players, especially its top stars.
8 - What to do with LW/RW Patrik Laine (72% rostered on Yahoo) in dynasty and keeper leagues
Nobody's fantasy value has plummeted more than Patrik Laine’s this year. The top-25 pick in Yahoo fantasy hockey drafts has produced a measly 12 goals and 21 points while serving as a minus-25 on both the Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets. Set to become a restricted-free-agent this offseason, a lot of Laine’s future fantasy outlook is tied to where he ends up.
Given how bad his stint as a member of the Blue Jackets has gone, it typically wouldn’t be shocking to see the team move on. An important note to remember with Columbus, however, is that it’s really struggled to keep high-end talent. Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene are just a number of players the team has acquired and lost to free agency. Considering that and the haul it gave up to acquire the former second-overall pick, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they made a major push to keep him. If he does stay with the Blue Jackets and the team doesn’t get him a legitimate No. 1 centre to play with, fantasy managers can’t be faulted for letting him go in keeper leagues that hold seven players or less. In dynasty leagues, I think there’s some buy-low appeal, even if Columbus doesn’t address the centre position. I wouldn’t give up too much, but if you feel the Laine manager in your league is really trying to unload him, make them an offer.
9 - LW/RW Mike Hoffman (65% rostered on Yahoo) is reviving the St. Louis Blues’ power play
The St. Louis Blues are finally maximizing Mike Hoffman’s skillset. The sharpshooter doesn’t do a lot well. He’s not a great defensive player, he’s not known for being a playmaker, but when he can step into a shot, he shows off one of the best releases in the game. Finally seeing more consistent deployment on the power play, Hoffman is becoming a nice player to have in fantasy and is driving the resurgence of the Blues’ power play.
St. Louis has scored a power-play goal in nine-straight games and now owns the NHL’s eighth-best power play. Prior to this hot stretch, however, its power play ranked 21st and wasn’t producing, but Hoffman’s insertion to the unit has made a big difference. During this time, the 31-year-old has potted six goals, with an impressive five coming on the man advantage. Prorated over the course of an 82-game season, Hoffman is on-pace for the lowest amount of power-play time-on-ice since his 2014-15 season, but it finally seems like head coach Craig Berube has come to his senses in regards to using the marksman the way he always should’ve. He’s a strong add in fantasy hockey leagues where available.
10 - D Mike Reilly (28% rostered on Yahoo) finishing season on a strong note with Boston Bruins
Boston Bruins blueliner Mike Reilly may not have a goal to his name this season, but the former Ottawa Senator has recorded 24 assists, including one in 10 of his last 16 games played. Additionally, Reilly has been a solid source of hits and blocks providing eight body checks and five blocked shots in his last seven games. Seeing time on Boston’s top power-play unit, too, it’s only a matter of time before the 27-year-old undergoes a spike in production on the man advantage, as he’s still searching for his first point on the PP with the Bruins. His status is worth monitoring as he wasn’t present at the squad’s practice on Friday, but if he’s healthy, he’s one of the top players available in over 70 percent of Yahoo leagues.
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