Hitting is a statistic that many fantasy leagues add as a tracked category despite the fact that there are serious inconsistencies in how it is tracked in the NHL. People like hits and players that take the body, which is why fantasy league hosts, including Yahoo! fantasy sports, offer hits as an optional scoring category.
There are several players like Matt Martin who are best known for the frequency and ferocity of their hits, but they bring little else to the table and are therefore not valid targets in most fantasy leagues. Here are five of the best fantasy skaters who threw more than 200 body checks in the 2015-16 season.
Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins
Kunitz is turning 37 next year and saw his ice time drop to under 17 minutes a night, but he was still one of the best left wings to have in fantasy leagues that scored hits. With Sidney Crosby’s slow start to the season, Kunitz’s value dropped dramatically, but when Crosby returned to form his wing’s numbers rebounded.
Through 78 games this season, Kunitz took the body 261 times while being a plus-31. It’s good to be Crosby’s linemate.
Will Kunitz return to being a top-100 fantasy player in the last season of his current contract next year? It’s unlikely. This is the second consecutive year he failed to reach 20 goals after scoring 35 in 2013-14. There are more promising rough and tumble players with offensive upside, including Boone Jenner of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who should be taken before Kunitz in fantasy leagues that care about hitting next fall.
David Backes, St. Louis Blues
A pending unrestricted free agent and the captain of the Blues, Backes is finishing the regular season on the IR after a noted drop in his offensive production. The veteran center still managed to be a top-100 fantasy player in standard scoring categories because of the solid offensive production that came with over 80 penalty minutes this season.
Backes finished the 2015-16 season with 239 hits in 79 games. The big center’s offensive numbers dipped this season, but he still managed to pot eight power play goals on St. Louis’ top unit and reach the 20-goal mark for the fifth straight (non-lockout shortened) season. Backes may be turning 32 next season, but he is showing no signs of taking the physicality out of his game.
Milan Lucic, Los Angeles Kings
In his first year with the Kings, Lucic was the same wrecking ball with big offensive upside that he was in Boston for so many years.
Lucic’s offensive production rebounded from his last season in Boston and the bump in his plus/minus rating with the possession-dominant Kings returned him to a top-100 player in standard fantasy scoring categories. There are few left wings in hockey who take the penalty minutes that Lucic takes while putting up the kind of offensive numbers that he is capable of.
What is of concern is that Lucic shot less and hit less with the Kings than he did last season with the Bruins, but despite that fact he remains one of the league’s most physical forwards while having the ability to approach 60 points. Look for him to return to the Kings this offseason and bring more black and blue hockey to Los Angeles.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
As if the unparalleled goal-scoring and staggering shot totals weren’t enough, Ovechkin is also one of the league’s best hitters. The superstar’s board-rattling approach to the game made him one of the two most valuable skaters in fantasy leagues that care about hitting in addition to standard scoring categories this season which was also true for the 2014-15 season.
Ovechkin will finish the season with over 220 hits to go along with nearly 50 goals and over 380 shots. No other skater in fantasy hockey offers those kinds of numbers in addition to prolific and consistent power play production. If your fantasy league counts hits, Ovechkin needs to be at the top of your list.
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
They don’t come much bigger or stronger than Byfuglien in the world of fantasy hockey defensemen. Byfuglien lived up to his reputation yet again in 2015-16. His bruising play brought over 240 hits and 117 penalty minutes to his fantasy managers through 79 games this season.
But it isn’t just about penalty minutes and hits for the Winnipeg defender who is now signed through 2020-21. Byfuglien’s deadly shot hit the net almost 250 times this season in 79 games and he scored 18 goals for the second straight season. He is a highlight reel player because he hits and shoots harder than almost anyone in the league which makes him a top defender in fantasy leagues that score hits.
Byfuglien also didn’t miss significant time with injuries or suspension after missing 13 games in 2014-15 which helped him improve in hits, shots, assists, and blocked shots this season with the Jets. His offensive numbers might not look like Brent Burns’ do, but Byfuglien remains one-of-a-kind because of his style of play and ability to bury pucks in the net.