With fantasy hockey drafts taking place over the next month, Today’s Slapshot would like to get you primed for the upcoming fantasy hockey season.
In this series of articles, we will be identifying two studs, duds, and sleepers at each position: goalie, defense, center, left wing, and right wing. Just to be clear, here are how the terms “studs”, “duds”, and “sleepers” will be used for the sake of these articles.
“Studs” are players that you can’t go wrong with. They might be the obvious picks, but it’s good to know which players stand out at their positions.
“Duds” aren’t necessarily players you shouldn’t draft, although they could be. But there’s a high probability that you’re going to be disappointed in these players.
“Sleepers” are those mid to late-round finds in drafts – players who are a strong possibility to exceed their draft-day value.
Not many left wingers are ranked as top-20 players in fantasy leagues. However, the left wing position does feature both the top-ranked player in fantasy hockey and last season’s top scorer (no, they are not the same). But if you miss out on one of those two elite options in your draft, there are still plenty of solid second-tier options from which to choose.
Alex Ovechkin is not only the top-ranked left wing, but also fantasy hockey’s top player entering the 2015-16 season.
Ovechkin was the runaway winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy with 53 goals, 10 clear of second-place finisher Steven Stamkos and 11 higher than next-highest left wing Rick Nash. His 395 shots on goal were nearly 100 ahead of the next closest players, fellow left wingers Nash and Max Pacioretty. But with only 28 assists, Ovechkin only finished tied for fourth in the NHL scoring race.
He scored only 17 goals before the new year, but 36 after the new year–nearly a goal per game after the calendar turned to 2015. At least now we know that Ovie can adapt to Barry Trotz’s system, and now he’ll have a full season to benefit from it. Another 50-goal season from him seems probable, which is quite an accomplishment given the lack of 50-goal scorers in this era.
Jamie Benn not only renewed his place as a first-tier left wing, but he also had a career year with his first career Art Ross Trophy. Surprisingly, Benn was not in the top-five in either goals (35) or assists (52), so the spin here could be that he provides the perfect balance of goals and assists. Because he played in all 82 games when other top scorers didn’t, Benn actually finished third in points per game (1.06), only trailing Sidney Crosby (1.09) and linemate Tyler Seguin (1.08).
Speaking of Seguin, the chemistry that the two have is one major reason that both should be top 10 picks in fantasy leagues. The question is who will be the lucky winner to ride shotgun alongside these two top scorers? Patrick Sharp owners will no doubt hope he’s the guy, although lesser fantasy options Patrick Eaves and Ales Hemsky could also be in the mix.
Nick Foligno, who was mainly waiver-wire fodder at the start of 2014-15, finished the season as a top-20 ranked player by Yahoo. Foligno had never scored 20 goals or 50 points prior to last season, but he finished with a career-high 31 goals and 73 points in 2014-15. Playing on a line with Ryan Johansen didn’t hurt his stock either.
Foligno won’t necessarily have a terrible season, but you don’t want to pay a steep price for one year’s worth of production. His 17 percent shooting accuracy in 2014-15 suggests a possible decline in goals, considering that his career average is around 12 percent. As well, the arrival of Brandon Saad could push Foligno down to the Blue Jackets’ second line.
A projection of around 25 goals and 50-55 points seems more reasonable, and that projection would push him outside of the top 50.
James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk is currently ranked in the top 50 in Yahoo, but signs point to a significant regression in 2015-16. The Phil Kessel departure could hurt van Riemsdyk’s value tremendously, as he has historically worse numbers playing without Kessel than playing alongside Kessel. JVR averaged a point every 31 minutes with Kessel as his linemate, yet that dropped to a point every 42 minutes without Kessel (Dobber Hockey).
“JVR” will still play alongside familiar center Tyler Bozak in 2015-16. His -33 was among the worst on the Leafs last season, and that number won’t likely get a whole lot better on the rebuilding Leafs. Although JVR has reached at least 55 points in each of the last two seasons, he will have a more difficult time reaching that mark in 2015-16, given the Leafs’ lack of immediate scoring options.
Jaden Schwartz’s Yahoo ranking (105) and even his NHL.com composite ranking (85) are criminally low. A likely linemate of rising star Vladimir Tarasenko, Schwartz has also reached 55 points in each of the last two seasons. In fact, Schwartz scored 63 points (28g-35a) in just 75 games, which works out to a points-per-game total (0.84) similar to that of Pacioretty and Zach Parise, who are ranked much higher.
So why is van Riemsdyk a dud and Schwartz a sleeper, if their totals the past two seasons aren’t that far off? Simple: The Blues have considerably more offensive depth than the Leafs, who don’t possess a current talent at the level of Tarasenko. If you have to choose between the two, pick Schwartz over van Riemsdyk. Straight up.
The theory isn’t scientific, but there is a belief that many players entering their fourth year are poised for a breakout. Like Schwartz, Jonathan Huberdeau is entering his fourth year. And like Schwartz, Huberdeau’s numbers have been on the rise, although not quite as much. After slumping in 2013-14 with just 28 points in 69 games, Huberdeau reached a career-high 54 points (15g-39a) in 79 games in 2014-15.
The acquisition of Jaromir Jagr, who is nearly twice Huberdeau’s age, seemed to help Huberdeau. During the 20 games that Jagr played with the Panthers, Huberdeau scored 22 points. (If you think Jagr is too old, keep in mind that he also scored 18 points as a Panther.) Keeper leaguers who have been patient with Huberdeau since he was first drafted are about to get rewarded.