Last spring, the Tampa Bay Lightning added a bit of a wrinkle to the NHL postseason when they upset the Presidents’ Trophy winner New York Rangers and met the two-time champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.
This fall, the Lightning are throwing a wrench in the top five fantasy hockey rankings with the potential for captain Steven Stamkos to play on the wing.
Last week, we listed Stamkos as one of the top six that should be considered for the No. 1 pick, but in our conclusion (at least in leagues that include shots as a category) Alex Ovechkin had the slight edge over the other candidates. Sidney Crosby was a close second while Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin was our “out of the box” pick for first overall because of his high ceiling.
Besides dominating the shots, goals, power-play points and penalty minutes categories, our biggest argument for drafting Ovechkin was because of the six players on our list of considerations for the No. 1 overall pick, he was the only winger.
But Ovechkin won’t be the only wing on our No. 1 list consideration anymore if Stamkos does indeed play on the left side. Lightning coach Jon Cooper did not say Stamkos would only play wing this season, but he did admit to USA Today that he is considering playing Stamkos at left wing during regular season games.
“He has been a natural center, so it was an adjustment for him,” Cooper said. “But he’s not one of those guys who walks in and says, ‘OK, I will try this for two games. Stammer gets it. If it is best for the team, he will do it.”
Tampa Bay started playing Stamkos at left wing during the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers, and the immediate impact was enormous. He scored a goal in four straight games and tallied seven points during that span to help the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Final.
After that, Stamkos registered just one assist in the next eight postseason games. The results of how Stamkos plays at left wing don’t matter all that much. As Cooper indicated, Stamkos isn’t only going to play there. All that matters is that Stamkos has the eligibility at left winger in fantasy hockey leagues.
If owners are able to plug Stamkos into a left wing or center position in fantasy lineups, that will really give them a lot of flexibility. Rather than picking by position after the first couple rounds, owners can select the best available forward, knowing that Stamkos can be moved freely between left wing and center. Stamkos’ position flexibility would also come in handy when injuries occur during the season.
Now the question is: how much does the position flexibility raise Stamkos’ fantasy value?
It depends on how owners want to draft. If best available player is the only concern, then he is probably still No. 4. But if owners want to draft based on tiers, Stamkos could jump as high as No. 2.
There just aren’t as many superstar left wings as centers in fantasy hockey. Based on The Hockey News’ 2015-16 rankings, 15 of the top 30 overall players are centers while just three of the top 30 players are left wings.
That means there should be plenty of capable No. 1 fantasy centers available in the second and third round for the owners that select Ovechkin or Stamkos.
Now every league is different, so before deciding to draft Stamkos in front of Crosby, Seguin or John Tavares, double check to make sure the Lightning center has left wing eligibility in your league. If so, feel free to rank him as high as No. 2 heading into the draft.