Slapshot Fantasy

Fantasy Hockey: Time to Sell High on Ryan Kesler?

Before the season started, Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler decided to have some fun with fans at a preseason game. He dressed up in a disguise, which included a fat suit, a crazy wig and beard dye. It resulted in some very funny interactions.

It was all fun and games then, but as the season started, Kesler really struggled. It got so bad, that he might have had to put on another disguise just to get out of the arena.

Fortunately, Kesler has bounced back and put together a really nice January. Let’s take a look at his numbers and determine whether he can continue his strong play into February and beyond. If not, Kesler might be a good sell-high candidate.

In the first three months of the season, the 31-year-old really had trouble finding his footing. Through the first 36 games, he had four goals, 12 points and a minus-13 rating.

Coming into 2015-16, Kesler has scored 20 goals in seven of his last eight seasons with the only exception being the lockout shortened 2013 season. In 2010-11, he tallied a career-high 41 goals. At the halfway point this season, the Ducks center was on pace for just 16 goals.

Perhaps it was a New Year’s resolution, but Kesler has been hot since the start of January. It’s also possible that he was motivated to play his old team. Anaheim faced the Vancouver Canucks on January 1.

Kesler scored a power play goal in that game, and then notched another tally on the man advantage two days later against the Winnipeg Jets. Two games after that, he found the back of the net two more times, one of which was on the power play.

Prior to the New Year, he only had one goal on the man advantage this season. In the first eight days of 2016, Kesler had three power play scores.

Altogether in the month of January, Kesler recorded seven goals, 11 points and a plus-four rating in 11 games. That nearly doubled his production in the first 36 contests.

Can he keep it going? It’s difficult to predict.

Based on his career numbers, the immediate response is a resounding yes. Kesler is a perennial 20-goal scorer. After the hot streak, he is still short of that mark as he is currently on pace for 19 goals this season. Still, not bad for a guy who only had four goals through 36 games.

It also appears as if Kesler was posting poor numbers at the beginning of the season more as a result of bad luck and poor team play as opposed to his own deficiencies. Through Decemeber, the Ducks were averaging a putrid 1.92 goals per game. In October alone, Anaheim went 1-7-2 and were shut out four times.

At the All-Star Break, the Ducks are ranked 30th in goals per game (2.1) and have been shut out a total of seven times.

The bad luck Kesler had individually can be seen in his scoring percentage. In the first 36 games, he was scoring on just 5.3 percent of his shots. His career scoring percentage over the last 12 years is 11.4.

And it’s not like Kesler was experiencing a reduction in scoring percentage because of poorer quality scoring chances or bad puck possession numbers. As the below chart will show, High Danger Scoring Chances have been a part of his game all season.

Courtesy of war-on-ice.com

As far as puck possession goes, Kesler is posting a 55.1 Corsi For percentage, which is his best percentage since 2011-12.

On the other hand, there are arguments to be made to sell high on the Ducks center.

First of all, he isn’t going to continue scoring a point per game. He has never done that in his career over an entire year, and he hasn’t even come close to that in the last five seasons. The last time Kesler even had 50 points in a season was 2010-11.

Secondly, even though the high-scoring chances and possession numbers are there, the number of shots are not. Kesler averaged 3.1 shots on net per game in his final season with Vancouver in 2013-14. Last season, he totaled 2.5 shots on goal per contest.

At the break this season, he is averaging 2.34 shots on net, and that’s after he recorded 3.18 shots on goal per game in January. In the first 36 games, Kesler only had 2.08 shots per game.

The optimistic fantasy owner would think perhaps he can continue his January shots on goal average, but honestly, that total is misleading. Kesler registered 35 shots in those 11 January games, but 16 of them came in the final two games. He recorded an incredible 10 shots on goal in the last game before the All-Star break.

And even with the high average of 3.18 shots on goal in the last 11, Kesler’s scoring percentage is a whopping 20.0 percent. There is no way he will maintain that.

Power play goals are another thing not sustainable. The 31-year-old scored three of his seven goals and four of his seven points in January on the man advantage.

It appears once again that Kesler’s ceiling will be 20 goals and about 40 points. If owners can trade him for another player with more upside, don’t hesitate.

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