End of year fantasy rankings and projections are always subject to significant change, because the team lineups and line combinations that these projections are predicated on are so often thrown to the wind in the Offseason.
Now that the Entry Draft and Free Agency have come and gone, we have a good idea of what teams’ rosters will look like for this coming season. With that in mind, I’ll be taking a look at all of the transactions from the Offseason (from the point of view of a G, A, PPP, +/-, PIM, SOG, Sv%, GAA, SO league; I know having PIM as a positive stat is silly, but unfortunately it’s standard). This post will be examining the “Skater Additions”; transactions that involved a relevant Fantasy Skater moving to one team without that team giving up any Skaters of any Fantasy hockey value.
Kessel to the Penguins
Since first suiting up for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010, Phil Kessel has scored 339 points, the 8th most of any player over that time. With Toronto, Kessel’s most common linemates were James van Riemsdyk. and Tyler Bozak; while in Pittsburgh, Kessel will most likely play with Sidney Crosby. I know I don’t really need to provide evidence that Phil will score a ton of points with Crosby, but here’s some anyway: when Chris Kunitz was acquired by the Penguins during the 2008-’09 season, he was putting up .565 Points/Gm with the Anaheim Ducks (who were a Playoff team and only two years removed from a Championship), while Phil Kessel is coming off a season that saw him post .744 P/Gm despite an 8.9% Sh% (his only in the last 4 seasons to be under). Kunitz’s P/Gm has been all the way up at .763 since his trade, so it stands to reason that the more than likely Crosby-Kessel partnership will put Phil back among the top 10 point-scorers in the league and in the running for the Rocket Richard. When you add this bump in production to the good +/- and PP Kessel will probably see in Pittsburgh, as well as his perennially elite SOG numbers, “Phil the Thrill” is a guy that you wouldn’t regret taking anywhere after 10th Overall.
I also don’t really need to tell you that the Kessel trade is good for many Penguins’ Fantasy values (with the exceptions being Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennet), and bad for the Leafs’. In particular, this is good for Crosby, who should under no circumstances fall past the first two, maybe three Overall.
Hamilton to the Flames
In 2014-15, Dougie Hamilton ranked 19th among Defensemen with more than one game played in P/Gm (despite the Bruins being tied for just 22nd in goals), T-23rd among Defensemen with more than one game played in PPP (despite the Bruins scoring the 4th-fewest PPG in the league), and T-12th among Defensemen with more than one game played in SOG/Gm, with not just good Fantasy stats, but also some of the NHL’s better Fancystats. Oh, yeah, and he did all of this at only 21 years of age, while carrying the burden of the toughest opposition for the Bruins (especially when Zdeno Chara was injured).
His new team, while due for a noticeable regression (having posted the NHL’s 2nd-highest team Sh% last season despite ranking 20th in Scoring Chances/60), should still score more than Boston did last year, especially on the Power Play. Given Dougie’s age, his play should also improve, so even if the Flames regress into mediocrity, I fully expect him to break the 50 Point mark, with a +/- of around 0. Yes, he won’t get to play with Zdeno Chara anymore, but he could be paired with Mark Giordano, a more prolific scorer than Chara at this point in his career, and basically a Patrice Bergeron on the back end, as far as Fancystats are concerned; the Flames may very well opt not to separate Giordano from T.J. Brodie (with whom Giordano spent a whopping 92% of his 5v5 ice time in 2014-15), but Hamilton would still get to play with fellow ex-Bruin Denis Wideman, who scored the 4th-most points of any Defenseman this past year, which might even be better for Dougie’s production, since the Giordano-Brodie pairing would shoulder many of the tough assignments.
However it shakes out, I project Hamilton to thrive in his new surroundings, and more than likely rank among the top 15 Fantasy Defensemen despite his lack of PIM.
With the Russian ruble having flat on its face and the KHL having followed suit, this Offseason saw quite a few top players jump across the pond. Some of these players, like the Devils’ Sergey Kalinin and Chicago’s Viktor Tikhonov — to , were not top scorers in Russia and are not likely to put up any worthwhile numbers, and Pittsburgh’s Sergei Plotnikov scored a bit more in 2014-15, but there are gems in this year’s class of transfers, Nashville’s Steve Moses and Chicago’s Artemi Panarin. Moses, the American, lead the KHL in goals last year and is very likely to slot into a Top 6 in Nashville that coach Peter Laviolette made the most sheltered in the NHL in his first season with the team, so Moses is a safe bet to finish in at least the 45 point range with a good +/-. Panarin was not as much of a goalscorer as Moses but still put up the KHL’s 5th-highest total, but tallied significantly more assists (36 to Moses’ 21), and, most importantly, looks like one of the leading candidates for the spot on either Kane’s or Toews and Hossa’s Left Wing (which was vacated by the Saad trade, as I’ll detail in a later post); if he is in the Top 6 out of Training camp, he’s a very strong candidate to break 50 points and should bolster your +/- and PP Point totals.
Either Panarin or Moses would be a great late-round addition. Also, don’t hesitate on picking up Plotnikov (who tied for 19th in the KHL in PIM last year) if injuries strike the Penguins’ Top 6; he’d be a very good temporary Free Agent addition for your team.
The McEichel Effect
The hype surrounding Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel leading up to the pair being drafted #1 and 2 was unavoidable, and warranted. The estimates you’d have for them based on high draft picks like Nail Yakupov or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or even Nathan Mackinnon go out the window; everything that I’ve seen and read concurs that the both of them are generational talents, and we should expect them to run with the best offensive players in the NHL.
As a result of their prowess, not only are McDavid and Eichel highly desirable Fantasy assets, but they make will pad their linemates’ numbers significantly as well. Guys like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Evander Kane are now even more valuable than they were this time last year.
Hall is coming off his worst season since his rookie year, but there was some injury weirdness that contributed to that, as well as a Sh% of 8.9 that was 1.5% below his previous career-low. Given the amount of production Hall has cranked out in the past, as well as having the luxury of McDavid as a center, Hall should be back around the top 20 Fantasy players next season, as well as regaining his position as a top 3 Fantasy LW.
Jordan Eberle doesn’t produce much in the way of PIM, and his SOG numbers leave a lot to be desired, but he’s consistently in or near the top 30 in points, and, once again, he’ll have McDavid. I’d advise taking him somewhere near 50th Overall.
I would also advise against harboring too much trepidation towards picking Evander Kane because of 2014-15’s season ending injury; by the time the season starts, he will have had more than enough time to heal and recover, and before last year, he’d never missed more that 19 games in an NHL season. Kane also happens to be a Fantasy beast, tying for 7th in the NHL for SOG/Gm among players with more than 2 games, and his PIM/Gm that, extrapolated over an 82 game season, would’ve also placed him in a tie for 7th. His point production in the past has left a lot to be desired (using the same extrapolation, he would’ve ranked just 90th in that category this past year), but Jack Eichel will be the best Center that Kane has ever had over a full season, and he will receive more ES and PP ice-time than he ever has before. I expect Kane to return to playing 60+ games, have his Sh% stabilize to at least in the ballpark of 9%, and see his overall point production to rise to at least .75 PPG; as such, I’d have him ranked in the Top 40. This ranking should be even higher if you play in a Fantasy league that counts hits, since Kane recorded 3.2 Hits/Gm last year, a rate that would’ve put him in the top 10 among Forwards had he played the whole year, and a mark that may even rise next year as he receives more ice time.
Then, of course, there are McDavid and Eichel themselves. Of the two, McDavid is a little easier to figure; there are few players who unilaterally receive the “Generational Talent” label, and those who have in the past have been among the top scorers in the league in their rookie years. Playing with Hall and Eberle, I’d be surprised if Connor McDavid didn’t finish the year in the top 20 in points, with a good deal on the Power Play. There is a little less of a consensus on Eichel’s talent, but it seems that most people would peg him at at least a John Tavares-level prospect, and if Tavares could put up 54 points with Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo (a Rookie and a Sophomore at the time) as his most frequent linemates, Eichel can put up at least similar numbers with Evander Kane and one of (a much more experienced) Moulson, Ennis, or maybe even Ryan O’Reilly.
O’Reilly to the Sabres
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what will happen with Ryan O’Reilly this year, because I’m not sure where he’ll be in Buffalo’s lineup. Usually, you can get a gauge on who will be where based who they played the most with the previous season, but given that the players who look to be Buffalo’s best 3 Forwards have never played a game with the team before, and they have a brand new coach. While I don’t believe Ryan would be 1st Line C — because, despite their improvements, the Sabres are still rebuilding, and as such I don’t think they’d risk stunting Jack Eichel’s growth by moving him from his natural position or separating him from Evander Kane — I’m torn between whether he’ll be playing 2C or 1 LW. If I had to put money on it, though, I’d go with 1 LW. While O’Reilly is possibly the only proficient Faceoff taker on the team (he’s the only player on the roster who took at least 300 Faceoffs last year and win at least half of them), Faceoff ability is not the only factor in determining who slots in where, and both David Legwand and Zemgus Girgensons (the All-Star) are otherwise competent Centers.
If O’Reilly does end up playing with Kane and Eichel, that boosts their point-producing value and precipitates a big rise in O’Reilly’s Fantasy stock, but if he ends up at 2C, he has very little value, as he will not have the type of linemates he did in Colorado but will still be asked to bear the brunt of Buffalo’s many Defensive Zone Starts (in order to shelter Eichel). Best-case scenario, O’Reilly is in the top 40, maybe top 30 in Points, around top 60 in Shots, with a low +/- and no PIM to speak of, and worst-case scenario, he’s not even draftable. After this trade, I wouldn’t recommend drafting Ryan O’Reilly until the latter stages of the Draft.
Green to the Red Wings
I expect a slight increase in production for Mike Green, the only Free Agent on this list, who ranked 14th in P/Gm, 21st in SOG/Gm, T-91st PIM, and T-15th PPP among Defensemen who played more than one game last year. I say this because the Red Wings, who were a much better possession team than the Capitals last year, can shelter Green more, and have several Defensive Defenseman who would be a better counterpart for Mike Green than Nate Schmidt and Jack Hillen (Green’s primary partners from last year). I also think that Green should at least see his Power Play numbers remain stable, because, while Washington’s Power Play was the NHL’s most effective last year, Detroit’s is usually good in its own right, and should rank higher than the Caps did in PP Opportunities last year (Ovi and crew were somehow just 23rd last year). I’d say that Green will be a little better than the 20th-best Fantasy Defenseman.