image source: Edmonton Journal
Here we are, mid-summer, more than a month past free agent frenzy and still two months away from the start of the regular season. Although I’ve been enjoying the nice weather, I`m really missing hockey and I feel like there`s not much excitement on the near term horizon. Sure I`m excited for the World Cup of Hockey (which starts September 17th, mark your calendars) to bring hockey back into my life – but I didn’t grow up watching the tournament every year so I`m mostly focused on October 12th which will mark the start of the last NHL season composed of 30 teams.
Now if you`re like me and you can`t wait to see your team make a run for the Stanley Cup playoffs, or you are eager to get your 2016-2017 fantasy squad lined up, the best way to bridge the gap to October is to crank out some solid research so you can give yourself a shot at winning the title against all of your friends and colleagues. Without further ado, here is my first article concerning NHL Fantasy Hockey for the 2016-2017 season.
*Remember my drafting strategies are based off of a 16-team, 17 player league (272 players are drafted)
Fourteen Fantasy Relevant Players on New Teams
1. Milan Lucic – Edmonton Oilers
What better way than to kick things off than with the number one rated unrestricted free agent going into the frenzy that is July 1st. Although nothing is set in stone, Milan Lucic will very likely play on the same line as Connor McDavid in oil country. Lucic`s big body will not only serve as protection for the all-star sophomore McDavid, he`ll also be a dependable body on the forecheck, a big presence in front of the net, and ultimately a fantasy stud this coming season. Look for an increase in goals, assists, powerplay points and shots on goal but be prepared to see a downward change in the plus-minus department even if the Oilers improve from their 29th place finish last season. Lucic could reach 70 points if he sees a full season alongside McDavid and an increase in powerplay productivity.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 81, G: 20, A: 35, +/-: 26, PM: 79, PPP: 8, S: 124
2. PK Subban – Nashville Predators
I won’t get into detail here about who won this trade – there’s enough easy-to-find content surrounding that topic. Life for Subban will be much different in Nashville where, even after the departure of Weber, there are three other young and offensively talented defensemen in Josi, Ekholm and Ellis. In 2015-2016, Josi had 61 points (81 GP), Ekholm had 35 points (82 GP) and Ellis had 32 points (79 GP). So what does this mean for PK Subban who formerly only had one notable fantasy asset on the blueline with him in Montreal in Andrei Markov (44 points in 82 games)? Will Josi regress as Subban takes over the role of #1 offensive defenseman in Nashville? Remember that Josi outscored Weber last season by 10 points, although Weber had 10 more PPP. With that said, Subban should carryover his strong powerplay production into next season. Last season he scored 24 in 68 games with Montreal despite the Canadien’s struggles (Montreal was 6th worst in PP% last year while Nashville ranked 10th). However, PK’s even strength production may taper off with the Predators where he’ll have to share offensive zone time with the other young stars at Nashville’s backend. Look for a healthy PK to go 80 games, 60 points (15 of which scored on the powerplay), and another ample dose of PMs to boot.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 68, G:6 , A:45 , +/-:4 , PM:75 , PPP:24 , S:176
3. Taylor Hall – New Jersey Devils
Again, I will not go into detail about this trade. New Jersey will be very excited to see Hall hit the ice with a red sweater in October (weird to picture, right?). Hall is already a bonafide fantasy stud, among the best in the NHL. As always, be aware of Hall’s status as an injury-prone forward. Despite that disclaimer, Hall played all 82 games last season with the Oilers. As a member of the Devils however, Hall will benefit as the epicentre of the team’s powerplay and offense. Additionally, having a stronger defensive team will allow Taylor to spend more time in the offensive zone where he is at his best. Look for Hall to improve on last year’s totals – I’m predicting 70 points if he stays healthy, with 20+ PPP alongside Cammalleri and Palmieri on the top unit. He’s also bound to be a + player with New Jersey after going only -5 combined over the past two seasons in Edmonton where the team as a whole has had a goal differential of -127.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 82, G: 26, A: 39, +/-: -4, PM: 54, PPP: 12, S: 286
4. Shea Weber – Montreal Canadiens
We haven’t seen a guy this big in a Canadiens uniform since Hal Gill. Kidding aside, Weber should fit in just fine with the Canadiens as their new number one defenseman. Weber is the definition of dependable. Excluding the lockout shortened season in 2012-2013, Weber has played at least 78 games per season since 2008-2009 and has managed a minimum of 43 points in a season since then. It is also fair to expect the Canadiens to turn around their powerplay in the coming season, something that Weber will be the beneficiary of. With Weber you know what you are getting which is extremely valuable to place alongside riskier but higher ceiling players.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 78, G: 20, A: 31, +/-: -7: PM: 27, PPP: 26, S: 189
5. Kyle Okposo – Buffalo Sabres
At 28 years old, Okposo has been with the New York Islanders since the 2007-2008 season (although he only played 9 games that year) and has generated 369 points in 529 games during that span. For much of that time he was playing alongside one of the best centers in the game, John Tavares. Don’t panic though, Kyle’s future potential line mates in Buffalo have high ceilings, especially Jack Eichel. My only concern with Okposo is his injury tendency – which isn’t talked about often – which is a serious fantasy influencing factor that must be considered. Among Okposo’s eight full seasons in the NHL, he has only played 80 games once and 79 games twice. In 2010-2011 Okposo only played 38 games and in 2014-2015 he only played 60 games. However, I’m still expecting strong production with a prediction of 65 points (20+ on the powerplay) in 70 GP and around 200 SOG. Even on a young and improving Sabres team, I don’t expect Okposo’s +/- to drop much compared to 2015-2016.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 79, G: 22, A: 42, +/-:- 4, PPP: 23, PM: 51, S: 202
6. David Backes
Mr. Backes, former captain of the St. Louis Blues, is a tough, physical competitor. His production has always been consistent over the years but he has never been a top-end scorer. His career average points per game sits at 0.63 and his career high in points was 62 in 82 GP in the 2010-2011 season. Every year Backes tallies around 50 points, 150-200+ shots on goal, and often 100+ PMs. Many are calling for a perfect fit for Backes in Boston, and I agree. But he was also a perfect fit in St. Louis so I don’t see much changing for the 32-year old this coming season. He’s getting older, but he’ll generate fantasy value in multiple categories at a similar level as the 2015-2016 season.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 79, G: 21, A: 24, +/-: 4, PPP: 13, PM: 83, S: 168
7. Derick Brassard
In mid-July, the Ottawa Senators traded 23-year old Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers in exchange for 28-year old Derick Brassard. Interesting move for Ottawa given the performance Zibanejad has been able to build over the past two seasons generating 46 points in 2014-2015 and 51 points in 2015-2016. There’s still room to grow for the youngster. On the other side is Derick Brassard who has had a few more NHL seasons of experience. In the past three seasons, he has registered 45, 60, and 58 points respectively. Right now the big question is: “Who will Brassard play with?” He could see time with the younger guns in Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman or the slightly more seasoned Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan. Either way, offense should be easy to come by. Additionally, who better to have in your defensive end to start the rush than 2-time Norris trophy winner, Erik Karlsson? I wouldn’t be surprised if Brassard picks up where he left off and finishes the season with a point total in the sixties, assuming he stays healthy.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 80, G: 27, A: 31, +/-: 12, PPP: 22, PM: 30, S: 182
8. Eric Staal – Minnesota Wild
Eric Staal used to be a top-10 ranked fantasy player when he had 70 or more points, 7 seasons in a row, from the 2005-2006 season until the 2011-2012 season. Things have gone downhill since then – most recently Staal managed only 33 points in 63 games with Carolina and 6 points in 20 games with the Rangers this past season. On top of that, he managed 0 points in 5 games during the Rangers’ brief playoff run. Keep in mind these numbers were generated in a contract year where we normally expect players to pick up their socks in order to increase their chances of getting a big payday on their next contract. Minnesota however is taking a gamble by signing Staal, who turns 32 in October, to a 3-year deal worth $10.5MM. Buyer beware here, although he’ll be playing alongside greater talent in Minnesota, no one will be surprised if he slips down in the lineup and becomes fantasy irrelevant this year. On the plus side, Staal’s 6.5% shooting percentage last season should bump up closer to his 10.6% career shooting percentage.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 83, G: 13, A: 26, +/-: -2, PM: 34, PPP: 7, S: 199
9. Thomas Vanek – Detroit Red Wings
Vanek is another former fantasy stud who has lost his ways – only the future will tell us if it is temporary or here to stay. Another 32-year old, Vanek has a shot to turn things around with his new club in Motor City Detroit. With the wild, Vanek averaged only 15:36 minutes on ice per game during the 2015-2016 season, down from 16:12 per game the year before and 19:21 per game in 2013-2014. It’s safe to say that Vanek is declining and will find it hard to keep up with the rest of the younger, quicker Red Wing roster. It’s tough to rack up meaningful fantasy points with the kind of ice time that Vanek has had for the past two seasons. Nevertheless, keep an eye on Vanek or draft him late as there is some potential that the young blood in Detroit provides a bit of a boost for the aging Austrian. He is at least bound to get a shot on the powerplay to start the season.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 74, G: 18, A: 23, +/-: -10, PM: 22, PPP: 14, S: 146
10. Frans Nielsen – Detroit Red Wings
Perennially overlooked in the fantasy world, Nielsen has continuously contributed respectable numbers with the Islanders. Although his career highs are far short of Vanek’s, Nielsen seems to have more left in the tank and appears to be a better fit for the style of play in Detroit under head coach, Jeff Blashill. I’m not going to be reaching for Nielsen in the early or middle rounds of the draft, but I would grab Nielsen in later rounds for his dependability before taking a risk on Vanek’s potential next season. Look for another 45-55 point season from Nielsen this year.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 81, G: 20, A: 32, +/-: 1, PM: 12, PPP: 20, S: 181
11. Andrew Ladd – New York Islanders
After years of success in Chicago and then captaincy in Winnipeg, Andrew Ladd will be moving to the Islanders. He’ll be looking to fill a large offensive hole left by the departure of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen. Ladd has had 40+ points in every season but one since 2007-2008, including the lockout shortened season where he reached an impressive 46 points in only 48 games played. Ladd turns 31 this year but he’s a sure bet to continue strong production if he plays alongside Tavares, which is to be expected. Look for an uptick in production, but nothing too groundbreaking.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 78, G: 25, A: 21, +/-: -13, PM: 45, PPP: 14, S: 181
12. Adam Larsson – Edmonton Oilers
Adam Larsson has not historically been a fantasy relevant player. In his young 5-season NHL career, Larsson’s career high in points is only 24. However, the transition away from a defense-focused New Jersey Devils team to a highly offensively talented Edmonton Oilers squad will likely result in higher goals and assists for the young defenseman. The question however, is how much will Larsson benefit? The young Oscar Klefbom also shows promise as an offensive blueliner, therefore they may end up splitting time on the powerplay while depending on Larsson as the number one defensive d-man. After all, Larsson had zero powerplay points last season with the Devils. Regardless, Larsson could be worth a late-round draft due to the potential to double his career high point totals. Keep an eye on Larsson if he goes undrafted, his value could turn out to be obvious early in the season.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 82, G: 3, A: 15, +/-: 15, PM: 77, PPP: 0, S: 65
13. Frederik Andersen – Toronto Maple Leafs
Andersen was a big pickup for fantasy players for the last two years in Anaheim as his results far surpassed his pre-season ranking. Although there is no longer a risk that a younger Gibson will knock Andersen out of the starter spot, wins in Toronto will be much harder to come by this year. Count on Andersen to log a ton of minutes, but don’t be surprised if Andersen can’t surpass 25 wins even if he starts 70 games this coming season. Even with Austin Matthews, the Maple Leafs will not be a playoff contender in 2016-2017
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 43, GS: 37, W: 22, L: 9, OTL: 7, SO: 3, GAA: 2.30, Sv%: .919
14. Brian Elliot – Calgary Flames
After making a trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2014-2015, the Calgary Flames followed up in last year’s season by ranking last place in the league in save percentage at a measly .892, the only team below .900. Things surely must turn around for a team with promising youth in Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett (and Tkachuk!) with the goaltending changes. Elliot ranks 2nd in the NHL in save percentage since the 2011-2012 season at .925, trailing only Cory Schneider. In Calgary, Elliot will be the undisputed number one goaltender and will likely see around 60 starts in the season (for the first time in his career). The new backup, Chad Johnson, will provide a dependable backstop for the 31-year old by taking roughly 25% of the workload. Lookout for a career high in wins from Elliot this coming season, he could reach as much as 35 Ws and 6 SOs this coming year with an improved roster up and down in Calgary for 2016-2017.
2015-2016 Statline – GP: 42, GS: 38, W: 23, L: 8, OTL: 6, SO: 4, GAA: 2.07, Sv%: .930