Shoot or pass: Can last year's breakout fantasy hockey players repeat?


Not only do breakout performances provide for a great deal of fun, they often tip the scales in all varieties of fantasy competition. Remember Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal and William Karlsson two seasons ago? Without question, managers who bolstered their rosters with such assets generally enjoyed more success than others. But when surpassing expectations by such large margins, players often don’t repeat the following year and beyond. Remember Karlsson this past season? Any experienced manager is wont to be wary after just one unexpected successful showing.

Our fantasy experts, Sean Allen and Victoria Matiash, look at a dozen breakout 2018-19 performers and shoot – all-in, this guy is for real – or pass – no thanks, I’ll take my chances elsewhere. Important note: Passing on a player doesn’t necessarily mean Sean or Victoria aren’t drafting him altogether, only not at his current ranking bolstered by an outstanding previous campaign.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: A somewhat reluctant pass, because I truly appreciate the player as an all-around competitor. But I’m not selecting Tkachuk ahead of Patrick Kane, or Blake Wheeler, or Calgary teammate Johnny Gaudreau, or Leon Draisaitl, or a handful of others falling further down the ranks. Tkachuk won’t score 100+ points in 2019-20. Kane very well might. Again.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Pass. Don’t get me wrong. I love how many stats a Tkachuk chucks out when a Tkachuk hits the ice to chuck stats. But I think this ranking is demanding that Tkachuk push up an already high ceiling established last year. I’m not suggesting he loses the role, but I’d just like to point out that if you strip away the powerful Flames power play, Tkachuk is basically Pierre-Luc Dubois (ranked No. 58) from a statistical perspective. The power play is important to the final numbers, but at pick No. 13 you can still take players that are on both the first power play and first line.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Pass, but not by much. I like Domi a lot, but I’m worried that this kind of a ranking is baking in two standard fantasy categories that should almost never be counted on as a major factor when assessing a player’s projection. Domi hit plus-20 and 80 penalty minutes last season, both top-20 totals for forwards. Those helped push him up the ESPN Player Rater and into the hearts of fantasy owners. But plus/minus and PIM, with most players, ebb and flow. I like to take them into consideration, but not bank on them. I think a No. 35 overall ranking for Domi is banking on those stats.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Shoot. I’m a believer in the Domi/Jonathan Drouin relationship, and look forward to a further developing in chemistry through year two. Max, a soon-to-be RFA, and not lacking in the chutzpah department, will be additionally inspired by performing for his next contract (in this respect, invested fantasy managers might hope negotiations don’t wrap up too quickly). Also, PIM still matter in many fantasy leagues, like it or not. And Tie’s offspring isn’t contending for the Lady Byng anytime soon.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Shoot. Aside from a lackluster February, Meier has produced with fair consistency since the previous January. Joe Pavelski‘s old spot on the Sharks’ No. 1 power play is the 22-year-old’s to lose, while a top-line role with Logan Couture and, possibly, gifted rookie Sasha Chmelevski, also appears in order. After potting 30 goals this past season, he’ll score at least 35 this year.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot. The 16:58 in average ice time is going to increase. Meier was eight on the Sharks in power-play ice time last season, something that should change with Pavelski out of town. Add in another five goals and 10 points from increased power-play time and he can hit this ranking and perhaps more.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot. And shoot now before it’s too late. The Penguins traded away their leader in power-play ice time and points. Replacing those 264 minutes of power-play time in which Phil Kessel managed to score 36 points? My money is on Guentzel. He split time with Patric Hornqvist as the fifth-man on the top unit last season, so should be first in line to fill out Kessel’s shoes. Take Guentzel’s 33 even-strength goals from last season and tack on additional power-play stats to get a recipe for success.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Pass. Last season’s 17.6 shooting percentage is disquieting, particularly in contrast with the previous campaign’s more sound 12.9%, when Guentzel scored about half as many goals (22 vs. last year’s 40). And I’m not sure he’s the lock to inherit Kessel’s quality power-play minutes as many others suggest. From Pittsburgh’s corps of fantasy forwards, reclamation project Alex Galchenyuk tantalizes me more as a sleeper pick than Guentzel as an earlier-round selection.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Pass. The one year bothers me. I know, I know, fit goes a long way, but Lindholm played with some impressive talent in Carolina through four full seasons and nowhere neared the almost-point-per-game pace of 2018-19. I’m happy enough to draft Lindholm to my fantasy squad, just not as dictated by his current No. 65 ranking. Give me one repeat campaign before selecting the Flames winger ahead of linemate Sean Monahan and others.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot. Lindholm cemented himself as the third member of the Calgary Flames top line. He spent 930 minutes at even strength with Johnny Gaudreau and 853 minutes with Monahan, spitting faceoff duties with Monahan for the line. Moreover, his power-play points were good for a tie for 22nd in the NHL on a Flames unit that should continue to dominate. With two prime roles locked down, unlike Victoria, I’m comfortably looking for a Lindholm repeat.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot. Zibanejad managed to hit new career highs while in a desert of offense. The Ranger added Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko to boost the wings. Even if they don’t play with Zibanejad, opponents can’t focus solely on one line anymore. I’ve got Z finishing closer to a top-50 player than top-100.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Shoot. After already demonstrating an offensive aptitude competing aside a revolving door’s rotation of wingers, the Rangers’ top center now gets to skate with Panarin (Pavel Buchnevich seemingly earning first crack on the right side). The top power play also sports extra shine with Kakko and former Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba aboard. I’m not sure why we’d expect a regression with Zibanejad here.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Pass. The drop-off in potential production after Detroit’s No. 1 line, centered by Dylan Larkin, is jarring. Unless Athanasiou bumps Tyler Bertuzzi from that top unit – not completely out of the question, with the speedster shifted back to wing following the offseason (re-)acquisition of veteran center Valtteri Filppula – his ceiling appears limited. So, according to the Red Wings’ current lineup blue print, Athanasiou has wait-and-see potential, at best.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Pass. Love his speed. Don’t love his situation. Want to know which Detroit Red Wing played the most minutes at even strength with Athanasiou on the bench? Larkin and Athanasiou almost never saw the ice together at five-on-five. The Wings aren’t deep enough for me to count on fantasy contributions from anyone not inside Larkin’s orbit.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot. I don’t understand the discount on Strome this season. Since he pulled on a Blackhawks jersey on Nov. 27 of last season, he’s put to bed any doubts established about his pedigree while struggling to break onto the Arizona Coyotes. He was 41st in the NHL in scoring after the trade. He had a hot streak that started on Dec. 23 last season; from that date forward he was tied for 13th in the NHL in even-strength scoring over the final 44 games of the season. That was more five-on-five scoring during that stretch than Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Mitch Marner, just to name a few.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Shoot. I’m not sure another underappreciated forward duo received more fantasy attention from me last season, once Strome reconvened with junior teammate Alex DeBrincat in Chicago. Together, the former Erie Otters combined for 38 points in the month of February alone (13 games). Another year of skating on a top power play with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews also bodes promisingly for both. I have Strome pencilled in for near 70 points this season.

137. Jacob Trouba

Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot all day. Stepping out from behind the imposing shadow of Dustin Byfuglien to take the reins of his own power play on a team that has significantly improved its offense? Yes, please. Trouba has been a career second-chair defenseman and has shined whenever called upon to understudy. I’m excited to see what he can do in a leading role. If this ranking reflects drafts, he’ll be on all my teams.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: SHOOT. As discussed in last week’s Fantasy Hockey Defensemen Previews, for where he’s ranked, Trouba might be my favorite pre-season blue-line asset of all.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Who else is going to quarterback the Blackhawks’ No. 1 power play? Prospect Adam Boqvist? Not yet. Veterans Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook? Been there, done that. Unless someone emerges from behind the blue-line curtain in Chicago, Gustafsson leads the pack as go-to on a top unit with Kane, Toews, DeBrincat and Strome, while also skating on the No.1 pair. A second-straight 60-point might be a bit much for which to ask, but I’ll put him down for 50.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot based on value. I thought I was going to be a “pass” on Gustafsson before I saw where he was being ranked. I wrongly assumed he’d be projected to repeat something close to his 17-goal breakout campaign as the Blackhawks power-play QB. But sitting at No. 153 as the 30th defenseman in the rankings, “shoot” all day long. The 17 goals, while out of line with his career arc, can be explained by Duncan Keith falling off a cliff for offense. Gustafsson’s 10.6 percent shooting percentage is way higher than you should expect from a defenseman and is going to come back to earth (think fewer than 10 goals this season). But if you’re just giving him away, I’ll take that value any day.

Sean Allen, fantasy analyst: Shoot and double-shoot. Binnington more than proved his mettle in taking the St. Louis Blues from worst to first in 2019. Do I think he can post a sub-2.00 goals-against average over the course of a full campaign? No. Do I think he needs to do that to be a top-five fantasy goaltender? Also no. Expect some regression in the ratios, but coupled with a full season of work for the turned-around Blues, and he’s someone to roster. I’m starting to eye him up in drafts after my Big Three goaltenders are gone (Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop, Sergei Bobrovsky).

Victoria Matiash, fantasy analyst: Shoot, all day long. Binnington is the genuine article, as I fawningly outline in this week’s Fantasy Hockey Goalie Preview. And, unlike my esteemed colleague, I’m drafting Binnington before Bishop.

Allen, fantasy analyst: Pass. Workload matters way too much in fantasy hockey for me to take Mrazek this high. He had a bounce-back season last year, no question. But when 35-year-old career backup Curtis McElhinney matches you in almost every statistical category for goaltending behind the same players, you have to wonder if the success is more about context than content. I think the Hurricanes know this, too, and I think James Reimer eats into the workload enough to take Mrazek out of the G1 conversation this season. If I knew for an absolute fact that Mrazek would start 65 games this season, I would rank him here. I just don’t believe that to be forthcoming.

Matiash, fantasy analyst: Pass, for all the reasons outlined by Sean, plus knowing former Hurricanes goalies coach Mike Bales has booked it for Buffalo to tutor Carter Hutton. That bugs me, since I believe Bales – a Stanley-Cup winner in Pittsburgh – benefitted both Mrazek and McElhinney a bunch in 2018-19.

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