The 2021-22 NHL season is off to a whacky start, but still, fantasy managers can attest that it's still more "normal" than last year.
The 2020-21 campaign was littered with postponed games which made managing your team almost feel like a chore at times. For some, while not quite to the same extent, this season is off to a similar beginning. With several high-profile players underwhelming and a few notable injuries, some managers are already in tough.
If we could make it through last season, we can certainly get through this one.
Here are my 10 fantasy hockey takeaways.
1. What to do with struggling Canadiens?
If you drafted Nick Suzuki and/or Cole Caufield at their Yahoo Fantasy ADPs, you made a mistake.
The reason why you made a mistake is that when drafting these two, you assumed that they'd be able to carry an NHL offence at this point of their careers. Without any other elite or potentially elite forwards on the roster, the Montreal Canadiens' offence revolved around two very inexperienced players who had never played through a completely normal season from start to finish.
Selecting these two was bad process, and now the Canadiens and your fantasy team are feeling the effects.
The Canadiens, at 0-5 to start the season, have tied the worst start in NHL history for a team that just went to the Stanley Cup Final the previous season. Hat tip to @SNstats for finding that.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) October 22, 2021
Through five games, the two have combined for just one point. At all strengths, Suzuki has produced a 0.81 individual expected goals for (ixG) mark while Caufield's ixG sits at 0.67, according to Natural Stat Trick. Those two numbers sit sixth and eighth on the Habs, respectively.
This isn't to say that neither player will develop into a star, as I think both have amazing potential. It's just for the 2021-22 season, you're not going to return any value on them in fantasy hockey. If you have either, I suggest waiting for a strong performance and then trying to flip them.
As for Jeff Petry, he's someone I'm actually looking to acquire. Even though he's also underwhelmed, what makes him different is we have a pretty extensive track record of him being a quality producer.
You're not going to see as many goals as you did a year ago from Petry. In 55 games, he potted 12 on a 9.4-percent shooting percentage, a mark much higher than his career number of 6.0-percent. He is, however, a likely candidate to hit 30 assists and 40 points as he continues to see deployment on the first power-play unit and top defence pairing. He's cleared both bars in three of his last four seasons, and in the one season where he missed, he finished with 29 helpers.
Additionally, he's a great source of shot blocks and hits for those who play in leagues that weigh these two categories. In his 12 seasons in the NHL, he's posted 100 blocks and 100 hits six times, which makes him especially valuable in banger leagues.
2. What's the deal with Marner (100 percent rostered on Yahoo)?
Fantasy managers who spent a second-round pick on Mitch Marner haven't been pleased by his production thus far.
Through four games, the winger has tallied just one lonely assist and has been arguably the most disappointing player in fantasy. Anyone looking to ship him off in a blind fit of rage needs to sit back and relax, however.
There's a pretty simple and logical explanation for Marner's early-season shortcomings - Auston Matthews has been out. Marner is a setup guy, so Matthews missing the first three games of the year was bound to hurt his production. Matthews returned in the team's most recent game against the New York Rangers and fired eight pucks on goal. With more games like this to come, these two linemates will start stuffing the stat sheet soon enough.
3. Fantasy fallout of the injuries to Pacioretty (97 percent) and Stone (98 percent)
It took just two games for the Vegas Golden Knights to lose their two most valuable forwards. Both players are out with lower-body injuries and neither has a clear timetable for return, which means this offence could be a little turbulent over the next little while.
The player who loses the most in the interim is centre Chandler Stephenson. After he was touted one week ago for his role on the top line between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, he now finds himself playing alongside Evgenii Dadonov and Nicolas Roy on the second. This kind of setup is not nearly as desirable, and if you aren't able to stash him in the meantime, Stephenson can be dropped and added later.
The Golden Knights have gone ahead and promoted the second line - Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith - to carry out their first-line duties, which resulted in a season-high of ice-time for the latter two in the team's last game against the St Louis Blues. Karlsson and Smith both teamed up for the squad's only goal in the game, too. All three, along with defenceman Alex Martinez, have slotted onto the top power-play unit, which is a major boost for all.
4. Tarasenko (86 percent) is so back
I won't lie, I wasn't actively trying to draft Vladimir Tarasenko in fantasy hockey drafts this offseason.
In my defence, it's been three seasons since the last time we saw the guy play more than 25 games, and a lot had happened since then. The sniper has undergone three shoulder surgeries, making it fair to wonder if he'd ever return to his old, 30-goal form.
The answer to that has been a resounding yes. Through three games, Tarasenko has compiled 15 shots on goal, an individual Corsi For (iCF) of 21, and 14 scoring chances. All of those totals are tops on the Blues and great indicators that we're in for a vintage effort from the Russian winger.
— NHL (@NHL) October 21, 2021
Posting just a modest two points thus far, now is a great time to send out some trade offers for him.
5. Atkinson's (54 percent) resurgence is worth buying into
When players with lengthy goal-scoring track records start producing while still in the prime of their career, it's probably smart to take a flier on them.
At 32-years-old, Cam Atkinson is probably right at the tail-end of his prime, but he's looked lethal for the Philadelphia Flyers to start this season.
Through three games, Atkinson has produced three goals and an assist. He leads the Flyers in shots on goal with 14, tied for second in iCF with a rating of 14, and second in scoring chances with 11. What makes this even more impressive is he's done it while playing just an average of 15:13 in time-on-ice per game.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 21, 2021
After a pair of down seasons, it appears the former 40-goal scorer has found his stride once again. Playing with a much more talented supporting cast in Philadelphia than he did with the Columbus Blue Jackets, there's ample reason to believe Atkinson will reach the 30-goal plateau once again.
6. Ducks worth investing in
The Anaheim Ducks are currently the most interesting team in the NHL.
Their record suggests anything but, as the team has two wins and three losses. However, it is young and full of intriguing potential.
A few players worth highlighting for fantasy hockey purposes are Cam Fowler (9 percent), Rickard Rakell (14 percent), Jakob Silfverberg (22 percent), Jamie Drysdale (29 percent), and Trevor Zegras (43 percent).
Fowler is the only one from the group who isn't on the first power-play unit, but he doesn't need those minutes to be fantasy relevant. The two-way blueliner currently leads the Ducks in ice-time, averaging 21:55 per game. He's tallied one goal and three assists so far, and all his points have come from manning the point on the second power-play unit. Fowler has also shown to be a more willing shot-blocker this year. In his first nine campaigns in the league, Fowler had averaged over a block per game. In each of his last two years, he fell short of that mark. In 2021-22, he's totalled eight blocks in five games.
I'm interested in Silfverberg because he has put a good amount of pucks on net so far. In fives contests, he has 14 shots on goal, but the strange part is that five of his six points have been assists. Rakell's worth adding in deeper leagues as his 18:05 in time-on-ice leads all Anaheim forwards by a pretty wide margin. The upside is monstrous with Zegras given his deployment as the first-line centre and usage on the top power-play unit. He should be rostered in more fantasy hockey leagues. Lastly, I'm interested in Drysdale because, like Zegras, the upside is massive and the team is putting them in positions to succeed.
7. Have some patience with Toews (60 percent), people
Jonathan Toews is playing like someone who missed a year of hockey while dealing with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome right now.
Oh wait, that's because he did. The 2012-13 Selke Trophy winner hasn't quite looked himself to begin this campaign, and that should've been expected. When drafting Toews, fantasy managers should've realized that it may take him a little time to get acclimated after missing an entire season. Instead, he's one of the most-dropped players on Yahoo Fantasy.
If Toews was dropped in your league by an impatient manager, I strongly suggest picking him up as soon as possible. He's locked into a top-six role and a spot on the team's first power-play unit. When he gets going, he's going to be highly useful in fantasy hockey.
8. Eriksson Ek (47 percent) gives you a little bit of everything
Joel Eriksson Ek is one of those players who is way more valuable in real hockey than fantasy, but that doesn't mean he isn't a good player to have on your team.
After an offensively quiet first two games of the season, JEE broke out with a hat trick against the Winnipeg Jets. Two of his three goals came on the power play and he fired seven shots on goal. While these types of outputs won't occur too frequently, Eriksson Ek is in a role that will lend itself to some solid production.
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 20, 2021
He is playing on the first line and top power-play unit alongside playmaker Kirill Kaprizov. Skating next to someone like Kaprizov, who can create offence at any moment, is a great position to be in.
Additionally, he can help contribute in both the hits- and faceoffs-won categories. Last season, he compiled an impressive 105 hits and 395 faceoff wins, the latter of which ranked 27th in the NHL. He has four hits and 38 draw victories in 2021-22.
9. What to do with Kucherov's (99 percent) injury?
Nikita Kucherov's injury was definitely the biggest to rock the hockey world this past week.
The Tampa Bay Lightning superstar appeared to aggravate his lower body on an innocent-looking play against the Washington Capitals.
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) October 17, 2021
The team placed him on long-term injured reserve which will keep him out until Nov. 13.
For fantasy managers searching for a direct replacement, you won't find one that'll help you on the waiver wire. Players like Kucherov are hard to supplement when they're out of the lineup, but here are some right-wingers worth targeting if they're available:
LW/RW Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks (49 percent)
LW/RW Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning (48 percent)
RW Anthony Duclair, Florida Panthers (28 percent)
LW/RW Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville Predators (24 percent)
LW/RW Andrew Copp, Winnipeg Jets (17 percent)
10. What the Hellebuyck (99 percent) is going on?
Up until Thursday's win against the Ducks, Connor Hellebuyck had been horrible for the Jets.
Even with the win against Anaheim on his record, his numbers are not what you'd expect. Through four starts, the former Vezina Trophy winner has produced a .890 save percentage, a 3.75 goals-against-average, and a -1.8 goals save above expected, according to Money Puck.
Despite his early-season struggles, Hellebuyck remains a strong hold for any fantasy manager who selected him in fantasy hockey drafts. He has a long track record of being a very good goalie in the NHL, which makes it more than likely that he'll turn this around.
You probably used a top-30 pick to select the 28-year-old netminder, which means you're not going to net a return you'll be happy about while his numbers look the way they do right now.
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