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New divisions, new rules and new problems.
The 2021 NHL season has brought numerous firsts and presents many unique challenges. Players are forced to make sacrifices never previously imagined in order to keep the season on schedule. As seen recently with the Washington Capitals, there will be serious consequences for those who don’t.
On the ice, however, there have been many noteworthy developments that will have a major impact on your fantasy hockey league. Here are 10 that caught my attention from the previous week.
1 - Jordan Kyrou (6% rostered on Yahoo) is going to be a factor this year
I wrote last week that Kyrou is someone worth adding in really deep leagues, but quite a bit has happened since then. He’s been bumped into the St. Louis Blues’ top-six, is seeing more minutes and has recorded three points in his last two games. He has the third highest on-ice expected goals for percentage at even strength (xGF%) on the Blues, according to Natural Stat Trick, and his playmaking ability and scoring touch are impossible to ignore.
As it currently stands, Kyrou isn’t on the power play but expect that to change. The team is one of three in the NHL that still hasn’t scored a goal with the man advantage despite seeing 14 opportunities. With Vladimir Tarasenko out, the Blues will need players to step up offensively. Kyrou has so far.
2 - Jack Hughes (78% rostered on Yahoo) is off to a strong start
It was a disappointing rookie campaign for the 2019 first overall pick. In 2019-20, Hughes registered just seven goals and 21 points in 61 games. After bulking up during the offseason, Hughes has looked much more comfortable competing in the NHL. He’s registered two goals and six points through the first four games of the season and he’s averaging more than 19 minutes of ice time per game with Nico Hischier (leg) out with no expected return date. Although his underlying numbers haven’t been overly impressive and you’d like to see him generate some more shots (7), he is going to be afforded every opportunity to succeed. There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic he can break out during his sophomore year.
3 - Send trade offers for Rasmus Dahlin (93% rostered on Yahoo)
Although the Buffalo Sabres have played pretty well to start the year, Dahlin hasn’t been able to find the scoresheet. Buffalo has scored 11 goals through four games but Dahlin somehow hasn’t factored in on any of them. That trend is bound to change and you have to imagine it happens sooner rather than later.
Dahlin has the fourth highest on-ice even-strength xGF% on the Sabres and is playing more minutes than any other defenseman on the team. Buffalo’s power play has also been performing well despite Dahlin’s lack of production, owning a 20 percent mark with the man advantage. Factor in his pedigree as a first overall pick and as a truly elite prospect and you get someone who is worth buying low in a trade right now.
4 - Exercise patience with Pierre-Luc Dubois (85% rostered on Yahoo)
Frustration for Dubois fantasy managers reached an all-time high on Thursday as the talented forward played a measly three minutes and 55 seconds after head coach John Tortorella glued his disgruntled star to the bench following the first period. At this point, there is no repairing this relationship. It’s not a matter of if but when he will be traded.
In this unusual year, however, trading is more complicated than ever. There are safety protocols in place, most notably a 14-day quarantine period required for players being dealt from U.S.-based teams to Canadian teams. If Dubois was traded to a Canadian team, fantasy managers would have to wait an additional 14 days before he could play.
Fantasy managers shouldn’t expect fair returns on the trade market right now, which is why you should hold Dubois.
5 - What to make of the Penguins’ goaltending mess?
Tristan Jarry was the 11th goaltender off the board in fantasy hockey drafts, according to Yahoo ADP. Anybody who drafted him, however, can’t feel good about their selection. Jarry’s -9.964% save percentage above expected is the second worst mark in the NHL and his .727 save percentage is equally as troubling. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford recently stated he wasn’t concerned about Jarry’s early-season performance, but that’s to be expected. Rutherford needs Jarry to play well after placing all his chips on the netminder when he dealt Matt Murray to the Ottawa Senators.
You should be nervous if you have Jarry in fantasy hockey, but not because of Casey DeSmith (15% rostered on Yahoo). DeSmith has been better, but that’s a low bar to clear. DeSmith owns a -1.384% save percentage above expected despite being 2-0-0 on the year, so he hasn’t been great either. My concern with Jarry is that he has a very small sample size of being a good goalie in the NHL, and no history of being an unquestioned starter. Playing behind a below-average Penguins defense, he’s not going to see much help from his blueline. Trading him away at this point will be a frustrating exercise, so it’s best for fantasy managers to just roll with him and hope he can figure it out.
6 - Elias Pettersson (99% rostered on Yahoo) is slumping to start the year
It seems like practically every forward on the Vancouver Canucks except Pettersson is stuffing the stat sheet to start the season. The top-20 Yahoo fantasy hockey pick hasn’t recorded a point in five straight games and he’s actually been traded more than any other player in Yahoo fantasy hockey since Jan. 21.
Pettersson hasn’t looked great to start the season and the underlying numbers such as his Corsi for percentage (CF%) are in line with the eye test. Still, in fantasy hockey, we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This is the 2017 fifth overall pick who posted back-to-back 66-point seasons and is still only 22 years old. If the Pettersson manager in your league is wavering, as it seems many are, see if you can buy low in a trade.
7 - Reason to be concerned by Patrick Kane (100% rostered on Yahoo)
Kane was a top-12 draft pick in Yahoo fantasy hockey, but it’s hard to imagine fantasy managers who drafted him that early will see a positive return on value.
Although Kane started the 2019-20 season slow (nine points in his first 11 games) and finished with 33 goals and 84 points through 70 contests, there are other factors at play this year that will make a similar performance unlikely, starting with his linemates. With longtime running mate Jonathan Toews out indefinitely and rookie center Kirby Dach sidelined, Kane has already played with two different pivots in Dylan Strome and rookie Pius Suter, who is currently lining up next to Kane. Chicago also doesn’t profile as a contender in the Central Division, which will take its toll on his plus-minus rating. If you can make a trade and receive a modest return, it’s probably best to get ahead of it and pull the trigger.
8 - James Reimer (9% rostered on Yahoo) should be rostered in many more leagues
People forget that Reimer was actually better than Petr Mrazek in 2019-20. Sure, the latter had the edge in starts (38-24), but Reimer had a sizeably better save percentage and expected save percentage in the regular season. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s usage of the two netminders during the playoffs — five starts for Mrazek and three starts for Reimer — also suggests these two are essentially on equal footing. So, why is it that Mrazek’s roster percentage is 76 percent higher than Reimer’s?
Of course, fantasy managers will have to wait until the team returns to action, but general manager Don Waddell is hopeful the club can begin playing again next week. If you’re hurting between the pipes, scoop up Reimer while nobody else is thinking about it. He’s going to see a good number of starts and is playing on an elite ‘Canes team.
9 - Kirill Kaprizov (79% rostered on Yahoo) has been great, but Joel Eriksson Ek (7% rostered) has been better
While people have been handing Kaprizov the early-season Calder Trophy, Eriksson Ek’s excellent start to the year has flown under the radar. The 2015 first-round pick has looked like the Wild’s best forward on a nightly basis and the underlying numbers suggest the same.
Through four games, Eriksson Ek leads the Wild in even-strength shots with 13 and has the second-highest CF% and the highest xGF amongst all team forwards. In addition to the offense demonstrated by the 23-year-old, his track record suggests he can be a solid source of hits. In each of his past three seasons, he has provided 90 body checks or more. A solid two-way player who seems to be growing his offensive game, Eriksson Ek is a great addition.
10 - Vitek Vanecek (18% rostered on Yahoo) is worth targeting after Capitals fallout
Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov will all miss at least four games after violating the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. Samsonov’s absence is particularly interesting as it pushes Vanecek into the starter’s role.
While Samsonov is a highly-regarded goalie prospect and a first-round pick, Vanecek also has an impressive prospect profile. As a 2014 second-round pick, Vanecek posted a respectable .917 save percentage across 31 games played with the Hershey Bears in the AHL last season. He has a 1-0-1 record to start this year, although his latest effort — a 5-4 OT loss to the Penguins — wasn’t a bright spot. If you’re looking to catch up in goaltender categories entering this weekend, Vanecek can help as he has a pair of games with the Sabres lined up. If he is stellar during this four-game stretch, it’s not out of the question that he’ll push Samsonov for starts whenever he returns.
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