2018 Fantasy Hockey: Which players are set to bounce-back this season?

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/5411/" data-ylk="slk:Brandon Saad">Brandon Saad</a> should deliver in 2018 after having a terrible — by his standards — 2017 fantasy season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Brandon Saad should deliver in 2018 after having a terrible — by his standards — 2017 fantasy season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

By Jordan Mazzara, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Every fantasy owner has a favorite player. Even gurus that spend days studying stats fall victim to ranking a player who once won them a championship just a bit too high. When those stalwarts falter, however, owners are less enthused about picking them again. Players are human, though; they have to deal with injuries, stubborn coaches and inconsistent linemates.

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The following players will receive a fresh start, either with a new team or due to a clean bill of health. As such, they shouldn’t be overlooked because of last year’s dud.

Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago Blackhawks

After three straight 50-plus-point campaigns, Saad laid a 35-point egg in his second stint with Chicago. The 25-year-old still has plenty of gas in the tank, though, as he fired a career-high 237 shots on goal in 2017-18, with 18 sneaking through. He also added 17 helpers. With Patrick Sharp retired, Saad is looking at a full-time top-six role and could be paired with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane at even strength and on the power play, which should help improve his production.

Jeff Skinner, LW, Buffalo Sabres

Skinner is coming off a rough season in Carolina, where he bumped heads with then-head coach Bill Peters. The 26-year-old was eventually dropped to the third line and finished the season with 24 goals, 25 assists and a career-worst minus-27 rating. Skinner will get a fresh start in Buffalo and likely man a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, not to mention a power play unit featuring 2018 No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin. The opportunities are seemingly endless in Buffalo, and he could easily return to the 2016-17 level that saw him produce 37 goals and 63 points.

Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

Palat was cruising with eight goals and 30 points in the first 46 games before being sidelined for 26 contests due to a lower-body injury. He came back strong and compiled 12 points in 17 postseason games. The 35-point year may deter fantasy owners, but his ceiling is 20 goals and 60 points when healthy, as is the case now. As a bonus, full health will presumably allow Palat to be a wrecking ball once again, as he’s averaged 1.72 hits per game over his six-year career, so bump him up if your league counts that category.

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Brock Nelson, C, New York Islanders

Nelson saw a 10-point dip in 2017-18 with 19 goals and 16 assists while averaging 14:44 minutes of ice time. There were bright spots in the 26-year-old’s game, however, as he finished with a 13.8 shooting percentage but fired his lowest total in four years on net (138). With John Tavares in Toronto, Nelson will be counted on to center a second line likely flanked by Anders Lee and Josh Bailey, who combined for 133 points last season. The additional minutes should allow Nelson to throw more rubber on net and get back to 20-plus-goal territory.

Mikael Backlund, C, Calgary Flames

After posting back-to-back 20-goal campaigns, Backlund regressed to just 14 tallies and 31 helpers in 2017-18. It was partially because of how strong of a two-way asset Backlund is, as he started 53.3 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone. However, the Flames signed James Neal, a goal-scoring machine, this offseason. Backlund’s ceiling will be elevated from Neal’s arrival, which should open up the ice to increased creativity and more high-danger scoring chances. That should help him improve his shooting percentage of 6.5 as well.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, New York Rangers

Shattenkirk mustered just 23 points, a minus-14 rating and a 47.5 Corsi For percentage through 46 games last year, sitting out the rest of the contests with a knee injury. He’s on track to be ready for camp, however, and will line up as the Rangers’ top defenseman and specialist on the power play, where over half of his career points have come from. Look for 40-plus points from the 29-year-old if he can stay healthy.

Nick Leddy, D, New York Islanders

Leddy was torched by a horrendous minus-42 rating in 2017-18. His offensive production remained stable with 42 points, 14 of which came with the man advantage. The Islanders were a mess last season, though, so they replaced head coach Doug Weight with Barry Trotz this offseason. Despite winning a Stanley Cup because of a relentless offense, Trotz was always a defense-first coach in Nashville. With the team’s motto shifting to protect its zone, Leddy should have the support to improve his own-zone play and boost his plus-minus.

Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season, Murray couldn’t handle the hangover that lingered after back-to-back Stanley Cup Final runs, finishing the season with a .907 save percentage and 2.92 GAA. The Penguins have had plenty of rest time after being eliminated in the second round by the Capitals, and all their stars are returning. Murray should have the fresh legs to push 60 starts for the first time in his career and get back to the .920 save percentage he had in his first two years as a starter.

Matt Murray could return to elite form in 2018. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Matt Murray could return to elite form in 2018. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues

Allen was wildly inconsistent for the second straight season, but the guys in front of him weren’t much better. The Blues scored two or less goals in regulation 43 times during 2017-18, putting a significant burden on Allen. In response, the Blues overhauled their offense and are bound to see an uptick in scoring. With the firepower to support him, Allen will look to be the top-12 goalie that carried St. Louis to the conference finals in 2016.

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