2023-24 Fantasy Hockey: Expect a bounce back from these 8 players

Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks
Will Thatcher Demko return to fantasy form in 2023-24? (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Corey Abbott, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Being able to distinguish when one bad season is simply an anomaly and not a downward trajectory for a player’s fantasy value is a big part of having a successful draft. Players returning from lengthy injuries from the previous season typically feature prominently as strong bounce-back options. Offseason roster shuffles also play a big role, as new situations or a change of scenery could drastically boost a player’s fantasy appeal.

Jonathan Huberdeau (F-CGY)

Huberdeau’s first season in Calgary was a major disappointment. After four straight years of being over a point-per-game performer, he plummeted to 55 points over 79 outings in 2022-23. Huberdeau’s string of five consecutive seasons of at least 20 goals also came to an end last campaign. He dramatically fell short of expectations, especially after the Flames signed him to an eight-year, $84 million contract shortly after he was acquired from Florida in the blockbuster trade that sent Matthew Tkachuk to the Panthers last summer.

A player of Huberdeau’s caliber shouldn’t have much trouble improving on what was a disastrous 2022-23. Calgary’s coaching change from Darryl Sutter to Ryan Huska is another big reason for optimism. Huberdeau should be back in his usual position at left wing after his questionable switch to the right side last campaign. He’ll probably benefit from Huska’s more offensive approach and stands a very good chance of getting back over the 70-point plateau in 2023-24.

Alex DeBrincat (F-DET)

DeBrincat dropped from 41 goals and 78 points in 82 games with the Blackhawks in 2021-22 to 27 goals and 66 points across 82 contests with Ottawa last campaign. His 10.3 shooting percentage was the second lowest of his six-year career. The Michigan native finds himself in a great situation to get back on track after being dealt to the Red Wings in the offseason.

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DeBrincat will move up from the second line of the Senators to the top line of the Red Wings, which will place him alongside Dylan Larkin. The 27-year-old Larkin registered a career-high 79 points in 80 contests last season. Pairing him with another high-volume shooter like DeBrincat should provide Detroit’s offense with a much-needed lift. The Cat could finish in the 70-80 point range this season.

Tyler Bertuzzi (F-TOR)

Bertuzzi joined the Maple Leafs on a one-year, $5.5 million contract in free agency. After racking up 30 goals and 62 points in 68 games with Detroit in 2021-22, he slipped to eight goals and 22 assists in 50 contests between Detroit and Boston last season. The 28-year-old forward did, however, rack up five goals and 10 points in seven playoff outings.

Now in Toronto, Bertuzzi will be in a great situation to succeed this year, as he is projected to open the season on the top line with star players Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Bertuzzi will also probably see action on the power play, but most of those minutes could come on the second unit. Nonetheless, if he can stay healthy, Bertuzzi will have 60-70 point upside this campaign.

Bryan Rust (F-PIT)

Rust failed to live up to expectations last season, finishing with 20 goals and 46 points in 81 games. It marked a substantial drop-off in points-per-game for the 31-year-old forward after he finished with a mark of 0.97 in 2021-22 and 1.02 in 2019-20. Rust’s shots per game total also slipped from 3.00 in 2021-22 to 2.60 last season.

The likelihood that Rust spends most of the 2023-24 campaign on the second power-play unit does hurt his fantasy outlook a bit, but his even-strength production of 102 points in 197 games ranks third on the Penguins over the past three years. He should be among the team’s best in that category again while playing alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Rust’s 9.5 shooting percentage from a year ago should also see improvement considering it was well below his career average of 12.3%. If he manages to stay healthy, Rust could threaten the 60-point mark in 2023-24.

Seth Jones (D-CHI)

Jones supplied 12 goals and 37 points in 72 games for a Chicago squad that had the worst offense in the NHL last season, scoring just 2.46 goals per game. The minute-munching defender is just one year removed from a 51-point performance, and he should be able to rebound in 2023-24.

The biggest reason to believe Jones can get back on track is the arrival of Connor Bedard, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old Bedard possesses remarkable offensive abilities and a blistering shot. Jones should be able to pile up assists while feeding the puck to Bedard, who will be the beneficiary of plenty of breakout passes. Additionally, Jones’ power-play production should improve with Bedard and Taylor Hall now in the fold. The 28-year-old Jones could reach the 60-point mark for the first time in his career this year.

John Klingberg (D-TOR)

Klingberg accounted for 10 goals and 33 points in 67 games between Anaheim and Minnesota last season. It was a sizable fall after he flirted with the 50-point plateau in 2021-22 when he was a member of the Stars. Klingberg penned a one-year, $4.15 million pact with Toronto in July, and just like Bertuzzi, it puts the 31-year-old rearguard in a great spot to bounce back.

Klingberg recorded a career-high 67 points in 2017-18 and racked up 58 points over 76 contests in 2015-16. Getting back to those milestones may prove to be difficult, but his improved situation makes him a legitimate 50-plus point threat this year. Klingberg figures to occupy a top-four spot with the Maple Leafs and he stands a very good chance of logging power-play time on the team’s top unit. Toronto ranked second in the league in man-advantage proficiency last season.

Jacob Markstrom (G-CGY)

Markstrom went 23-21-12 last season with an .892 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA. He led the league in overtime losses and his GAA ballooned above 3.00 during his appearances in November, January and February. Markstrom’s abysmal showing came after the best year of his career in 2021-22 when he posted a personal best 37 wins along with an impressive .922 save percentage and a superb 2.22 GAA. The 33-year-old netminder also earned a career-high nine shutouts.

Markstrom was better down the stretch last campaign, going 4-1-2 with a .911 save percentage in his final eight outings. He shouldn’t face much competition from projected backup Daniel Vladar for starts, but the constant chatter of Dustin Wolf being Markstrom’s heir apparent could serve as motivation. Calgary is a bit of a wild card entering this season and the play of Markstrom will go a long way to determining if the club can get back into the playoff picture. Markstrom could be an excellent value pickup on draft day for fantasy managers.

Thatcher Demko (G-VAN)

Demko had a season to forget in 2022-23 thanks in large part to a brutal start and being limited to just 32 games because of a groin injury. He began the year with only one victory in 11 outings and had an .874 save percentage during that span. Demko concluded the campaign with a 14-14-4 record, a 3.16 GAA, a .901 save percentage and one shutout. However, he managed to flash his bounce-back appeal at the end of the year.

Demko posted a mark of 10-3-2 with a .918 save percentage in his final 15 contests of the 2022-23 campaign. He surrendered two goals or fewer in 10 of those games. Demko, who finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting in 2021-22, stands a good chance of getting back on track this year. He has proven in the past that he can steal games and he could be a steal for fantasy managers on draft day.