Fantasy Nuggets Week 4

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Ryan Dadoun
·7 min read
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The Winnipeg Jets trade of Patrik Laine back on Jan. 23 and his subsequent debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 2 got me thinking about number two picks in general. We tend to initially like to have this competition between the first and second overall picks in a draft class. Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews versus Patrik Laine, and Taylor Hall versus Tyler Seguin to name a few captured fans attention, at least in the early stages of their careers. After a while, fans move on from that particular battleground. It did make me wonder though, if people continued to focus on the whole number one versus number two thing throughout the players’ careers, how often would they see the number two player come out on top?

Obviously in order to even come close to figuring that out, we have to look at older players who have gone through at least the bulk of their career. I also favor apples-to-apples comparison for simplicity. For example, John Tavares versus Victor Hedman or Steven Stamkos versus Drew Doughty aren’t the best number one versus number two competitions.

With all that said, it’s difficult to find cases of a number two pick surpassing the number one. They absolutely exist, but mostly only in the case of years where the top pick was a bust. For example, Patrik Stefan obviously fell well short of expectations as the 1999 number one pick while Daniel Sedin had an amazing career. In 1993 we had another number one bust in Alexandre Daigle while Chris Pronger had an elite career. It’s also not hard to make an argument that Dany Heatley had a better career than Rick DiPietro too. Those last two aren’t ideal comparisons, but when the gap is that large, I think comparing apples and oranges works fine.

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But what about cases where the number one pick wasn’t a bust and yet the number two clearly surpassed them anyways? That’s hard to find examples of in recent history. Maybe second overall pick Wade Redden over Bryan Berard in 1995? There are examples of the number two pick having a career at roughly the same level as the number one though. Alex Ovechkin versus Evgeni Malkin (2004), Ilya Kovalchuk versus Jason Spezza (2001), and Joe Thornton versus Patrick Marleau (1997) are some examples of that. I’m not making the argument that the number two in those years were better than the top pick. In fact when those players were all in their prime I’d have taken the number one pick over the number two in every one of those cases. However, I do think those are examples of the number two holding their own against the number one.

Then you have the years where it ended up not even being close. Patrick Kane obviously has done far better than James van Riemsdyk, Vincent Lecavalier had a career that was a step above David Legwand, and Chris Phillips did far better than Andrei Zyuzin, to name some of the better examples of that.

What’s the take away from all this? While it’s fun to second guess taking a player first overall before a draft and wonder if the second best pick will end up having the better career, the scouts and teams drafting tend to get it right. Though there are exceptions, winning the draft lottery is huge, even when compared to getting the second pick overall. It’s rare that the second selection will end up being the better choice in the long run.

Circling this back to Laine, where he will end up standing on this list is a little unclear at this point. Is he going to end up being one of those number two picks who was close to, if not just as good as his number one counterpart? Or is there going to be a clear divide between Laine and Matthews when you look at their career numbers after both have hung up their skates?

Early in Laine’s career, he was shaping up to be the next Alex Ovechkin, then he was wildly inconsistent in 2018-19, and he was great, but quite in that top echelon in 2019-20. After all that, Laine went into this season with unfinished business. He’s clearly a great talent and there’s no question that any team would love to have him, but is he a superstar in the making, an ideal complimentary player, or the driving force of a team’s offense in his own right?

The move to Columbus just adds to that uncertainty, but it will also answer some of those questions. In Winnipeg, Laine was part of a pretty solid forward core and always had quite a bit to work with. While the Blue Jackets aren’t terrible offensively, in Columbus Laine is more clearly expected to be the team’s top offensive star than he was in Winnipeg. That adds pressure, but it also presents Laine with an opportunity, especially with his contract set to expire this offseason.

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It might take Laine a bit of time to get going as he adjusts to the new system, but we should know in a few weeks what kind of impact he’ll have with Columbus. Personally I’m cautiously optimistic that the change of scenery and starring role will prove to be a great combination for him. The fact that Laine got 20:54 minutes in his Blue Jackets debut also highlights that coach John Tortorella won’t hesitate to use him as much as he can.

Moving past Laine, there’s a few of players who have been significant pleasant surprises to me thus far. Namely James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Toffoli, and Jordan Kyrou. In all of those cases though, I see them as potential sell-high picks in standard fantasy leagues rather than players who I think will keep this up.

van Riemsdyk is a good goal scorer, but he’s never been much of a playmaker. His 10 assists in 11 games thus far is an anomaly that I don’t expect to persist. Toffoli’s nine goals and 13 points in 10 games has come almost exclusively from his five contests thus far against Vancouver and while that makes for a fun story given his stint with the Canucks last season, it’s also a potential warning sign. Toffoli’s success in the early portion of the success has come in bursts and is not necessarily sustainable over the long term. When it comes to Kyrou, we’re not talking about a veteran having a great start, but a prospect potentially taking a step forward. Kyrou has shined at the AHL level and might be living up to his potential now – at least to some extent. He has five goals and 12 points in 10 contests, but the part that worries me is his average ice time: 13:32 minutes. To have a real chance to be a steady contributor throughout the season, he’ll almost certainly need to play a bigger role. He did log 16:31 minutes on Tuesday, but that was just the second time this season where he even reached the 15 minutes mark in a single game with the last example of that coming on Jan. 20.

To give some perspective, from 2009-10 onward, only one player has recorded at least 50 points while averaging under 14 minutes: Sam Gagner in 2016-17, who had 18 goals and 50 points in 81 games while logging 13:43 minutes per contest. Keep a close eye on Kyrou’s role. If Tuesday’s showing was a sign that his role is expanding than I’ll be far more optimistic about him going forward. Otherwise, I still think he has long-term potential, but I’ll be looking for his offensive contributions to slow down substantially this season.

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Florida
-129-1.5O 5.5
Columbus
+110+1.5U 5.5