Approaching the season’s halfway point for most teams, our fantasy hockey experts Sean Allen and Victoria Matiash take a breath to award mid-term marks to those who have made the most prominent impressions, both positive and negative. A taking stock, if you will, of who has shined and who has shrivelled under this unique campaign’s fantasy spotlight to date.
Fantasy hockey MVP
Sean Allen, ESPN fantasy hockey writer: I’m looking at three pieces of criteria for this award: a very low average draft position (ADP), significant fantasy points per game, and a script that would have allowed fantasy players to take advantage of the production. Joe Pavelski answers the bell here. While Vincent Trocheck, Ondrej Palat and James van Riemsdyk were other players I looked at with very low ADPs and elite-level production to date, none of them quite had the start to the season that Pavelski did. With an ADP of 138.4 at fantasy drafts, Pavelski and the Stars would start the season a week late due to COVID delays — and Pavelski started it with an absolute bang. With two goals and two assists in his first game, Pavelski had 8.2 fantasy points in his first game. If that wasn’t enough to draw him into all lineups at that stage, his second game of the season was worth 6.4 fantasy points. That blazing start has meant that Pavelski was locked into fantasy lineups from almost Day 1. That he remains tied for third among skaters with 2.9 fantasy points per game means it’s been a good ride.
Victoria Matiash, ESPN fantasy hockey writer: In offering a different perspective, I’m shelving all criteria outside of number of games played and doling out this honor on the basis of basic math. Who has provided managers with the most bang for the buck? The answer is Marc-Andre Fleury. The Vegas netminder leads his counterparts – yes, even Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy – with 5.8 fantasy points per game. That few of us anticipated such a sizeable workload for the perceived tandem teammate – Robin Lehner’s injury playing a significant part in that trend – has only added to Fleury’s fantasy charm.
Allen: With an ADP of 180.8, Jakob Chychrun gets my nod here. He is fifth among defensemen this season with 2.3 fantasy points per game. Prior to the season, he made plenty of sleeper lists – including ours here. This is what we said: “Without having a significant role on the power play to date, Chychrun is already outproducing Oliver Ekman-Larsson by a fair margin for fantasy. … Here’s betting the Coyotes hand over the reins at some point soon, allowing Chychrun to showcase his true offensive chops.” And hand over the reins, they have.
Matiash: Now this is where I’m waving my fantasy flag for Vincent Trocheck. Currently ranked sixth among forwards, the Hurricanes center was selected at an ADP of 187th overall. Some lucky ESPN.com managers selected this gem late in their respective drafts and good for them. Sleeper-city.
Allen: If only we understood why Mika Zibanejad isn’t producing this season. The situation and teammates are much the same as last season, when Zibanejad was easily the best fantasy skater in the NHL on a per game basis. He produced 3.2 fantasy points per game last season (for reference, Auston Matthews leads the league this season with 3.5 and Connor McDavid is second with 3.2). This season, Zibanejad has scored a paltry 1.4 fantasy points per game and is equal in fantasy scoring to the likes of Alex Iafallo and Teddy Blueger. He suffered a benching through part of a game last week and has shown muted signs of life of late, but there’s no avoiding the bust label here.
Matiash: Of course the correct answer is Zibanejad, but I’ll mix it up and instead award double “gold” to the league’s most disappointing forward pairing in Buffalo. There was much excitement in anticipation of what Jack Eichel might accomplish by way of finally playing with a legit star winger in Taylor Hall. Twenty-four games and a combined four goals later and invested fantasy managers are left shaking their heads at what has gone so terribly wrong. Now Eichel is expected to miss at least a week with an upper-body injury. What a mess.
Midseason fantasy rookie
Matiash: Minnesota’s Kaapo Kahkonen only edges his likewise alliteratively-named teammate in this category by serving as such a pleasant surprise. While many of us suspected Kirill Kaprizov would dazzle to some degree, expectations for the Wild netminder were far more modest. As strongly suggested by his ADP of 223.8. Now, in the 24-year-old’s first true NHL campaign, Kahkonen is trucking along as a Top-5 fantasy netminder (minimum 10 games).
Allen: He has been woefully inefficient, and I don’t expect good things going forward with Ilya Samsonov firmly back in the mix, but we have to give some credit to Vitek Vanecek for standing tall in the Capitals crease for fantasy managers willing to take a chance on him. On a per game basis, he’s not been good. His 2.10 fantasy points per 60 minutes rank 39th among all goaltenders (only improving to 36th if we remove goalies with less than a 10 percent crease share). But there is something to be said for quantity coming through over quality sometimes. Vanecek sits 11th overall among goaltenders thanks to a monster 76.8 percent crease share that only trails the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Philipp Grubauer and Connor Hellebuyck.
Midseason fantasy defenseman
Matiash: With full respect to Tampa’s elite defender, Jeff Petry earns top marks from me in this class. Leading all NHL blueliners in goals, Petry falls just a hair shy (0.1) of Victor Hedman’s fantasy clip of 2.7 points per game, good for second overall. This nod is also in reflection of my preseason underestimation of what the Montreal defenseman would bring to the fantasy table. Many prognosticators had him ranked in their Top-10. To my present-day embarrassment, I did not.
Allen: Factoring in ADP, I’m skipping past Hedman and Petry, as both were picked in the first five rounds of fantasy drafts, and settling on the defenseman who sits third in fantasy points per game this season. Drew Doughty had an ADP of 112.6, making him the 25th defenseman off the board in drafts. The fact that he’s top three at the moment is a pleasant and welcome surprise. He spiked to 2.2 fantasy points per game back in the 2017-18 season, but has otherwise been a consistent producer of 1.9 or so fantasy points per game. Doughty is producing 2.5 fantasy points per game this season.
Midseason fantasy goalie
Allen: Even accounting for his first-round ADP, Andrei Vasilevskiy has to get the hat tip here. From being the only NHLer with triple-digit fantasy points at this stage, to his insane 83.2 percent crease share in a condensed season, Vasilevskiy is easily returning the investment – despite the lofty cost.
Matiash: In my book, it’s considered poor form to anoint league-wide MVP status on a goalie only to award top fantasy netminding honors to another figure altogether. That doesn’t make any sense. So Fleury sports two lofty crowns on my fantasy throne this midseason. Mind you, I’d rather have Vasilevskiy in the crease moving forward. Once healthy – and he’s getting there – Robin Lehner will inevitably bite into some of Fleury’s playing time with Knights. Perhaps not too much, but some.
My best draft pick
Matiash: I’m pleased as punch at having grabbed Max Pacioretty 76th overall in one of my ESPN.com drafts. He shoots, he scores, he contributes otherwise reasonably in most fantasy-related facets. Ranking 1st overall in shots per game (4.55) and 11th in goals among NHL regulars, Pacioretty is humming along at a pleasant rhythm of 2.4 fantasy points per game. Not too shoddy for an eighth-round draft selection.
Allen: There were some decent hints in Alec Martinez‘s small sample size from his time with the Vegas Golden Knights last season. I typically draft defensemen late, and Martinez was one of my final round scoops in most leagues. I certainly wasn’t expecting him to rank fourth among defenseman at this stage for fantasy points per game, but I’ll take it.
My worst draft pick
Matiash: Turns out, selecting Ilya Samsonov as my top goalie in the fourth round of one draft wasn’t the wisest move. Despite his limited experience, I eagerly bought the hype. While there was no predicting Samsonov would sit out most of the first half under the league’s COVID-19 protocol, it was still unfair to anticipate the fantasy moon from the largely untested young man. To point, he’s shined precisely once in five limited appearances. Hopefully, now reportedly healthy, Samsonov is able to reward my enduring loyalty by making a lot more of the Capitals’ second half. Somewhat promisingly, his most recent outing has been his best.
Allen: I really thought this was the year the Detroit Red Wings could cobble together a quality line on a bad team. I was down with Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi – going so far as to draft all three in one league. How’s that going for me? Bertuzzi is on the IR with no sign of return, Larkin has been a hot mess and Mantha hasn’t been a guaranteed presence on a scoring line. So, yeah, not so good.
Top waiver-wire pick-up
Allen: For ESPN.com’s fantasy game, an ADP of 230.0 means literally undrafted. Getting picked in even a handful of leagues will start to creep that ADP up and represent that a player was on rosters at the draft table. Finding someone to declare as a waiver-wire hero under those definitions is difficult. Jordan Staal had a 217.3 ADP, so some of you were on to him. Surely no one was drafting Tyler Toffoli. His ADP was 192.3. Alex Tuch? ADP of 219.4. I settled on Max Comtois, whose 229.7 ADP means it may have just been myself and Comtois’ immediate family that drafted him. The return has been solid, with Comtois getting increasing ice time and currently ranking 93rd among skaters for fantasy points per game. Importantly, there was a window of several weeks in which he showed signs of potential to allow fantasy managers to scoop him up.
Matiash: While Sean certainly deserves his due for drafting Alec Martinez late in more than one competitive fantasy association, I happily managed to secure the Vegas sleeper off the wire in one of our commonly-shared leagues. Couple of weeks in, on Jan. 25. Judging from Martinez’s ADP of 212.0, I wasn’t the only such lucky fantasy manager. What a great in-season score.
Candidate to exceed expectations in the second half
Matiash: Allow me in offering up two candidates here. One, Johnny Gaudreau can only perform better (right?) under new bench-boss Darryl Sutter. Over the past couple of years, the Flames forward hasn’t responded as well, production-wise, to Geoff Ward’s coaching. Both Gaudreau and center Sean Monahan appear destined to either crumple or flourish under Sutter. For Calgary fans, hopefully the latter. I’m also keen to see what T.J. Oshie can make of the second half on Washington’s top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Subbing in for a suspended Tom Wilson, Oshie already has a goal and two assists in two games. More of such production and Wilson might be shuffled in elsewhere once again eligible.
Allen: Current slump aside, I’ll take Patrik Laine as my gut call for improved second half performance. The stakes are too high for the Blue Jackets to not find a way to make him the focal point of the offense. Coach John Tortorella knows that; Laine knows that; everyone on the team knows that. Laine had 10 points in his first 10 games with the Blue Jackets, but has been pointless in the past seven. The keys to making this offense drive through Laine’s shot are there, and I expect Tortorella to find them and use them to everyone’s advantage.