Hey guys! I’m back now for the upcoming season and will be providing you content on almost a daily basis from now on. This will be the first post in a long series of articles over the next two months previewing each NHL team from a fantasy perspective. At this point, I haven’t decided the order I’m going to do; it’ll either be going from worst to first or division by division. Regardless, I’ll be starting up with the Toronto Maple
Laughs Leafs today. Let’s get right to it!
The Leafs made a big splash in June acquiring Frederik Andersen from the Ducks and immediately giving him a contract extension. I briefly talked about Andersen in my offseason winner / loser post here. If you are in a league that counts saves, I could see Andersen being a decent value. I expect him to be a workhorse this year barring injury. For redrafts, Andersen should be your #3 goalie who you spot start in roto or pick and choose with in head to head. In a dynasty league, I think he’ll be a bit undervalued. The Leafs have built an excellent young core (especially among forwards) and the contract clearly signifies that Andersen is the goalie of the future as well as the present. Jonathan Bernier is gone so Garret Sparks will be the backup. He showed some flashes last year on a horrible team but his value will be extremely minimal barring an Andersen injury.
The Leafs blueline was a train wreck last season and it doesn’t appear to be much better. Just like real life, the fantasy value starts with Morgan Rielly. The former 5th overall pick progressed last quite a bit under Mike Babcock. Rielly tallied 36 points (only 8 on the power play) while playing 3 more minutes on average. The other very nice thing is that his shots on goal went up by 19. However, digging deeper you can see that he actually attempted 102 more shots in 2015-16 than 14-15. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Rielly becomes a real value for shots as a defenseman. He’s not a big contributor in penalty minutes and the plus-minus has been bad every season but Rielly should be drafted in virtually all leagues; a 45+ point season could be in the cards with an improved Leafs power play.
At one point, it looked like Jake Gardiner was going to be a real offensive threat in the league. Unfortunately, it’s never happened and isn’t going to. Babcock likes Gardiner playing a big defensive role for the team limiting his upside. Gardiner will probably be on the second power play unit but the shots are poor and the penalty minutes are mediocre. I could see considering Gardiner in a 16 team league or deeper but nothing else.
Besides those two, there are three guys who are useless outside of the deepest of leagues and one guy that intrigues me quite a bit. The Leafs signed Nikita Zaitsev out of the KHL to an entry level contract this offseason. The 24 year old should crack the lineup right away, probably on the second pair and PP2 with Gardiner. His point totals have been fairly good for CSKA Moscow the last two seasons. I won’t be drafting him in standard leagues (although I’ll be watching him closely in preseason and the beginning of the regular season) but for dynasties and deep leagues, Zaitsev could turn out to be a bargain.
None of these guys will be great this year but they’re going to be excellent down the line. It all starts with Auston Matthews. The first overall pick will be put in a top 6 role right away. He’s been compared to Jonathan Toews which is a comp that I can see. That’s not the best news for fantasy because Toews is much better in real hockey than our fantasy world. In other words, I’m not sure his fantasy upside is as high as most first overall picks. In a rookie draft, I’d take Matthews second after Patrick Laine. In regular redrafts, I’ll probably have Matthews just outside the top 100 therefore pricing me out on him.
While I’m a bit down on Matthews compared to most, I’m higher than most on Mitch Marner. Marner, the fourth overall pick in 2015, is an incredible offensive talent. He had over two points per game this season in the OHL with 39+77 in 57 games along with 68 PIM. In standard redrafts, I like drafting Marner late. He won’t have the hype that the other young guys do but could be just as good as a rookie, if not better.
As far as late round fliers for redrafts go, William Nylander and Nikita Shosnikov also deserve some attention. Both looked like they belonged during their cameo at the end of last season and should have prominent roles during this rebuilding year. In RCL’s, I think both of them start as regular streamers and could turn into somebody who’s a hold.
The first line for the Leafs looks to be a nice group of veterans who are still on the younger side. Nazem Kadri is a nice middle round pick, especially if you’re a bit low on shots at that point in your draft. Despite being around the league for quite some time now, Kadri is still only going to be 26 when the season starts. He supplies quality penalty minutes and 30 goal potential if his shooting percentage regresses to the mean. James van Riemsdyk should be back from an injury plagued season to approach top 100 status again. He only misses 2 games the previous three seasons before last year so don’t worry about the injury that much. JVR is basically a slightly better version of Kadri on the wing. Uncle Leo Komarov was one of the biggest surprises of the first half last year before falling off a bit. In 12’ers, I’m probably leaving him undrafted and will look to stream him again. If your league counts hits, give Komarov a massive boost.
As far as the other forwards go, there isn’t much. Outside of leagues that count faceoffs, Tyler Bozak doesn’t provide enough to hold a roster spot. The only other Leaf that I could see having some value is Milan Michalek. He has a massive injury history but looks to have the inside track on playing in the top 6 to start the season. If that happens, Michalek could be a solid streamer or a hold in deep leagues.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll have another preview coming out on Tuesday and have some other exciting things in the works! As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below; I’m more than willing to add or adjust to this preview format. Take care!