The Tampa Bay Lightning head into the 2017-18 season looking to get back into the playoffs following an extremely disappointing 2016-17. After two deep runs in the playoffs, the Lightning couldn’t overcome a plethora of injuries, causing them to miss the playoffs by a single point. Picking them to make the Stanley Cup Finals in the presesason didn’t work out so well for me. Anyways, a healthy team should have no problem making the playoffs again but some puzzling offseason moves leave me a bit concerned of their overall upside. From a fantasy perspective, Tampa has their usual set of elite options with some new supplemental pieces. Additionally, we finally have a clear goaltending situation with Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of my favorite targets, getting full time duties. Let’s take a look at what Tampa Bay is working with:
Elite Talents – I’ve been driving the Nikita Kucherov bandwagon for quite a while and it continued to pay off handsomely last season. Kucherov was incredible scoring 40 goals and dishing 45 assists in only 74 games. His shot rate took another massive jump forward, the PIM improved and he killed it on the power play. Kucherov had a whopping 17 goals and 15 assists with the man advantage. Add in a +13 rating and you have one of the best players in the league. I have a feeling that I’ll have a lot of Kucherov stock again this year because I have him ranked #3 overall in my Top 50 and I still think there’s where he belongs.
Steven Stamkos looked like the Stammer of the past before a torn meniscus cut his season short. In the first 17 games, Stamkos scored 9 goals and added 11 assists. That’s twice now that Stamkos has missed over half a season due to injury. The good news is that he’s missed 5 games combined in the other 6 seasons. I think it would be a stretch to call him injury prone, unlike say, Evgeni Malkin, who has a history of smaller injuries. At this point, Stamkos is a clear second round pick.
Must Draft – The other members of The Triplets should be drafted in all leagues for their upside. Let’s start with Tyler Johnson. Johnson settled in between his breakout 2014-15 and abysmal 2015-16 to score 19 goals and 26 assists in 66 games. The worry is that his shot rate fell right around 2 per game while he’s never been a good penalty minute contributor. Still, Johnson played at a 55 point pace last year and we’ve seen his 70+ point upside. Don’t reach for him but he should go in the middle to late rounds.
Ondrej Palat is your typical glue guy on the bottom of your fantasy roster. He’s going to be average to good in every category but won’t do anything spectacular (unless the +/- returns to elite). My guess is there are times this year where Palat owners want to cut him or actually cut bait but his overall numbers will make him a clear top 200 player. He’s a guy I will want some stock of but nothing crazy. Palat is much better in roto leagues where you need some guys to balance out your numbers.
Streamers With Upside – Brayden Point played his way into fantasy relevance scoring 18 goals and 22 assists in 68 games as a rookie. Most of that came when Kucherov was lighting the world on fire and both Johnson and Stamkos were injured. I do like Point’s game but my concern is his role. While he should be in the top six on Stamkos’ line, Point will clearly be on the second power play unit. Add in that he was below two shots per game and had only 14 PIM and there’s not enough for him to be a hold. That said, when Tampa gets a quality matchup, he should be an elite streamer.
Vladislav Namestnikov has also had his stretches of being a hot schmotato in the past. It looks like he will be relegated to the bottom six which puts a damper on his value. If he does get top six and power play time, he’ll be on my streaming radar. Namestnikov will have to boost his shot rate if there’s any chance of him becoming a hold.
Safety Streamers – At this point, it’s pretty clear who Alex Killorn is. He’s going to get around 40 points with strong penalty minutes. Killorn should have his stretches where you hold him for a week or two assuming he sticks with Stamkos but there isn’t any real upside here.
I don’t really understand why the Lightning signed Chris Kunitz. The soon-to-be 38 year old scored only 9 goals and 20 assists last season for the Penguins. I only include him here in case he does play in the top 6 in either Killorn or Point’s spot but I think that would be a big mistake by Jon Cooper. I won’t be using him outside of a hits league (more on that later).
Elite Talent – This is the Victor Hedman Tampa Bay hoped for when they selected him second overall. Hedman was a Norris finalist last season scoring 16 goals and 56 assists in 72 games. He was an excellent power play quarterback dishing 29 assists and adding 4 goals. The penalty minutes were above average and his shot rate was okay for a defenseman. I see no reason for Hedman to regress so I’ll be looking at him towards the back end of the third round in redrafts as the third defenseman off the board.
I can’t see anyone else on their blue line becoming fantasy relevant outside of maybe Anton Stralman or Jake Dotchin. I wouldn’t draft Stralman after he had only 22 points last season with below average shots and PIM. I’ll cover Dotchin in the prospects section since he still technically is one.
My god, that’s Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s music. After a few years of lurking in the shadows of Ben Bishop, Tampa cleared the way for Vasilevskiy to be their #1 trading Bishop to the Kings near the trade deadline. Vasilevskiy had some awful stretches but also some great play. At the end, his save percentage was a solid .917. There’s clear potential for Vas to be a #1 fantasy goalie and will be one of my favorite goalies to target in drafts this year. The goals against average will have to come down for that to happen but with a solid save percentage, that should happen.
Peter Budaj came back in the Bishop trade and remains Vasilevskiy’s backup. Budaj was excellent last year in Los Angeles but was dreadful in his brief stint with Tampa. In 357 career games, he has a .905 sv% so I’ll only be streaming him in the best of matchups.
HITS / BLOCKS / FACEOFF LEAGUES
In deep leagues, Kunitz and Big Tom Callahan’s son, Ryan Callahan, play their way into relevance due to their massive hit totals. Palat should be a hold all year in this format with solid hits and elite blocks from a forward. I would definitely gamble on Dotchin in this format as the rookie had 85 hits in 35 games last year.
Vasilevskiy moves into the first tier of goalies given his age. Kucherov may slide down a couple spots due to Eichel, Matthews, etc. but he’s still a clear first rounder. I’m more likely to take a gamble on Point late in a draft since he just turned 21. Overall, the Lightning are a very young team so the majority of their player hold or increase their value.
Blue Chip – The biggest move for the Lightning this summer saw the team finally trade Jonathan Drouin to Montreal in exchange for Mikhail Sergachev. The former top ten pick steps into the organization and immediately becomes their number one prospect. Sergachev was solid last season in Windsor with 43 points in 50 games and added 71 PIM. He’s extremely creative with the puck and like his new teammate Hedman, he knows how to pick his spots to be aggressive. There’s a chance he makes Tampa’s roster for opening night but if he does, he’ll be brought along slowly. He’s a lefty just like Hedman so Sergachev can be eased in. Long term, he’s not the top fantasy defenseman prospect but he’s not far off.
Cal Foote isn’t as physical as his father Adam was but there’s still plenty to like. Foote’s biggest strength is his hockey sense and he’s also great at leveraging his frame to get in optimal positions. Foote had a whopping 51 assists in Kelowna last year and could top that this season. He’s a couple years away but he should become a player that is used in all facets of the game.
High Floor, Where’s The Ceiling? – Brett Howden and Anthony Cirelli should both become long time NHL players. The question for both is how good can they be offensively? Howden looks like he can be the third line center in Tampa in a year or two. Could he be more than that? The former first round pick had a massive year in Moose Jaw last season scoring 38 goals and 43 assists in 58 games while adding 73 PIM. Howden plays a heavy game so if your league includes hits and faceoffs, I’d be more likely to take a chance on him in case his offensive game continues to grow.
Cirelli has an outside chance of cracking the roster this year. He played his way onto Canada’s WJC team but his best work came in the OHL playoffs. In 22 games for Erie, Cirelli scored 15 goals and 16 assists. Like Howden, he can be relied upon for all situations. Cirelli needs to fill out but it shouldn’t be difficult for him to do so. I’d rather gamble on Howden but Cirelli is a solid choice as well.
The Ceiling Is The Sky – Speaking of crazy offensive seasons, Taylor Raddysh was also incredible for the Erie Otters. The former second round pick had 42 goals and 67 assists in 58 games. He was also +67 which is just mind blowing. Raddysh also had an excellent playoffs scoring 12+19 in 31 games. I have to imagine he makes the WJC for Canada at the end of the year in Buffalo. He’s a few years away but Raddysh has clear top six potential.
I’m all aboard the Jake Dotchin bandwagon long term. Dotchin plays an extremely physical game that should see him post over 80 PIM (probably over 100) and 250+ hits every single season. There’s a good chance he plays with Victor Hedman this season and on the second power play unit so in deeper leagues, I love taking the gamble on him this year. It’s hard to project how far his offensive game can go, we saw flashes of great playmaking in Barrie, but there’s no guarantee it ever pans out. Could Dotchin post a line of say, 5+30 this year with big PIM and hits? It honestly wouldn’t shock me. The shot rate needs to go up but the opportunity, both now and in the future, is there for Dotchin if he can put it all together.
That’s all for now guys. I’ll be back tomorrow previewing the Florida Panthers. As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below. Thanks for reading, take care!