Hey guys! Over the next month, I will be taking a look at each team’s players to watch out for going into the 2019-20 fantasy hockey season. This analysis features everything from surefire studs, to sleepers, to streamers, deeper league holds, even to rookie-eligible prospects that may make an appearance at some point this season. Please let me know if you guys enjoy this type of material! Reminder that the stat totals are from last season.
Last year my previews went alphabetically, but this year we’re going to go division-by-division, starting with the top team. On our 20th stop on the 31 in 31 tour, we’re making our second stop in Florida – it’s Panther time baby! The Panthers entered last season with one of the best top-six forward groups on paper, but bad injury luck and terrible defending left them on the outside looking in. With a new coach, new goalie and some new-found depth, how to the Cats look this season? Let’s take a look!
SURE-FIRE STUDS: Aleksander Barkov (82GP 35-61-96), Jonathan Huberdeau (82GP 30-62-92), Sergei Bobrovsky (62GP 37-24-1, .913SV%, 2.58GAA)
Not sure how much larger of a step Sasha can take, but he is an absolute stud. I can’t see Huberdeau repeating 90 points, but I don’t think he’ll drop all the way back down to 70 so consider him a stud.
As for Bob, I’ve voiced this before but he’s one of the few goaltenders I consider worth picking in points leagues based on GP. This team is in a very tough division and he has a lot of pressure on him given how much money they just paid him, so you have to ask yourself whether or not Bob is worth the gamble in roto leagues. The Panthers brass have made a conscious effort to improve defensively and Coach Q will be a big part of that, so feel free to roll the dice!
SVEN’S SLEEPER: Frank Vatrano (81GP 24-15-39)
A large part of Vatrano’s success was getting top line minutes with Barkov last season. Though Huberdeau-Barkov-Dadonov is the likely #1 line, having a healthy Trocheck and a deadly Hoffman as line mates doesn’t hurt whatsoever. I truly think Vatrano will be the guy at #2W over newcomer Brett Connolly and any younger player that might crack the roster. If he’s in this slot and gets some #2PP time with Trocheck, he’s certainly worth a look in deeper leagues.
HOLDS: Evgenii Dadonov (82GP 28-42-70), Mike Hoffman (82GP 36-34-70), Vincent Trocheck (55GP 10-24-34), Keith Yandle (82GP 9-53-62), Aaron Ekblad (82GP 13-24-37)
If Dadonov is still on Barkov’s line, I would try and stack the two. This may involve drafting Dadonov higher than he’s ranked, but boy will it be worth it. Hoffman had a ridiculous year and I don’t know if he can repeat 36 tucks again, but he’s a solid mid-round pick and should still be a #1PP lock. I can’t see Trocheck getting back to 75 points from two seasons ago since Hoffman has earned his #1PP spot, but Barkov getting the top opposing line match can only bode well for a great bounce-back season after a freak accident sidelined him for nearly 30 games of 2018-19.
KY Jelly played out of his mind this past season, which was surprising given how well he played the season prior. With how deadly this #1PP is, he is a safe pick yet again. I’ve been incredibly hard to Ekblad in the past, but I think he has rounded out into a 35-40-point guy. This makes him a hold in deeper leagues, but don’t hesitate to gamble on someone else having more points.
STREAMERS: Mike Matheson (75GP 8-19-27), Henrik Borgstrom (50GP 8-10-18)
Matheson shows signs of greatness at times, but top-four minutes and the off-chance at #2PP doesn’t really bode well for holding. Borgstrom had your typical good player transition year into the pros: struggles in the NHL, goes down to the AHL and tears it up (24GP 5-17-22). This was also what Jayce Hawryluk experienced last season with the Cats. He seems to be their #3C option, but will only hit fantasy relevance in the event of injury or if this #2PP gets a ton of playtime.
PROSPECT PIPELINE: Owen Tippett (OHL: 54GP 33-41-74)
It appears as though the Panthers tenth overall pick in 2017 will get his shot this season, provided he can earn a roster spot over much older prospects like Hawryluk. Even if he’s consistently in the lineup, I can’t see him providing much offensive punch with how great their top-six is.
Aleksi Heponiemi (Liiga: 50GP 16-30-46)
After two dominant years in the WHL, Heponiemi opted to play against men back home in Finland last season. I think this was great for his development, but this Panthers roster will be a tough one to crack. Whether it’s Springfield (AHL) or another season with Karpat (Liiga), Heponiemi will continue to develop and build off his already apparent playmaking ability.
Brady Keeper (NCAA: 36GP 7-15-22)
One of my favourite feel-good stories of 2018-19, Brady Keeper put Cross Lake, Manitoba on the map last season. The Maine (NCAA) alum has some great offensive upside, and will continue to work on his skating this season in the Always Hungry League. His story partly makes me think he’s going to absolutely tear it up and earn an NHL call-up, but that’s extremely optimistic given the current landscape of the Panthers back-end.
Vladislav Kolyachonok (OHL: 53GP 4-25-29)
A second rounder for the Panthers in the most recent draft, it was surprising to me that they’ve already signed this Belarussian blue-liner. He had a solid rookie season in Flint (OHL), and may as well return there given he’s only 18. Though he is likely at least two years away from any sniffs at the NHL, I want to see how he does this season. They clearly see something if they’ve already chosen to sign him.