We’re chugging right along with team previews, moving over to the Central and checking in on the Yotes, the Hawks, the Avs, and the Stars this time around.
If you missed out on the Pacific installments, you can find them both right here:
Forwards to watch: Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel, Lawson Crouse, Barrett Hayton
Defensemen to watch: Jakob Chychrun
Goalie(s) to own: N/A
The Yotes are straight trash, but even dumpster-diving can be worthwhile if you know where to look. Lots of folks were worried Phil Kessel’s game wouldn’t translate in the desert where there’s no supporting cast, and that’s been somewhat true. Sure looked true a couple years ago when he posted a measly 45-point pact. Last year he spiked it up to a 63-point pace, tallying 20 G and 23 A in 56 games, but that’s thanks to a career-high-so-probably-not-sustainable 17.4 SH%. Oh yeah, there’s a good shot he’s not ready for Opening Night as he’s currently week-to-week with a foot injury. Clayton Keller is boring but should be good for about 50 points minimum or 60ish if things really start clicking. He’ll of course see top line and top PP. Lawson Crouse cranks out the hits at an elite rate and could chip in anywhere from 10-15 (or more??) goals. Most valuable in a roto setup or as a streamer to pad your hits later in the week; for what it’s worth, he could see some PP1 time. Barrett Hayton is a little interesting. Highly-touted prospect and theoretically has a firm hold on the C2 role. Despite 34 unimpressive NHL games under his belt already, he’s stood out in Juniors and World Juniors. Upside is possible; wish I could say probable.
There’s really only one single blueliner to care about in Zona outside of deeper leagues: Jakob Chychrun. Dude went ham last year: 18 G, 23 A, 14 PPP, 59 H, 89 BLK, and 176 SOG in 56 games. Let’s pace that out to 82 games, cuz I like to do that (and you know that if you read my baseball stuff on here): 26 G, 34 A, 21 PPP, 86 H, 130 BLK, and 256 SOG. That’s astounding stuff in fantasy hockey from a defender. You can get your assists from elsewhere, but a D who scores goals and shoots like that? And adds the bangs? Bonkers. Huge caveat time: it was a 56-game season against the same few opponents all year, with baseball-esque series instead of the normal hurdles of travel/scheduling. I think Church will probably be a very good fantasy D, but I’m tempering expectations on a guy who plays for the freaking Yotes and had a career year in a whacky, unprecedented season format. Still, a lot of outlets have him projected and/or ranked very high, and his 8th-round Yahoo ADP isn’t unsavory at all (currently the #18 D off the board).
I could buy some [healthy] Kuemper and Raanta because they were at least legit good, but I’m not interested in any of these Arizona goalies. Avoid.
Forwards to watch: Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome
Defensemen to watch: Seth Jones, Connor Murphy
Goalie(s) to own: Marc-Andre Fleury
The Blackhawks got a little better in the offseason, but I can’t buy them being all that competitive. Still plenty of fantasy firepower! Patrick Kane is still well worth a 1st-round pick in my book. 30+ goals, 50+ assists, 250+ shots is his floor. All these years later and he remains an elite talent. Jonathan Toews is a question mark. Sat out all last year due to some health issues. He’s been playing in camp, but it’s not clear how much time he’ll need to really shake the rust off and get back up to game speed. He’s got 70ish points in him as long as he plays a full season. Extra boost in value in leagues that count FOW. A big boost. Alex DeBrincat enjoyed a massive bounce-back season, netting 32 G and 56 points in just 52 games. Cat was 95th percentile in G/60 and 93rd in pts/60. Worth noting that came playing against the same opponents over and over and at a shot clip of 20.6%. Still, he’s shot 15.6% or better in three of his four NHL seasons, so I’m more than willing to accept 2019-20’s 8.7% as the outlier. Even if there’s some regression, he should be awesome. Two straight years of 3 SOG/G per game, too. Dominik Kubalik is a solid player who could score 60 or so points with some upside for more. Tough to predict what could happen with Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome. I’m not too terribly interested in either one for redrafts; Dach is the future C1 though. Dach likely centers the second line, but whether or not Kane is on his right changes his value dramatically. Looking good in camp, for what it’s worth. Worth a late-round snag as long as you’re ready to cut ties early if needed. Strome could be top-line RW if they decide to bump Kane down to spread the wealth, and he should see some PP1 time either way. But for me, if I’m a Chicago fan (I’m emphatically not…Long Live The Note!) then I wanna see a top line of Cat/Toews/Kane. Me oh my that would do some serious damage.
Seth Jones was brought in via a trade that sent Adam Boqvist to Columbus. Duncan Keith is no longer in red and black, either, so Jones has a clear path to PP1 QB. Jones is going about #73 overall in Yahoo these days. Don’t dig that. He just hasn’t been the same since his 4th-place Norris vote finish in 2017-18. Maybe there’s bounce-back appeal here but his price tag is turning me off. Metrics abhor what he didn last year. I’d be more willing to write it off if not for the fact he’s been trending down for four straight seasons now. I tacked Connor Murphy on here for banger league purposes. 300 hits+blocks? 350? He could do it! Murphy shoots an okay amount and could chip in 20-30 points.
I feel sorry for you keeper league folk who may have kept Marc-Andre Fleury only to find him joining the Chicago Blackhawks. I also feel sorry for you dynasty folk who will see Kevin Lankinen not be the #1 goalie anymore. MAF is no spring chicken, but he can clearly still provide elite goaltending. *The Vezina Trophy has entered the chat*. He’d provide elite fantasy goaltending in Vegas; alas, I can’t see it in Chicago. There’s different personnel on the blueline this year, but the Hawks were still +17% in 5v5 xGA/60 last season. That’s…very bad. Very, very bad. Jones probably won’t help matters much. He’s…less than ideal defensively. Plus, the Central is just a darn tough place to play hockey. Volume alone should make him a decent enough fantasy option, though I’m not sure I like his sixth-goalie-off-the-board ADP (read: I don’t like it. At all).
Forwards to watch: Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky
Defensemen to watch: Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard
Goalie(s) to own: Darcy Kuemper
Nathan MacKinnon needs no explanation. 110+ points, insane shots, insane PPP, etc. etc. I put him #2 overall in categories leagues since shots are a little harder to come by, but I give Leon Draisaitl the #2 spot in points leagues cuz of the LW eligibility. Really can’t go wrong either way. Mikko Rantanen worked himself into the 1st-round discussion putting up 30 G and 36 A in 52 games. That’s 104-point pace, and I see zero reason to expect anything less. Colorado is outrageously good, top to bottom, both ends of the ice. Last year was the first time Rants shot over 3 SOG/G, almost going up a full point from 2019-20 (3.4 last year, 2.5 in ‘19-20). Would love to see that again. Obvs he’s a lock for top line and top PP minutes. Tough to argue against taking him as the #2 RW off the board after Nikita Kucherov. Captain Gabriel Landeskog should be in Seattle in my humble opinion cuz he was inexplicably unprotected for the expansion draft. Instead, he’s back with the Avs. Landy should be good for anywhere from 70-80 points with good hit/shot contributions. Andre Burakovsky shot 18.6% last year and 19.4% the year before. Starting to look like he’s just one of those guys that picks his shots beautifully and has the skill to put ‘em in. I imagine he’s the second-line LW/RW but should see some top PP time. Not too crazy to think they bump Landy down to LW2 and let Bura play next to Mack. There’s probably a 60-point floor here, with plenty of upside for more if he does indeed get to play top line.
Cale Makar was no fluke after all. I was a tooch worried he’d take a step back last year. Don’t get your knickers twisted, I didn’t expect him to be bad, but I thought the fantasy hype was a little overblown. Instead, he built upon his 72-point pace rookie season to put up a perfect point-per-game last year. His SH% dropped 2.2% and he still netted 8 G in just 44 games. He’s not quite Quinn Hughes bad, but there ain’t much in the peripherals department. Regardless, I’m fully out on his draft price. Get a good forward instead of a points-only defender. Samuel Girard is still capable of upwards of 50 points just cuz Colorado is that good. He’ll man the second PP unit and chip in a few more periphs than Makar will. Devon Toews can score you double-digit goals, maybe get you 200ish shots, and hit/block a decent amount in a full season. Won’t get a full season out of him though; he’s recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. That’ll just serve to bump up Girard’s value as long as he’s out.
Ah, Darcy Kuemper. On paper, you have to love him. He’s good in his own right, and he’s going from Arizona to arguably the best all-around squad in the league. Could wind up as fantasy’s #2 goalie (#1?!) – certainly being projected up there – orrrrr he could get hurt and miss a lot of time. Only one time in his career has he started more than even just 30 games, and that was three years ago when he went 55 and put up a .925 SV%. Dude put up 67.3% Quality Starts back then, then an eye-popping 75.9% the next year. As bad as the Yotes were last season, he still managed a little over 50% QS. Long story short: barring injuries, he’s as safe a lock for elite fantasy production as there ever could be. If he can stay on the ice and handle grueling travel again, is it crazy to think we see 40+ wins?
Forwards to watch: Tyler Seguin, Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson
Defensemen to watch: Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg
Goalie(s) to own: Anton Khudobin, Ben Bishop
The Stars are such a boring fantasy team to me. I’m really still more than a little shocked they made the Stanley Cup Finals recently. Tyler Seguin is a shell of his former self, Joe Pavelski is blah, Roope Hintz can’t seem to play two games in a row, yadda yadda. Yeah, all these guys could score 60 points. I dunno, I’ve just got a meh feeling about them all. I guess it boils down to me not liking their floors. I’ll pass on 6th-round Seguin/Hintz, that’s for damn sure. Jason Robertson is the most intriguing to me, but we’ll have to see if he can build on his ridiculous performance in the final weeks last season. He didn’t get regular playing time til late January, then from March onward he was sensational. 39 points in his final 40 games, firing off 113 shots in that time and scoring at a sustainable 13.3% clip. I’m not ready to say the dude is a point-per-game player by any means, so tread with caution on draft day. I will absolutely say I’m out at his current draft price. Going ahead of William Nylander and David Perron? I’m good on all that. If he falls later than that, I’ll start to think about him. Not ready for a single-digit round price tag.
I wish I could predict whether Miro Heiskanen or John Klingberg will be the PP1 QB. Would make my draft day decision much easier. Since there’s no clear answer (they’re within seconds of each other in terms of PP TOI), I’ll probably just avoid either one. They don’t do anything other than rack up assists anyway. They’re surprisingly similar players when you look at it…roughly the same amount of points, shots, hits, and blocks over the last three years combined. Similar rate stats as well. Esa Lindell is worth mentioning in deeper leagues as long as hits/blocks count — could see him total 300 hits+blocks. I liked Ryan Suter well enough in Minnesota (before last season he put up three straight 40-assist seasons), but he won’t get nearly the offensive chances with Miro and Klinger ahead of him for PP time. I’m probably avoiding all Dallas blueliners, to be honest. Better bang for your buck out there.
Dallas goalies are iffy in fantasy. I’m annoyed at the Braden Holtby acquisition since it means Jake Oettinger will be in the AHL even though Oettinger is clearly better. I don’t want any part of Holtby at this point in his career. Ben Bishop is very good, but who knows when he’ll actually be back. That ol’ knee of his is a messy, messy situation. I’ll let someone else risk it with him. I’m fine rostering Anton Khudobin, though. Should provide very solid ratios, at least. If he’s my G2 then I won’t be bummed about it. Dallas went ham in terms of 5v5 defense, putting up a -15% xGA/60 last season thanks to completely smothering shot chances directly in front of the net. That’s what you wanna see!
Alrighty. Same time tomorrow for Part Deux!
Find me on Twitter: @jkj0787. DMs are always open for questions, comments, concerns, complaints, etc. Odds are good I’m drinking black coffee, dark beer, or some form of bourbon at any given time.