Hello again, Razzfolks!
Wrapping up the Western Conference today. Time for Part 2 of the Central Division previews, finishing things out with the Wild, the Predators, the Blues, and the Jets.
If you want to check out (or look back over) the other previews thus far, links are below:
Forwards to watch: Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Marco Rossi
Defensemen to watch: Jared Spurgeon
Goalie(s) to own: Cam Talbot, Kaapo Kahkonen
Kirill Kaprizov basically single-handedly changed the outlook for the Minnesota Wild. They went from a team I literally wanted zero players from to a team with plenty of fantasy relevancy. I, of course, had my eye on him going into last season, but who could have predicted 51 points in his first 55 career games? Dude’s 3.0 pts/60 is in the neighborhood of the league’s truly elite. According to Evolving Wild’s data, Kaprizov was fourth in the entire league in terms of expected goals above replacement, behind only Matthews, McDavid, and Rantanen. Yowza. Hopefully he doesn’t fall victim to the Sophomore Slumpies! For what it’s worth, the Evolving Wild folks project Kevin Fiala and Kirill The Thrill to have almost identical seasons. I’m of a mind to think Thrill is the better of the two, but let’s not forget how good Fiala actually is. He ended up with 0.80 pts/G last season, or a 66-point pace. Tallied 20 G and 20 A in just 50 games. It’s a step down from his 2019-20 pace, which translated to 3.3 pts/60 (elite territory!), but he’s still well above average. I wish he’d get to play next to Kaprizov — hardly did last year outside of PP time. Would a Fiala, Kaprizov, and Marco Rossi line not be amazing?! I have no idea if Rossi gets much NHL time this year. Kid was ready last year, then COVID happened and damn near got the best of him. Alas, Joel Eriksson-Ek is the center to own for the Wild, at least as long as hits are factored in. I’m expecting somewhere around 50+ points and 300 shots+hits.
The defense is much less exciting from a fantasy standpoint. Jared Spurgeon is the only one I’m really interested in, though he’s not as useful if blocks don’t count. He should be the sole top PP man given Ryan Suter is out of the mix, which could up his point totals. Maybe, say, 40-45 this year? Decent chance at more? Really not eyeing anyone else, not even Mathew Dumba. Once upon a time, I was mega into Dumba. He’s just not getting the favorable deployment anymore and for whatever reason his shot totals are plummeting. Had 2.9 SOG/G in ‘18-19, then 2.4 the next year, and a measly 1.7 last year. Barf. Used to have 50-point upside, but that’s a thing of the past.
Minnesota keepers turned out to be some of the biggest fantasy hockey bargains in 2020-21. Cam Talbot won 19 games in 33 starts, posting a 2.63 GAA and a .915 SV%. Kaapo Kahkonen won 16 in just 24 starts, but the ratios weren’t as good. Another Seattle blunder left the unprotected Kahkonen with Minnesota, instead opting for…*checks notes*…Carson Soucy. *Oof size large meme*. Talbot figures to get the majority of starts, though Kahkonen will certainly play enough to be fantasy relevant. Talbot’s last two seasons have had identical 2.63 GAA in fact, and he posted a .919 SV% two seasons ago. We’re not talking about upper-echelon goaltending here, but safe goaltending is good goaltending for fantasy purposes.
Forwards to watch: Filip Forsberg, Eeli Tolvanen, Philip Tomasino
Defensemen to watch: Roman Josi
Goalie(s) to own: Juuse Saros
Nashville’s fantasy value is very top-heavy. After the first few names, I don’t see anything worthwhile. Filip Forsberg is pretty good but his supporting cast is weak, which caps his value. I’m not sure I can see 60 points this season, but maybe I’m wrong. He’ll shoot a fair amount. The other two forwards I’ve got listed hold more dynasty appeal than redraft appeal. Philip Tomasino probably won’t get consistent top-six minutes, but the kid can absolutely ball, putting up 32 points in 29 games as a 19-year old. Can’t put too much stock into AHL numbers in most cases; a teenager dominating against grown men is a whole different story. He’s been hyped for years and the upside here is very real. Who knows, maybe he plays so well he works his way into top-six minutes. Eeli Tolvanen has a fair amount of upside. Should see top PP, and he scored 12 PPP in just 40 games last year. Tolvy had a lot of hype around him a few years back but just never found a role with the squad for whatever reason. Seems cemented now as their LW2 with PP1 exposure. Wouldn’t be surprised if Tomasino earns a promotion to play next to him, and that could be a deadly duo indeed. It’s all circumstantial speculation on my part, though. *Shrug emoji*
Roman Josi disappointed last year yet still finished as a top-level fantasy defender, scoring at a 56-point pace, shooting like he always does, and providing a block per game. He’ll do all that again this year, minimum. We saw his floor last year and we saw his ceiling the year prior. I’m a huge fan of his game. I know some people out there like Mattias Ekholm. I don’t really see why. 40-point ceiling and meh peripherals, no? I’d rather just get a guy who does one thing better than a guy like Ekholm who doesn’t really do anything very useful. His floor is just too unstable for my taste.
Finally, we’ve got Juuse Saros. I really, really love Juicy Saros. Workhorses are few and far between these days — cue “back in my day!” monologue — and Saros is one of ‘em. Nashville is good enough he’ll win plenty of games, and last year he had 20.51 GSAA and 7.75 GSAx (goals saved above expected). The Preds aren’t the sexiest defensive system out there, but they ain’t bad either. That 20.51 GSAA is second only to Semyon Varlamov’s 21.94, bee-tee-dubs. There’s no way in hell this guy isn’t a Top 10 fantasy netminder. Could well be Top 5.
St. Louis Blues
Forwards to watch: Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, Jordan Kyrou
Defensemen to watch: Torey Krug, Justin Faulk
Goalie(s) to own: Jordan Binnington
Full disclaimer: I’m a Blues lifer. At least as far as a 34-year-old can claim to be a “lifer.” But I promise to take off my rose-colored glasses for the analysis here. Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron are the sexiest names on the entire roster. Both should be in the realm of 70-75 points at a minimum. If you happen to dabble in FOW leagues, you can’t get much better than ROR. Legendary on the dot. I’m nerdy enough to love FOW and takeaway leagues, so ROR is just absolutely unreal in those formats. Pavel Buchnevich has me amped as a Blues fan. His fantasy value drops a teensy weensy bit for me though since he won’t be skating with Zibanejad/Panarin/Fox. Dude’s a quality player regardless. Should give you 65-70+ points and about a hit a game. Brayden Schenn ain’t bad either, but if hits don’t aren’t part of the equation then he’s not really worth your time. If they do, he’ll get you 150ish most likely. Jordan Kyrou is exciting and sometimes looks unstoppable out there. He’s gotta work on consistently maintaining that level of play, though. Started off last year with 5 G and 7 A in his first 10 games but then had just 23 points in his final 45. Big fat question mark around Vladimir Tarasenko. I one trillion zillion percent expected him to be in another sweater by now. The summer drama is behind everyone, reportedly, and he says he’s 100% healthy and 100% ready to work. High upside but low floor with Tank. Or maybe he ends up getting moved after all and thrives. Or maybe that bum shoulder is still bum. If the price is right, I’ll bite, but it will be with a heavy dose of cautious optimism.
Gotta mention Torey Krug since he’ll be a PP QB on a good power play squad. But, personally, I don’t like him in fantasy. I’ve said before I don’t like assist-heavy types, and I especially don’t like assist-heavy, PP-or-bust types (looking at you, Keith Yandle). The St. Louis Bluesliner (see what I did there?!) I’d rather have on my roster is Justin Faulk. He’s my type of guy! He’ll crunch bodies, rip shots, block shots, and score some goals. If he’s not scoring, at least he’s contributing in a few other ways. Krug will maybe get a hit/block per game. Probably not. There’s nothing to fall back on if the points dry up. Faulk won’t be a top defender by any means, mind you. Solid for the price, though.
Haters will say it’s fake, but Jordan Binnington will be a Top 10 fantasy goalie. Like Saros, he’s one of the few workhorses we have left. Binner started 42 games last year. Only Jacob Markstrom and Connor Hellebuyck had more. The wins will come again, the save totals will be solid, and the ratios will be solid. I won’t say great, but I will say solid. And wins do a lot of good in fantasy. 30+ of those is all but guaranteed.
Forwards to watch: Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Pierre-Luc Dubois
Defensemen to watch: Neal Pionk
Goalie(s) to own: Connor Hellebuyck
I really like the Jets for fantasy. You’ve got Mark Scheifele, who bottoms out at like 80 points or will top out at like 84. Did score 63 in 56 games last season, which paced for what would be a career high 92 points. Anyway, point being he’s an uber safe pick. Def prefer him more in a points league as there are next to no peripherals. Kyle Connor got pretty close to a fourth-straight 30-goal season despite the shortened schedule (paced for it, of course). He’ll give you almost dead-even goals and assists. Good amount of shots but not an elite amount. Very consistent SH% as well. In a word: safe. Blake Wheeler maybe won’t have 90 points again but is still a strong fantasy option. Will give you about a hit to a hit and a half per game. Yeah, he’s getting older and his physical playstyle is probably catching up to him. Still capable of 20+ goals with twice as many (or more) assists. He, Connor, and Scheif are all great takeaway-ers, too, if you’re of a mind to be in a league that counts ‘em. All these guys are just good, safe picks. I like good, safe picks, and you should too. A guy named Patrik Laine used to be around, but since he got traded last year, a guy named Nikolaj Ehlers took off. Last season was the first time he threatened a point-per-game pace, and I’ll admit I didn’t quite realize he’s still only 25 years old. Curious where he ranked in xGAR (expected goals above replacement) last year? 98th percentile. Curious where he ranked in actual GAR? 98th percentile. *Borat voice* vereh nice! Thing is, he spent almost half his time at ES with Connor. Could be they don’t play as much together this season. Pierre-Luc Dubois has been trending the wrong way for a few seasons now. Not totally ready to call him a bust…getting close though. I’m very willing to totally ignore last season. Playing for Torts is a challenge in itself, then when he finally got traded he had to chill out in quarantine for a while. A full offseason with his new teammates hopefully leads to some more chemistry. Kid’s still very young and has room to develop. The sleeper appeal is decent enough if you’re feeling spunky on draft day.
Neal Pionk has morphed into a very good fantasy D-man. I initially thought the trade was moronic and laughable, and he’s proved everyone wrong, pacing for 52 points two years ago and 49 last year. He throws his weight around and is an efficient power play QB, the latter of which I did not see coming when he first came over from NYR. Pionk will give you good assists, good PPP, about a block a game, and about 2.5 hits a game. You can wait til about the 9th or 10th round to snag him. I’m not very excited by anyone else back there, sadly. No interest in Morrissey. No interest in Schmidt. No interest in Dillon outside of streaming for bangs.
Connor Hellebuyck flat out rules. Assuming health, he’s going to be fantasy’s #3, #2, or #1 goalie. There’s just not a fathomable scenario where he isn’t. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he started 82 games! Okay, fine, I would. Especially coming off a year that didn’t have normal travel built in. Goalies league-wide will probably need a tooch more rest than usual. But maybe Helley grinds through anyway, cuz if anyone could, it’s him. Last year, Helley saved 14.82 goals above expected; the year prior, he had almost 20. Dude is elite in any format. Volume? He’ll chug pucks. Ratios? He’ll kill it with his GAA and SV%. Not to mention he’s got like a 30 W floor and 40 W ceiling. I’m personally against drafting early goalies, but I recognize how nice and safe you can feel throughout the rest of your draft knowing that guy can handle your goalie stats basically by himself.
Alrighty folks. That’ll do it for this week. Monday we transition over to the East with Part 1 of the Metro Division. See ya then!
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.