Answering 5 key questions everyone is wondering heading into the 2021-22 fantasy hockey season.
Can we still rely on Marc-Andre Fleury to be a #1 in Chicago?
Arguably the most shocking trade of the offseason, Fleury being shipped to Chicago for next to nothing, after winning his first Vezina trophy. Given that “The Flower” is now 36 going on 37, there is doubt in many minds that he won’t be able to repeat last season.
I cannot help but have my own doubts about him. I will be staying clear of Fleury in fantasy drafts, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worthwhile if you see him start falling (ADP43 currently on Yahoo). In the 4th round, I believe there is better options in net. I’d rather take my chances with the Islanders’ duo in Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.
Last season in Vegas, Fleury was without a doubt assisted by a very strong team in front of him. Not to discredit him of his performance, but Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo and a goaltender’s best friend Alec Martinez is a lot better sounding than Seth Jones, Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe. Last year, in addition to leading the league in wins, Vegas gave up the seventh fewest shots. Chicago? Third most. Yes, the Blackhawks got their top two-way centre back this year in Jonathan Toews, but I question the direction of this team as I don’t quite think they are where they need to be to contend.
The addition of Seth Jones is massive from a fantasy-perspective, I fully support drafting him as one of your top d-men in drafts, but any analytics fan would know the struggles he has had in Columbus with defence and allowing zone entries.
Fleury has posted 15 straight seasons with a SV% above .900 and 14 out of those 15 seasons had a GAA below 3.00. I am not expecting any sort of implosion or collapse in his game, but do not be surprised if the Blackhawks split Fleury’s time with Kevin Lankinen, the goalie they heavily relied on last season despite a 3.87 GAA and 3.58 GAA in April and May respectively.
If you have Fleury on your radar, perhaps consider pivoting to the likes of Juuse Saros in Nashville or Cam Talbot in Minnesota to ensure you’re maximizing potential starts. You won't ruin your season with Fleury but a goalie's body at 37 can only last so long.
Who will replace David Krejci as Boston’s #2 Centre?
Krejci somewhat shocked the hockey world when he announced he was leaving the NHL to go play in his home country of Czech Republic. At just 35 and coming off one of his better seasons (from a point-per-game standpoint) many fans, myself included, thought Krejci had at least 2-3 more seasons in him.
Not only was Krejci a productive fantasy contributor throughout his career, but it also left Boston with a glaring hole at their 2C position. I assume Don Sweeney made some phone calls to kick the tires on potential fill-ins, but eventually settled with the Erik Haula signing as enough depth.
As of right now, Boston’s second line consists of Hall-Coyle-Smith. Charlie Coyle is a guy I want on my team but not exactly the prototypical second-line centre we are used to seeing, especially on a usually exciting team like the Bruins.
I am intrigued by 22-year-old Jack Studnicka. He showed in 2019-20 that he could produce in the AHL (49 pts. in 60 games) and would not be surprised to see him get some chances in that 2C role if things don’t go as expected. The thing is with guys like Craig Smith and Charlie Coyle is that you know what you’re going to get from them. In the seven seasons Coyle has played more than 60 games, he has scored between 30-45 points in five of those. Smith, under the same range has six out of eight full seasons with 30-45 points.
Outside of that top line in Boston, I will not be targeting any names in my drafts. I don’t mind Taylor Hall, but we have to be really relying on him to produce on the power play given he’s playing with Smith and Coyle 5v5. I can see Hall cracking the 50-point plateau, but he’ll need some better luck than he had last season.
Will Pittsburgh be a contending team given their injury problems?
This question was originally going to be based on unsigned RFA’s but I changed it upon hearing the news of Jake Guentzel testing positive for COVID-19 on the same day Vancouver officially announced the signings of Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
Guentzel, while not expected to be out as long as Crosby or Malkin, will still have a battle in front of him depending on the severity of his symptoms. With some player’s speaking out on the illness, saying it took them weeks if not months to get back to feeling normal, I would be slightly concerned if I was a Penguins fan if this turns into a longer bout.
Captain Sidney Crosby was originally expected to miss the first six weeks of the season after recovering from wrist surgery, but I have read several sources saying six weeks is the minimum. GM Ron Hextall was quoted saying Evgeni Malkin “is expected to miss at least two months of the regular season”. That is without a doubt the three most important forwards on this team.
Don’t let the recent news scare you off of Guentzel, but as far as the other two go, I don’t plan to be targeting them on draft day given their history of injuries and Malkin’s inconsistent play.
As if Pens fans didn’t have enough to worry about with Tristan Jarry’s finish to last season, the bad news keeps piling up. They have had nearly a decade of competitive seasons and I don’t even believe this needs to be the start of the rebuild, but come December if things aren’t looking promising I could see management looking to expedite the restart process.
What will the Seattle Kraken bring from a fantasy perspective?
I’m sure I was not the only hockey fan shocked at some of the picks made my Seattle at this summer’s Expansion Draft. Names like Vladimir Tarasenko, Carey Price and James van Riemsdyk who appeared to have the making of a respectable NHL team were passed on for players like Carsen Twarynski, Gavin Bayreuther and Alexander True.
Nonetheless, I’m not Ron Francis and if you are a new Kraken fan, you have to trust that your front office knows what they’re doing. With that being said, what kind of impact will Seattle have in the NHL this season? They appear to have some respectable top-six names like Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle, but also a fair share of young players who just recently graduated from the “prospect” status.
The Philipp Grubauer signing was one of the most shocking this offseason. Grubauer chased the money as he left a team in Colorado destined to compete for a Cup multiple times in the next decade. Grubauer remains a top goalie in the NHL, but similar to Marc-Andre Fleury, going to a worse team brings obvious worries. For the same reason I am not drafting Alex Nedeljkovic, I won’t be drafting Grubauer, you just cannot trust the team in front of them.
In terms of offense, Eberle and Schwartz appear to be the only two real forwards that have maintained their place on draft boards. You could make the argument for Jared McCann who finds himself as the 1C in Seattle, but I am skeptical that a streaky, middle-six forward will be able to jump into a role where he will be expected to play against the league’s top centers.
Lastly, Mark Giordano seems to be drawing a ton of fantasy hype being named the team captain. This is a 38-year-old defenseman coming off his worst fantasy season in nearly a decade. Sure, the depth on the blue line in Seattle looks bleak, but do not be surprised to see Vince Dunn take over on PP1 when the initial hype wears off.
For the Kraken players mentioned above, here is how the project using FantasyPuck’s projections. (G-A-P)
Jared McCann, C (21-29-50)
Jordan Eberle, RW (23-30-53)
Jaden Schwartz, LW (22-35-58)
Mark Giordano, D (9-30-39)
Philipp Grubauer, G (25 W, .918 SV%)
What can we expect from the New York Rangers, particularly Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere?
The FP crew likes what they see from the Rangers this year. We were pro-Zibanejad last year and although those results were up and down, we think a season with no distractions and a more relaxed 1st overall pick should result in a playoff berth.
Whenever a hyped prospect like Alexis Lafreniere enters the league, especially in a big market like New York, there is always too much pressure on them to perform instantly. I’m sure Alexis would be the first to admit his rookie season (12 goals, 21 points in 56 games) was not up to his own standards. This is not the NFL though, we don’t give up on quarterbacks after one poor season. Laf has had a full season to shake off any nerves and focus his time on improving the parts of his game management believes he needs to work on. Having a healthy lineup will allow Laf to mesh better with his line mates, unlike last season where he was up and down the lineup for a variety of reasons.
You can’t ask for much better line mates to play alongside for Lafreniere and Kakko. Laf plays with Mika Zibanejad while Kaapo Kakko is currently aligned with Artemi Panarin on the second line. Kakko is the less exciting name between the two, but both players appear to have an opportunity in the top-six and surely one of them is bound to take that next step.
Kakko made strides last season to improve his defense. Going from a -26 in 2019-20 to a +3 last season in similar minutes. Plus/minus doesn’t tell the whole story but I would assume defense is something he focused his time on and when players can adapt and adjust their game to prioritize certain areas, I like his chances to make an impact offensively in the near future.
While I like Lafreniere more than Kakko in fantasy drafts, Kakko actually had the better overall season last year. Kakko was fourth on the team in CorsiFor% (56.7%) while Lafreniere was below average (49.1%). I see New York giving Lafreniere more opportunities, perhaps on PP1? Laf has higher expectations being the first overall pick, so NY will give him every chance he needs to become a regular top-six forward.
I will be queuing both of these names in fantasy drafts and will not be afraid to grab them in the later rounds. Kakko has been going undrafted in most leagues, so feel free to add him to the watch list and keep an eye on him as the season starts.
Thanks for reading another FP Don article. I hope I answered some questions you may have had leading into this fantasy season. Good luck in your drafts this year!