Hot Starts - Fact or Fiction

Uncovering the frauds among the NHL’s league leaders throughout the season’s early weeks.

The start to the 2021-22 NHL season has brought plenty of surprises so far to fantasy managers. Several sleeper picks like Carter Hart, Evan Bouchard and Jesse Puljujarvi have emerged as legitimate threats and should help lead your team into the playoffs. While there was not much at stake with sleepers , there are a few hot starts you may be wondering about and questioning whether they are sustainable. I'm here to help answer some of those doubts with a few players below.

Elias Lindholm, CGY (7G-4A-11P)

Lindholm seemed like one of the few Flames’ forwards who adjusted quickly and well to Darryl Sutter last season. That has appeared to continue into this year, but I am skeptical that a forward who has never scored 30 goals will be able to keep up this almost goal-per-game pace.

I am a big fan of xGF (Expected Goals For) and the variations of that stat. One thing that jumps out to me from an analytical standpoint is Lindholm’s Goals Above Expected. This essentially measures how many goals the player has compared to how many we would expect him to have given his shots and shot info. Elias currently ranks third in the NHL with a 3.9 GAx. He has scored nearly 4 goals more than he deserves based on his shot data. Call it skill, call it luck, I call it a combination of both, with more emphasize on the luck portion.

Lindholm, Source: The Calgary Sun

In addition to the bounces going Lindholm’s way, his shooting % is sky-high and bound to regress as the season progresses. A career 11.9% shooter is currently scoring on just under 30% (29.2%) of his shots.

Let’s suppose Lindholm worked hard on his shot during the offseason? It won't be enough to make him an elite forward, therefore, I would be selling high on Lindholm and if you want a goal scorer on Calgary, pick up Andrew Mangiapane. FICTION

Andrei Svechnikov, CAR (7G-4A-11P)

I promise I won’t only talk about players with 7 goals and 11 points, but here is one I am actually high on and expect the pace to continue.

On draft day I was still scared to reach for Svechnikov. Still a young buck developing his game, the 21-year-old seems like the best dark horse pick to break the all-time games played record. As I am writing this, Svechnikov is playing, but he is only 1,566 (~19 seasons) games away from the current record held by Patrick Marleau.

Svechnikov, Source: NBC Sports

Back to fantasy however, Svech has come out with a bang this season and has done so in limited minutes. Among the top-40 scoring leaders this season, Svechnikov ranks 40th in ATOI at 15:42. Why is his ice time so low? I can’t answer that to be honest. I do know that ranking in the top-five in the league in Points/60 will help your cause for increased ice time.

The FantasyPuck crew were huge fans of the Teravainen-Aho-Svechnikov line we saw a bit last season, and the results showed it was a successful line as that line led the team in xGF/60 among forward lines with at least 100 mins. TOI. Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour seems like a stubborn, hard-nosed guy and while it has led to success for Carolina, it doesn’t mean it is always the right way to approach things. Svechnikov is on pace to easily break his career-high in goals (24) and points (61) and bringing his TOI closer 18 minutes would help secure a spot in next year’s top-10 in fantasy drafts. On the bright side his minutes can only go up from here. FACT

Evgeny Kuznetsov, WSH (5G-8A-13P)

This is a really fun one to talk about because I used to be really high on Kuz in fantasy leagues 2,3,4 years ago and you knew what he was good for. His floor was always 50-60 points with an emphasis on assists. I was contempt with that. After seeing his play this season it is like night and day from last year.

Watching Kuznetsov last season it seemed like he was not a top-quality player, just someone who benefitted from getting the puck to Ovechkin. That is the reason for a large portion of his assists and power play points, but he has somewhat transformed his game in a positive way and was asked about it recently in an interview. Here is a snippet from a recent Washington Post article and some quotes from Kuz;

Talk about positivity and determination. I love hearing confidence and this kind of talk from athletes, particularly when they are relevant in fantasy leagues. If they are buying into the work and into the team than I want a piece of that on my fantasy team.

Kuznetsov, Source: Stars and Sticks

From a statistical standpoint, Kuz is all of a sudden scoring? Five goals in nine games coming off a season in which he had nine goals in 41 games. Not only is the production there but he is clearly being rewarded for it. Expect to see his name in a future article highlighting TOI increases season-over-season because Kuznetsov’s is up nearly five minutes to 21:07.

With Ovechkin seemingly not feeling any effects of age, I see a relationship on the ice that not even a Nicklas Backstrom return could break up. Will Kuz lose a minute or two of ice time when Backstrom comes back from injury? Likely, but even at 19 minutes, I like the shoot-more mentality that he has developed this season. Kuz is shooting a career-pace while playing on a line that has a game plan of “get Ovi the puck”. I’m buying into Kuz this year. FACT

Anze Kopitar, LAK (7G-6A-13P)

Kopitar had the best start to his career in his age-34 season a couple of weeks ago scoring nine points in his first four games of the year. This is all fun and dandy, but in the five games since the original outburst, he only has one goal and three assists. Those four points came against Montreal and Buffalo by the way.

In the (what we think is the) twilight of his fantastic career, Kings fans have no reason to complain about his hot start. Fantasy owners who took him as a reliable vet don’t either. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be sold high for some younger pieces who you can rely on for the rest of the season.

Not only is Anze’s current shooting % double what his career S% is (12.9%), he has also been rewarded with the highest Goals Above Expected in the entire league. Tied with Alex Ovechkin for the lead at 4.7 GAx, Kopitar has undoubtedly been lucky this season.

The Kings received word recently that Sean Walker and PP1 quarterback Drew Doughty would miss significant time with injuries. An already young franchise losing two veteran blue liners cannot be good for Kopitar’s production and even if they were healthy, the Kings are just not a threat yet in the NHL. 2-3 more years and their prospect pool will be full time NHLers poised for some deep playoff runs.

Kopitar, Source Los Angeles Times

Sell high on Kopitar and get yourself another forward and an underperforming D to go along with it like Alex Pietrangelo or Shea Theodore while their value is low. FICTION


Thanks for reading another FP Don article. I hope you enjoyed my breakdown of these hot starts. If you have any other players in mind who have started off hot and you are unsure of their future, follow us on Twitter @fantasy_puck and join our Discord where the FP crew and hundreds of other fantasy hockey fans will be glad to help you out!

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