Man Advantage - Using the Power Play to Identify Breakout Rookies

Predicting rookies to target and how being on the PP contributes to their fantasy success.


Welcome back to another FP Don article. The aim of this is to identify some breakout rookies by looking at past examples of first-year players who have benefited from their use on the power play and what kind of impact this has on their success in fantasy pools and DFS.

Every fantasy league I am in has some sort of category for special team points making the topic of the power play an important topic in fantasy discussions. It doesn’t take much digging to see that a player’s production benefits significantly when they are on one of the top power play units. More shot opportunities, goal opportunities and puck possession leads to an increase in statistics that benefit the player’s fantasy production. How can we predict surprise emergences on to top power play line like we saw with Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes last season? Unless you are in the team’s front office, we really can’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t predict and assume who will have an impact on special teams.

This past season, Quinn Hughes was second amongst all rookies with just under 1,500 minutes of TOI. He also led all rookies in PP TOI with 256 minutes. Only about 17% of his total TOI was played on the power play. Not a huge percentage when it is all said and done. However, when you realize that Hughes accumulated 47% of his total points on the power play (3G-22A) you start to consider how important the power play is, especially for an underrated and low ADP player such as Hughes (ADP-154).

Every year there will be players like Hughes that will be a pleasant surprise for fantasy teams, but was his PP usage and production expected? Hughes saw power play immediately. The first game of the season versus Edmonton, Quinn played 46% of the total PP time. The season prior, the Canucks were skating names like Ben Hutton, Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher on their power play at some point during the season. Not exactly stud, offensive defenseman, so the thought of a younger, puck moving d-man like Hughes taking a chunk of those minutes the following season was not crazy at all.

I think I have proved well enough, the importance of focusing on PP time for your mid to late-round defenseman in fantasy drafts, so let’s see what potential breakout candidates we can find for this upcoming season.

To start, I looked at what PP units were statistically bad and paper as well as units I felt had recently lost a player or have one I believed could be easily replaced.

Arizona – recently departed with Carl Soderberg (CHI) and Derek Stepan (OTT). Frees up a lot of PP time for a center to step up.

Detroit – in no crazy 2020 world should Sam Gagner be playing on your PP. I don’t care how many eight point games he has had in his career.

Florida – several key losses including Mike Hoffman (STL), Erik Haula (NSH) and Evgenii Dadonov (OTT).

New Jersey – Subban flopped and this team lacks a true offensive threat on the blue line.

San Jose – loss of Thornton mixed with the inconsistency of Burns and Karlsson leaves some question marks on the PP outside of their locks in Meier, Couture and Kane.

With the exception of Arizona (maybe), you could say all of these teams are likely going to finish outside of the playoff picture barring any surprises. In many cases this is where we see young rookies being able to break out and keep a spot on the roster. Prior to Quinn Hughes’ breakout, the Canucks were a .500 team in the draft lottery. They’ve made great strides overall, not just on their blue line, but without a doubt the emergence of young guns like Pettersson, Boeser and Hughes have been a huge factor.

So, we have identified some teams that could benefit from an emergence of breakout rookie. How likely are these to happen this season? Have these teams been known to experiment with rookies on the PP before? Let’s have a look!

Arizona: The Coyotes seem to be a victim of uncertainty and misdirection. The front office mess from the offseason seems to be calming down as of late, but the inability to attract big-name free agents mixed in with the constant relocation rumours dampen any promise the team has. As I mentioned earlier, Arizona lost a handful of names, particularly forwards on their power play. Cue the opportunity for center Barrett Hayton. After a taste of the NHL in 2019-20, Hayton seems ready to take advantage of the lack of center depth in the desert. The Coyotes are no stranger to trusting rookies on the PP as you can see below.

This is promising for Hayton and Arizona fans as all three of these players continue to be Top 9 players on the Coyotes. Currently Hayton’s ADP isn’t even available. Unless you are in a very deep or large league, I would recommend putting Barrett on your watch list and waiting for the playtime to come as there should be next to no competition for him on the waiver wire. He isn’t my favourite rookie stash, but he could definitely wind up being the forward who gets the most opportunity on this list.

Detroit: The Wings are still several years away from competing making rookie opportunities plentiful. We saw sleeper Filip Hronek quietly put together a great season on a subpar Detroit blue line. This year I’m liking another Filip in the organization, Filip Zadina. I am kind of breaking my rules of the article as Zadina is not technically a rookie anymore, but with less than 40 games in the NHL, I am still considering a young gun and a breakout candidate. The best part about Zadina is that he already has been given time on the PP for Detroit meaning they see offensive potential in him at a young age.

Zadina, like Hayton, is not displayed with an ADP, therefore will be dependent on making the team out of camp in order to be relevant in fantasy.

Florida: I see the Panthers in a similar position to Arizona. They have the potential to be above .500 and in a playoff hunt, but their depth might be an issue when you look past their elite forwards. Aleksander Barkov cannot play the full game although with his ice time some games it seems like that is what Florida wants. In addition to losing several notable members of the PP, they have been waiting for the right opportunity to play forward Owen Tippett. Other than a seven game tryout in 2017-18, Tippett has been tearing up the OHL and AHL. This is the year I see Tippett emerging as the offensive talent to support Barkov and Huberdeau and hopefully it is on the power play. Unfortunately for Tippett, the Panthers are one of the few teams I have come across that have had limited rookie success in the past three seasons even strength and on the power play.

Nonetheless, I believe Tippett is the most offensively ready player named in this article. With rumours mentioning him playing on the first line alongside Barkov and/or Huberdeau, it can only lead to positives for him and your fantasy team. Tippett’s currently ranked around the same area as players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Sam Steel.

New Jersey: Another basement-dwelling team similar to Detroit and San Jose. The Devils have been troubled with underwhelming rookies for several years now. NCAA star Will Butcher comes to mind. After a 44-point rookie season, he has posted 30 and 21 points in the following two seasons. Other names like Pavel Zacha (6th Overall), Jack Hughes (1st Overall) and Michael McLeod (12th Overall) are some other names that are running out of time before they become “busts”. Ty Smith, who can be considered a player comparable this article’s lover Quinn Hughes. An undersized, offensive-minded defenseman. Smith has produced at every level he has played at and on a Devils team with a couple of liabilities on their blue line, look for Ty Smith to emerge as a power play staple in New Jersey.

The Devils are not shy to play their rookies on the power play as even the struggling Jack Hughes saw plenty of opportunity last season. Hischier is an oddity as only 6 of his 52 points came on the power play. Consider Smith in dynasty or deep leagues instead of names like James Neal or Damon Severson.

San Jose: The final player is also an offensive defenseman. Ryan Merkley was said to have top 10 talent on draft day, but fell to the Sharks at #21 likely due to some attitude issues. This is the only thing I can see holding Merkley back from having a successful NHL career. Although Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson still remain top fantasy d-men, (Karlsson is actually one of my keepers in a league) I like Merkley’s chances at a PP opportunity given EK’s injury history and the aging d-core the Sharks have: Burns (34), Vlasic (32), Karlsson (29) and Heed (29).

This scares me somewhat. Is San Jose afraid to play their rookies on their PP or is there an issue with the talent level coming from their system? Now that I look at it, I can’t think of stud rookie to debut for the Sharks since Tomas Hertl in 2013-14. I guess sooner or later this would catch up to them and last year was the perfect example. I’d be cautious to take Merkley in anything until we see some sustainable play time. He is without a doubt the biggest stretch to be a success this season on this list, but it’s no fun to not include someone like that.

Thanks for reading and I hope I helped enlighten you on the impact of PP time for rookies. Most teams are willing to provide the opportunity, it is how the player handles it that will make the difference between an average rookie season and a breakout year. Using what we know for fantasy can also help us benefit in DFS. These players are surely going to come at discounts early in the season. Likely around the $2,500-$3,000 range on DraftKings. If you are in need of a cheap option in a lineup and notice that a rookie has had some PP time, take a chance on them before you draft a 3rd line veteran for the same price!

-FP Don


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