The NHL regular season is just a week away and fantasy hockey players are breaking out of their offseason slumber. If you don’t follow every team religiously, making the best picks can be a challenge. While you may estimate a player’s worth based on last season’s performance, training camp and preseason games have a tendency to shake up a roster.
The Boston Bruins are a team going through a revolution of sorts. A few familiar faces from the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team lay at the top of the pyramid, but the team’s recently acquired depth is feeling the heat from up-and-coming prospects. That is causing a fracture up and down Boston’s lineup where prospects are determined to fill in the cracks.
Here are some Bruins snubs and sleepers. While some of these players may trend down from last season, others might be great additions to your fantasy hockey team in the later rounds of the draft.
Brandon Carlo is a name that might not be on the casual hockey fan’s radar. Netting six goals and assisting 10 others last season, the rookie defensemen took on top-pair duties with Zdeno Chara for the majority of the campaign. Better yet, he appeared in 82 games that year.
Carlo proved, as a 2o-year-old no less, that he can fend off the league’s finest forwards. Even with Charlie McAvoy making his regular season debut, the 37th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft is guaranteed a top-four role. In fact, he will likely continue to develop under Chara’s wing. In his sophomore season, I expect his offensive stats will only grow, especially in the high-paced offense that will be pushed by young forwards making their first NHL appearances. He may not be scoring goals, but look for a hike in his assists assuming he becomes more accustomed to breaking out of his own zone at the NHL level.
Carlo posted 87 hits and 115 blocks last season while averaging 20:49 in ice time per game. The Colorado Springs-native is certainly not a bad choice in the later rounds of a fantasy hockey draft. He is certainly capable of holding his own if your star defenseman goes down with an injury.
Chara is a defenseman fantasy hockey players might wind up only using as a utility player. While he is ultimately valuable as a top-pair defenseman, I would not recommend he be relied upon as your team’s number one or even number two option.
Big Z scored 10 goals and assisted 19 others last season, appearing in 75 games for the Bruins. He is, however, now 40 years old and is entering the last season of a long-term contract. While that may mean he has plenty to prove, there has been speculation as to the number of minutes Chara will receive this year.
Being one of the oldest active players in the league, Chara has slowed down since winning the Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011. Though he averaged 25:26 that season, the defenseman averaged just 23:20 this past year. Limiting Chara’s time, however, does not necessarily mean by minutes per game. The overall number of games he will play in a season could be cut, which is something Fantasy Hockey fans should look out for. With so many young defensemen ready to break into the NHL, coach Bruce Cassidy has the option to bench his captain and very well could for 10-15 games this season.
In the end, Chara’s 6-foot-9-inch frame will always be good for two things: hitting and blocking. Boston’s captain accumulated 130 hits and 140 blocks last year, the most blocks he has made in his career with the team.
While Bruins fans certainly have not been sleeping on Anders Bjork, your competitors might be. In case you haven’t heard, every indication has been made that Bjork will start the year on Boston’s first line with Marchand and Bergeron.
The 21-year-old put up 40 goals and 69 assists in 115 games with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Numbers are always subject to change when a player climbs a rung of the NHL ladder, but one thing you can’t take away from Bjork is his skill.
The Wisconsin-native has every characteristic one would look for in a goal scorer. He can turn on the jets, be nifty with his stick work, and isn’t afraid to put both of those on display. His shot looks awfully tremendous as well, especially when it comes off a pass from the likes of Bergeron.
Playing with Bergeron and Marchand allows Bjork to get more creative offensively. His linemates are solid two-way forwards, allowing him to strike deep into the opponent’s zone without worrying about being the first forward back.
Bjork has yet to officially stamp his ticket to the Bruins’ first line, but it would be mind-boggling if he wasn’t somewhere in the lineup on October 5. So far, Cassidy has felt inclined to test him with Bergeron and Marchand, and so far Bjork has impressed.
David Backes netted just 17 goals last season, the least he’s scored in a full season since his 2009-10 campaign with the St. Louis Blues. His 38 points in total that year was his lowest rate of production since the 2007-08 season. The hard-hitting center is adjusting to life as a right winger in the NHL. While he played with the likes of Marchand and Bergeron,
The hard-hitting center is adjusting to life as a right winger in the NHL. While he played with the likes of Marchand, Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and David Krejci last year, Backes may find himself on the third line to start the year. That is if Bjork takes first line duties and a prospect like Jake DeBrusk holds onto a second line spot on the left wing.
For that reason, we could see Backes’ numbers hover around his totals from last season. His 225 hits and 47 blocks are both a step down from his last season in St. Louis. If he is demoted to the third line, he will be with the likes of Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey, both of which have a chip on their shoulders with something to prove this season. Frank Vatrano is another Bruin competing for that position.
In the end, David Backes is not a bad addition to your fantasy hockey team. But if you’re expecting him to be getting first line minutes, well, don’t. He will be towards the bottom of your lineup, or even riding the bench depending on the size of your league.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.