Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Pay Attention to World Juniors, Penguins

Fantasy Hockey Mailbag is a weekly column, answering your questions every Tuesday. No question is too big or too small, so if you want advice or feedback on any topic related to fantasy hockey, just ask away in the comments below.

fantasy hockey mailbag

Bad news, the Mailbag is essentially empty this week.

But, wait, don’t leave. Normally I wouldn’t resort to this, but I couldn’t resist asking myself a couple questions. Next week, hopefully you’ll have some more for me.

Before stooping to that extreme, I did have some good ongoing dialogue with one of our Mailbag regulars, Kris Noble, throughout the past week.

It was wide-ranging, full of trade offers, some more fair than others.

Kris originally asked about an offer he received of Evgeni Malkin and Kyle Palmieri for Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and a second-round pick. He rejected it due to a lack of depth on left wing, and countered with the Oilers’ young trio of Hall, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, but that went nowhere as you might expect. The other GM did pull off a blockbuster, packaging his Russian stars with Johnny Boychuk for Steven Stamkos, Blake Wheeler and Brent Burns. Not sure what I think of that deal yet, and being a keeper league, it might depend on where Stamkos ends up playing next season or even later this season. Kris was then considering an offer around Hall for Stamkos, which in any other season would be shot down immediately, but Hall has been outperforming Stamkos by a substantial margin this season and closing the gap in name value too. If Kris is confident that Stamkos will turn it on the rest of the way and return to stud status next season, then that could be a classic case of buy low and sell high, but if I were him, I’d enjoy Hall’s hot streak for a little while longer and hold off until Stamkos heats up at least a bit. Oh, and hope Hall stays healthy in the meantime too (knock on wood).

Kris has been fielding lots of offers for Eberle lately, now that he’s starting to score again. Kris could have swapped him straight up for Cory Schneider but resisted that urge and decided to stick with his current goaltending depth of Ben Bishop, Jaroslav Halak and Connor Hellebuyck, who Kris is high on and so am I. Schneider is tough to turn down and that seems like passing on a sure win, but it’s more understandable if it meant having to drop Hellebuyck in a keeper. Bishop, Schneider and Halak would have formed quite the formidable trio in the here and now, though.

The other guy that Kris is contemplating trading away is Alex Galchenyuk. His potential targets include Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli and Leon Draisaitl. If Kris was “going for it” this season, then smart money would be on Kopitar outscoring Galchenyuk the rest of the way, especially with this being a contract year for Kopitar. He’s a potential unrestricted free agent next summer, so Kopitar is playing for a bigger payday and should pick up the pace from a fantasy perspective too. Galchenyuk for Draisaitl is an interesting swap, both being former third overall picks, with Draisaitl surprisingly outproducing his elder to this point in the season. Can Draisaitl keep it up? And what about next season, or the year after? Who has the most long-term potential between the two? Those are all factors that Kris needs to weigh, but I see Galchenyuk and Draisaitl having similar value for the foreseeable future, so it could be a matter of personal preference. And considering all those Oilers on Kris’s roster already, one more couldn’t hurt, right? Well, sometimes too much of a good thing — or too much of one thing — can be a bad thing. If the Oilers have a light schedule one week — like last week, when Edmonton only played twice — then that makes Kris ripe for the taking in a head-to-head format. However, in weeks when the Oilers have four games like this week, Kris could really rack up the points. I’ve been guilty of rostering “too many” Oilers myself during their poor years, so I’d caution Kris against that move or suggest shipping out Eberle if he’s bringing Draisaitl into the fold for Galchenyuk. I like Toffoli as a player and will say he’s the best pure goal-scorer of the bunch, but Galchenyuk still has the higher ceiling in terms of point potential, so I’d probably stick with him for at least another year.

Now moving on to a couple questions — from me, myself and I. This could get awkward . . .

What kind of fantasy impact, if any, will Mike Johnston’s firing have on Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh’s other star players?

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) You're probably thinking "another week, another Crosby question", but this one is warranted based on the sudden coaching change with Mike Sullivan, above, taking over for the fired Mike Johnston. Sullivan is said to be more offensive-minded and that should bode well for Crosby and the rest of Pittsburgh's underachieving stars with the exception of Evgeni Malkin. More of the same from him would be welcomed by fantasy owners, but even Malkin could pick up the pace if Sullivan's systems come as advertised.
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
You’re probably thinking “another week, another Crosby question”, but this one is warranted based on the sudden coaching change in Pittsburgh with Mike Sullivan, above, taking over for the fired Mike Johnston. Sullivan is said to be more offensive-minded and that should bode well for Crosby and the rest of Pittsburgh’s underachieving stars with the exception of Malkin. More of the same from him would be welcomed by fantasy owners, but even Malkin could pick up the pace if Sullivan’s systems come as advertised.

ANSWER: This coaching change is widely thought to be good news for fantasy owners. So aren’t you glad I suggested hanging on to Sid and opposed trading him AGAIN in last week’s Mailbag? Now, you may still need to practice patience until the calendar flips to 2016 because any improvements aren’t going to happen overnight. The players will all need to adjust to another new system, but Mike Sullivan realizes the task at hand — to help fantasy owners far and wide by getting the most points possible out of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and others. Well, that might not be his mandate, but helping us should, in turn, help him and the Penguins get back into the playoff picture. Because, when Crosby and company are producing up to their potential, Pittsburgh is an unstoppable force and fantasy owners also stand to benefit. Get those guys going and everybody wins. Rightly or wrongly, Johnston is shouldering the blame for holding them back. Crosby, especially, was on pace for the worst statistical season of his career at the time of Johnston’s firing — trending toward only 18 goals and 56 points, or just 0.68 points-per-game. He had 28 goals and 84 points under Johnston last season and even that was considered mediocre by Crosby’s standards, having racked up 36 goals and 104 points two years ago under Dan Bylsma, who more or less let Crosby do his thing. Some say Johnston’s system actually preached a defence-first mentality and discouraged, to some extent, offensive creativity. If that’s true, Sullivan would be wise to approach this challenge with much the opposite mentality, to loosen the reins and let his horses run. With Kessel new to the fold this season, the Penguins should have been more potent than ever, so it’ll be interesting to see if that still comes to fruition over the latter two-thirds of the season. In Sullivan’s debut last night, the Penguins dropped a 4-1 decision to the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals, but Pittsburgh did register a season-high 45 shots with the following key players firing four each — Crosby, Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and David Perron. That’s a positive sign and Vezina favourite Braden Holtby won’t be between the pipes to block them every night, so if that trend continues, the goals will certainly start coming for Pittsburgh. After the game, the Penguins announced the acquisition of Trevor Daly from Chicago in exchange for Rob Scuderi, swapping a defence-first guy for a more offensive-minded defender, another step in the right direction in my opinion. I sense a breakout game coming very soon for Crosby and the Penguins in general.

Who are the players to watch at the upcoming world juniors? Which prospects attending this year’s tournament have the most fantasy potential? Should I target some of them for trades ahead of time?

ANSWER: This is the Auston Matthews tournament, much like last year was the Connor McDavid tourney. Matthews is the projected first overall pick for the 2016 NHL draft — the consensus top prospect heading into the world juniors — and he’ll be the go-to guy for Team USA. Matthews already had a big role with the Americans at last year’s tournament, and he’s currently playing pro against men in Switzerland — thus accustomed to the bigger ice surface — so he should be a step ahead of his age-group rivals and essentially a man among boys in Finland. I see Matthews as a more explosive Wheeler in the future and I’m fully expecting him to dominate this showcase, ranking among the leading scorers and getting the Americans into the semifinals at the very least and likely onto the podium. There are no warm-up games this year, with the Americans opening against Canada on Boxing Day, so we’ll get to see what Matthews is made of real soon.

Team Canada will counter with a more balanced lineup but still features plenty of firepower up front with Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner, the third and fourth overall picks this year, plus Brayden Point, a third-round steal by Tampa Bay in 2014. That’s not to mention Jake Virtanen of the Vancouver Canucks, who is on loan to Canada, but I’m tempering expectations on him, at least offensively. Virtanen is similar in a lot of ways to Curtis Lazar, who was also loaned to Canada by the Ottawa Senators for last year’s tournament. Virtanen only has one goal and four points in 19 NHL games this season and I don’t see him ever being a big-numbers guy or somebody you build your fantasy team around.

Look to Sweden’s roster for that type of impact player, assuming the Toronto Maple Leafs do end up loaning the AHL’s leading scorer, William Nylander. Besides maybe Matthews, there isn’t a more exciting or dynamic prospect in this year’s tournament. It wouldn’t surprise me if Nylander returned from Finland to the Leafs rather than the Marlies, so he’s definitely a guy I’d be trying to trade for sooner than later if you aren’t already.

The host country will also be boasting a ton of high-end talent, led by two AHLers and former first-rounders in Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen, along with draft-eligible forwards Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine. Kapanen doesn’t have the same offensive upside as Nylander, so don’t mistake the two, but Rantanen has excelled in the AHL after struggling out of the gate in the NHL. I think he could be a player in the big league upon returning from the world juniors too and certainly for next season if you’re in a keeper. Puljujarvi and Laine are equally intriguing, the latter being a fast-riser and someone I’m looking forward to seeing more of on this international stage.

Philadelphia has two up-and-coming defencemen to keep an eye on at the world juniors, with Ivan Provorov representing the Russians and Travis Sanheim suiting up for Canada. They could end up paired on the all-tournament team there and on the Flyers’ blue-line in the years to come. A third defender to take note of is Zach Werenski, who should be a workhorse for the Americans, albeit an all-situations guy more than an offensive stud.

Russia won’t have the wow-factor forwards from years past but will be backstopped by the tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Maxim Tretiak, two goaltenders capable of stealing a medal. Tretiak is the grandson of Russian great Vladislav Tretiak, but Samsonov is the current household name, a Washington first-rounder drawing favourable comparisons to Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Samsonov is committed to the KHL for next season, so buyer beware there — don’t overpay to get him on your fantasy team just yet — but this tournament could further raise his stock if he plays up to his potential.

My Fantasy World

Keeper 1

Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it. Fine, I got spanked 8-1-1 by a seller — go ahead, point and laugh. I feel shame and have fallen into 11th place out of 20 teams as a result, pushing me further towards seller territory myself. It’ll be an uphill battle the rest of the way, with my schedule getting progressively tougher the next couple weeks.

(Photo by Amy Irvin) I obviously can't complain about Erik Karlsson's contributions to date — he's the NHL's highest-scoring defenceman again thus far — but he got blanked in three straight games last week and that proved costly for my team.
(Photo by Amy Irvin)
I obviously can’t complain about Erik Karlsson’s contributions to date — he’s the NHL’s highest-scoring defenceman again thus far — but he got blanked in three straight games last week and that proved costly for my team.

We’ve extended the current period to break up the Christmas lull — running from Dec. 14-22, thus ending on a Tuesday rather than the typical Sunday — so I won’t have a result to report in next week’s Mailbag, but I’m already off to a better start after last night’s opening action. Erik Karlsson, with a goal and an assist, matched my entire defence output from last week when Jeff Petry had my only goal and Calvin de Haan my lone assist, the latter not even coming until Sunday. My team couldn’t have picked a worse week to lay an egg — against an old college buddy, no less — but what’s done is done and we’re on to the next one.

There were actually quite a few blowouts and upsets — and, sadly, upset blowouts — last week, so it really shook up our standings and we now have a familiar face leading the way at our season’s midpoint. None other than our reigning playoff champion, who previously won three straight regular-season titles (2012-2014). Despite the parity in this league improving year over year, he keeps finding a way to win or at least contend for top spot, so I have to give credit where credit is due there. I didn’t think he had it in him this season — I felt his roster was in that 5-10 range coming out of the auction — but he’s defying the odds yet again.

My team is still really missing Carey Price, but my makeshift goaltending carousel is performing admirably in his absence. Three of my four netminders were waiver claims in Linus Ullmark, Dustin Tokarski and, most recently, Joonas Korpisalo, who was pretty impressive in defeat during his NHL debut last night. Jacob Markstrom is the other goalie on my active roster, an auction buy along with Price, while Laurent Brossoit is my top prospect.

The only other prospect I drafted in 2015 recently got called up but has yet to reach the scoresheet — that being, Michael Mersch of the Los Angeles Kings. In hindsight, I’m quite proud of picking Mersch at 69th overall and Brossoit at 89th in our annual rookie draft.

Here’s the most recent trades from that league over the last week:

INCOMING = John Carlson, Brad Richards and Brian Elliott

OUTGOING = Chris Kreider, Jakob Silfverberg, Eric Fehr, a first-round pick (currently 20th overall) and a second-round pick (40th)

ANALYSIS: This was the last big buy for our current standings leader, who gave up the last of his future assets to land the best knowingly-available defenceman in Carlson. Not that he needed him, already boasting a blue-line of Roman Josi, Jake Muzzin, Torey Krug, Andrei Markov, Nick Leddy, Matt Niskanen, Evgeny Medvedev and Xavier Ouellet should he get recalled to the Red Wings. That’s as stacked as it gets on the back end in that league, so he should continue to sweep the defence goals and defence assists categories week in and week out. The half-seller here, who happens to be the first-place team’s father and my current opponent, got a decent return although both Kreider and Silfverberg will require contract extensions in the off-season that will inflate their salaries a bit as keepers.

INCOMING = Steve Mason, Thomas Hickey and Kevin Connauton

OUTGOING = Riley Sheahan, Jujhar Khaira, Travis Konecny, a second-round pick (currently 35th) and a third-round pick (51st)

ANALYSIS: This was a strange deal because our biggest seller turned into a bit of a buyer by targeting Mason. The two defencemen probably aren’t keepers and Sheahan might not be either. If Khaira plays 26 regular-season games, he’ll likely go back to auction as well unless he shows more offensively in the meantime. So essentially, this last-place team — a distant last, I might add — got Mason for two picks and a nice prospect in Konecny (watch for him at the world juniors with Canada, assuming he survives the final two forward cuts). Mason, who seems to be losing his starter’s job to Michal Neuvirth in Philly, needs an extension too but would still be affordable for another season or two. That seller’s only other goalie was Calgary’s Karri Ramo, so there was a bit of a positional need, but I probably would have waited until the auction to address it, especially since he traded away his first-round pick and doesn’t have much to gain by getting better. That pick now belongs to his real-life buddy — as part of a package deal that returned Hampus Lindholm, Nikolaj Ehlers, Konecny and Samsonov — so it’s possible there was an unwritten agreement that he further bolster his roster ahead of the draft lottery tournament to give that buddy the best possible chance at Matthews. That’s about the only rationale that would sense for going after Mason.

INCOMING = Jay Bouwmeester

OUTGOING = Jyrki Jokipakka and a third-round pick (currently 52nd)

ANALYSIS: Bouwmeester is a cheap upgrade on defence but came at the cost of a draft pick. Fair deal.

INCOMING = Vince Dunn

OUTGOING = Joe Morrow

ANALYSIS: Swapping a prospect whose contract just kicked in for one that is still a couple years away. Both Morrow and Dunn could become fantasy keepers, but neither is a sure thing as of today. A nagging injury took Dunn out of the running for Canada’s junior team.

INCOMING = Peter Holland

OUTGOING = Matt Bartkowski and Vince Dunn

ANALYSIS: On the move twice in the same week, Dunn landed with another rebuilding franchise here, albeit the team that just took me to the woodshed. This deal was more about a contender adding a depth forward (Holland) for a depth defenceman (Bartkowski) and throwing in a prospect to make it happen.

Keeper 2

Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it. No, really, I don’t want to talk about this league anymore — but I will continue to do so, as much as it pains me. My team is a lost cause right now and it seems to going from bad to worse with each passing week. I’ve suffered four straight blowout losses here and failed to reach 100 fantasy points in three of them, including my latest 245.7-73.6 embarrassment.

I’d like to tell you these struggles are due to some key injuries but, sadly, my team is mostly healthy and just plain sucking lately in falling to 4-6-0 on the season. To think I had won three in a row and four out of five matchups prior to this slump — twice topping 170 points and even cracking 200 once — that really seems like a distant memory.

I might get back into the win column this week, facing a 5-5-0 team that is only outpointing me 1,1319.3-1,293.4 year-to-date, but I might also “blow it up” in the meantime. I turned down a trade that would have turned me into a seller, but countered with a blockbuster offer that will totally throw in the towel for this season but hopefully set me up for the future. That is, if I decide to stick around this league long enough to see through a rebuilding process. There has been some talk about division realignment that could make it a more enjoyable experience, but that remains to be seen.

At least the trade talks are heating up again, and a couple deals actually went down last week:

INCOMING = Colin Wilson and Cody Hodgson

OUTGOING = Dustin Brown and Niklas Hjalmarsson

ANALYSIS: This seems relatively fair, considering defencemen are always harder to acquire in both these keeper leagues. Not that Hjalmarsson is a big fantasy guy, but he contributes to the hits category and usually records a plus-rating too. He’s at 79.7 individual fantasy points on the season, essentially the same as Dan Girardi (79.8) but ahead of Kevin Bieska (56.4), Alexei Emelin (50.3) and Luca Sbisa (42.6) on his new team’s roster. Brown also has 79.8, while Wilson is obviously underachieving at 58.2 and Hodgson only has 52.0, but those guys are younger and have higher upsides if they can get back on track.

INCOMING = Adam Lowry

OUTGOING = Jamie McGinn and a very late third-round pick (78-84 range)

ANALYSIS: Also fair, Lowry (55.4) is younger and has more potential than McGinn (97.6), but the pick offsets that discrepancy going forward. McGinn is having a solid season by this league’s standards too.

Do you have a question for the Fantasy Hockey Mailbag? You can reach out to me in the comments section below, by email at, or on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter at The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, and has been an at-large contributor for The Hockey Writers since August 2014.