Fantasy Hockey Mailbag: Predicting This Season’s Tarasenko

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

Sidney Crosby is still pointless after five games. Last week, I told you to be patient with the perennial favourite to win the league scoring title. This week, I’m telling you to kick him to the curb. Kidding, of course, but Crosby’s lack of production is killing fantasy teams and confusing the masses.

Is Phil Kessel dragging him down? Toronto media might want you to believe that, but I think it’s been adjustment for both of them and it’s only a matter of time until Crosby breaks out. I can’t imagine him being pointless at this time next week, but then again, I said that last week too.

Equally baffling is the brutal start by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It just goes to show how meaningless the pre-season is. The Blue Jackets looked like a force in exhibition, finally healthy and ready to take the league by storm. Instead, they are 0-6 and on the verge of firing their coach. Sergei Bobrovsky is trending toward Ilya Bryzgalov territory right now, which is bad news for anybody that drafted the former Vezina winner as their top goaltender this season.

And what in the Duck is wrong with Anaheim? If you loaded up on Ducks in your fantasy league, thinking this would be their year to light it up, you’re sorely disappointed and probably bringing up the rear in your standings. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry finally got their first points of the season on Sunday with a token assist each. Much like Crosby, their track record and talent level suggests this funk will be short-lived and they’ll be back in the scoring race sooner than later.

Now is a good time to try to buy low on any of those guys. Yes, even Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets aren’t this bad, and once Bobrovsky gets his confidence back, they could go on a lengthy winning streak.

Moving on to this week’s Mailbag . . .

THW colleague James Tanner asked on Twitter: Who’s going to be this year’s (Vladimir) Tarasenko?

(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports) Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals, right, could emerge as a breakout star this season, especially if he gets to continue playing with Alex Ovechkin.
(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals, right, could emerge as a breakout star this season, especially if he gets to continue playing with Alex Ovechkin.

ANSWER: Surprisingly, you’re not the first person to ask this question or a variation of it. But it is a good one and is worth revisiting. Essentially, James is asking for this season’s biggest breakout star — preferably a forward and possibly a Russian. If you’re wanting a Tarasenko clone, then this player needs to be a goal-scorer, not just a set-up man. Looking back on my Big List of the Top 400 Fantasy Forwards, the closest comparable I could find — matching all that criteria — is Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov. He got off to a decent start as Alex Ovechkin’s centre in Nicklas Backstrom’s absence, but assuming Kuznetsov is bumped back down the depth chart to play with lesser wingers, I can’t see him topping 70 points like Tarasenko did last season. I see 30 goals and mid-60s in points as a best-case scenario for Kuznetsov, which would be a big breakout from his 11 goals and 37 points last season, but not quite the equivalent of Tarasenko’s 37 goals and 73 points. My expectations for Kuznetsov are closer to Nikita Kucherov’s stat-line from last season of 28 goals and 64 points. Two more Russians who could potentially land in that range are Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk and Chicago rookie Artemi Panarin. I’ve been pumping the latter’s tires every week — and I’m paying extra close attention to Panarin because I traded up to draft him in one of my keepers leagues — but I’ll say it again, he’s looking like the real deal alongside Patrick Kane. Going away from the Russians and the goal-scorers, I was also high on Mikael Granlund heading into this season and he’s hasn’t let me down thus far. He only had eight goals and 39 points in 68 games last season — prorated to 10 goals and 47 points over 82 games — but I “boldly” predicted that Granlund could double his point total to 78, including 20-plus goals. That would have tied him with Backstrom for sixth overall among league scoring leaders last season and I actually see a lot of similarities between those two players. That has nothing to do with Tarasenko, but I figured I’d plug Granlund again as a strong breakout candidate. I had Nathan MacKinnon ranked 26th — projecting a high-70s point total — and I really see him as this season’s Tyler Seguin, who finished seventh in league scoring last season with a stat-line of 37 goals and 77 points. MacKinnon is obviously a known commodity as a former first overall draft pick and Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year two seasons ago, but that would still be a huge leap for him — his career-highs are 24 goals and 63 points — not to mention a massive bounce-back after only managing 14 goals and 38 points last season. A few more poor man’s Tarasenko candidates could include Brandon Saad, Tyler Toffoli, Mark Scheifele and Bo Horvat, while Jonathan Drouin, Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen may also put up impressive numbers, albeit assist-heavy along the lines of Backstrom or Granlund. That’s not one name, but rather a dozen names of players who could blow up into the next big thing this season à la Tarasenko. I’d be happy to have any of them on my fantasy teams.

Mike Hall asked via email: I’ve got Nick Backstrom and need to take him out of IR, which one of these forwards would you drop: Tomas Tatar, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Patric Hornqvist, Alex Galchenyuk or Artemi Panarin?

(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers) Artemi Panarin is one of the more intriguing newcomers to the league this season, but he's not as established as the rest of Mike's players, which makes Panarin a tough keep now that it's time to make room for Nicklas Backstrom again.
(Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)
Artemi Panarin is one of the more intriguing newcomers to the league this season, but he’s not as established as the rest of Mike’s players, which makes Panarin a tough keep now that Nicklas Backstrom has returned to the lineup.

ANSWER: The easy answer is Panarin, except it’s not that easy. As mentioned above, he’s developed great chemistry with Kane and could actually outproduce some of those more recognizable names. Casual hockey fans may not know much about Panarin yet, but the hardcores are already labeling him a fantasy steal and scrambling to get him on their roster before he becomes a household name, which is seeming inevitable at this rate. Still, Backstrom is one of the league’s best playmakers and tends to produce at a point-per-game pace — he had three points in his return from injury Saturday night — so you absolutely need to make room for him ASAP. I might be a bit biased towards Oilers players, but I feel Nugent-Hopkins is the cream of this crop and shouldn’t be on the bubble here. I previously suggested Galchenyuk as a breakout candidate too, so I’d be patient with him. That leaves Tatar or Hornqvist if you want to take a longer look at Panarin. You know the second you drop Panarin, some other savvy GM is going to grab him and you’ll probably never get him back. That said, he’s the odd-man out in that group based on career accomplishments and my fantasy forward rankings. The one catch could be that Mike’s league penalizes — rather than rewards — penalty minutes. It’s a different system where you’re deducted 0.20 points for every penalty minute, meaning a five-minute major would cost you one point. As would a few two-minute minors. Of those guys currently on Mike’s roster, Hornqvist is the most prone to taking penalties. Goals and assists are weighted evenly, so perhaps that is a deciding factor. I’d probably still drop Panarin — as much as it would pain me to do so — but Hornqvist would be next on my chopping block if I couldn’t bring myself to part with a personal favourite.

Stefan Morrone asked on Facebook: Somebody dropped Steve Mason in my pool. My goalies are Braden Holtby, Martin Jones, Mike Smith and Jimmy Howard. I want to upgrade the position. Would Mason make for a better third goalie than Smith? Howard is fourth for me because he won’t get as many starts.

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) I'm not a Steve Mason fan — he's done me wrong in fantasy years past — but he's still worth consideration for Stefan.
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
I’m probably not the guy to be asking about adding Steve Mason — he’s done me wrong in fantasy years past — but he’s still worth consideration for Stefan in this case.

ANSWER: Full disclosure or disclaimer, I’m not a Steve Mason fan. I’ve been burned by him in years past and watched him destroy the fantasy dreams of many others. The saying goes ‘hell hath no fury like a women scorned’, but it can also be applied to Mason’s former owners. I wanted to tell you to run for the hills, to not touch him with a 10-foot pole. But putting aside my own disdain and also realizing that Mason is coming off a statistically strong campaign — far superior to both Smith and Howard — I can see where your temptation and rationale is coming from. It makes sense to take a chance on Mason over either of those two. Smith was terrible last season but sensational in his first three starts this season. He’s since lost twice in a row and was pulled once. Howard is the real wild-card here. Most, including myself, expect Petr Mrazek to eventually grab hold of the starting job in Detroit, but Howard has been solid so far and isn’t about to hand over those reins. As a platooner on a winning team like the Red Wings, Howard probably has more value than Smith as a starter on a losing team like the Coyotes. But if Howard is relegated to a backup role, then Smith might be better suited as your fourth-stringer. Stefan’s league has four goaltending categories — the standard ones in wins, shutouts, save-percentage and goals-against-average — and you always have to factor that into the equation. Smith probably isn’t going to steal you many wins and his GAA could become more hindrance than help if/when the Coyotes plummet to the bottom of the standings, but his save-percentage should remain respectable. He’s guaranteed to get the lion’s share of starts for Arizona, something that can’t be said for Howard. Between the two, I’d probably hang onto Howard just because of the team in front of him and the likelihood of getting wins and possibly even shutouts — or at least a lower GAA — whenever he gets between the pipes. Smith, to me, is more expendable unless you believe the Coyotes can remain competitive and be a .500 or better hockey team. Holtby and Jones are obvious keepers for you. The other two are iffy, but so is Mason, especially with Michal Neuvirth posing a legitimate threat to his playing time. Neuvirth, as I’m sure you know, has posted back-to-back shutouts for the Flyers and will likely keep the crease until he falters. That’s probably why Mason was dropped in the first place, but he remains the incumbent starter there and the new coach will go back to him sooner than later. Mason has more leash to work with than Howard, but not as much as Smith. It wouldn’t surprise me if a goaltending controversy developed in Philadelphia, but I admittedly don’t trust Mason based on his sketchy track record dating back to his Columbus days. If you have more confidence in him than I do, then he’s probably worth picking up and swapping out either Smith or Howard (your choice). I certainly wouldn’t blame you for making a move here.

Scott Davis asked on Facebook: Would Oscar Lindberg from the Rangers be a decent pick up? I took Leon Draisaitl in the 15th round and I don’t think he’s going to play. Your thoughts?

(Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports) Oscar Lindberg got off to a hot start with the New York Rangers and now he's getting claimed on waivers in all kinds of fantasy leagues. Looking past his current point total, there might be better options available for Scott.
(Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
Oscar Lindberg got off to a hot start with the New York Rangers and now he’s getting claimed on waivers in all kinds of fantasy leagues. Looking past his current point total, there might be better options available for Scott.

ANSWER: That would be a smart swap. Unless you’re in a keeper league, anybody in the NHL is better than somebody in the AHL because any chance at stats is better than no chance. In a single-season league like this, you don’t want to “waste” roster spots on minor-leaguers. I had the privilege of getting to know Leon Draisaitl very well last season and I believe in his long-term potential to be a point-producer and valuable fantasy player. If the Oilers run into injuries and Draisaitl gets called up, I’d grab him and give him a shot again because he can definitely generate offence. But for right now, you’re better off with Lindberg, who is not only in the NHL, but off to a surprisingly hot start. Surprising given that Lindberg came into the season as an unheralded rookie. Reality is, he’s a third-liner that has been overachieving and will almost certainly cool off in the coming days or weeks. I don’t expect Lindberg to be in the running for rookie of the month at the end of October. So I decided to ask Scott for screen shot or short list of available players in his league, thinking there might be a better option out there. Turns out, there were upwards of 10 players that I like as much or more than Lindberg going forward. Remember, you don’t get credit for the points that Lindberg has already racked up, but only his points to come in the future. Three names immediately jumped out at me in Jiri Tlusty, Ryan Spooner and Tobias Rieder. The next wave included Kyle Palmieri, Matt Nieto and Lars Eller. In that order, I’d take any of those six over Lindberg. Four others who I felt could outpoint Lindberg the rest of the way were Milan Michalek, Matt Read, Chris Tierney and Peter Holland, with the latter two being the closest comparables. Lindberg has the hot hand as of today, so perhaps Scott could capitalize on that short-term, but over the long haul, I prefer those other guys.

My Fantasy World

Keeper 1

Even with Crosby kept off the scoresheet for a second straight week, my team scored a blowout 8-1-1 victory to jump all the way up to third place. Our three-time defending champion stole the show, though, posting a 10-0-0 shutout to take over top spot in that 20-team league. Despite those lopsided scores, most the categories were close and even those matchups came down to Saturday as per usual in head-to-head formats.

Parity has been the story of this season so far, with five points separating second from 12th in the standings — and only 18 points between first and last.

My big win was thanks to the NHL’s first star of the week, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, and some better-late-than-never contributions from my contingent of Edmonton players. In Saturday’s Battle of Alberta, the Oilers made history with all four of their first overall picks scoring a goal in a 5-2 triumph over the Calgary Flames — and I reaped the benefits with three of them on my roster in Taylor Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. Prior to that, the Oilers were 0-4 and their leading scorers were tied with one measly point. Yakupov netted another power-play goal on Sunday to give me an extra point by tying the special-teams goals category. Hopefully they can keep it up because they really are the key to my team’s success — I was only leading 5-4-1 after Friday’s games before Edmonton broke out in a big way. I also own Benoit Pouliot and Anton Lander, so as the Oilers go, my team goes.

Once Crosby gets going, I should be able to hold my own against anybody and everybody, but there are no easy wins with the playing field very level at present.

We’re all gunning to knock off that aforementioned kingpin, who was fortunate to claim Reto Berra off waivers just in time for his shutout and strong encore performance. Lucky or not, that move made the difference en route to a clean sweep.

Speaking of moves, we’re starting to see more trades lately and that particular GM made a couple of win-now deals in his pursuit of the four-peat.

INCOMING = Wayne Simmonds

OUTGOING = Brock Nelson and Sergei Plotnikov

ANALYSIS: Simmonds is the best player in the deal, especially with shots and penalty minutes as categories, but he paid fair value. Simmonds is on an expiring contract and Nelson needs to be extended after this season. This deal really depends on whether Plotnikov booms or busts over the next three seasons.

INCOMING = Logan Couture

OUTGOING = Matt Moulson, Jeremy Bracco and a Third Round Pick

ANALYSIS: Talk about a bad break here. He acquired Couture the day before he broke his leg and didn’t even get a game out of him. Fortunately for him, Couture is only expected to be sidelined for 6 to 10 weeks and not three months like Calgary’s Lance Bouma. Couture is, again, the best player in this trade and should help him once healthy. It is a lot to give up, though, considering Couture and Simmonds are both on expiring contracts and will be going back to auction next fall.

My team made the most “meh” trade of all-time, a minor move to add goaltending depth — heaven forbid something ever happen to Price.

INCOMING = Curtis McElhinney

OUTGOING = Rene Bourque

ANALYSIS: Price had been the only NHL goaltender on my roster for the first two weeks, with Jacob Markstrom still on the Injured Reserve. I previously dropped Dustin Tokarski when Mike Condon beat him out as Price’s backup, but somebody beat me to Condon on the waiver wire. I’m not too high on McElhinney and despite making that deal on Friday night, there was no way I was letting him debut for my team on Saturday against the high-powered Chicago Blackhawks. Smart decision there as Columbus lost 4-1 and McElhinney would have sabotaged Price’s stats. Maybe I’ll give McElhinney a chance this week, maybe.

My only other roster move was a waiver claim for Chris Kelly, who seems to be generating some offence on Boston’s third line. He replaces Detroit’s fourth-line centre Luke Glendening in what might amount to a lateral swap.

I like to share the bigger trades from both my leagues with our Mailbag readers, so here are a couple more from the past week:

INCOMING = Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Calvert

OUTGOING = Martin Hanzal, Alex Burrows and Paul Bittner

INCOMING = Anton Stralman

OUTGOING = Jared Spurgeon, Brenden Kichton and a Second Round Pick

Keeper 2

Coming off a hard-fought defeat in Week 1, I also found the win column here in Week 2. Through two fantasy periods, I’ve ranked eighth and 10th in total fantasy points, or ninth overall to date. Not too shabby for being ranked 21st out of 28 teams in our pre-season power rankings.

My goaltenders really stepped up this past week, with Neuvirth recording consecutive shutouts and Kari Lehtonen also winning twice. They face each other tonight and we only start one goalie per day, but it sounds like the Flyers are going with Mason, so that makes my decision to go with Lehtonen that much easier. I was leaning in that direction regardless.

In other news pertaining to this league, I received this doozy of a trade offer on (Canadian) Thanksgiving morning:

Incoming = Alec Martinez, Scottie Glennie, David Musil and Anthony Camara

Outgoing = Ty Rattie, my first-round pick and a mid-to-late third-round pick

I was dumbfounded but cut that GM some slack by politely rejecting and responding with the comment “you’re drunk, go back to bed!”

But he persisted, following up with another equally insulting offer:

Incoming = Milan Michalek, Alec Martinez, Scott Glennie and David Musil

Outgoing = Chris Tanev, Ty Rattie and the same two picks

My response? “Nope, still drunk . . . but thanks for giving me something to write about!”

We did have one pretty fair deal go down:

Incoming = Brayden Schenn and Joe Morrow

Outgoing = Bryan Little and Mike Fisher

Do you have a question for the Fantasy Hockey Mailbag? Ask it in the comments below.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.