As we get into the dog days of summer and things are relatively quiet on the hockey news front, let’s take this time to delve into fantasy outlooks for teams heading into the season. By now most teams will have finished their offseason shopping list and are beginning to focus on training camp and looking into rookies who could potentially crack their rosters and lineups.
With fantasy hockey season and fantasy hockey drafts approaching more quickly than people think, now is a good time to start rolling out the players to target and avoid for your teams come draft day.
We’ll kick off in the Metro Division with the Islanders. The Isles have turned into a solid fantasy production team over the last few years with the likes of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Nick Leddy, Frans Nielsen and others becoming solid, regular fantasy hockey contributors. The Islanders saw some upheaval this season to their roster and there are fantasy concerns going forward with the losses of Nielsen, Okposo, and Matt Martin all to free agency.
However, the Islanders are still a very good team and they still have some impact fantasy hockey players to look out for.
Top Performer: John Tavares, C
One of the best players in the game today, Tavares has come on over the last few years and has begun to blossom into the superstar player that was his billing when the Islanders drafted him #1 overall in 2009. Tavares is a fantasy goldmine for his owners and has been since his rookie season. Since his debut Tavares has the 11th-most points scored in the NHL, totaling 471 points in 510 games. And since the beginning of last season, Tavares is fourth behind Jamie Benn, Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby in total points in the league.
The Islanders power-play took a downturn this season, causing Tavares to not crack the 20 PPP barrier in a full-season for the first time in his career. That should not be a deterrent for fantasy owners, as Tavares for his career in full seasons has averaged almost 25 PPPs a year. Adding the steady Andrew Ladd and his former playmaking linemate P.A. Parenteau to the mix on his line should give Tavares his first stable pair of linemates that he has arguably been missing his entire Islanders career.
Most Points since March 6 (regular & postseason)
1. #NYIslanders John Tavares 31
T2. Jamie Benn 30
T2. Sidney Crosby 30
4. Brent Burns 29
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 3, 2016
For those that are in fantasy keeper leagues, Tavares is an absolute must keep. He is one of the best players in the game and will be for a long time. For those in single-season fantasy leagues, it is not out of the realm of possibility to consider Tavares beginning right around the fifth or sixth pick. He should slot in your fantasy drafts somewhere between the picks 5-15.
Underrated Performer: Nick Leddy, D
Many in the fantasy hockey world know Nick Leddy, but in his two years with the Islanders he has quietly developed into a solid fantasy hockey contributor. He has yet to put up the goals or points totals as some of the top performers at his positions, but his 77 points and 31 PPPs since coming over to the Islanders at the beginning of the 14-15 season rank him inside the top-30 among fantasy defensemen.
Nick Leddy now has 7 points in his last 4 games and is up to 36 points in 65 games
— Scott Maran (@realallinhockey) March 10, 2016
Leddy started last season slowly for the Islanders, managing to put up only 12 points through the end of December. After the turn of the New Year, Leddy had a fantasy outbreak putting up 28 points from January 1 on. He posted career highs in both assists (35) and points (40). He needs to increase his SOG output, putting up only 241 shots in his time with the Islanders. He should see an increase going forward and his goals scored should rise moving forward as well.
Leddy could be a very underrated fantasy asset for owners come this season. He will provide solid assist numbers, points and is running the Islanders first power-play unit which will give him a boost for owners. Look to target him as a solid second or third option for your defense.
Overrated Performer: Brock Nelson, C
Nelson has been somewhat of an enigma for the Islanders in his three seasons playing for the team. He has put up back-to-back 20-goal, 40 point seasons for the Isles but has seen major drops in performance as the season progresses.
Nelson had eight goals and 15 points through the first two months of the season for New York. Even through the end of December Nelson added five more goals but he saw a drop in his assist numbers. He posted a 20-22 season last year for the Islanders and saw his goal numbers jump to 26 this season. However, he saw a drop of eight in his assist numbers from 22 down to 14. He also saw a drop down from 15 PPPs to five. Nelson must have a good season for the Islanders to be successful. He could see a full-time switch back to the center position after the Islanders have moved him to the wing on numerous occasions over the last two years.
He may be slotted in to begin the season as the Islanders new second-line center, replacing the departed Fran Nielsen. Nelson should see significant time within the Islanders top six and will see PP time on either the first or second unit. He needs to be more consistent over the course of the season, shoot the puck more and he needs to start using his bigger frame better to battle in the corners and in front of the net. Some owners will reach on him but right now he is barely worth a draft pick in your fantasy leagues.
Fantasy Sleeper Performer: P.A. Parenteau, RW
The last time we saw P.A. Parenteau in an Islanders uniform was a little over four years ago, his second season with the Islanders. He was another gem plucked from the waiver wire by Garth Snow and for fantasy owners at the time, he was a total steal. That season, 2011-12, Parenteau set career marks in assists and points playing alongside John Tavares. The Islanders brought Parenteau back on a very team-friendly deal on the second day of free agency this year, hoping to spark that magic with Tavares again.
Parenteau was with #Isles from 2010-12, had 120 points in two seasons on John Tavares' RW. Likely he'll be back there to start this season.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) July 2, 2016
Parenteau has been a solid contributor in his four years away from the Islanders. He signed with the Avalanche before the lockout and spent two seasons there. He was traded to Montreal and, after one season there, he was dealt to the Maple Leafs. On an injured and downtrodden Leafs team last year, Parenteau saw the chance to play top minutes again. He excelled with his first career 20-20 season and broke the 40-point barrier for the first time since his first year in Colorado.
Tavares and Andrew Ladd will be the best linemates he has consistently played with since he left the Islanders four years ago. It is well within the realm of possibility that Parenteau could see a spike in production up in the 50-60 point ranges. He will be on the Islanders top PP unit with Tavares, Ladd and Nick Leddy for sure and his keen playmaking ability will make him a solid fantasy asset. Target him in the middle-teen rounds of your drafts or later.
Fantasy Bounceback Candidate: Ryan Strome, C
Another young player like Nelson that the Islanders need to have a good season in order for them to continue to be a contender is Ryan Strome. Strome burst onto the Islanders two seasons ago, posting 50 points as a rookie and seeing significant time on John Tavares’ wing. He looked every bit to be developing into the offensive dynamo we saw from his 100 point junior seasons. However, this season did not play out the way the Islanders and Strome (and fantasy owners) had hoped.
Lack of shooting, lack of scoring, poor defense, sluggish play and a demotion to the AHL for a time were the issues that marred what was supposed to be Strome’s breakout season. Strome saw a drastic downturn in production, seeing his numbers recede from 50 points to 28 this season. His goals, assists, PPPs and shooting numbers all took huge falls. Fantasy owners also don’t know if the Islanders project him more as a center or a winger going forward.
He has had success at both positions but always seemed more natural at the center position he played for so long. If the Islanders transition him back and slot him in as the second line center instead of Brock Nelson, then Strome could easily have the chance to return to his 50 point seasons. A reformation of the “Kids Line” with he, Anders Lee and the aforementioned Nelson could lead to a very solid return to offensive form for all three players.
Fantasy hockey owners should go into the season with eyes wide open when it comes to players like Strome and Nelson. You know what they are capable of doing and the numbers that they can put up, but be wary of reaching for them in your drafts. Strome has the greater upside of the two and putting up 50 points is no fluke. Maybe it was the pressure and expectation of getting to that level that he was not ready to get to last season, but Strome is a good player and he certainly will have fantasy value.
Impact Fantasy Rookie: Ryan Pulock, D
This was a toss-up between Pulock and Matt Barzal. Barzal is arguably the Islanders best prospect in their system and looks to be the future second center. However, with little roster room and Barzal still having one year left on his junior eligibility, the Islanders could send him back to Seattle.
Pulock should be in the starting six on defense this season, presumably next to Thomas Hickey on the Islanders third defensive pair. He should also get time running the point of the Isles second PP unit, where his 100 MPH slapshot could be of use. He will be eased into things with the Islanders this year but after his stellar play at the end of the season and in the playoffs, it will be hard for the team to keep their top defensive prospect from playing in the NHL this season.
In 21 games split between the regular season and playoffs, Pulock managed seven points, 20 shots and a minus three rating.
As you will notice I did not name one goalie above like the other candidates. We will do that for teams that have unsettled goaltending situations like the Islanders do. I talked about this earlier in the summer and the picture has only grown more murky since.
The Islanders re-signed JF Berube, a restricted free agent, to a one-way contract. That gives the team three goalies who are guaranteed one-way deals, meaning they would need to clear waivers to be sent to the minors. He re-joins Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss in the Islanders crowded crease rotation. Halak was rumored to be on the trade block but then a groin surgery put that on hold.
Halak still has two years and $9 million in cap hits left on his contract. He came into last season as the Islanders starter, but injuries derailed that and led to Greiss becoming the Islanders number one netminder. Greiss would go on to put up top-10 in the league stats in GAA and SV% for most of the season in his limited action. Halak played solidly when he was healthy and looked to be at the top of his form when an injury struck him early in March and caused him to miss the season. Berube played sparingly but solidly enough to warrant his one-way deal as a backup.
Where does this leave us fantasy-wise? Confused. I still believe that Halak will be the starter come day one. If he is not traded the net will be his to lose. He is just a year removed from setting the franchise wins record for a goalie and a stellar playoff series against the Capitals. Should he falter or be injured then the Islanders should give the net to Greiss and see what he can do. This should not be a timeshare if Halak is healthy, regardless of what Greiss did this year. Halak edged Greiss this year in GAA and Greiss bested him in SV%.
Thomas Greiss's playoff performance was admirable, but Jaroslav Halak should be the #Isles' starting goalie on opening night.
— Daniel Friedman (@DanJFriedman) July 10, 2016
Fantasy owners should target both Halak and Greiss, but expect Halak to get the lion share of the starts if he remains on the team. The World Cup will be telling as both goalies are playing for Team Europe. Halak has stated he will be healthy and will play in the games. That could go a long way in determining his fantasy value come draft time. Both are top-20 goalies if they are the starter for the Islanders and owners should target both thanks to their play last season and Halak’s looming injury concerns.
The Islanders still have a lot of question marks going into the season. Will Andrew Ladd and PA Parenteau be able to replace the production of Okposo and Nielsen? Who will slot into Nielsen’s slot as the second center? And what will happen with the Islanders goaltending rotation? All those will be answered soon enough.
Check out all THW’s fantasy hockey content in the coming weeks and throughout the season by checking out our fantasy homepage.