Fantasy Hockey

Fantasy Hockey: The best players to watch

If we could determine the best players every year, we would also win our fantasy leagues every year.

As simple as that.

Except it’s not that easy. There’s no Magic 8 Ball to tell us, “it definitely does,” unless you’re asking about Connor McDavid or Cale Makar. And by definition, a breakout player hasn’t shown that level of scoring in the NHL.

Many players come to the league with high expectations on their first puck drop. After a few hundred matchups, those expectations are already lowered in many, if not most, cases.

This is followed by frustration. Why don’t they score?

And then comes the big question a few years later. Are they a bust?

And then, perhaps, comes the escape. Yes, I knew that from the start.

We’ll take a look at some of the best players from last year listed in alphabetical order. These are players who weren’t instant successes as rookies or veterans with a career year. We’ll see what, if any, they have in common and see if we can use that to predict this year’s top contenders.

Rasmus Andersson
Age: 25 years old
Drafted: 2015 2nd round, 53rd
Amateur team: Barrie (OHL)
Minor Pro: 110 games
NHL games: 216 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 21 points in 56 games to 50 in 82

Ivan Barbaschev
Age: 26 years old
Drafted: 2014, 2nd round, 33rd
Amateur Team: Moncton (QMJHL)
Minor Pro: 131
NHL games: 270 (5 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 12 points in 38 games to 60 in 81

Jesper Bratt
Age: 23 years old
Drafted: 2016 6th round, 162
Amateur team: AIK Jr. Sweden
Minor pro: 0 games
NHL games: 231 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 30 points in 46 games to 73 in 76

Noah Dobson
Age: 22 years old
Drafted: 2018, 1st round, 12th
Amateur team: Rouyn-Noranda (LHJMQ)
Pro Minor: 0
NHL games: 80 (2 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 14 points in 46 games to 51 in 80

Jack Hughes
Age: 21 years old
Drafted: 2019, 1st round, 1st
Amateur team: NTDP
Minor Pro: 0
NHL games: 117 (2 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 31 points in 56 games to 56 in 49

Jordan Kyrou
Age: 24
Drafted: 2016, 2nd round, 35th
Amateur team: Rouyn-Noranda (LHJMQ)
Minor Pro: 0
NHL games: 80 (3 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 14 points in 46 games to 51 in 80

Troy Terry
Age: 24
Drafted: 2015 5th round, 148th
Amateur team: University of Denver (3 years)
Minor Pro: 55 games in the AHL
NHL games: 129 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 7-13-20 in 48 games to 37-30-67 in 75 games

thomas robert
Age: 23 years old
Drafted: 2017 1st round, 20th
Amateur team: London (OHL)
Minor pro: 0 games
NHL games: 169 (3 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 12 points in 33 games to 77 in 72

Tagus Thompson
Age: 24
Drafted: 2016 1st round, 26th
Amateur team: University of Connecticut
Minor Pro: 70 games in the AHL
NHL games: 145 (4 partial seasons)
Breakout: From 8-6-14 in 38 games to 38-30-68 in 78 games

What can we learn?

* Most players, but not all, were drafted in the first or second round.

* Most were around 22 years old

* Amateur teams were from all over, with three from the Quebec League and three players with experience with the United States U18 team, although Troy Terry and Tage Thompson also played college hockey

* There were reduced hours due to Covid, but most of these players were in their third or partial fourth season.

There’s nothing conclusive about that, but it gives us some ideas and doesn’t stop us from looking at this year’s breakout contestants with that information in mind.

There are of course other considerations to take into account, not the least of which is the eye test. You can’t measure everything with statistics or analytics. You can’t measure things like confidence, heart, and determination. For example, if a player has the confidence to go coast to coast, even if he doesn’t score or even get a shot on goal, that says a lot about that player.

Additionally, there are also changes to situations that will allow a player to escape. This can take the form of moving up a team’s depth chart or transferring to another team.

Let’s consider a few potential players for this year, in alphabetical order, and some of the reasons that make them a good choice.

Adam Boqvist, Christopher Columbus – The eighth overall pick in 2018 has 128 games of NHL experience over three years and passes the eyesight test for confidence. He’ll carry the puck end to end, throw a really good wrist shot from anywhere and take opportunities to join the rush.

Dylan CozensBuffalo – A high draft pick (7th), 110 NHL games and likely an integral part of Buffalo’s offense.

Kirby Dach, Montreal – A third overall pick with 152 games of NHL experience has been traded to Montreal where he will use his experience in a top-six role.

Morgan Frost, Philadelphia – It ticks all the boxes. If he wants to score, now is the time to do it.

Barrett Hayton, Arizona – The fifth overall pick in 2018 is in dire straits. He has 94 NHL games and a few minor pro games, but unless you’re on the first line in Arizona, there isn’t much support.

Kaapo Kakko, New York Rangers – The second pick in the 2019 draft has yet to show much. He played 157 games in the NHL, and well, he’s the second pick in the 2019 draft.

Peyton KrebsBuffalo – A high draft pick (17th), 61 NHL games, 25 minor-pro games, who will have every chance of succeeding after being secured in the Jack Eichel case.

Alexis Lafreniere, New York Rangers – We could have expected instant success with the first overall pick in 2020, but it doesn’t always work out that way. He now has 135 NHL games under his belt, plus 20 playoff games, and has become a top line that will get the first or second power play. He is the best candidate in small groups.

Connor McMichael, Washington – Someone needs to replace the production of Nicklas Backstrom, absent for all or most of the season. The 25th overall selection in the 2019 draft has 33 games of minor pro experience and 69 of the NHL variety.

Martin Necas, Carolina – A high draft pick (12th) who seemed like a breakout candidate for last year due to the talent he displayed the previous season. He failed, which makes him a question mark.

Ty Smith, Pittsburgh – He passes the eyesight test, he’s a first-round pick (17th), goes to a new situation in New Jersey. Above all, he looks confident offensively.

Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders – Sometimes USA Under 18 NTDP graduates take time. It’s nice to stock up on scoring stats against Division III teams like Augsburg State and the Milwaukee School of Engineering, but it’s not really NHL prep.

Filip Zadina, Detroit – He has 160 games experience in the NHL, 80 in the AHL and a few in the Czech League. It’s time for the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft to make his mark. Or not make its mark.

Coming soon: Quinton Byfield

Last chance?: Brett Howden, Jesse Puljujarvi and Nolan Patrick.