by Johnny Fantasy
Today marks the final day of the first week of the fantasy hockey season. Half of you are anticipating a well-earned victory, the other half are either mourning the impending loss or desperately trying to mount a futile comeback (or are completely oblivious because they haven’t looked at their team since they half-heartedly reviewed the results of their auto-draft). So, what have we learned, and what can this first week tell us about the rest of the season?
The Calder Race
There’s a lot of hype this year over a some highly-touted rookies coming into the league. There’s this Connor McDavid kid…oh, you’ve heard of him? He’s been met with some light fanfare in Edmonton.
Honestly, it’s hard not to get caught up in the hype. One of the most common things you hear about McDavid is “sure thing”, with some sources projecting him to score over 70 points this year. Thinking about keeper leagues alone, how can you not be excited to try to ride that wave? I had the second to last pick in my keeper league draft this year and I had already resigned myself to that fact that he wouldn’t be available by the time my first pick came up. Like many in Buffalo, I was getting comfortable with the idea that at least I could grab Jack Eichel who is also basically a sure thing. To my surprise, nearly my whole league passed on McDavid in the first round and I happily drafted him, content that I had locked down what will be the best player in the NHL for at least the next decade. But then the games started… Okay, we all knew that the Oilers were still going to be bad this season. But after the first few games, the part of my brain that’s never heard the phrase “small sample size” started to panic a bit. Eichel scored in his first game! McDavid had nothing except a barely tipped-in goal in his first four games. Was everyone wrong? Should I have taken Eichel? I should’ve known never to trust the Oilers! Well… then this happened. There will certainly be many more bumps down the road (we are still talking about Edmonton after all), but it looks like Connor is getting comfortable and I think things will be alright.
But, the Calder race is far from decided. Eichel is actually averaging a minute more per game than McDavid (and leading all rookie forwards). Buffalo is all-in on Eichel and even though they’ve done a phenomenal job of rebuilding, Eichel will be (and to a large extent is) the main guy in Buffalo. McDavid is on a team with 3 other first overall draft picks, and despite his saviour status, he is one of a number of very talented young forwards on the Oilers roster. Talent differences between Eichel and McDavid aside, Eichel may have the edge in terms of opportunities to produce this year (especially earlier on), but McDavid has the longer term advantage with a supporting cast that has much higher potential than those in Buffalo.
But all that being said, neither Eichel or McDavid is currently even in the top 5 for rookie scoring. The race is currently led by former KHL-er Artemi Panarin in Chicago, who has more than helped ease the pain of my Marko Dano let down at the beginning of this season. He’ been playing with Patrick Kane (and Artem Anisimov) and has 7 points in 6 games. Thanks to the guys at Keeping Karlsson for highlighting him before the season started – it put Panarin on my radar and I was able to pick him up (for what’s looking like it’s going to be a very productive season). Not that any of us should have been that surprised in general. It’s business as usual for the Blackhawks – another Stanley Cup, another handful of cheap, talented young players to replace the once that were lost in the post-championship salary cap crunch.
Right on Panarin’s tail (with 6 points each) are Dylan Larkin in Detroit and Max Domi and Anthony Duclair in Arizona. Rangers fans are no doubt irked by Duclair’s strong start – Duclair was sent to Arizona from New York as part of the trade for Keith Yandle, as per Rangers team policy of making sure all players in their organization are on the decline.
It’s been quite a week for goaltenders as well. Some things are going as predicted – Carey Price started just where he left off and will likely be in the running (if not a lock) for the Vezina. Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne have remained strong as expected, but Martin Jones has really stood out and put on a show this week, posting a ridiculous .982 save percentage and 2 shutouts and allowing only 2 goals in 4 games. This will of course even out over the season, but Jones owners may enjoy another week or so of this pace. Recall 2 years ago that Jones started his career by tying the consecutive win record by a rookie goaltender (with 8). Now, as we know, wins are not the best way to judge a goalie, but his other numbers during that run were excellent. It seems that Jones knows how to start his season. With this potential, he was a late-round steal in many fantasy drafts.
On the other end of the spectrum … poor Tuukka Rask owners! The Bruins are certainly continuing their decline, although no one seems to have told David Krejci, but Rask has had a very tough start to the season with an .851 save percentage and a goals against average over 4. Given his track record, there is no doubt he will improve, especially as the Bruins get their act together and Chara (and eventually Seidenberg) get back into the swing of things, so Rask may be a good buy-low candidate from a frustrated owner if you can stand the pain, which will likely continue in the short term. But, it would be crazy to give up on him. Rask’s track record is impeccable – over the last 6 seasons, he’s had a save percentage of less than .920 only once. Will his stats decline from last year due to an increasingly bad Bruins squad? Probably. But will he still be worth owning? Definitely. I was able to pick him up off waivers (despite now holding 4 goalies), because he has the potential to be better than at least one of my current goalies (Varlamov, Dubnyk and Jones), if not all three, and having the patience to wait them out is what it takes sometimes.
Speaking of Dubnyk and disappointments …well, I guess that doesn’t need anything further. Despite three wins to start the season, we may be seeing more of an Edmonton Oilers Devan Dubnyk rather than a 2014-15 Minnesota Wild miracle run Devan Dubnyk. But, Dubnyk actually wasn’t as bad on the Oilers as everyone seems to remember him. He put up a couple of solid (albeit limited) .915 seasons (and even a .921 season). We’ll probably see something in between those two numbers for this season, but with a lot more wins (for those of you in leagues that count that kind of thing).
Jonathan Quick is also having a rough start, in no small part due to a declining team around him like Rask. A lot of people expected the Kings to rebound this year but unlike Rask, Quick’s career stats aren’t as strong. If your league counts wins, Quick may have a decent season if the Kings can return to form. If the Kings don’t, then it is going to be tough for Quick to be a good consistent fantasy option.
Early reflections on keeper picks
Since it’s so early in the season, many of us in keeper leagues probably picked our keepers fairly recently, and thus are either patting ourselves on the back or kicking ourselves or both.
Keeper pick to feel good about: Johnny Gaudreau
This blog’s namesake hasn’t started any sophomore slump yet, with 5 points in his first 3 games. Although he was quiet in the next two games, Johnny Hockey is poised for another strong season. He and Sean Monahan are going to be the heart of the Flames for years to come. While Calgary may regress from their unexpected success last season, these guys are going to be putting up points.
Keeper pick to feel bad about: Andrew Hammond
Injury notwithstanding, it was a bit naive of me to think Hammond would be fantasy relevant at the beginning of this season. Anderson is a firmly entrenched starter, and no one expects Hammond to maintain the streak he had at the end of the regular season last year. That amounts to not a lot of starts for a goalie taking up a roster slot. Had I decided not to keep him, I could have drafted Kyle Turris or Max Domi (assuming I’d have been smart enough to foresee those guys’ early break out; I probably would have more likely ended up with a Ryan Callahan or Alex Galchenyuk – still not too shabby and certainly better than Hammond so far). Hammond could be a decent pick-up mid-season if Anderson gets hurt, but even then we can’t be sure that he’ll perform at the level we’ve grown accustomed to.
 Although I don’t know why you’d be reading a fantasy hockey blog if you haven’t checked your team in over a week.
 Note that second video (or the clip starting at 1:54 of the first video) especially. While that didn’t result in a goal…wow.
 After a strong finish to last season with Columbus, Dano was part of the Saad trade and got some pre-season buzz of possibly finding himself playing on Chicago’s top line with Toews and Hossa; I’m not sure what happened after that, because he ended up being sent to the AHL to start the season.
 And this officially marks the first opportunity I will have to eat my words when the Bruins crash and burn and Rask shows a stat line closer to Cam Ward than Carey Price at the end of the season.
 His career save percentage is only .915, ten points less than Rask.
 My league’s keeper scheme is based on a salary cap, so I can keep as many players as I can afford but each player kept means one less that I can draft.