(Ed. Note: We’re once again pleased to partner with Dobber Hockey to provide fantasy hockey insight throughout the NHL season. Here’s Steve Laidlaw, the Managing Editor of Dobber Hockey, as your new fantasy hockey smarty-pants!)
By Steve Laidlaw
What a great season it was. Hopefully these columns helped you to a fantasy hockey championship. If not, then hopefully you at least had fun. Ultimately, that’s the point. In the spirit of fun, let’s celebrate some of this season’s top performers by running down the 2016-17 All-Fantasy Team.
First, a few criteria.
1. Points are of great importance but we won’t simply be running down the list of the top scorers at each position.
2. Position eligibility matters. The goal is to fill the roster as though this were a real fantasy team using the Yahoo! positional database.
3. Draft position (or lack thereof) is extremely important. Fantasy owners obviously got more value out of players they were able to take later or scoop off of the waiver wire.
4. Ultimately, this is just my subjective opinion regarding who mattered most in fantasy hockey this season.
McDavid was a top-five pick on average and frequently was the first player off the board. He was worth it, carrying the NHL scoring race for much of the season and turning it on at the end with a surge that helped owners in head-to-head formats to the championship.
The momentum of a spectacular World Cup performance carried over for Marchand who has set career highs for goals and points, reaching totals many thought he would never see just a couple of years ago. Last season’s 37-goal/61-point breakout was supposed to be a pinnacle but Marchand has continued to improve eclipsing those totals to challenge in the scoring race. On average the eighth LW and 52nd player off the board, Marchand surpassed everyone’s expectations, even those who thought last season was no fluke. Bet on Marchand being a first-round pick next season.
Nikita Kucherov sits second to Patrick Kane in RW scoring and in scoring since the All-Star break but his per-game production has been slightly higher. More importantly, he has hung in there as a top scorer despite his team crumbling around him. Kucherov has emerged as an elite talent. He is a peer to Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko at the RW position. He was drafted a tier lower typically going in the third round. You can bet on Kucherov challenging Kane and Tarasenko to be the top RW off the board next season.
McDavid’s running-mate Draisaitl pulls in the second RW slot due to how undervalued he was. Draisaitl was only drafted in a third of all Yahoo! leagues and when he did go off the board it was as the 51st RW. Skip ahead a few months, Draisaitl is universally owned and a top-10 scorer. No one saw this coming. Jordan Eberle was supposed to receive the McDavid halo, while Draisaitl was potentially lost in the woods without Taylor Hall. What’s crazy is that Draisaitl didn’t even open the season on McDavid’s wing, a move not made permanent until a couple of months into the season. Consider this when contemplating Draisaitl’s value at next year’s draft.
Backstrom continues to fly under the radar. A top-five scorer who leads the league’s best team, Backstrom wasn’t even drafted as high as teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov. I suppose everyone prefers the shiny new toy. Old Faithful is doing just fine matching Sidney Crosby in points heading into the final week of the season.
Sheary is the best linemate that Crosby has ever had. While he has played with superstars like Marian Hossa, Jarome Iginla and Phil Kessel, none of those pairings have worked. Oddly enough, the best connections that Crosby has made have been with undrafted players in Chris Kunitz and now Sheary. The good news is that Sheary is breaking out at 25, not 33, as Kunitz did. Many years of success may be ahead for the Crosby/Sheary duo, especially if joined by Jake Guentzel.
Sheary making this list isn’t about future production, it’s about scoring at a point-per-game pace from December on. While he missed the entire month of February, he still managed to be a top-25 scorer at the LW position. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted in virtually all leagues. Scooping Sheary off the waiver wire was a lifeboat for many fantasy owners.
Third Line: Patrik Laine – Mark Scheifele – Mikael Granlund
The Laine-Scheifele combination was one of the most destructive pairings in the league. Laine loses some clout for his rough end to the season. He hit March the favourite for the Calder and then proceeded to score only five points in 13 games. That was brutal timing for owners who had grown accustomed to Laine producing at a point-per-game pace. Still, a 30-goal/60-point season is nothing to shake your fist at. Laine delivered well beyond his average draft position of 118th.
Scheifele, meanwhile, continued to produce well into March, sticking above a point-per-game pace to eclipse 16 of the 19 centermen drafted ahead of him. Getting a top-10 scorer with the 60th pick in the draft is a good way to win your league.
Granlund suffered similar late-season druthers as Laine netting just eight points in 16 games in the month of March, as the Wild saw the percentages finally slipping away from them after a dominant season. Still, Granlund was so good up until March that you could stomach some slippage in his performance. No forward was on a higher percentage of first-place teams than Granlund, which let’s you know how valuable his breakout season was.
Granlund is also a great example of a post-hype sleeper. Most people had given up on Granlund’s potential (myself included) heading into his fifth NHL season. He finally broke out at a stage when folks lose patience for young players. Keep this in mind for next season. Granlund won’t be the last player to breakout only after he’d been given up on.
Fourth Line: Viktor Arvidsson – Auston Matthews – David Pastrnak
This year’s rookie class has threatened to spoil us delivering elite fantasy options at every position. No rookie has delivered more than Matthews who came in with a ton of hype and immediately delivered with a four-goal night. He could only go downhill from there and yet continued to surprise and amaze. A recent goal-scoring surge has made him a shoe-in for the Calder and has helped to raise our expectations for the next rookie class. We’re likely to be disappointed.
It was a matter of when, not if, Pastrnak would gain Claude Julien’s trust and start seeing the kind of minutes a player with his elite talents deserves. Pastrnak’s goal scoring has fallen off after a lethal early run but it is clear that he will score a lot of goals in the NHL. He can score in every manner, with a one-timer that is developing into a go-to weapon on the power play. Pastrnak was a late pick in most drafts as an anticipated breakout candidate – he delivered in spades.
Arvidsson emerged from anonymity to become the best forward on a Nashville roster with Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal. The diminutive forward is a relentless worker and rubber flinger in the mould of Marchand and Brendan Gallagher. A classic overachiever, Arvidsson is the type of player you can root for beyond just your fantasy teams.
First Pair: Brent Burns – Erik Karlsson
They were the first two defensemen off the board in fantasy leagues going right around the turn between the end of the first round and the start of the second. They delivered with such authority that folks will once again be under pressure to take them with a top selection.
Second Pair: Victor Hedman – Dougie Hamilton
In a universe without Burns or Karlsson, Hedman’s breakout season would be in consideration for the Norris. In past season’s a weak power play led to experimentation with Anton Stralman on the top unit. Todd Richards was brought in as an assistant coach to liven up the power play and he did just that, inserting Hedman as the top option at the point. Hedman delivered by more than doubling his previous career high (14) in power-play points with 32 so far. Because of the confounding Stralman issue, you were able to get Hedman in the seventh round. You won’t be so fortunate next season.
Hamilton is consistently underrated as a fantasy asset, consistently delivering a high floor of production in both points and shot volume. He heads into the final week of the season top-10 among defensemen in both categories but not so high up that people won’t continue to underestimate his value.
Third Pair: Zach Werenski – Justin Schultz
No two players were on a higher percentage of first-place teams than Schultz and Werenski, emerging from the waiver wire to deliver elite production at a position that consistently confounds fantasy owners.
Schultz really only delivered two elite months with 29 of his 48 points coming in December and January. Otherwise, he’s been his usual mediocre self. Keep this in mind before reaching for Schultz at the draft table next season.
Werenski’s second-half numbers have slipped with the Blue Jackets’ once vaunted power play crashing to the bottom of the league. Still, Werenski has never slipped below scoring a point every other game in any month this season, which is the sort of consistency you need at the defense position.
Starting Goaltenders: Sergei Bobrovsky – Braden Holtby
Bobrovsky is the king of head-to-head leagues. It seems every year he plays his best hockey in March and April. His career splits for those months:
March – 42-19-8, 2.10 GAA, 0.932 SV%, 8 Shutouts
April – 21-7-4. 2.29 GAA, 0.926 SV%, 4 Shutouts
Bobrovsky’s numbers for this entire season are better than both of those leading the league in the major goaltending categories but most importantly, he delivered in the fantasy playoffs as he has done every season. Bobrovsky is the fantasy MVP of this season bouncing back to be the best goaltender in the league despite being the 23rd goalie off the board on average.
Holtby was the top goaltender off the board in most every league and lived up to the hype battling neck-and-neck with Bobrovsky for the best numbers in the league. A late stumble allowing 12 goals in three appearances during what was the head-to-head finals for most leagues costs Holtby a bit but he delivered the goods that got teams to the finals and deserves acknowledgement for that.
Backup Goaltender: Peter Budaj
With the prevalence of goalie injuries (not to mention the number of proven starters who faltered) nabbing a good backup off the waiver wire was key to success this season. No one was better than Budaj, who single-handedly kept a miserable Kings team afloat without their star goaltender and without anything resembling a functional offense. Jeff Carter’s awesome season deserves a nod but the Kings might be battling with the Avs for last if not for Budaj. It should be mentioned that the Ben Bishop trade, along with the return of Jonathan Quick scuttled Budaj’s fantasy value right before head-to-head playoffs but he more than served his purpose carrying teams up until that point.
Honourable Mentions: Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Cam Talbot, Jonathan Marchessault, Rickard Rakell, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Nazem Kadri, Mike Condon, Cam Atkinson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Kesler, Devan Dubnyk, Jonathan Bernier, Elias Lindholm, Henrik Zetterberg, Jeff Carter.
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