Christmas is less than a week away, and the NHL schedule is getting close to the halfway point. Plenty of players have streaked their way into and out of your lineup by now. If you’re lucky they may have even played their way onto your full-time roster. Some streaks have just kept going, landing players at the top of the league scoring list who may not have been expected to be there. That’s why we are looking at a handful of players that have exceeded expectations so far this season and will try to predict if they can continue to produce after the holidays, and keep pace until the end of the season.
2017-18 Fantasy Hockey Series: Keeping Pace
Brayden Schenn was always a bit of a quiet producer for the Philadelphia Flyers. A consistent 40 point and 150 hit player made him a great value pick in banger leagues in the past few seasons. He turned up the point production in the past two years, scoring 59 and 55 points while earning a reputation as a powerplay specialist. He looks well on his way to smash his career bests in goals, assists and points so far this year. He sits at 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points through 36 games.
The question will be can he continue this incredible pace and break the point per game barrier at the end of the season. He was pegged as a potential breakout player going into the year after being traded to the St. Louis Blues in the off-season. Playing with Vladimir Tarasenko was enough potential to predict a strong breakout performance, but he has gone above and beyond expectations. A high 17% shooting is bound to fall, but his 12.8% career average is still higher than league average. He is also on pace for a career high in shots. Add to that an uptick in ice time by about two minutes a game and he very well may ride his way to an 80 point year. But still, a 70 point prediction would have been bold enough at the beginning of the year. While it may seem like Schenn will be one of this season’s breakout players of the year, keep expectations reasonable at 70 points this season.
An ex-teammate of Schenn’s, Voracek has found his game after searching for two seasons. 61 points last season was respectable but left Philly fans and fantasy managers wanting a little more. The season before he only put up 55 points, his lowest total since 2011-12. Needless to say, his 42 points in 34 games has fans and managers ecstatic and hoping he’s here to stay.
The numbers really look like he can continue to produce, as well. He may not continue at his remarkable 101 point pace, but an 80+ point season may be possible. He is riding a bit of a high PDO, but compare that to his measly 6.7% shooting and things could balance out. But who needs shooting percentage when you’re scoring an assist a game? Well, Voracek will. His linemates won’t score at their current 15%+ rates all season. When the PDO bubble bursts, Voracek is going to have to start cashing in on more of his shots if he wants to keep his pace. With Claude Giroux, an ageing star with diminishing point totals, and Sean Couturier, a 39 point career high scorer, on Voracek’s line, I would be cautious predicting even a point per game pace on the year. If you can flip him for a consistent 70 point player I would recommend it, and let someone else bank on his career resurgence.
Maybe the biggest surprise on this list will be Josh Bailey. But really, he and New York Islanders teammate Anders Lee could be synonymous when talking about exceeding predictions. On the wings of John Tavares, the league’s hottest line has scorched their way onto the top of league scoring, as outlined in last week’s Fantasy Hockey Report. Both Bailey and Lee have surprised thus far and have been high-value late picks and/or waiver claims. So really, whether they continue at such a pace or not, career average the rest of the way would be nothing to scoff at.
But if Bailey is going to be a career average player the rest of the way out, it may be best to try and capitalize on his rising stock right now. He has a similarly high PDO and team on-ice shooting percentage (ToiSH%) that is consistent throughout the players in this article. He also has nine points in his last five games. That’s nearly a quarter of his season total in a little over a week. But he has gone scoreless for only three games twice this season, perhaps proving his consistency. His 15.8% shooting won’t remain so high, but he only has nine goals to show for it. Bailey is making his hay by putting up assists with two top four scoring players, Tavares and Lee. As long as that line produces, Bailey will too. The problem is, it may be tough to get exceptional value out of Bailey. He doesn’t quite have the pedigree and scoring portfolio to justify trading high-value players for him. So your best course of action is likely to hold onto him and take the good with the average.
While Barrie’s success this season may not be unprecedented, being second in defensemen scoring is a bit surprising. Even more surprising, he is between John Klingberg and John Carlson/Shayne Gostisbehere on that list. While they are all notable offensive defensemen, only Klingberg has finished top five in defensemen scoring, doing so in 2015-16. The usual leaders, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, faced injuries and a very slow start, leaving the door open for some new faces atop the scoring charts.
Barrie was pegged for a bit of a bounce-back season, as he sported an unfortunate 3.8 shooting percentage last season. He also played for a miserable Avalanche team who struggled to score. Now he is on a 68 point pace with career highs in assists, points, powerplay points and shots. He has 12 powerplay points, good for third amongst NHL defensemen, on a Colorado Avalanche power play that is clicking for the sixth most PPG in the league. The good news for Barrie owners is that he seems to be doing it on his own as well. He has an equal 20% point shares while playing with each of Erik Johnson, Patrik Nemeth and Nikita Zadorov. This means he isn’t scoring with only one partner, indicating he is driving the defensive point production for the Avs. Burns and Karlsson should make their annual push for the league lead in defence scoring, but Barrie looks like a great candidate to continue scoring and finish strong this season.
Vasilevski was a very hot commodity in drafts this year. The Tampa Bay Lightning were expected to really bounce back after injuries ruined their 2016-17 season, and they have not disappointed. Vasilevski has been key to that success and is one of the most valuable fantasy players this year as a result. His fantasy success is not all that surprising. Playing on such a strong team, he is destined for 35+ wins. But his individual stats are much less of a guarantee as it is his first season as a full-time starter. His fantasy stats (SV%, GAA and Shutouts) all look fantastic, but can he maintain them for the duration of the year?
Vasilevski has the second most quality starts among NHL goaltenders this year with 19. This means he has the second most starts where he has played above league average. His .933 save percentage is second highest among regular starters, and his 21 wins are league best. A .800 high danger save percentage is about the middle of the pack. Even his .892 shorthanded save percentage looks reasonably sustainable, albeit on a weaker penalty killing team. Of course, he probably won’t maintain a .933 save percentage for the remainder of the year. A .925 save percentage is a much more realistic number but still among the league’s best. His personal stats are tough to predict, as he only had 81 career starts prior to this year. But nothing jumps out as so unreasonable that it’s bound to come crashing down. Vasilevski will be an effective fantasy goalie as Tampa is showing no signs of slowing down. He will pick up many wins while putting up strong individual stats, making him an elite goalie in single-year and dynasty leagues.
By the Numbers
Through the past five full seasons, there are usually about five players at a point per game or better by season’s end. This year there are currently around 20 players playing at a point per game pace. In the lockout-shortened, 48-game 2012-13 season, there were 16 players who managed it. 82 games is a long season, and players are bound to hit skids, slumps and dry spells. Just because your fifth-rounder has 30 points through 33 games, does not mean it will continue. These considerations can help when evaluating your players and drawing up trades. So keep them in mind and keep ruling your league.
BROOKLYN, NY – OCTOBER 30: New York Islanders Right Wing Josh Bailey (12) with the puck during the second period of a regular season NHL game between the Vegas Golden Knights and the New York Islanders on October 30, 2017, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)