The fantasy hockey season is officially less than a month away. Here at Last Word on Hockey, we’ve covered sleepers and breakouts. Now it’s time to take a look at fantasy hockey bounce-back players for the upcoming season. Unlike the past series, this will be a one-and-done article. The list is in no particular order. For simplicity’s sake, all position eligibilities pertain to Yahoo leagues.
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes, LW/RW
2018-19 stats: 82 GP, 14 G, 33 A, -21 +/-, 19 PPP, 200 SOG, 16 H, 21 BLK
Expectations last year were sky-high for Arizona Coyotes winger Clayton Keller. His rookie year was sensational, posting a 23/42/65 line and adding 20 PPP. As a sophomore, the fabled slump was a harsh reality: again playing 82 games, this time around he only put up 47 points. Keller scored only 14 goals last year, adding 33 assists. He still managed almost as many power play points despite the steep dip in production.
Many fantasy GMs expected Keller to build upon his excellent rookie season, evidenced by his #72 overall ADP in Yahoo leagues last year. He ended up turning in a season that was a full 163 spots below that ranking, or 235th overall. To add insult to injury, he was extra detrimental in plus-minus leagues.
For the second year in a row, Keller was utterly useless in banger categories. It’s safe to assume he will continue that trend. However, he should be in good shape to repeat – if not drastically improve upon – his rookie numbers. Superstar Phil Kessel is in town now, and Keller is fresh off a juicy extension that is top-line type money. Add a healthy Nick Schmaltz to the equation and you’ve got the makings of a potential fantasy powerhouse line. The former seventh-overall pick is a star talent, and he’ll be playing with star-calibre linemates.
Adding to Keller’s fantasy value is his dual-eligibility on the wings. In leagues that count positions, that versatility is important, as centre is much deeper. Again, in banger leagues, Keller isn’t quite as valuable; in points leagues, though, make sure he’s clearly on your radar.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning, D
2018-19 stats: 73 GP, 2 G, 26 A, -15 +/-, 7 PPP, 148 SOG, 73 H, 104 BLK
There once was a time Kevin Shattenkirk was a regular in fantasy lineups. Lately, his stock has slipped considerably. The Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman joined the team this summer, leaving behind a very poor couple of seasons with the New York Rangers.
Shattenkirk battled injury and less-than-ideal teammates in New York. There couldn’t be a starker contrast to his new destination. Last season, the Lightning were one of the very best teams in NHL history. Not only is he going to a great team, but Shattenkirk will likely get slotted directly into the top line, at least at even strength. He is the perfect right-handed complement to Victor Hedman. On just about any other team, even-strength minutes don’t immediately mean big things for a defender, but the Lightning’s top line is an exception. Shattenkirk should see second-unit power play minutes as well.
Things didn’t quite go his way in New York (51 points in 119 games). Health and opportunity should provide Shattenkirk all he needs to fully bounce back into fantasy relevancy. The talent is still there, and now he’ll have the chance to showcase it on an elite squad.
Shattenkirk does a decent job providing peripheral value. He doesn’t rack up the hits but he’s not afraid to put his body in the way of shots. The plus-minus will be much, much better in Tampa. Don’t reach for him, but in the later rounds you should get some great bang for your buck from the vet.
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs, C/RW
2018-19 stats: 54 GP, 7 G, 20 A, -4 +/-, 6 PPP, 130 SOG, 16 H, 14 BLK
Another year, another holdout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unlike last year, though, forward William Nylander should start playing right away, while Mitch Marner‘s status is much less certain. Nylander infamously sat out until December last season over a contract dispute, and Leafs fans hope Marner doesn’t follow suit.
Regardless of all that, Nylander’s fantasy stock is right back up nearly into star status, and just about every fantasy outlet you could imagine has him categorized as a bounce-back option. The 23-year-old was an eighth overall pick in 2014. His first two full seasons in the NHL were both 61-point campaigns. Last season saw him drop to 27 points in 54 games. But even if the point totals were down, his possession numbers were still strong with a 59.1 CF%.
Daily Faceoff currently projects Nylander in the second power play unit, but if the Marner drama carries into the start of the season, then that would change. Even if Marner is in the picture, it’s always a possibility the Matthews-Nylander chemistry gets a chance to shine with the man advantage.
Don’t let Nylander’s paltry seven goals last year scare you off. He’s more of a playmaker than goal scorer, but he’ll still get his fair share skating alongside superstar Auston Matthews. Like Keller, he’s all offence – there won’t be any physicality to his game, and he stays out of the penalty box. Nylander doesn’t shoot much, but his playmaking ability is top-notch.
Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues, C/LW
2018-19 stats: 72 GP, 17 G, 37 A, 3 +/-, 12 PPP, 159 SOG, 111 H, 31 BLK
St. Louis Blues forward Brayden Schenn didn’t have a bad season all-around, but given the fact that he scored 70 points in his first year with the team, last year was a step in the wrong direction.
Two seasons ago, Schenn broke out with a career-high in goals (28) and assists (42). That year he was scoring at a clip of 2.6 points per 60 minutes. Even though his numbers fell off last year, he was also playing less – he was still putting up 2.4 pts/60 in more than a minute less of ice time per night.
Schenn also missed 10 games last season. Assuming this year is healthy, he’ll be primed to bounce back in a big way. Currently, Schenn is projected to centre the top line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Both Tarasenko and Schwartz ended last season playing some of the best hockey of their careers. Tarasenko scored 45 points in his final 38 games, while Schwartz exploded in the playoffs with 20 points in 26 games. Schenn will have no shortage of firepower all around him. He’ll likely get top-unit power play time as well, so expect to see an improvement on his 12 PPP. The Blues even hired former star Marc Savard as a coach to revamp the power play.
Schenn is entering a contract year, which often means great things for fantasy purposes. He could feasibly net 30 goals and 40-50 assists, but he also provides sneaky banger potential. He’s collected over 100 hits in eight straight years, with several of those nearing the 200 mark he hit back in 2013-14. In the playoffs this past year, he had 83 hits in 26 games. Paced out to a full 82-game season, that would translate to about 262 hits – or seventh-most in the entire league.
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders, G
2018-19 stats: 49 GP, 20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV%, 2 SHO
A change of scenery sometimes does wonders for a player, no matter the sport. In hockey, recent examples like Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis, David Perron to the Vegas Golden Knights and Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres come to mind. Hoping to add himself to that list is New York Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov.
To gauge Varlamov’s fantasy stock, we’ll have to take a look at the successes of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Both veterans broke out last year under their new head coach Barry Trotz and his defensive-minded scheme. Lehner was a Vezina finalist, posting a 25-13-5 record, with a 2.13 GAA and .930 SV%. Greiss went 23-14-2 and had a 2.28 GAA and .927 SV%. Neither Lehner nor Greiss had enjoyed much success prior to Trotz’s arrival. Lehner is now a Chicago Blackhawk, paving the way for Varlamov to get an opportunity to play first fiddle for the Isles.
The Islanders were first overall in terms of goals against last season and they finished with a 48-27-7 record (103 points). Varlamov has a chance to take the reins as goalie for the best defensive squad in the NHL. Naturally, that screams big-time fantasy value. Once a Vezina finalist himself with the Colorado Avalanche, Varlamov had a tough time last year and was ultimately thwarted by Philipp Grubauer as the top choice.
The Metro division is a much tougher crowd this year, but count on Trotz and that stout defence to work in Varlamov’s favour.
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