The countdown is on to another fantasy hockey campaign.
In fact, puck drop on the regular season, which is set to officially begin on October 7 in Prague, is now just 38 short days away. With that in mind, it’s never too early to start prepping for your draft. All-in-all, it’s been one of the most chaotic NHL off-seasons in recent memory, so suffice to say, there’s lots of ground to cover.
Thanks for all the mailbag submissions (Note: questions edited for clarity and brevity):
@Minou_Foo asks: What can we expect from Jonathan Huberdeau in Calgary without Aleksander Barkov and what can we expect from Matthew Tkachuk in Florida with Barkov? Is one a better fantasy option than the other?
In short, both wingers should continue to be marquee fantasy pieces for many years to come.
When it comes to Huberdeau, there’s a common misconception out there that he did the brunt of his damage in Florida when skating with Barkov. In actuality, the 29-year-old spent the majority of the past two seasons on a separate line at even strength. Furthermore, he notched a career high in even-strength points last season with 72.
For what it’s worth, I think Huberdeau will get a look with both Elias Lindholm and Nazem Kadri up the middle. Can’t wait to see how it plays out!
In Florida, there’s no question the prospective Tkachuk-Barkov combo has a chance to be as elite as they come. Even though Tkachuk’s coming off a season where he notched career highs in goals (42), assists (62) and points (104), he’s still just 24. Translation: there’s still room to grow and that’s a scary thought.
Despite the fact that Huberdeau is in the same boat, I’m curious to see how Tkachuk adapts to his new surroundings. The power forward called his shot this summer; you can bet there will be pressure and lofty expectations.
Entering the season, both players should be viewed as top-20 draft picks in non-keeper leagues. In my pre-season top-250 rankings, which are set to be released next week on Sportsnet.ca, I currently have Huberdeau ranked 13th and Tkachuk 18th.
@JDGilroy asks: Who has the higher upside to possibly become a Top 12 fantasy goaltender this season: Pavel Francouz or Alexandar Georgiev?
Considering the price tag Colorado paid (two thirds and a fifth) and the subsequent extension, it’s fair to expect Georgiev will be given every opportunity to be the Avalanche’s No. 1. Even so, I wouldn’t sleep on Francouz, who undoubtedly will push the Bulgarian for playing time just like he did with Darcy Kuemper last season. Still, Georgiev’s been looking for his opportunity for some time now. It’s time to prove his worth. He’s a breakout candidate for sure.
@JDGilroy asks: Will Jack Eichel finally reach elite status as a fantasy centre?
With the spinal fusion and a full off-season of training firmly behind him, Eichel could be primed for a return to fantasy prominence this season in Sin City. Even though the Golden Knights dealt Max Pacioretty this summer, the former Sabres captain still has All-Star Mark Stone on his wing. Simply put, it could be worse.
Undeniably, you’ll be able to find tremendous value on Eichel as your draft progresses, so make sure to keep tabs. If you get a chance, I’d pull the trigger.
@TommyHuds asks: With goalie tandems sharing the workload more and more, what’s your strategy? Let’s say it’s a league with two goalie spots and a minimum of three appearances per week.
If you’re only allowed to roster two goalies, you may have no choice but to put an emphasis on prioritizing goaltending very early on in your draft. If you can’t secure Igor Shesterkin or Andrei Vasilevskiy – who could both go in the first round – you should be zoning in on the likes of Juuse Saros, Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jack Campbell and Ilya Sorokin.
Bottom line, there’s a significant drop-off between Shesterkin, Vasilevskiy and the rest of the field, so it’s imperative that you secure at least one bona fide stud.
@rxdavid15 asks: What’s your strategy in early rounds? Do you take a goalie, or the best player available?
Depending on league format, unless you get your hands on one of the big two mentioned above, targeting the best player available usually makes the most sense. Having said that, every draft has a goalie run. It’s your job to prepare for it, you don’t want to be left out in the cold. Don’t forget that.
@JacquesVieau asks: What do you think the split in games will look like between Panthers goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight?
When the Panthers hired Paul Maurice, automatically, that was the first thing I thought about: what does it mean for the crease?
As we know, once upon a time ago in Winnipeg, there was a highly touted young prospect goalie by the name of Connor Hellebuyck. And we all know how that turned out.
When it comes to Knight, last season’s turbulence wasn’t surprising in the slightest. After all, it’s easy to forget he’s still a pup at the ripe age of 21. Rest assured, Knight’s future is still very bright, I fully expect him to push for the number-one job this season.
By mid-season, I could certainly envision a scenario where the youngster is playing more than his veteran counterpart — even in spite of Bobrovsky’s grotesque contract. Let the games begin!
@J_MANN9 asks: Who would you take fifth overall?
I should preface this by saying the answer is tough to quantify because every draft is different. With that in mind, at No. 5, you’ll likely be looking at someone like Kirill Kaprizov, Mikko Rantanen, Nikita Kucherov or even Cale Makar. But again, it’s all contingent on who’s taken with the first four picks. You never know, someone may even fall in your lap.
@ColinSpensley asks: I have both Charlie McAvoy and Kris Letang in a keeper league right now, but can only pick one. Who would you take? I’m worried about the injuries.
On the surface, especially in a keeper setting, obviously the younger McAvoy makes the most sense. That said, the 24-year-old is slated to miss considerable time to start the year following off-season shoulder surgery. Additionally, I just have no clue what to expect from the banged-up and veteran Bruins. With Patrice Bergeron knocking on the door of retirement and David Pastrnak entering his walk year, it’s conceivable that this Boston team could look very different in short order.
Meantime, Letang, who’s fresh off signing a six-year extension with the Penguins, is coming off arguably the best season of his career. The 35-year-old notched 10 goals, 68 points and 214 shots in 78 outings. The Penguins may be old, but they’re still really good.
Letang over McAvoy for me.
@Starsblazin asks: Is it a good time to trade Robert Thomas? Losing wing eligibility is a killer and he’s never scored goals or shot enough to justify a centre-only spot. Seems like a David Krejci-type guy.
You hit the nail on the head. Going into the season, I have Thomas handicapped as a fringe top-100 file. Without question, however, depending on league settings, his fantasy value will take a substantial hit from losing winger eligibility. So yes, now’s an excellent time to sell high and cut your losses.
@TheLazzed asks: In a keeper league fantasy where only points count, how would you rank Tim Stützle, Robert Thomas, Cole Caufield and Matthew Boldy?
Funny enough, I’d probably rank the players in the order that you have them written out. All things being equal, all four forwards are indisputably trending upwards and figure to be major contributors this fantasy season. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of them.
@charley_canucks asks: In a league with Goals, Assists, Plus-Minus, Power-Play Points, Save Percentage, Wins and Shutouts as categories, which two should I keep out of Barkov, Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox and Jacob Markstrom?
Call me crazy, but if it were up to me, I would seriously consider keeping both Shesterkin and Markstrom. Taking into account how volatile the position has become, both netminders are category coverage monsters and that can take you a long way, especially in a league like yours. If you choose to go this direction, you should feel very good about your crease, and to boot, you won’t have to worry about it when drafting the rest of your squad.