With the puck set to drop on the new NHL season tonight, we're caught in something of an in-between spot for this week's edition of the Fantasy Hockey Faceoff.
It's too late to dispense any draft advice, and it's too early to recommend adds and drops. But the show must go on, so we thought it would be fun to look back on some predictions we made last year and either pat the other guy on the back or bust his chops.
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Let's get to this week's topics:
1. Credit where credit is due
Jesse: I love this idea, because the media rarely hold themselves accountable for pre-season predictions. But I'm also dreading it because any praise I give you will be held over my head all season. Guess I've got to grin and bear it. Well done, sir, on your prediction that Claude Giroux would be last season's breakout player. You wrote, "Expect Giroux to become a crucial part of the Flyers' offence this year and score no less than 65-plus points" and that's exactly what happened. If anything, he exceeded your expectations, scoring 25 goals and 76 points as his ice time increased by almost three minutes a game from the year before. Expect more big things from Giroux as Philly may have to lean on him even more following the departures of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Jordan: Actually, I’ve been holding my Giroux pick over your head for a year already! But it’s time to pat you on the back. Maybe it’s because you’re a die-hard Sabres fan or maybe you just know your fantasy hockey, but you gave the right advice last season about Ryan Miller. You wrote "[Miller is] the consensus top netminder. Don’t fall into the trap … enough red flags exist to consider someone else in the first round." As you predicted, Miller’s numbers declined. He won seven fewer games than the year before, lost four more, and his goals-against average and save percentage both went in the wrong direction. I believe Miller will rebound with an excellent campaign.
2. What were you thinking?!
Jordan: You seemed to be in love with Evgeni Malkin last year. Though I can’t blame you for not knowing Malkin would miss most of the second half of the year with a knee injury, you urged managers to draft him over Henrik Sedin. Those that listened were left with just 15 goals and 37 points, while Sedin racked up a 94 points — the fourth-best total in the league. For your breakout player, you went with Matt Duchene. Though he did go from tallying 55 points in 2009-10 to 67 points in 2010-11, he scored seven fewer power-play goals and finished with a minus-eight. By season’s end, Duchene’s average ice time on the man advantage had dipped from 3:02 to 2:50 per game.
Jesse: Good as your Giroux pick was, you whiffed on a couple of calls involving players on Canadian clubs. You figured Jarome Iginla would decline from his modest totals of 32 goals and 69 points from 2009-10, but he produced his highest goal output in three years with 43 and finished with 86 points. You also predicted Ales Hemsky would be a good value play coming off an injury-spoiled season, but guess what? He had another injury-spoiled season, mustering just 42 points. Granted, he did that in only 47 games, so you may have been onto something. But Hemsky is never a good bet to stay healthy. In eight NHL seasons, he's averaged only 61 appearances.
3. New prediction time: who's this season's breakout player?
Jesse: Just to clarify, rebound players don't qualify here. We're focusing only on guys who haven't had a "big" year yet. Guys like Giroux heading into last season, or Steven Stamkos prior to 2009-10, when he jumped from 23 goals to 51. This season, I see some potential in a few guys. I think what Michael Grabner did last season — scoring 34 goals while averaging only 15:04 of ice time and less than a minute of power-play time — was remarkable, and there's room for growth if the Islanders give him more burn. But his shooting percentage (14.9) was unsustainably high, and his junior-league production wasn't very impressive. Buffalo's Tyler Ennis has a better pedigree, and he potted 20 goals and 49 points last season while shooting 9.5 per cent and averaging a modest 15:40 of ice time and 2:16 of power-play time. Those numbers compare favourably to Giroux's the year before his breakout, when the Flyer had 16 goals and 47 points on 11 per cent shooting while skating 16:36 per game and 2:45 on the power play. Giroux went on to notch 76 points. I think that's in reach for Ennis.
Jordan: Like last year, I’m going off the board. It’s too easy to take players that everyone’s watching, like Taylor Hall or James van Riemsdyk. Instead, I’m looking at three injury-prone youngsters. In T.J. Oshie’s first season in the NHL in 2008-09, he scored 14 goals and 39 points in 57 games. The following year his totals went up slightly with 18 goals and 48 points, including 15 power-play points, but last year he played in just 49 games and registered only 34 points. Oshie has seen time on both the power play and the penalty kill over the past two seasons with the Blues, so if he’s healthy watch out.
In Colorado, Peter Mueller missed all of last year with a concussion but now finds himself playing alongside Duchene and Paul Stastny on the top line. In 2009-10, he was traded to the Avs from Phoenix for the final 15 games of the season and finally displayed some of that potential people always thought was there since being drafted eighth overall in ‘06. In 69 games with Phoenix and Colorado combined, Mueller averaged just 2:14 of power-play ice-time. Considering John-Michael Liles and Chris Stewart are gone and Milan Hejduk is getting up there in age, I expect the 23-year-old’s ice-time, and therefore his offensive output, to rise dramatically.
Then there’s Cody Hodgson. Prognosticators have all but forgotten the former first-round pick after years of back and knee injuries. In fact, Hodgson can’t be found in the top 181 centres drafted in Yahoo! pools. For the most part, it’s for good reason, but perhaps it’s finally time for this youngster to put injuries behind him and step up, especially with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond currently on the shelf. Isn’t he worth a last-pick gamble?