There are two kinds of fantasy games. Some prefer computer simulations: arcade games (i.e. NHL 14) or more reality-based replicas of hockey franchise building. If you are a regular on this site, chances are you prefer forms of fantasy hockey that best simulate what managing a team truly entails: forecasting future performance (as opposed to expecting a duplicate of last season’s production).
Last week, one of my seasonal tips talked about identifying which young players to be patient with. The answer to this age old conundrum is neither simple nor fool-proof, but with today new-age stats there are indicators that can help us make those important roster decisions, especially for those among you who play in keeper leagues.
In order to produce at the NHL level and become reliable fantasy contributors, offensive prospects must first earn significant ice-time. The only way to garner more playing time is for them to earn their head coach’s trust. As mentioned in my “First Half Lessons”, in today’s puck-possession focused NHL, coaches all look for the same thing from players: responsible play with the puck and reliability without it.
Fortunately for us, Real-Time stats have spawned new indicators to measure individual puck-possession skills: takeaways and giveaways. You’d better believe that coaches monitor this part of their players’ game even more closely than their offensive production. Young players that can’t master the puck-possession aspect of their game aren’t likely to be given much opportunity to produce offensively. Based on that premise, here are the most likely under 25 year-old candidates to either see a significant improvement in their future production or keep improving on their already impressive breakthroughs.
TAKEAWAY FIENDS (TkA-GvA)
Brandon Saad (LW) – CHI (39-13): Unbelievable ratio for the 21 y/o. Coach Joel Quenneville knows he can trust him in any situation. Only a matter of time before he sees more top PP minutes. He’s earned a top-6 role for good… And on a great team to boot!
Jaden Schwartz (LW) – STL (38-9): Less than 10 GvA in 45 games and he handles the puck allot during his 17:03 of average ice-time. At 21, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of this guy’s offensive upside. He’s emerging as the clear leader within the Blues’ impressive wave of the future.
Gabriel Landeskog (LW) – COL (35-18): Last year’s shortened season qualified as a sophomore slump for Landeskog (drop of .162 PPG from his impressive rookie showing). The reason no one seemed concerned are these puck possession numbers. He’s the Avs’ uncontested leader at only 21 and along with Matt Duchene will grow into a franchise pillar.
Derek Stepan (C) – NYR (35-21): Not producing the numbers his owners were expecting, coming off a near point-a-game shortened campaign. Make no mistake, he will be the Blueshirts’ offensive leader for years to come and his consistent work habits will keep him on the ice whoever the bench boss may be.
Adam Henrique (C) – NJD (30-16): His offensive upside is not quite as high as the players mentioned above, but there are signs that he may recover from a bad sophomore season and once again approach the .69 PPG he produced in his rookie year.
PUCK PROTECTORS (UNDER 25 Y/O’S WITH MORE THAN 40 GP, 10 TOI/G AND 10 GVA OR LESS)
Brayden Schenn (C) – PHI (23-9): He was drafted with offense in mind. Although it is taking longer to realize his potential than some may have expected, he has steadily progressed every year. He’s now solidly anchored in as Philly’s second line center and is the playmaker on the PP’s second wave. This ratio tells us he won’t do anything to make Craig Berube lose confidence in him.
Kyle Palmieri (LW-RW) – ANA (10-12): He’s a sniper with a nose for the net; we know that from looking at his career stats at every level. What insures that he will get a chance to be an eventual NHL trigger-man is his responsible play with the puck. The only thing holding him back at the moment is Anaheim’s incredible depth at forward.