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2017: A Fantasy Hockey Odyssey (PHT Year in Review)

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(Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and much more as we bring you the best of 2017.)

You’ve likely read this already if you’re perused some best/worst of 2017 lists, but I’m not breaking rank: these 12 months were often a beatdown for humanity.

Luckily, pop culture, sports, and other distractions responded to the carnage like a bat signal, providing us with precious diversions as the universe crumbles. Fantasy hockey falls in line with that, if you ask me, so let’s look back at 2017, combining hearty portions of 2016-17 and 2017-18 for a kind-hearted retrospective.

This guy, That guy, and everyone else

If you want to look at the two most successful hockey players in the world, you’d probably go Sidney Crosby (Stanley Cup, strong regular seasons, international glories) against Connor McDavid (2016-17’s only 100-point season, freak of nature, plausible future glories).

From a fantasy perspective, it’s about two scorers … but only McDavid makes that duo, if you’re being harsh. And also if you’re ignoring playoff pools, which are denizens of randomness, if you ask a fellow who’s only delved into them a bit.

No, in using NHL.com’s refined results settings, two scorers stand alone during this calendar year (OK, Jan. 1 to today): McDavid and Nikita Kucherov. These are the only two scorers who’ve hit 100-plus points during that span, with the closest contenders stuck at 87 points (John Tavares, Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele, with the latter player hopefully being OK as 2018 approaches).

Remarkably, you could very sanely argue that Kucherov’s been better, as goals are tougher to come by than assists, and he’s hit his near-identical mark in three fewer contests:

McDavid in most of 2017: 81 GP, 30 goals, 72 assists, 102 points, 242 shots on goal, +29, somehow just a 39.8 faceoff winning percentage, I felt the need to mention.

Kucherov in most of 2017: 78 GP, 51 goals, 50 assists, 101 points, 279 SOG, +21, eight GWG to McDavid’s six.

Again, no one else even hit 90 points during this span. Remarkable. It stands as another reminder that Kucherov’s brilliance needs to be trumpeted, preferably from a high vantage point, Ricola-style.

These two guys are special, but no longer seemingly aliens

If you drafted Brent Burns and/or Erik Karlsson high heading into 2017-18 (bless your soul and sanity if they were among your top three picks), then you’re well aware that the two seemingly-untouchable defensemen have looked decidedly human this season. Granted, Karlsson is still incredible, but the fantasy returns have been more minimal.

Well, the calendar year numbers back that up. Karlsson and Burns are up their among the four highest defensemen, but they’re joined by Victor Hedman and John Klingberg as the guys who’ve hit 60+ points. Burns leads with 65 (and a ridiculous 307 SOG, more than Kucherov and McDavid, by the way), Hedman has 64, while Klingberg and Karlsson are tied at 62.

When in doubt, draft Swedish defensemen and/or dudes who could pass as Chewbacca.

(Note: Karlsson scored his 62 points in 71 games, so … he’s still possibly a Martian.)

Braden Holtby is the new Martin Brodeur

In case you haven’t poked around Hockey Twitter much, or blogs for that matter, Martin Brodeur isn’t the no-brainer superstar some assume. Well, at least when you compare him to, say, Dominik Hasek. In certain communities, that is.

You see, Brodeur frequently hobbled behind the true elites in terms of save percentage, and many believe that his puck-moving skills didn’t make up that difference.

That said, on the fantasy side, Brodeur was often fried gold.

The all-time wins leader obviously won a lot, and for most of his career, you could count on him to play a ton of games. He’d nab a lot of shutouts, to boot. As unpredictable as netminders can be thanks to the teams in front of them and health breaks and arrests go, Brodeur was as steady – and effective – as you could really ask for.

Holtby is becoming that guy: tons of reps, dependable, very good but maybe not getting mentioned as the cream of the crop as often as, say, Carey Price or Sergei Bobrovsky. It makes perfect sense, then, that he’s unmatched when it comes to wins (though his .920 save percentage speaks for itself.)

Now, I was pumping his tires as the next Henrik Lundqvist earlier but … Henrik Lundqvist still seems like Henrik Lundqvist, so let’s go with The Next Brodeur for now.

Reigning rookies

In 2016-17, Auston Matthews led a crop of outstanding Toronto Maple Leafs youngsters while Patrik Laine looked like the heir apparent to Alex Ovechkin. Jake Guentzel really blossomed during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Matthew Tkachuk annoyed everyone in his path to fantasy glory.

Shockingly, 2017-18 is producing a comparable crop of rookies, to the point that the volume makes it difficult to name everyone.

Mathew Barzal and Brock Boeser are both (at least temporarily) altering the trajectories of their teams. Yanni Gourde and Jesper Bratt likely deserve a bit more credit for their teams’ startling improvements. Nico Hischier looks like he’ll live up to being a top pick, while Clayton Keller is making teams kick themselves for passing him up, even for a few picks. Defensemen like Will Butcher, Charlie McAvoy, and Mikhail Sergachev are making splashes of their own.

Rookies are tough to figure in fantasy, what with uncertainty about even staying with the big team and no/little prior NHL numbers to use as a reference. Taking chances on them, only to see them explode, makes the successes so much sweeter, then.

***

So, those are some of the trends and stories that stood out to me in fantasy this year. No end-of-year list is complete without people groaning about choices, however, so share your omissions and opinions in the comments, on Twitter, or via email.

Previously:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00 p.m. ET.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Rangers

Rick NashMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Mats ZuccarelloJ.T. Miller – Vinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyDavid DesharnaisPaul Carey
Michael Grabner – Peter Holland – Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalSteven Kampfer

Startling goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

[Flyers look to push winning streak to five games against Rangers]

Flyers

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Michael RafflValtteri FilppulaJakub Voracek
Jordan WealNolan PatrickWayne Simmonds
Taylor LeierScott LaughtonJori Lehtera

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere
Robert HaggAndrew MacDonald
Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Startling goalie: Brian Elliott

 

Golden Knights’ defense coming into focus with signings

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As the Vegas Golden Knights’ success gradually goes from shocking to accepted, there’s still the question of what this team might look like next season and beyond. Such questions are only natural when you consider all the key players who still need contract extensions.

Golden Knights management is chipping away at those questions regarding their defense in 2018-19, particularly this week.

On Monday, the Golden Knights signed local favorite and rugged defenseman Deryk Engelland to a one-year extension worth $1.5 million. (That deal includes $1M in potential performance bonuses, according to Cap Friendly.)

One day later, the team announced a two-year extension for Jon Merrill (pictured). The deal is for $2.75M overall, so it will make for a $1.375M cap hit in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The Golden Knights now have five defensemen on their current roster who are signed through 2018-19, if not longer: Engelland, Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Brad Hunt. McNabb is locked up the longest, with a $2.5M cap hit kicking in next season and expiring after 2020-21.

The most interesting remaining defensemen to sort out are Colin Miller and Shea Theodore, both pending RFAs. The Golden Knights have been buying up blueliners at bargain rates, but Theodore and Miller could be tougher nuts to crack contracts-wise. (Two UFA defensemen Luca Sbisa and Clayton Stoner on IR.)

Quick look at Engelland and Merrill

Engelland, 35, has been one of the Golden Knights’ ice time leaders with 19:39 per night, collecting 13 points while limiting his time in the penalty box (16 PIM in 41 games) compared to his usual numbers. He’s not perfect, but it’s conceivable that he’ll be worth that minimal cost to Vegas, especially since he’s an ambassador for the still-new franchise.

While Vegas hopes Engelland can bring that veteran presence for another year, they’re likely banking on Merrill to be more effective at a cheap rate.

The 25-year-old has been dealing with injuries and other issues, limiting him to 14 games played.

***

These defensive signings aren’t as important as locking up Jonathan Marchessault, nor is it as crucial as making the right call with the likes of James Neal and David Perron. With Malcolm Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury seeing their deals expire after 2018-19, management will need to make some goaltending decisions not that long from now.

A little bit of greed can inspire players to go that extra mile and stay that much hungrier, yet it’s also comforting to sometimes have some answers. After this week, there’s some clarity on the blueline, even if some decisions still need to be made.

And, hey, the Golden Knights haven’t really locked themselves into bad contracts yet. Old teams could probably learn a thing or two from these new kids.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Johnny Gaudreau is playing best hockey of NHL career

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Maybe it’s because Johnny Gaudreau has been a productive scorer since day one. Almost literally.

Gaudreau scored a goal in his first NHL game with the Calgary Flames, his only appearance in 2013-14. The slick, undersized forward then generated 24 goals and 64 points as a rookie in 2014-15, and really hasn’t missed a beat.

While there were plenty of questions heading into 2017-18 for Calgary – goaltending, Jaromir Jagr, depth on defense and offense – everyone just assumed Gaudreau would keep scoring. So perhaps that explains why people aren’t making much of a deal about Gaudreau scoring even more than usual.

As of Tuesday, Gaudreau is in a four-way tie for second in NHL scoring with 54 points.

After scoring two goals and six assists for eight points in four games, the Flames forward was named NHL’s first star of the week, ahead of teammate Mike Smith (also red-hot). His point streak actually extends into 2017, a stretch of seven games, five of which were multi-point (two goals, 11 assists for 13 points).

Gaudreau set career-highs in goals (30) and points (78) in 79 games back in 2015-16. While he’s at a solid goal-scoring clip of 15 so far this season, his playmaking is what might make this his best work. Gaudreau is averaging 1.2 points-per game, a pace of about 98 points during an 82-game season.

Upon hearing about Gaudreau’s All-Star nod about a week ago, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan did a great job summarizing what makes him so effective.

“I think he gets the best looks in the National Hockey League,” Gulutzan said, via the Calgary Sun. “He puts himself into position every game to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates himself on the ice and can handle the puck, it’s pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get those kind of opportunities, too. It’s a combination of speed, agility and high hockey I.Q. that allows him to do it. He’s our engine for generating offense.”

This goal Gaudreau scored against the Stars on Nov. 24 is a great example of his ability to “strip guys of pucks,” and why he’s such a nightmare to defend.

Gaudreau and the Flames are currently resting up on a bye week, and hopefully not getting too rusty, as Calgary owns the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games. Beginning on Saturday, the Flames will play six of their next seven games at home, so there’s a solid chance that they’ll keep their strong play going.

If so, the Flames – and Gaudreau – will be difficult to ignore.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.