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.

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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.