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Fantasy Hockey All-Stars for 2017-18

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With the 2018 All-Star Game and weekend festivities rapidly approaching, why not put together a fantasy All-Star team?

A few ground rules for this specific list:

  • It will have traditional positions (wings, center, two defensemen, one goalie) rather than the current setup.
  • Versatility matters.
  • Also, players who were drafted low or were on waiver wires get a big bonus. If you were able to land a top-50 guy far beyond the top 50 picks, your chances of winning your league skyrocket.

Good? Good. Let’s get rolling.

Left Wing – Alex Ovechkin

This one was tough mainly because Jonathan Marchessault went from a guy who likely wasn’t drafted in many leagues (in fact, Marchessault is still available in 16 percent of Yahoo leagues), yet he’s a top-50 guy.

Ovechkin’s just too dynamic to ignore, though, and it’s what he does beyond the obvious that makes him very useful.

His 208 shots on goal is tied for first in the NHL, and Vladimir Tarasenko‘s played in two more games.  Ovechkin’s 94 hits tie him for 34th among forwards. His 20 penalty minutes and +10 rating make him a guy who checks a lot of boxes peripherals-wise.

The obvious stuff is great, too. He leads the league with 30 goals. Ovechkin is also 13th in points with 53, so he’s getting helpers as well.

Simply put, the deeper your league goes with categories, the more obvious a choice Ovechkin and some others end up being.

Center – Sean Couturier

Couturier falls along the Marchessault lines.

Steven Stamkos has better numbers, as does Nathan MacKinnon. Still, Couturier didn’t get drafted in many cases, yet he’s part of a resurgent top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek in Philly. The two-way center who’s largely done the heavy lifting is showing he’s more this season, scoring 23 goals and 23 assists. There are some nice peripherals with a +10 rating and even 26 blocked shots.

Value means a big difference in fantasy. Most people can pinpoint the obvious the guys, even if they end up slightly better than expected. The off-the-radar guys make the real difference.

Right wing – Nikita Kucherov

Look, not every pick on this list would mildly surprise somehow.

He leads the league with 63 points, and it’s not like it’s all assists, as he still has a shot to catch Ovechkin with his 27 goals. From a +13 rating to 22 power-play points, Kucherov covers all the bases.

Other members of high-end lines deserve consideration too, especially someone in the Marchessault/Couturier realm of overachievers like Brayden Schenn.

Defenseman: John Klingberg

Six goals and 42 assists for 48 points would be a nice season for Klingberg, let alone just a bit more than half of a season’s worth of work (50 games). While he collects more helpers, the six goals are quite nice. Klingberg has 119 shots on goal in those 50 games, and is basically doing it all.

His points total exceeds every other defenseman by seven points, and he’s 10+ points ahead of every blueliner beyond …

Other defenseman: Brent Burns, who has 41 points after collecting two assists on Thursday.

He now has eight assists during a six-game point/assist streak. During the month of January, Burns has one goal and 15 assists for 16 points in 12 games. Since December, he’s generated a remarkable 30 points in 25 games. If anyone can catch Klingberg, it’s Burns.

Even beyond that, Burns will probably be the most valuable fantasy defenseman going forward, unless Erik Karlsson resumes being fully Erik Karlsson, as he covers more categories.

On one hand, after a +19 rating in 2016-17, he’s -21 this season. (Plus/minus is a flawed stat, but it’s frequently used in fantasy.)

Burns can provide penalty minutes (24) and can be valuable even if he doesn’t score goals because he shoots so much (202 SOG, 50 more than every other defensemen, third in the NHL with fewer games played than Ovechkin and Tarasenko), and he’s logging a ton of ice time with 25:20 per game.

Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy, followed by Connor Hellebuyck

OK, Vasi is obviously the guy. He leads the NHL in wins with 29, shutouts with 7 (everyone else as four or fewer), and his .931 save percentage stands out among starters. He’s clearly the best.

That said, Hellebuyck deserves a mention because he was likely picked up on waiver wires or very low in deep drafts. Even among Winnipeg Jets fans, you’d think Steve Mason was selected in almost every instance.

If you hopped on the Hellebuyck bandwagon early, you enjoyed most of the benefits: 26 wins (second to Vasi), sixth-best 1,147 saves, and a fantastic .924 save percentage.

***

Maybe you have a different way of looking at things, and you can’t deny MacKinnon, Stamkos, Patrice Bergeron, or someone else from being mentioned. With that in mind, feel free to share your All-Stars, even if you keep it strictly to players who happened to land on your team(s). We’d be delighted to hear about your big steals, shrewd moves, and near-misses.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Makar’s incredible rookie season; Load management in NHL

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Capitals head coach Todd Reirden brought a few champions in to talk to his team about winning it all. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Why have the Devils’ bad players playing well and why are the good players playing bad? (All About the Jersey)

• How has Kevin Hayes looked in his first few games with the Flyers? (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• Rod Brind’Amour is already the best coach in Hurricanes franchise history. (Cardiac Cane)

• Only Brendan Shanahan will be able to fire Mike Babcock. (Leafs Nation)

Noel Acciari has been an incredible steal for the Florida Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

Cale Makar is having a rookie season for the ages. (The Hockey News)

• The wives and girlfriends of Canadiens players are learning how to play hockey. (Sportsnet)

• We’re starting to see load management between the pipes in the NHL. (ESPN)

• This broadcast duo have been calling Red Wings games for 25 years. (Detroit News)

• The Golden Knights need to make sure that they don’t let their recent struggles frustrate them. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: McDavid, Draisaitl stay red-hot; Lightning torch Rangers

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers
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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

There is a reason these two lead the NHL in points and a combined 11-point outing will certainly keep them there a bit longer. McDavid recorded his second hat trick in three games and his first career six-point outing. Draisaitl had five assists and extended his point streak to 11 games as the Oilers skated to a 6-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. If the Oilers feel that the rest of the lineup can provide enough support McDavid and Draisaitl can build on a dynamic partnership and help Edmonton return to the postseason.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

A trip to Sweden was the perfect opportunity for the Lightning to find their form and in their first game back in North America, they proved they still are an elite offensive team. Kucherov capped off an explosive stretch when Tampa Bay scored three times in a span of 61 seconds and added three assists. It was the second time this season Kucherov recorded four points.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

The Czech forward had two goals as the San Jose Sharks extended their winning streak to five with an important 5-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks. Hertl was the beneficiary of a suspect call when he pushed John Gibson’s pad over the goal line in the opening period. But on his second of the night, the 26-year-old wired a wrister to even the score in the second period. After a slow start, the Sharks are hoping to climb their way back into the playoff race.

Highlights of the Night

McDavid doing McDavid things

Video game dekes are normally reserved for an alternate reality but Justin Dowling of the Dallas Stars showed his slick hands with an impressive toe drag.

Before a one-timer is launched, there are times you just know the player is going to connect. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is one goal away from the 400-goal mark after this blistering slap shot.

Blooper of the Night

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins probably had a different plan for this celebration

Factoids

  • Connor McDavid became the fourth player in Oilers history to record two hat tricks in three games, joining Wayne Gretzy, Glen Anderson and Jari Kurri [NHL PR].
  • McDavid and Draisaitl are just the second Oilers teammates in the last 30 years to each record five points in a game [NHL PR]
  • The Hurricanes have not lost a game against the Sabres since March 22m 2016 and are one of five teams with an active win streak of 10+ games vs. one opponent [NHL PR]
  • Dougie Hamilton is the fastest defenseman in Hurricanes/Whalers franchise history to reach 20 points in a season (19 GP) [Sportsnet Stats]
  • The Lightning scored four goals in each of the first and second periods of a game for first time in franchise history [NHL PR]
  • Tampa Bay scored four goals in the first 6:42 of Thursday’s game. Only five teams have accomplished that feat faster in the last 25 years [NHL PR].

Scores

Lightning 9, Rangers 3

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Jets 4, Panthers 3

Wild 3, Coyotes 2

Oilers 6, Avalanche 2

Stars 4, Canucks 2

Sharks 5, Ducks 3

Kings 3, Red Wings 2

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Necas rewarding Hurricanes’ patience

Carolina Hurricanes forward Martin Necas
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Highly touted prospects are consistently called on to produce shortly after their draft year, sometimes hindering their growth as players.

Whether the club is competing for the Stanley Cup, looking to become a contender or facing a salary cap dilemma, young players on entry-level contracts have become a staple in the NHL.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, the patience they showed during Martin Necas’ development process has proven to be beneficial.

Necas has recorded 13 points through 19 games, including an assist on Dougie Hamilton’s game-winning goal Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. The 20-year-old forward darted into the offensive zone and could not complete a breakaway opportunity midway through overtime. However, instead of losing his composure, Necas stayed with the play, retrieved the puck and set up Hamilton to help Carolina secure a 5-4 victory.

Carolina selected Necas with the 12th pick in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft. Necas played one game in the NHL that season before returning to the Czech Republic. Last year, Necas had a seven-game stint with the Hurricanes, but the organization felt he needed more fine-tuning in the American Hockey League, where he helped the Charlotte Checkers capture the Calder Cup.

The pressure surrounding a first-round pick is omnipresent during the development process and only heightens when the prospect needs additional time outside the NHL. The situation is even more magnified when the big club is contending for a championship and contemplating a major trade deadline acquisition or a promotion from within.

But Carolina’s front office resisted the urge to disrupt Necas’ development and is reaping the rewards from that tough decision this season.

If Necas continues to produce, he will be in contention for a different Calder Trophy this season. While an individual award is an accomplishment, Carolina is hoping its patience will be rewarded as the team looks to build on its Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Maple Leafs GM gives interesting take on ‘polarizing’ players

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a three-game losing streak, and generally speaking, have seemed a bit underwhelming so far in starting 2019-20 with a 9-7-4 record (22 points, currently in second wild card).

Through 20 games, you’ll see players talk about getting “swagger” back, and you probably won’t be able to scroll Hockey Twitter without stumbling upon at least a few debates about the job Mike Babcock is doing.

With as passionate a fan base as the Maple Leafs have, you’ll see people really drilling down to parse even the depth aspects of the team. Maybe that explains why we got an interesting take from GM Kyle Dubas, who almost seemed to break “the fourth wall” when he acknowledged the many takes that defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie inspire.

Buffet of opinions

Dubas’ comments about Ceci are especially fascinating, as you can see from TSN’s Karen Shilton.

“Cody is an interesting one. I think it goes back to the war between data and subjective scouting [in that] he seems to be a very polarizing player,” Dubas said. “Even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage [as a top-pairing defenceman who averages 22:19 of ice time per game], it seems to be every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum on whether he’s good or not, which is mind-boggling to me. Every defenceman that plays that much and plays in that role is going to [make] mistakes. I think he’s been a good addition for us and has played above expectations from when we acquired him and we’re very happy with him.”

In particular, Dubas captures the tenure of some Hockey Twitter debates when he says “it seems like every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum.”

But it’s not that hard to see where many of Ceci’s critics are coming from.

When the Maple Leafs acquired Ceci, and it became clear that he’d actually stick around for at least a while, the hope (for many) was that he wouldn’t have the same role as he did in Ottawa, where some believe the Senators promoted him to a level of incompetence. What if Ceci was in an easier role, with fewer minutes and lesser opponents? Instead, his ice time has been virtually unchanged from last season, and defensive measures like his Hockey Viz heat maps (via Micah Blake McCurdy) look as bad as ever:

But, truly, Dubas isn’t totally off base when he says that there are certain underlying numbers where Ceci comes across at least a bit more respectably.

There’s the argument, advanced by people like Jonas Siegel of The Athletic (sub required), that it’s too early to judge Ceci.

Maybe it’s too late; perhaps there’s an “eye test vs. analytics” divide that won’t be broken easily. It could be that the biggest uproar would come if the Maple Leafs brought back Ceci after his expiring deal melts away.

(Opinion: they absolutely should not bring Ceci back.)

Tyson not knocking it out of the park

In the grand scheme of things, the Ceci situation is basically going as prescribed.

The bigger disappointment might be Tyson Barrie, even if you ignore Nazem Kadri‘s promising early results in Colorado. The book on Barrie is that he can be an explosive offensive performer, although there were red flags about him negating much of that prowess with shaky defense.

Those red flags carry over to those Hockey Viz charts, as there’s a lot of the bad sort of red when you consider Barrie’s defensive impact (and arguably not enough of the good red on offense to justify that bleeding).

Keeping it as simple as it gets, Barrie barely has more points (zero goals, five assists, thus five points) than Ceci (one goal, three assists for four points). Those numbers are underwhelming even if you viewed Barrie as something of a paper tiger with superficial scoring stats coming in.

Maybe it’s telling that Dubas’ comments are more milquetoast about Barrie, stating that “we just want him to continue to work and get comfortable here.”

***

Barrie, Ceci, and the Maple Leafs face a familiar foe on Friday in the Boston Bruins. In the Bruins’ own way, they want to get back on track too, as they’ve lost four in a row.

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.