Jordan Eberle

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Preseason standouts who could keep it up

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Welcome to the second fantasy hockey preview column before we start doing proper Add/Drop columns next week. This week we’re going to focus on some of the standout performers in the preseason who could carry that success into the 2019-20 campaign.

Before we do that, it’s worth conceding that preseason statistics can’t be taken at face value. For a quick and easy example of that, we need look no further than Boston’s 8-2 victory over Chicago on Saturday. In that game Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak each had a hat trick and registered an assist, but Chicago put forth a team of largely AHLers against them. In net for Chicago was 25-year-old Matt Tomkins, who spent last season in the ECHL, and 24-year-old Kevin Lankinen, who split 2018-19 between the AHL and ECHL. Now we already know that DeBrusk and Pastrnak are talented players anyways, but can we really read anything into them excelling against that level of competition?

That doesn’t mean the preseason can’t help provide insight though when coupled with some context. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into some interesting cases.

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Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights – Pacioretty has been one of the most dominating players of the 2019 preseason with four goals and 10 points in four games. He used to be one of the league’s most consistent scoring threats, but his last two seasons have left something to be desired, so the question now is if there is reason to believe 2019-20 might be a bit of a comeback campaign for him. The addition of Mark Stone at the trade deadline should help here because Vegas seems set to roll out a line of Stone, Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny (who was limited to 50 games last season due to injury). That combination has a ton of potential and puts Pacioretty in a position to succeed. That along with Pacioretty’s preseason success and the hope that he’s fully adjusted to Vegas now that he has a year there under his belt, gives plenty of cause for hope.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators – Tkachuk had a solid rookie campaign with 22 goals and 45 points in 71 games and he should be able to take a step up this season. If nothing else, he’s going to get significantly more than the 16:01 minutes he averaged in 2018-19. After all, the Senators no longer have Stone, Matt Duchene, or Ryan Dzingel on the roster, so this is a team that pretty much needs to revolve around Tkachuk offensively. We saw a preview of that at the end of last season with him scoring eight goals and 13 points in his final 16 games while averaging 17:59 minutes. The preseason has offered further evidence of that. Tkachuk has scored three goals and six points in four exhibition contests while averaging 19:35 minutes.

Connor Brown, Ottawa Senators – Sticking with Ottawa for the moment, Brown is another player who is in a position to benefit from playing for the offensively depleted Senators. Brown had 20 goals as a rookie back in 2016-17, but his role with the Toronto Maple Leafs quickly declined as their offense got deeper. Brown had eight goals and 29 points in 82 games last season while averaging just 13:48 minutes. By contrast, he could end up playing regularly with Tkachuk on the Senators. Brown had two goals and four points in four games while averaging 20:58 minutes in the preseason.

Adam Gaudette, Vancouver Canucks – If you’re looking for players who made a big impression during training camp, Gaudette would have to be high on the list. His work in the preseason has even been singled out by NHL’s Twitter account on a few occasions.

In the end, he finished the preseason with four goals and six points in six games. At the time of writing Vancouver’s roster hadn’t been finalized so it is possible that the Canucks will send him down because he wouldn’t have to clear waivers, but given how well he’s done, it’s more likely that he will start the season on the third line. That would allow him to take a significant step up from his rookie campaign. He had just five goals and 12 points in 56 games last season, but was averaging a modest 10:57 minutes. He showed he has a lot of offensive potential when he scored 30 goals and 60 points in 38 games with Northeastern University in 2017-18 as well as his 11 points in 14 games stint in the AHL last season. With him seemingly climbing up the depth charts, he’ll be someone to keep an eye on.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders – Like Pacioretty, Eberle has usually been a consistent scorer, but he struggled last season with 19 goals and 37 points in 78 games. Part of that was Eberle needing time to adjust to coach Barry Trotz’s system and slowly earning the trust of his new bench boss. Once Eberle did that and developed chemistry with Mathew Barzal, he really started to shine. Eberle had five goals in his final seven regular season games and followed that up with four goals and nine points in eight playoff contests. He’s looking to build off that success and has gotten off on the right foot with four goals and seven points in five exhibition games.

Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers – Bear has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2019 preseason. The 22-year-old defenseman had two goals and five points in four exhibition games and he impressed Oilers coach Dave Tippett with the work he put in to get stronger over the summer.

“You like to see it,” Tippett said, per Sportsnet. “He put the work in. He’s changed a lot of his diet, he’s changed his mind set on how he wants to live, and how he wants to play. You love to see guys who do that have success, because it’s a model of how it works. He’s a good ‘today’s style’ NHL defenseman.”

Bear has always had offensive potential and we might start to see a bit of it show up in the NHL this season. That said, he’s one I’d rather keep an eye on for now than pick up in standard fantasy leagues.

Carter Verhaeghe, Toronto Maple Leafs – Verhaeghe certainly didn’t seem destined for big things early in his career. The Maple Leafs drafted him in the third round back in 2013 and two years later he was thrown in as part of a five-player deal to acquire Michael Grabner from the Islanders. Two years after that the Islanders shipped him to Tampa Bay in exchange for depth goaltender (and current KHLer) Kristers Gudlevskis. Verhaeghe took a huge stride forward last season though with 34 goals and 82 points in 76 AHL contests and he continued that strong player with two goals and five points in six preseason games. All that work has put the 24-year-old forward on the cusp of playing in the NHL for the first time.

“You look at the stats, he led the team in scoring in the preseason but that really wasn’t it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told The Athletic. “It’s how his game has evolved and he has been a pretty pleasant surprise from watching him in camp two years ago until now. You look at guys who have inched their way forward and really shown growth and improvement and he’s definitely one of them. He’s made a good case for himself.”

Of course, even assuming he’s on the Lightning’s opening game roster, he’s not guaranteed to stick with them. Part of the reason he’s in this position is due to injuries, so Verhaeghe is very much in a position where he’ll have to keep competing for his spot. It is worth noting though that he would be waiver eligible, so even if the deep Lightning ultimately don’t have room for him, it wouldn’t be shocking to see another team give him a shot.

[MORE: Under-drafted players who could help your team]

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs – For Nylander, the fact that he had a training camp at all is a huge step up from last year. He didn’t even make his season debut in 2018-19 until Dec. 6 because he was a contract holdout and went on to record just a goal and three points over his first 19 games last season.

“I felt I was ready, but what I discovered was that other players were a step ahead of me,” Nylander said, per The Globe and Mail. “I fell behind. The transition was harder than I expected.”

This season he won’t have to deal with that and he’s poised for a major bounce back campaign as a result. He was solid in the preseason with a goal and four points in four games.

Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils – Not that you needed a solid preseason from Hughes to know he had potential going into 2019-20, but it doesn’t hurt. He had three goals and four points in four exhibition contests. The bigger point of interest with him going into training camp is who he’s likely to open the season alongside. Right now it appears he’s likely to play alongside Nikita Gusev on the second line. That’s a pretty interesting combination given Gusev is also a mix of high potential with an unknown factor. He’s attempting to make the transition from KHL star with 82 points in 62 games last season to NHLer. Both Hughes and Gusev could be significant factors in fantasy leagues this season.

Sammy Blais, St. Louis Blues – Blais went into training camp with a shot of making the roster and managed to secure his spot in part thanks to his strong play in the preseason. He had a goal and six points in five exhibition contests. He has just three goals and seven points in 43 career NHL games, but his lack of offensive production was at least partially due to the role he had. He averaged just 10:05 minutes per game whereas this time around he’s got a shot at serving in a top-nine capacity. It’s also worth noting from a fantasy perspective that even if Blais doesn’t do that much offensively this season, he would probably be one of the league’s top players in terms of hits if he plays regularly. Given that Yahoo leagues now use hits as a default category over penalty minutes that alone gives him some notability.

If you’re looking for more fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld has got you covered. Recently Michael Finewax released his first “The Week Ahead” of the season where he previews all 31 teams.

If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your drafts, check out the all-new Rotoworld NHL Draft Guide. Now mobile-optimized with a new look and feel, it’s never been easier to take our award-winning advice with you to your drafts for that extra competitive edge! Click here to learn more!

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Islanders look to build on success in Year 2 under Trotz

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NEW YORK — After the New York Islanders were swept in the second round of the playoffs, they went into the offseason uncertain how the team would look when it returned this month.

Several players were headed for free agency and there were some big names available.

Ultimately, the Islanders re-signed nearly all their own players and return with the core intact for a second season under coach Barry Trotz and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello.

”Lou did a good job bringing everyone back,” said forward Jordan Eberle, one of the returning free agents. ”Now it’s just a matter of us putting in the work and getting the job done.”

Captain Anders Lee and Brock Nelson were also unrestricted free agents that re-signed.

The Islanders were one of the surprise teams last season when they finished second in the Metropolitan Division, then swept Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs before getting ousted by Carolina. It marked the second time in four years New York reached the second round after a 23-year stretch in which it either missed the playoffs or didn’t advance past the opening round.

Now, the Islanders are hoping to build off the foundation set in the first year under Trotz.

”That familiarity is nice to have,” forward Josh Bailey said. ”A lot of our group understands what’s expected of us. Hopefully kick off where we finished last year, have a good start.”

A year ago, the Islanders were predicted by many experts to miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 12 seasons, especially after losing star center John Tavares in free agency. However, the team took advantage of timely goals and scoring chances created by Trotz’s defense-oriented system.

Despite that success, the Islanders have no shortage of naysayers expecting them to regress.

”At the end of the day, we really like the group we got in here,” center Mathew Barzal said. ”We got chemistry in the locker room, chemistry on the ice, we got a good (penalty-kill) and we got a good staff. They’re going to give us a good game plan, we just got to execute it.”

The one major change was in goal with Semyon Varlamov signed to replace Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner, who had combined with Thomas Greiss to win the William Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL. It also gives Greiss, entering the final year of his contract, his third goalie partner in three seasons.

Greiss and Lehner shared a near-even split of games during the regular season, though Lehner started all eight playoff games. Trotz has indicated he will use the same approach during this season.

”I think I’ll let it play out, same premise as last year,” he said. ”We’re in the winning business, so whoever is doing the job we’ll try to do that. It’s getting harder and harder for a true No. 1 to play in a 70-games-per-year type of thing.”

WHO’S HERE: G Semyon Varlamov, F Derick Brassard.

WHO’S NOT: G Robin Lehner, F Valtteri Filppula.

KEY PLAYERS: The strong team-defense approach was backed by the stellar play of Lehner and Greiss last season. The Islanders will need to replicate that success with Varlamov and Greiss between the pipes. Varlamov has been primarily a starter over his 11-year career, but last season was 20-19-9 while appearing in 49 games – his second-lowest total over the previous six years. Eberle came on strong down the stretch with five goals and an assist in the last seven regular season games, and then had four goals and five assists in the eight playoff games. Nelson thrived in Trotz’s system, getting his first 50-point season (25 goals, 28 assists) in six years in the NHL, and will need to put up similar numbers. Brassard struggled while playing for three teams last season, but he could help improve the Islanders’ struggling power play. Young defenseman Noah Dobson is getting a long look in training camp and would need to displace one of the top seven to crack the opening-day roster. If he doesn’t, under the CBA he can’t play in the AHL this season and would have to go back to juniors.

OUTLOOK: The struggles in the second round against Carolina suggested a need to add a top-line scorer, but they failed to do that. With the team mostly unaltered and still motivated to improve, there’s no reason to expect a regression. The Islanders won’t sneak up on any teams this season, but they still have a championship-winning coaching staff and their defense creates scoring chances.

PREDICTION: The Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for a big chuck of the middle of the season before finishing second at 48-27-7 – a 13-win improvement over the previous year – and 103 points. If Varlamov can return to his previous form under the tutelage of goaltending guru Mitch Korn, the Islanders should be able to contend for the top of the Metropolitan Division again.

Previewing the 2019-20 New York Islanders

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The answer to this question depends on how much you think they can repeat what they did a year ago. They are bringing back largely the same team, with the one notable exception being the swapping of Robin Lehner for Semyon Varlamov in goal. If Varlamov can step in and replace what Lehner did, they have a shot to be pretty good again. If he fails to do that, it could mean a significant step backwards. If they are better, it is hard to see them being significantly better. If they are worse, they probably won’t be much worse depending on what Varlamov does.

Strengths: The Islanders have one of the league’s best, most successful head coaches in Barry Trotz and that is always a bonus. The combination of his structured system and some great goaltending made the Islanders the toughest team to score against a year ago. They also have a franchise player in Mathew Barzal who is quickly becomimg an all-around force.

Weaknesses: It is the offense. The good news is they were able to bring back all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, re-signing Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson. But this was not a particularly dangerous team offensively a year ago and was one of the worst offensive teams to make the playoffs. Barzal should be more productive this season, but they are still going to have to win a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): You can never be too sure of what Lou Lamorieillo is thinking with his head coaches, but after the turnaround the Islanders had a year ago Trotz would seem to be as secure as any coach in the league. We will put him as a 1.5 out of 10. Normally for a coach in this position it would be a 1, but we are allowing the possibility of Lamoriello doing something bizarre just because … hey … it has happened with him and coaches before.

Three most fascinating players: Barzal, Devon Toews, Josh Ho-Sang

Barzal just because he seems destined to have a bounce back year offensively. His point production regressed in year two but he showed a lot of improvement in other areas and is becoming an outstanding all-around player. If he can get back to an 80-90 point player that would be a huge help to what was an otherwise dull offense a year ago.

Toews did not make his NHL debut until he turned 24 years old, so you could definitely call him a “late bloomer.” He made the most of that opportunity once he finally was able to show what he can do at the NHL level. His quite underlying numbers and ability to move the puck are an asset to the Islanders’ blue line and he could be on the verge of a nice breakout season.

Ho-Sang just because this seems to be the latest make-or-break year for him and the Islanders in what has been a career of make-or-break years. He has talent, the Islanders need difference-makers up front, and he has always produced reasonably well given the lack of minutes he gets when he plays for the Islanders. There is still a chance he can be a long-term part of this team.

Playoffs of Lottery: This is a tricky one because they could easily fit into either group. Some regression should be expected, they did not do much to their roster over the summer, and the goaltending is suddenly a bit of a question. While all of that was happening, a lot of non-playoff teams around them managed to get a lot better on paper. Give the strength of the division around them they seem to be a bubble team, but I am going to say they just barely fall on the wrong side of it due to the lack of offense and the team maybe not being as good at goal prevention as it was a year ago.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders look to keep improving in second year under Trotz

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The New York Islanders know about the moves other teams in the Metropolitan Division made in the offseason. It just doesn’t matter to them.

After finishing second in the division and reaching the second round of the playoffs, the Islanders return mostly the same roster and are confident they can be successful again in the second year under team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.

”You look at our division, and you talk about teams definitely got better,” forward Jordan Eberle said Thursday at media day. ”The additions they made, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. The nice thing with our group, we know what to expect. It’s just a matter of putting in the work, playing the right way.”

Thanks to a defensive-minded system in Trotz’s first year with the team, the Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan at 48-27-7. They followed that with a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs when everything seemingly went their way. After a 10-day layoff to start the next round, nothing went New York’s way as the Islanders couldn’t rediscover their scoring touch and were swept by Carolina.

”I don’t think you ever really get over it,” captain Anders Lee said of the series loss. ”You learn from it and you take away from it what you can, but it’s always going to be there.”

The Islanders pursued forward Artemi Panarin in free agency to bolster the offense, but he decided to sign with the crosstown-rival Rangers. Still, the Islanders retained most of their own free agents, including Eberle, Lee and Brock Nelson

”I am not a believer in change for the sake of change,” Lamoriello said. ”We looked at our team and we felt the players that we wanted to bring back we were able to do that. … We’re happy with the people we have right now.”

After a different head coach in each of the previous three training camps, the Islanders have some continuity this year. They know what to expect with Trotz and look to replicate what they did well last season.

More things to know as the Islanders head into their first on-ice sessions on Friday:

GOALIES: One big change was made in goal, with the addition of veteran Semyon Varlamov to replace Vezina Trophy finalist and fan-favorite Robin Lehner. That gives Thomas Greiss his third goalie partner in three seasons. Greiss and Lehner were solid all season, sharing the William Jennings Trophy for the team allowing the fewest goals in the league.

Greiss enters the final year of his contract with Ilya Sorokin’s move from the KHL a possibility next season. Greiss was 23-14-2 with five shutouts, a .927 save-percentage and 2.28 goals-against average in 43 games last season. In four seasons with the Islanders, he is 85-51-13 with 10 shutouts, a .916 save-percentage and 2.69 GAA over 162 games.

Varlamov, who has started all but 17 of 448 games he’s appeared in over his 11-year career with Washington and Colorado, is coming off a 20-19-9 season with two shutouts, a .909 save-percentage and 2.87 GAA in 49 games for the Avalanche.

EYES ON DOBSON: A strong team defense was the Islanders’ blueprint last season, and they return seven defenseman in Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews. Noah Dobson will get a long look in camp, but is a long shot to make the roster – barring a major injury or trade involving one of the entrenched top-seven in the unit.

”There’s a lot of good defensemen,” Boychuk said. ”So it’s just the competition, pushing each other to be the best we can.”

Toews had a strong camp a year ago, but began the season with Bridgeport of the AHL before being called up in December. If the 19-year-old Dobson, selected 12th overall in the 2018 NHL draft, doesn’t make the opening-day roster, he must be sent back to juniors.

WAITING FOR BELMONT: The Islanders will be entering the second season of an expected three-year arrangement to split home games between the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center while a new arena is built at Belmont Park. The target start is the 2021-22 season.

Construction at the new site hasn’t begun, and the town of Floral Park filed a lawsuit this week to stop the project. However, Lamoriello was confident the arena will be built on time.

”My understanding is … everything is on schedule,” Lamoriello said. ”I have total confidence it will be there when they say it will be.”

Islanders re-sign Beauvillier for two years

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The New York Islanders re-signed the last of their remaining restricted free agents on Wednesday when they came to terms with forward Anthony Beauvillier on a two-year contract.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the team, but it will reportedly pay him $2.1 million per season.

The 28th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Beauvillier has developed into a solid player for the Islanders, and even though his overall production regressed a bit this past season he has still shown he can be a 20-goal scorer at the NHL level.

Beauvillier, 22, will still be eligible for restricted free agency when his current deal ends after the 2020-21 season.

Barring some sort of unforeseen trade in the coming weeks this should wrap up the Islanders’ offseason. It has been a mostly quietly that saw them retain all of their top UFA forwards (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle) while swapping Valtteri Filppula for Derick Brassard. They also replaced Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov.

With Beauvillier signed the next big deals for Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders’ front office will be Mathew Barzal, Devon Toews, and Ryan Pulock, all of whom are eligible for restricted free agency after this season.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.