Fantasy hockey has evolved quite a bit over the years, to the point that someone who doesn't even play -- such as myself -- can be intrigued by the research and insight of people who track player trends in this way. (Similarly, fans like us who track one team closely can offer insight into what's behind a player's role or production.)
That's why every once in a while I'll trade thoughts with Dobber Hockey's Jeff Angus, among others. The NHL lockout was a stomach punch to all of us, but it really knifed the people who spent the summer creating fantasy guides for a season that might never come.
Thankfully, it's here.
For Dobber, that means their 2013 Fantasy Guide isn't moot -- and in fact they've been spending this month to fully update almost every page to reflect, Jeff tells me, "everything that has occurred during the lockout." They've also used advanced statistics in some of their analysis, and built projections based on a 48-game schedule. (I imagine fantasy hockey will be a treat this year, getting used to new "normal" numbers and small-sample swings.) You can get the guide here.
The following are Jeff's answers to my Islanders-centric questions. Keep in mind both have a fantasy hockey orientation:
1. Most regulars at Lighthouse Hockey have read the prophecies (or had the sermons jammed down their throats) that Frans Nielsen is a deity due to several mysterious traits. But what is his fantasy value? What if Lubomir Visnovsky reports and there's no room for Nielsen on the powerplay this season?
(Ed. note: We'd be remiss if we didn't point out SB Nation's Fantasy Hockey Scouts have Nielsen as a sleeper pick, in accordance with the prophecies.)
Angus: Most hockey fans outside of Long Island don’t realize how good Frans Nielsen is. Not only has he quietly developed into one of the better young defensive centers in the league, but his offensive game has come a long way in recent years, too. However, as the case with most secondary offensive producers, a lot of his production is dependent on power play time. Nielsen benefited from his time on the man advantage last year (15 of his 47 points came on the powerplay).
If Visnovsky does report, it makes sense to pair him with Streit on the top powerplay unit. Visnovsky remains one of the best pure powerplay defensemen in the league. I am curious to see what kind of impact Casey Cizikas has on Nielsen (and down the road, Ryan Strome, for that matter). Cizikas projects as a very good two-way center, and he may free up Nielsen for more offensive opportunities. But what happens when Strome is ready to step in and center the second line?
Nielsen will produce at a similar clip compared to last year, assuming he is deployed in the same matter. But he is the type of player who can have a positive impact if he chips in 20 points compared to 40 (although fantasy hockey players who own him don’t like reading that).
2. How high does John Tavares rank among fantasy forwards for 2013? You are not allowed to say 26th.
Angus: Tavares is one of the best offensive players in the league (and his 42 points in 28 Swiss league games reaffirms that). He finished last season with 54 points in his final 48 games. Not to sell PA Parenteau short (he is a good playmaking winger), but I don’t think Tavares is going to miss him too much.
The DobberHockey Guide has Tavares projected for 51 points in 48 games. The thing that excites me the most with him is how much he seems to improve on a yearly basis. Looking back at his game only two or three years ago, and he is a completely different player right now.
3. I can't imagine anyone selecting an Islanders goalie in fantasy drafts this year. But if you were forced to choose one...who?
Angus: I wouldn’t advise selecting Rick DiPietro, unless somehow games lost due to injury is a statistic. Not to poke fun at his ridiculously bad luck, but relying on injury-prone players in fantasy hockey is a serious no-no.
Evgeni Nabokov is a solid depth option for most fantasy hockey pools. The Islanders should be a better team this year compared to last, and Nabokov gives them some stability between the pipes.
4. Brad Boyes...low risk, high reward?
Angus: Boyes is a perfect example of a low risk, high reward player this year. He signed a cheap one-year deal with the hopes of getting his career back on track. And if he manages to play with Tavares and Moulson, you can bank on that happening.
After scoring 40 goals a few years ago back in St. Louis, Boyes has floundered in Buffalo, playing more of a depth role. He has a great shot (which he seems to have lost), and solid offensive instincts. He knows that this is likely his last kick at the NHL can, too.
5. In fantasy terms, Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Strome: Discuss.
Angus: Niederreiter is going to benefit tremendously from this lockout, both in the short and long term. He has played great for Bridgeport, and seems to have wiped the slate clean after a dismal rookie season in New York last year. I saw quite a bit of him during his time in the WHL, and his dominance at that level was fun to witness. He looks to have regained some of that swagger back this season, too.
He isn’t going to win any scoring titles, but he has the skill set to develop into a very reliable second line winger. The Islanders will give him a shot to earn a roster spot this year at camp, but I wouldn’t think about drafting him just yet (unless you are in a keeper league with a long term focus).
Strome is another player who has benefitted from the lockout, as he didn’t have a choice whether or not to return to play in the OHL. The Islanders weren’t able to rush him to the NHL (although I doubt they would have after seeing what happened with Josh Bailey), and Strome has been dominant in the OHL. He continues to fill the highlight reels with tremendous goals and assists, but his overall improvements have to be the most encouraging to Islanders fans. I expect him to come in to camp this fall and challenge for a top nine center position.
The Islanders are going to have a log jam at forward very soon, but that is one of those "good problems." And teams don’t mind having a few of those from time to time.
P.S. I know there was an active fantasy league among LHHers last year; feel free to use the FanPosts and FanShots to spread word as needed for more.