When a player surpasses expectations by a great deal, it can be hard to totally buy in on a repeat.
Consider William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights. After being a second-round pick in 2011 and never scoring more than nine goals in a season over parts of three campaigns with the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets, he lit the lamp 43 times last season with his new team. It’s OK to be a little bit skeptical about Karlsson repeating or even nearing a repeat of such a ridiculously successful year.
Enter our fantasy experts. Sean Allen and Victoria Matiash look at 20 breakout 2017-18 seasons and shoot — all-in, this guy is for real — or pass — no thanks, I’ll take my chances elsewhere — on each player. Important note: Passing on a player doesn’t necessarily mean Sean or Victoria aren’t drafting him, but rather they aren’t buying a repeat of the insane prior season and wouldn’t take him in drafts at a place that suggests he would repeat such a campaign.
William Karlsson, C, Vegas Golden Knights
Matiash: Shoot. But largely because he’s competing on a one-year audition deal. Whether Karlsson extends his pro career in playing for a few million dollars or many, many millions will largely depend on this season’s performance. There’s some serious inducement to approach, if not replicate, last year’s 43 goals. I also prefer Vegas’ top power play with Max Pacioretty on board.
Allen: Pass. For now, I’ll take a hard pass on Karlsson running back his insane 2017-18 campaign. Players can grow and players can learn new skills, but when a guy scores 10 goals in 61 career AHL games, then scores 18 goals in 183 NHL games and then scores 43 goals in an 82-game campaign, I’m skeptical. So are the Golden Knights, which is why he was given a one-year “now do it again” deal.
Allen: Pass. At his current value, I don’t want to get on board with Couturier repeating his breakout 2017-18 campaign. I’m too concerned about the MCL sprain and then the aggravation of the injury during the offseason. That said, if he starts coming in drafts with an injury discount and I can draft him to my bench, I’m more than happy to stash him.
Matiash: Pass. Likewise worried about the retweaked torn MCL, I’d feel more reassured if Couturier had all summer to recover. Other fantasy factors nearing equal between the Flyers forward and someone else, I’m investing in the option that didn’t reinjure himself in a charity hockey game this August.
Matiash: Pass. Opposing defenses now have the luxury of focusing on Barzal and Jordan Eberle with John Tavares settled in Toronto. Look for the reigning Calder Trophy winner to take a small step backward this season.
Allen: Pass. I think the negative impact of losing the insulation (at even strength) and skill (on power play) of Tavares outweighs the positive impact of Barzal being the focal point of the offense.
Allen: Shoot. Boeser didn’t benefit much from the Sedins’ presence, so he won’t be hurt much from them being gone. I think 40 tallies is a reasonable expectation.
Matiash: Shoot. After losing 20 games to injury, Boeser’s breakout rookie campaign almost feels incomplete. But now feeling fit and healthy — bulkier in the former’s case, leaner in the latter’s — look for the Boeser/Bo Horvat combo to bust out of the gates with gusto. Also, the 21-year-old seems committed to playing out the final year of his entry-level deal before re-signing, so there’s a little extra motivation there.
Matiash: Shoot. One of my favorite dark-horse options of 2017-18, this rookie scored 31 goals to little fanfare. His spot is seemingly fully cemented on a top Jets unit alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, and that’s good enough for me.
Allen: Shoot. He had to fight to earn a role with the club out of the gates, but this time, he can just focus on his guaranteed spot on the team’s top line. And maybe, just maybe, he can squeeze onto the top power play.
Allen: Shoot. I know I passed on linemate Karlsson, but Marchessault actually scored fewer goals last season than he did the year prior. Yes, his assists and plus/minus went off the charts, but this is two years in a row that Marchessault has shown us something. As long as he is available outside the top 50 players in the draft, I’m going to consider taking the chance.
Matiash: Shoot. If endeavoring to catch a bottle’s worth of lightning with Karlsson for a second straight season, why not endorse his more attractive fantasy linemate? In for a penny, and all that.
Matiash: Pass. The lack of secondary scoring in Colorado concerns me. Even if the ever-promising Tyson Jost and others take that next stride, the top line remains far superior. Also, Rantanen doesn’t shoot enough for my liking, rifling only 178 shots this past season (16.3 shooting percentage) and 133 the season previous (15 percent). I smell a minor backslide in production here.
Allen: Shoot. This is less about Rantanen and more about Nathan MacKinnon‘s emergence as a bona fide NHL superstar. Rantanen is locked on to his wing at all times. In fact, Rantanen was on the ice for 86 percent of MacKinnon’s total minutes last season at all strengths.
Erik Haula, LW, Vegas Golden Knights
Allen: Pass. I don’t know for a fact that Haula will be on the second line with Paul Stastny and Pacioretty in favor of Alex Tuch (or someone else). I do know he won’t get close to sniffing the power play and that his best assets are his defensive work, which makes me think he’s third-line material.
Matiash: Pass. It’s early, but the Avs are already showing a proclivity for playing Tuch aside Stastny and Pacioretty. Plus, Haula still fancies himself a center. Filling that role on the third line, over Cody Eakin perhaps, might make sense. Not much fantasy appeal here regardless.
Matiash: Shoot. Evgeni Malkin isn’t the best center on the Penguins and he’s managing well enough. After collecting 75 points in 2017-18, Trocheck will ring up 80 with Mike Hoffman on his wing this season.
Allen: Pass. He’s going to go too high in drafts for my taste. He’s not the best center on his team (that’s Aleksander Barkov), so I’m not going to jump on him in the first six rounds, which is probably where he’s going to go.
Allen: Shoot. Brown managed a resurgence in his scoring thanks to a locked-in role next to Anze Kopitar (again). That should be the case this season, except instead of Alex Iafallo on the other side, you can pencil in this guy named Ilya Kovalchuk.
Matiash: Pass. One productive campaign after years of very much the contrary isn’t enough to woo me over. Before last season, Brown had cracked the 30-point plateau once since before the most recent lockout (2011-12). Plus, the 33-year-old just had offseason shoulder surgery. No. Just no.
Matiash: Shoot. In a recent radio interview, unprompted, general manager Paul Fenton suggested Zucker will further improve on last year’s breakout campaign. Perhaps the Wild’s new GM sees something he particularly likes from the recently re-signed winger this offseason. I’m willing to run with that.
Allen: Pass. I think the 25-goal, 50-point version of Zucker returns, but not the 33-goal, 64-point version we enjoyed last season. Injuries on the wing thrust him into the spotlight, but I think a healthy Zach Parise and Nino Niederreiter eat into his production.
Allen: Pass times two. As went Matt Moulson, P.A. Parenteau and, to a certain extent, Kyle Okposo before him, Lee and Bailey are about to experience life without Tavares. And, if you ask any of those other guys, they’ll tell you it’s not that awesome.
Matiash: Pass and pass. Somewhat stubbornly, I wasn’t a big fantasy fan of Lee’s even when his numbers and on-ice kept company argued otherwise. Now, there’s no question. Split from Tavares, he won’t collect 40 points this season, never mind 40 goals. And as for Bailey, at least Lee stands the opportunity to skate with Barzal and Eberle here and there. Bailey appears stuck at length with Brock Nelson as his centerman. No thanks.
Matiash: Shoot on Point, pass on Gourde. I’m concerned the latter could drop to the third line with a healthy Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and J.T. Miller also in top-six consideration. One winger slides in next to Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the top unit, another two flank Point. That leaves one odd guy out, and there’s no guarantee it isn’t Gourde.
Allen: Double shoot. Gourde and Point had breakthrough seasons on the Bolts’ second line, in large part thanks to the pressure that opposing teams have to concentrate on the top line with Stamkos and Kucherov. I maybe wouldn’t bank on the plus/minus again, but the rest of the stats should be bankable for this duo.
Allen: Pass. More than half his points came from filling in on the power play for Shea Weber. I know he gets to do that again to start this season, but the power play will be worse and Weber will work his way back.
Matiash: Pass. Petry is a liability in any fantasy league that scores plus/minus. Unless this Canadiens squad is so much better than we expect, it’s going to lose a lot of games this season.
Colin Miller, D, Vegas Golden Knights
Matiash: Pass. In conventional scoring leagues, Shea Theodore is the only fantasy defenseman on the Golden Knights of interest to me. As long as the young restricted free agent remains unsigned, I’ll invest in blue line production elsewhere.
Allen: Hard pass. Even if they can’t get a deal done with Theodore, Miller was never the ideal power-play quarterback. In fact, without Theodore, I could envision the team experimenting with a five-forward man advantage.
Allen: Pass. I’m not a fan of the plan to take a career backup goaltender and thrust him into a starting role at the age of 32. Unless the goaltender is a Hall of Famer or a statistical outlier, this is about the age they start to regress. So the question is, do you think Hutton is a statistical outlier?
Matiash: Shoot, but only as a depth option. Hutton has been too good a part-timer with the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators since 2015 to ignore. We’re talking three solid seasons, not some solitary one-off. But I’m admittedly wary of the work-in-progress Sabres squad out front, however improved.
Matiash: Shoot. Knowing that Raanta devoted himself to a specialized conditioning regiment this offseason, after admittedly dropping the ball last year, offers additional appeal.
Allen: Shoot. The only thing standing between Raanta and being the best fantasy goaltender last season was his health. He closed last season with a clean bill of health, and the team in front of him should take another step forward.
Allen: Pass. Semyon Varlamov still has enough in the tank to make this a competitive battle all season. It should make both goaltenders better, but the part-time work will make them both poor fantasy plays.
Matiash: Pass. Having Grubauer in place to battle Varlamov for starts makes the Avalanche an altogether stronger club. But until/if one runs with the job, neither boasts much everyday fantasy appeal. General manager Joe Sakic appears content enough to utilize the two in 1a/1b tandem fashion, at least until later in the season. If both are playing well, there won’t be much pushback from coach Jared Bednar in that regard.