10 early lessons from the 2021-22 Fantasy Hockey season

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Chandler Stephenson #20 of the Vegas Golden Knights is worth an add if he's available in your fantasy league. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The 2021-22 NHL season is just a few days old, but anybody who plays fantasy hockey knows that it doesn’t take long for significant changes to occur.

The first few weeks are typically the most important for fantasy gamers to monitor. It’s when we can start to determine who’s ready to take a step forward, and who’s in for some serious regression. 

Here are some noteworthy observations from the very early goings of this campaign.

1. C/LW Chandler Stephenson (47% rostered on Yahoo) warrants an add

Sandwiched between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on the Vegas Golden Knights’ top line, there are few players in a better position to succeed than Chandler Stephenson.

Of course, this role isn’t unfamiliar to the 27-year-old. Stephenson also spent the majority of last season centring Vegas’ top line, but the results weren’t anything special. In 51 contests, he recorded just 14 goals and 35 points, while not offering enough in any other category to warrant consideration. In the first game of this season, Stephenson registered a goal and an assist.

In addition to his scoring stats, Stephenson also blocked four shots in the game. 

He followed it up with another solid performance against the Los Angeles Kings in his second game of the season, scoring another goal.

As long as he’s playing on the Golden Knights’ top line, he’s going to be heavily involved in the team’s offense.

2. C Mason McTavish (7%) is worth an add in deep and keeper leagues

The best rookie performance thus far goes to Anaheim Ducks forward Mason McTavish.

In his NHL debut, the 18-year-old played 14:40, notched one goal, one assist, and a hit in the Ducks’ 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

McTavish was the third-overall pick of the 2021 NHL Draft, which makes his performance especially impressive. It’s very rare that “true rookies” make an instant impact in the NHL, with Alexis Lafreniere being a good example of that last season, but McTavish is an interesting case to follow. Playing against men in the Swiss League last season, he posted nine goals and two assists in 13 games. 

Anaheim is a young team that doesn’t have a lot of established players ahead of Mctavish on the depth chart. If he continues to play like this, he could see his role increase.

3. C/RW Jeff Carter (42%) is a good streaming option while Sidney Crosby remains out

By all accounts, it sounds like Sidney Crosby is getting close to a return. He was on the ice for Wednesday’s practice and head coach Mike Sullivan spoke glowingly of the shape he’s in. While he remains out, however, Jeff Carter is someone you want on your team.

On the NHL’s opening night, the veteran was highly effective, recording one assist, a plus-one rating, 15 faceoff wins, and three hits in 20 minutes of action.

Carter went a step further in the team’s second game against the Florida Panthers. The 36-year-old potted a goal and an assist while adding eight shots on goal, two hits, and a block.

With Jake Guentzel returning to the lineup as well, Carter will only benefit from having an elite goal-scorer on his wing. He’s also logging fantasy-friendly minutes on the top power-play unit.

4. LW/RW Zach Hyman (87%) doesn’t play on Connor McDavid’s wing

When Zach Hyman was signed by the Edmonton Oilers this offseason, it was assumed by a number of people, including myself, that he’d play alongside Connor McDavid at even strength. However, in the team’s opener against the Vancouver Canucks, that wasn’t the case.

McDavid skated alongside Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi on the squad’s first line, while Hyman played alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto on Line 2.

It’s important to remember that coaches tinker with lines all the time, and this may not be the case for long, but for now, his placement on the second line is a hit to his upside.

He did record one goal in the game, although that came on the power play. He added three shots on goal, a hit, and a block in Edmonton’s 3-2 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks.

5. Why are the Vancouver Canucks playing RW Alex Chiasson (0%) ahead of LW/RW Conor Garland (64%)?

While it was a little surprising to see Hyman playing on Edmonton’s second line, I was even more stunned to see the Vancouver Canucks trot out Alex Chiasson on the first line in Wednesday’s contest.

Chiasson earned a contract with the Canucks after signing a professional tryout with the squad. After a 2020-21 campaign that saw the 31-year-old score just nine goals and 16 points, it would’ve been fair to assume Chiasson was headed for a depth role with the team. But you know what they say happens when you assume?

Instead, head coach Travis Green had Chiasson posted up on the first line and top power-play unit. In 14:23 of ice time, Chiasson earned zero points, five shots on goal, and one hit. 

What makes this move so surprising is that offseason addition Conor Garland appeared destined to see those opportunities. Garland was still very active, playing 20:09 while producing a power-play assist, two shots on goal, and three hits, but it’d be best for his fantasy prospects if he played alongside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller on Line 1 in addition to being listed on the first power-play group.

As mentioned above, lines aren’t permanent. It’s pretty hard to imagine Chiasson clinging onto a top-six role all season, but it was noteworthy to see him receive the opportunity in the opener.

6. Don’t expect Vezina Trophy numbers from Marc-Andre Fleury (99%) this season

The fact that Marc-Andre Fleury had an ADP of 43.9 in Yahoo Fantasy hockey drafts is absurd. 

If he was still playing on the Golden Knights, I’d understand why. The team is on a shortlist of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and has one of the best defense corps in the league. Now playing on the Chicago Blackhawks, it makes absolutely no sense why people were selecting him inside the top-50.

One look at Chicago’s defense will tell you why. Even with Seth Jones on the squad, it looks like one of the worst in the league. Against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, Fleury faced 10 high-danger shot attempts, according to Natural Stat Trick. In 36 games played last season, he averaged 7.4 high-danger shot attempts against.

Of course, it’s worth remembering this was against the Avs, but the team was without Nathan MacKinnon. If you drafted Fleury expecting another Vezina-calibre year, you’re going to be disappointed.

7. LW Brady Tkachuk’s (98%) fantasy fall is a classic example of overblowing contract disputes

One week ago, things seemed tense between the Ottawa Senators and Brady Tkachuk. There was a reported lack of communication between the two sides, according to St. Louis Blues beat reporter Andy Strickland. Tkachuk wanted a bridge deal while the organization wanted to lock him in long-term. How could the two sides possibly make something work? What about Eugene Melnyk’s track record? Was Tkachuk ever going to play for the Sens again?

Surely, this must mean we can’t draft him in fantasy hockey?

On Thursday, Ottawa signed Tkachuk to a seven-year, $57.5-million deal ahead of its first game of the campaign. 

And just like that, any worry about Tkachuk missing an extensive amount of time is gone. It’ll probably take him one to two weeks to get up to speed, but that is nothing over the course of an 82-game season.

This is what typically happens in these contract holdout situations. The worst-case scenarios are over-exaggerated and a deal is reached within a reasonable amount of time.

What this means in fantasy hockey, however, is that anybody who was able to buy the dip on Tkachuk is going to be rewarded.

In a draft I was in on Oct. 9, I was able to snag Tkachuk in the fourth round.

This league counts both hits and shots, and Tkachuk finished second in each category last season.

It wasn’t just me, but many others were able to draft Tkachuk at a discount, too, proving that fantasy gamers should aggressively target players who fall due to this reason.

8. G Philipp Grubauer’s (95%) struggles likely to continue

Like Fleury, Philipp Grubauer left a true Cup contender for a team that probably won’t be in the mix in 2021-22. In his first game as the starter for the Seattle Kraken, Grubauer allowed four goals on 30 shots in a losing effort.

Also similar to Fleury, Grubauer faced a stout opponent in the season opener in the Golden Knights. The parallels don’t stop there either, as Grubauer saw the same amount of high-danger shots, 10, as Fleury did. This amount of quality chances is something new for Grubauer, who saw 6.4 high-danger shots per game behind Colorado’s stacked defense last season.

Grubauer was a little better in his second outing, as he surrendered three goals on 27 shots in a win over the Nashville Predators. He faced nine high-danger shot attempts.

While Grubauer’s 67.0 ADP on Yahoo wasn’t as ridiculous as Fleury’s, I find it hard to believe fantasy managers who selected him there will see any sort of value from that pick. He doesn’t have players like Cale Makar and Samuel Girard in front of him anymore, which is going to make a huge difference.

9. Dallas Stars’ goaltending situation presents major opportunity for fantasy managers

The Dallas Stars have one of the most talented rosters on paper and should make a return to the playoffs after missing the postseason in 2020-21.

The team has a loaded forward group to go along with an upgraded defense corps. What the team is missing, however, is some stability in net.

Braden Holtby, Anton Khudobin, and Jake Oettinger all competed for a spot in the crease in training camp, and it was Holtby and Khudobin who wound up sticking with the main roster while Oettinger was sent to the minors. 

In the early portion of the season, it’s going to be very important to monitor how Holtby and Khudobin perform. Holtby exited Thursday’s contest against the New York Rangers due to dehydration, which doesn’t sound like a long-term issue. He turned aside 25 of 27 shots faced before Khudobin stepped in, stopped all six shot attempts he faced and earned a win.

Neither is rostered in more than 35 percent of Yahoo leagues, and I suggest any fantasy manager who isn’t strong at goalie to pick up one of the two. Whoever wins this job is going to earn a very fantasy-relevant role on a Stars team that is oozing with high-end talent.

10. Seattle Kraken forwards are under-rostered in fantasy hockey

What if I told you there were three forwards, all from the same team, that play on the first line and top power-play unit that are available in over 50% of Yahoo leagues?

It’s true, and I can’t figure out why this is the case with the Kraken.

In fantasy hockey, opportunity is king. Your waiver wire likely isn’t full of first-liners, which makes it hard to believe that Jordan Eberle (40%), Jared McCann (35%), and Jaden Schwartz (35%) are all probably sitting on yours.

In Seattle’s first-ever game, the three combined for an even-strength goal in the late stages of the second period.

In the squad’s second game, McCann tallied a goal and an assist, Eberle netted a helper, and Schwartz notched two hits and a block.

Depending on your forward position of need, I suggest adding any of the three aforementioned players.

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