Fantasy Hockey: Top Forward Lines Taking Shape
Success for a player in fantasy hockey depends not only on his talent but also on his opportunity. Great linemates can make a huge difference, and this article will illustrate some interesting line combinations from preseason action that will give a few players a boost in value.
Coyotes’ Top Line Full of Potential
Clayton Keller was featured in my breakout candidates article (along with everyone else’s) and since then he has gone ahead and posted five points in two preseason games seeing time on the Arizona Coyotes’ top line along with Derek Stepan and Max Domi. Stepan has posted between 53 and 57 points in each of the past four seasons while playing with the New York Rangers, and one would expect a similar total now with the Coyotes. Domi and Keller are easily capable of 60-70 points and should be prioritized in keeper-league drafts.
All three of these players are bargains at their current ADPs on Yahoo (Keller: 169, Stepan 173, Domi 159) and this will be the last season they will be owned so inexpensively. Plus-minus is a concern for these three on an inexperienced Coyotes team and the injury to Oliver Ekman-Larsson doesn’t help, but it’s worth taking a chance on the Coyotes’ top line.
Vrana Riding Shotgun With Ovechkin and Kuznetsov
The Washington Capitals have a clear top four forwards split into two lines. Based on preseason games, it appears that Nicklas Backstrom will centre T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky while Evgeny Kuznetsov will centre Alexander Ovechkin. The vacant right-wing position on the Ovechkin line is a golden spot for fantasy hockey and the candidates are Jakub Vrana, Brett Connolly, and Tom Wilson.
Vrana is the most interesting name in the mix to play with Kuznetsov and Ovechkin, and he received the first shot at the role in preseason action. He was the 13th overall pick in 2014 and has some offensive flair, scoring 75 points in 88 career games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
Stars and Jets Stack Top Lines
Unlike the Capitals and other teams that spread out their offensive talent to multiple lines (Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, etc.), the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets are stacking their top lines with their best three forwards.
- Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
- Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov
YES PLEASE! For fantasy hockey purposes, it doesn’t get much better than those two lines. Top-tier talent with top-tier linemates.
Giroux to the Wing
The preseason has seen the Philidelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux playing on a line with Jakub Voracek and Oskar Lindblom, who’s an interesting prospect himself. However, reports out of camp suggest that Giroux may be moving to the left wing, with Voracek on the right wing and Sean Couturier at centre.
This move to the left wing for Giroux has two implications. First, if he earns LW eligibility, he immediately becomes more valuable in fantasy hockey as LW is a scarce position. Based on Yahoo rankings, Giroux would be the 21st-ranked centre going into the season, but the would be the eighth-ranked left winger.
Second, the addition of the defensively-sound Couturier to the top line should improve Giroux and Voracek’s plus-minus ratings, though you can’t get much worse than their combined minus-39 last year.
McDavid, Maroon, and Strome
It doesn’t take a genius to know that having Connor McDavid’s linemates is a smart move in fantasy hockey. Last year, Leon Draisaitl’s points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was 2.24 with McDavid and 1.80 without him. So far this preseason, it has been Patrick Maroon and Ryan Strome fortunate enough to be on that line.
Along with the goals he’ll tap in off of McDavid’s offensive rushes, Maroon also provides value in banger leagues. He had 189 hits and 95 penalty minutes in 2016-17.
Ryan Strome was drafted fifth overall in 2011 and then put up 50 points in the 2014-15 season, but has been a disappointment since. He now has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize his career next to one of the world’s best players.
Pominville is Eichel’s Wingman
This preseason it has been Jason Pominville, not Sam Reinhart, who has been the right winger on Jack Eichel’s line along with Evander Kane. At age 34, Pominville won’t be putting up the 60-80 points he did during his first tenure with the Buffalo Sabres, but if he sticks on Eichel’s wing, he can easily clear 50 points, a useful total for a player that can be taken in the final round of your fantasy drafts.
If Pominville is moved off of Eichel’s wing, simply drop him and replace him with a waiver add.
Drouin Centres Pacioretty
Jonathan Drouin has finally gotten his wish to be a focal point of a team’s offense. Traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Montreal Canadiens in the offseason, Drouin will centre the Habs’ top line with Max Pacioretty on his left wing and another newcomer, Ales Hemsky, on his right.
Drouin has LW/RW eligibility on Yahoo, which adds to his value. He has nice peripherals, including shots on goal, power-play points, and game-winning goals, since he’s particularly adept at 3-on-3 overtime. With a more prominent role in Montreal compared to Tampa Bay, one could reasonably expect Drouin to improve on all of his stats and return nice value at his current ADP of 92.
Just because these are the current lines being used doesn’t mean they will stick throughout the entire season. Make sure you only have a handful of teammate-dependent players on your roster and be quick to adjust your roster if one of them drops to the third or fourth lines.
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