While trying to look at how to improve my fantasy roster for next season, I was searching through some rookie stats and decided to take a closer look at a handful of prospects and how they performed in their first campaigns in the NHL. As with any sample size, some prospects underperformed and others may have overperformed a bit when taking an in-depth look at the statistics. In future ramblings, i'll try to highlight a few more of these test cases, so be on the lookout.
BUY: Michael Matheson – Florida Panthers
The Panthers first round pick from 2012 played in 81 games this season, finishing with seven goals and 10 assists. A closer look at his stats show good reason for improvement in 2017-18 from a production standpoint. Matheson was second among all rookie blueliners in shots on goal with 179, however his shooting percentage was a staggeringly low 3.9%. He was a bit of a swiss-army knife for the Cats this season, playing significant minutes with Jason Demers, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk and Aaron Ekblad. In his second season, Matheson should see an uptick in power play minutes from the 30 seconds he averaged per game which should help to expand his point production. In 2016-17, just one of his 17 points this season came with the man advantage. Look for him to be closer to 25 points in his sophomore campaign, while retaining his solid hits and shot block numbers.
SELL: Zach Hyman – Toronto Maple Leafs
In 2016-17, Hyman played nearly all of his shifts alongside superstar Auston Matthews at even strengh. Playing almost 17 minutes a night with one of the rising stars of the NHL game is bound to inflate your numbers right? In Hyman's case, maybe not. In 82 games this season, the 24-year-old Toronto native had 28 points, scoring just 10 times. In addition to playing with the likely Calder Trophy winner, Hyman was given every opportunity to thrive offensively, playing extremely sheltered minutes with 62% of his even strength shifts starting in the offensive zone. These factors were a great formula for a breakout offensive season that didn't materialize on paper. Now, Hyman was still productive from a fantasy perspective, scoring four times short handed and posting 109 hits, but if you are looking for a offensive breakout, you may want to temper your expectations.
BUY: Troy Stecher – Vancouver Canucks
Stecher was one of the biggest surprises of the 2016-17 season, going from a college free agent to playing 20 minutes a night on the Vancouver blueline. He finished fifth among rookie rear guards in scoring, but could his year have been even better from a statistical standpoint? All indications point to a progression in his production in 2017-18 rather than a regression. The former North Dakota standout wasnt shy shooting the puck, averaging just under two shots per game, however just three of those pucks found the puck in his rookie campaign. For first year defensemen who played at least 50 games, Stecher had the second lowest shooting percentage behind Derek Forbort at 2.4%. With the man advantage, Stecher's luck wasn't much better. He converted just one of his 33 power play shots on goal for a shooting percentage of just 3%, and missed the net 25 times, 11 more times then any other rookie defenseman. Don't expect these numbers to be as low next year, especially with increased responsibilty in all situations. If your league tracks peripheral stats, expect Stecher to have a higher number of shot blocks next year as well, especially if he continues to play nearly 20% of his minutes shorthanded.
HOLD – Brayden Point – Tampa Bay Lightning
Is you are a Point owner, you have to be super excited for the way that the former Moose Jaw Warrior finished his rookie season. From January 1st on, the Calgary native had 25 points in his final 32 games, scoring 15 times on 57 shots. Lets repeat that. Over his last 32 games, Brayden Point scored 15 times on 57 shots(!), good for a 26.3% shooting percentage! Absurd numbers, and unfortunately for fantasy owners, unsustainable numbers. His stats were boosted by Tyler Johnson being out of the lineup down the stretch, and being inserted into an even strength line with Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat. Given Johnson's unknown RFA status, Point could be thrust into the same role, and should be able to put up similar overall numbers over the course of the season. Doubtful his shooting percentage will remain around 15%, but his shots on goal numbers should increase, which should offset the difference. Sit tight on Point to see where he is deployed going into next season.
Prospect News and Notes
– The USHL completed Phase I and Phase II of their draft for next season Monday and Tuesday. If you are interested, you can find the results here.
– Big coup for the Saginaw Spirit, who today were able to get University of Michigan commit and USNTDP U-17 member Blade Jenkins to flip to the OHL for next season. Saginaw selected Jenkins fourth overall in the 2016 OHL Draft. The signing should be announced Thursday.
– In other OHL prospect news, Tag Bertuzzi also committed to playing his junior hockey in Canada next season, signing today with Guelph. You can read more on this story here.
– Anaheim Ducks prospect and Regina Pats forward Sam Steel was today named WHL Player of the Year. No real surprise there, as the 30th overall pick in 2016 posted 131 points in 66 games.
– Owen Sound goaltender and Montreal prospect Michael McNiven was named OHL Goaltender of the Year.
– Finals in the OHL, QMJHL and WHL start this week with teams looking to punch their Memorial Cup tickets. Mississauga and Erie get underway tomorrow, and the Saint John/Blainville-Boisbriand and Regina/Seattle finals begin on Friday.