The Century Mark: Luke Evangelista and William Eklund

Alex Wyatt

2024-04-05

Welcome back for another edition of the Century Mark, where I aim to dive into some of the underlying numbers on a few players who are reaching the threshold of 100 NHL games played. My aim is to help you understand what the metrics mean, and if there’s anything in the tea leaves to help you decide if it’s worth continuing to invest in your player. Each edition I will also try to give an introduction to the tools you have at your disposal on the Frozen Tools page, by going under the hood in one of the many at your fingertips.

This month, we look at two wingers who are nearing the Century Mark who are putting in similar seasons but came into the league with different levels of fanfare. Despite the lofty expectations of one of our focuses this month, both could be acquirable in your leagues over the offseason.

Luke Evangelista (NAS, 22 years old)

Evangelista was a second round pick of the Predators in the 2020 draft. He had quite the progression in his OHL career with the London Knights, putting up two assists in 27 games as a rookie, a 23/38/61 line in 62 games as a sophomore, and then exploding for 55/56/111 in 62 games the following season. Note that between his second and third OHL campaigns, Evangelista put in a 14-game AHL stint where he put up 4 assists due to the OHL season being cancelled due to COVID 19.

In 2022-2023, he played at both the NHL level (seven goals, eight assists in 24 games), putting him on a number of poolies’ radars, and the AHL level (nine goals, 32 assists in 49 games). He currently is seeing regular usage for the Predators in their middle six, and has played 90 games.

So what do the Predators, and us as fantasy managers, have in Evangelista going forward?

As to be expected with any prospect we examine in this column, a small sample size alert is required with the two seasons we have seen from Evangelista thus far. His 24-game audition last year was a stronger showing than the 69 games he has played in 2023-2024, but seasoned poolies know that there may be more hiding behind the face-value stats when we look at the deeper numbers.

The advanced stats page for Evangelista tells us a few positive things, his point per 60 is very similar this year to last, he is shooting slightly more, and when he is on the ice when a goal is scored, he is ever so slightly more likely to be involved in that goal than last year. His PDO metric, the “puck luck” factor, was well above normal last year in that small sample size, and has regressed to just below normal this year.

The story for Evangelista seems to be much more related to deployment than performance, and this tracks in two key areas: time on ice and powerplay share. In 2022-2023, Evangelista had nearly three full minutes more ice time than he has seen thus far this year, and one whole extra minute on the powerplay. We can see his share of the powerplay time has fallen by half, but also that he isn’t conversely being saddled with any shorthanded time, which is often a death knell for fantasy assets.

Evangelista has never projected as a star offensive talent, but he has seemingly carved out a regular role in Nashville’s middle six, given that the likes of more defensive young players like Juuso Parssinen and the offensively gifted Phil Tomasino find themselves taking shifts in Milwaukee. If I am a contending fantasy team, I might have a hard time carving out a regular pro keeper spot for Evangelista at this point, but if I would wish I could. He’s pacing for 50 points, and doing so with minimal ice time, while also providing two shots a game. He doesn’t hit much — less than a half hit per game — so a points league would have a much easier time fitting a player of his ilk. If he maintains a spot on the top powerplay as he’s seen in a recent stretch, and could usurp Gustav Nyquist on the top line at five-on-five, he’d be ripe for another step forward.

William Eklund (SJS, 21 years old)

The 2021 Entry Draft had no shortage of drama as far as pre-draft rankings were concerned. Matty Beniers, Owen Power, William Eklund and a few others all took turns being heralded as potentially the draft’s best option. Our own Dobber Prospects crew had him pencilled into the second spot in the final rankings. Ultimately, the honour in the real world went to Owen Power, but in the fantasy world, the arguments are still happening as the draftees are starting to take regular shifts in the NHL. 

Fun fact: the top-scoring defenseman at the NHL level thus far is none other than household name Janis-Jerome Moser, who has 72 points in 197 games as of writing. I rated him a “keep” about a hundred games ago, but it was not for his offensive skills.

Scouts raved about Eklund’s maturity, given his play against older, larger and more experienced men in the SHL. His game was quite refined and showed a maturity that was missing from some of the more high octane prospects, which sounds like the clandestine ‘better in real life than in fantasy’, ‘two-way’, or ‘defensively responsible’ compliments fantasy managers try to dodge when evaluating prospects. More is made of Eklund’s playmaking and hockey IQ than his defensive prowess in terms of the cornerstone of his game, appearing to be more of an accentuation to his overall game than the crux of it.

Eklund has already established himself as an important player for the Sharks, even prior to his most common linemate, Tomas Hertl, landing on LTIR and subsequently moving to Las Vegas. This season he finds himself starting his shift in the defensive zone more than half of the time, but doing well with driving play.

Eklund has provided us a glimpse into his archetype this season, posting 12 goals and 23 assists for 35 points in 71 games- a 40 point pace. Of those points, 19 have come with the man advantage, as Eklund is seeing 62% of available powerplay time in San Jose. His offensive percentages are very reasonable, and his PDO suggests he may even be a bit unlucky, though San Jose being the worst team in the NHL in SV% is certainly weighing heavy on that.

Your league’s settings are going to greatly impact how valuable Eklund will be to your particular team. He should be a strong hold in any points leagues, but depending on other categories on your docket, they will potentially dilute his value. For example, if your league uses plus minus (do leagues really still use plus minus?), Eklund is the bottom of the thermometer at -42 on the season, though in fairness, half of the bottom ten by that measure are Sharks.

A more common area where Eklund will be a drag on a fantasy team will be in multicategory leagues. Through 71 games this year, he is averaging 1.6 shots and 0.44 hits per game with his 18:28 of ice time. Offensive categories are the hardest ones to fill reliably, and he has the skill and will be given the deployment to do so, but in a league where being one-dimensional lowers a player’s value, Eklund could be one of those players.

I believe this has had an impact on Eklund’s perceived value, at least in my pools anyway. The kid was a heralded player at the draft, and he’s arrived this season, shining a bright light on a team going through a very dark time. In fact, in the last 28 games, he’s scoring at a 50 point pace, and is still rostered in only 43% of Fantrax leagues. 

With the above caveats and attention to your leagues’ settings, Eklund is still a fabulous buy if your competition isn’t valuing him right now. Will he end up as a Johnny Gaudreau type- point per game, minimal peripheral, assist and special teams points heavy- contributor? That’s a possible outcome, though Johnny shoots a little more, and Eklund has as many hits this year as Gaudreau does since the start of the 2019-2020 season. This isn’t to say they play the same game or are comparable stylistically, but is a decent litmus test to check and see how a player like Gaudreau is valued in your league currently, and get an idea how rosterable he is.

Final verdict: you definitely keep Eklund, and acquire him with reasonable caution if you can. 

Thanks for reading, and we will see you next month.

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