The NHL is providing us with a very entertaining rotation of coaches this offseason, and for fantasy hockey players one major change has already happened. Ken Hitchcock is the new coach of the Dallas Stars – the offensive dynamos who failed to make the post-season and took a major step backwards after seeming so promising so recently. First things first – they still are promising.
Jamie Benn is only two years removed from an Art Ross Trophy
Tyler Seguin is 25 and has had 3 season scoring over a point-per-game
John Klingberg scored 58 points a year ago as 23-year-old defenceman
All three of the above core pieces are under 30, and their status as exceptional players will not change for next several years (barring injuries). The Stars are not by any means in a bad spot to start their trek back to the playoffs.
Naturally, bringing in a strict, veteran coach like Hitch raises some questions about the locker room, as he's known to lean on players he trusts, and not give out that trust easily. So when it comes to Dallas' outstanding pipeline of defence prospects, it's not unreasonable to start worrying about their timelines to becoming NHL regulars. Both fans and fantasy owners want the likes of Julius Honka, Stephen Johns, and Esa Lindell to find a productive home on the back end, and with Hitchcock in charge that's not going to come without conforming to his system. This isn't necessarily bad news – as owning good fantasy players on a good team is a better situation for everyone involved. Fewer slumps, better +/- stats, and no quitting early to get a head start on off-season surguries.
First of all, let's see if Hitchcock will have a problem playing a young defence group in Dallas. here are the verage ages of his notable defence corps' over his time in St. Louis:
|STL Average D-man age||31.7||27.3||25.7||26.7|
|DAL Averge D-man age||33.2|
*Hitch replaced in February
Based on the above – Hitch certainly has shown the ability to trust a young group, evidenced by the last two seasons. It doesn't come immediately, but it would be unfair to assume that the new coach will be opposed to the current group right away. And speaking of the current group – it's not quite as young as we may think. The likes of Klingberg, Oleksiak, Nemeth, Johns, and Lindell are all contributing young players, but they did have Hamhuis and Oduya around to offer at least some veteran presence and mentorship. Other than perhaps a veteran piece to repace the traded Oduya, I would expect the current top-seven defencemen to stay the same for the start of 2017-18.
Next, let's see if Hitch puts his talented D-men in a position to be offensively productive (we are a fantasy hockey community after all). Here are the offensive totals of the talented d-men the new coach had while in St. Louis:
*Hitch replaced in February
There's some really interesting information found in that table. First of all – Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk hit their peaks very quickly under Hitch. After one season of fitting into his system, both players jumped over 20 points. remember what I said above about conforming to the system before being given freedom? Based on this observation, its not unreasonable to think that alot of the more talented youngsters (Klingberg, Honka, Lindell) may see their offence delayed until the end of year-one or even year-two.
Another observation – the totals they jump to proved to be more-or-less each players' peak. Pietrangelo never topped his 51 points, while Shattenkirk stayed in almost the exact same total range the entire 4 seasons. I believe this also related to Hitch's system – as he seems to find the perfect niche for each player and keep them in it. This is a good thing if stable production is achieved, however in the case of Shattenkirk, he may have been capped a bit below his production potential. We will have to wait and see how he performs elsewhere next season to know this for sure.
One final observation from the table – Parayko found his home right away. Like Shattenkirk, I believe there is room for more from him (and this may come now that Shattenkirk has moved on), but this is still an excellent case study for a prospect Honka. If you prove you can contribute, you dont have to be a veteran for Hitch to like you. I don't believe there is anything standing in Honka's way if he's ready to be a 30-point-player right away in the NHL.
Ken Hitchcock will bring chage to the Stars, and there will be a learning curve for everyone on the team. But the coach's history has shown us that these changes wont get in the way of the young defensive group, it will only help them find their ideal situation.
I don't often get to flaunt first-NHL-goals at this time of year, but luckily Sean Kuraly of Boston has given me the chance. He scored his first TWO NHL goals in an elimination playoff game, including the OT winner, to keep his team alive. it doesn't get more clutch than that.
As always, thank you for reading and best of luck in your playof pool! Hopefully your players haven't been eliminated as quickly as some of mine have.
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