JH Schroeder is a contributor to Hockey Prospectus. A former intern of the Nashville Predators, he has also written for Hockey’s Future and spent time coaching college hockey in the Northeast. He currently resides in sunny San Diego where he coaches Jr. High School hockey.
NHL fantasy hockey owners headed into the second half of the season should have a good handle on the strengths and weaknesses of their respective teams. For those owners that need help at forward, below is a collection of some of the best forwards available in more than 50 percent of ESPN standard leagues. Additionally, this column will also provide a couple of suggestions for those of you in deeper leagues or owners that are looking for a high-upside gamble. Players in “Deep League Pickups” will be owned in less than five percent of ESPN leagues.
Brandon Dubinsky – C – Columbus Blue Jackets – 49.3% owned
Dubinsky has only played 11 games this year due to an abdominal injury that held him out at the beginning of the season, but he has already registered 2 goals and 7 assists this season, almost a point per game pace. While Dubinsky has never topped 54 points in a season, he provides excellent all-around value, currently skating on a second line between the speedy Matt Calvert and the emergent Nick Foligno.
Dubinsky has averaged well over a PIM per game throughout his career, including 98 PIMs last year in 76 games and 76 in 2013-14 in just 29 games. Perhaps the most intriguing statistic about Dubinsky is his average time on ice, a default statistic in ESPN standard leagues. Dubinsky, and his 19:16 a game would rank 33rd amongst the top 100 forwards on the ESPN player rater, ahead of strong all-around players like Logan Couture, Anze Kopitar, and Pavel Datsyuk. This is buoyed in part by Dubinsky’s role as the team’s top penalty killing forward and his spot on team’s second power-play unit.
Mikko Koivu – C- Minnesota Wild – 38.8 % owned
Despite strong possession stats, the Minnesota Wild have struggled somewhat in the first half of the NHL season with a disappointing 18-15-4 record. Koivu, and the Wild, have struggled with surprisingly low, shooting percentages. The Wild powerplay, while producing SF/60 at a rate of 53.3, have the league’s third-worst powerplay shooting percentage at 9.3 percent. Likewise, Koivu has a career low shooting percentage of 6.2 percent.
Hopefully, for Koivu owners, and Wild fans alike, these shooting percentages will regress to career averages in the coming months. Things have started to look up for Koivu who has four points (1g, 3a) in his last three games. Despite a lagging plus-minus, Koivu has traditionally held a reputation for strong two-way play, including receiving Selke votes in six of the past eight seasons. Furthermore, Koivu will pick up his share of penalty minutes, though do not expect him to be a bell cow in this category. Finally, Koivu receives a heavy workload. If Koivu, and Minnesota, see an uptick in scoring over the second half of the season, Koivu is the type of player that can provide nice all-around stability to a fantasy roster.
Ryan Strome – C, RW – New York Islanders – 35.2% owned
The Islanders have made remarkable strides this year, both in the win column and in many of the advanced metrics. In fact, the Islanders lead the NHL in Fenwick Close at 55.9 percent. Ryan Strome’s first full season with the big club has been a contributing factor. Strome is second amongst Islanders forwards with a Fenwick of 58.1 percent. Perhaps most impressive, Strome ranks second in the league with a 2.33 “Goals for Relative to Teammates.” This statistic measures the difference between a player’s goals for percentage while he is on the ice compared to his teammate’s goals for while he is not on the ice. This statistic lends credence to the belief that Strome is one of the player’s driving the play for a resurgent Islanders franchise.
In addition to strong underlying numbers, Strome has been productive on the scoresheet as well. Through 39 games, Strome has registered 7 goals and 21 assists, while maintaining a strong plus 11 rating. For those playing in ESPN standard league, there should be some hesitation about Strome’s ice-time and below average shot production (2.15 per game). Yet Strome’s ice-time has increased every month peaking at 15:19 per game in December. Also of note, when Kyle Okposo took a shot to the hand in Sunday’s game against Edmonton, Strome moved to John Tavares right-wing for the next several shifts while Okposo was out. If Strome sees additional time on the Isles’ first-line or gets an extended chance on the team’s top powerplay unit, he becomes a must own player in all leagues.
Sean Monahan – C – Calgary Flames – 47% owned
Monahan, in his second year with the Flames, has become arguably the team’s most reliable forward. Trusted by Coach Bob Hartley in all situations, Monahan (19:32) leads all Flames forwards by a wide margin in ice-time, nearly two minutes more than Jiri Hudler.
More exciting for the fantasy prospector, Hartley has experimented with Monahan at left-wing alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler. These linemates offer significantly more offensive fire power than Monahan’s usual line of Curtis Glencross and David Jones. Furthermore, while not generating shots at a prolific rate, Monahan’s ice time leaves him with a solid totals of 2.55 shots per game, a strong enough performer to give fantasy teams in a slight bump in this category.
Deep League Pickups
Brett Ritchie – RW – Dallas Stars – 1.9% owned
The 44th overall selection in the 2011 draft, Ritchie was a 40 goal scorer in the OHL, who recently received his first taste of NHL action. The 6’4” winger has been productive in limited action registering 8 shots, and 3 points in his first three games. Unfortunately, Ritchie is currently skating on the Stars fourth line on the right-wing for Vernon Fiddler and Travis Moen. Furthermore, Ritchie is seeing limited powerplay time. If Ritchie becomes the net-front presence on the team’s top PP unit or finds a job on either Jason Spezza’s or Jamie Benn’s wing, he could be a nice cheap source of goals.
Teuvo Teravainen – C – Chicago Blackhawks – 2.5% owned
Teravainen, a consensus top prospect in the NHL was recently recalled. Conventional wisdom suggests that Teravainen will ultimately succeed Brad Richards as the team’s second-line center. In the meantime, the Blackhawks appear to be content to slowly introducing Teravainen to the lineup, starting him on the team’s fourth line and second powerplay unit. The young Finn is definitely a player to watch, and stash if your team can afford the roster spot. Last year, as a 19 year-old, he posted 44 points in 49 games playing against men for Jokerit Helsinki of the Finnish Elite League.