Welcome back for the tenth and final installment of my series on the top NHL fantasy hockey players of 2019/20, where I dive deep into how they performed this year and try to project what their 2020/21 season might look like. You can go back and read my previous article on Auston Matthews here. Let’s get the basics out of the way:
Unofficial Attractiveness Score (as judged by my wife): 6/10
Eichel was well on his way to producing a career season when it was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. His biggest area of improvement was goal scoring, where he posted a 0.53 goals/game rate, a huge leap from his 0.35 goals/game career rate prior to this year. For much of the year it appeared that Eichel was hell-bent on dragging the Sabres kicking and screaming into the postseason by himself, but much like the team itself, Eichel fell off the 1.33 points per game pace set in his first 40 games to ‘just’ 0.89 PPG from January onward. So which version of Eichel (and the Sabres) will we see in 2020/21? Let’s dig a little deeper:
Eichel’s IPP was just below the pace of his previous season and his career average, but well within normal variation levels. The biggest contributor to Eichel’s increased point production in 2019/20 was an increase of 1:46 TOI/GP, including an extra 22 seconds/game on the power play. His points/60 rate nearly identically mirrored his 2018/19 rate, a good sign that he was able to maintain a scoring rate even with the high level of usage. However, Eichel also had some fairly significant red flags pop up this year. He produced 2.5 less shots per game, but shot 15.86% to increase his goal rate significantly. That shooting percentage is more than 5% over his career average, a big regression warning sign for 2020/21. On top of that, Eichel’s individual chances for rates decreased significantly across the board. That means that in order to produce at the same level next year, Eichel will have to either play much better or somehow sustain what was by far the most efficient campaign of his young career. His team rates did not fare much better; while he was on the ice the Sabres produced three less scoring chances for per 60 minutes than when he was on the ice in 2018/19. That’s more than one scoring chance per game that was lost.
Part of the issue could be Eichel’s linemates. Eichel carried Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson most of the season, both of whom performed terribly at creating 5v5 shots for without Eichel. In a limited sample Jeff Skinner was far and away Eichel’s best linemate on the season, but Skinner was inexplicably relegated to a mere 16 and a half minutes the season immediately following the signing of his massive 8-year, $9 million/year extension.
So where does that leave Eichel heading into 2020/21? In my opinion, Eichel can’t be counted on to replicate the level of production he provided this season. He is the sole star player on the Sabres and has far and away the worst supporting cast of any of the players mentioned in this series. Combine that fact with the inevitable shooting regression he will see in 2020/21, and I can’t recommend Eichel as a top-10 fantasy option for next season. I put Eichel’s floor for 2020/21 at 75 points, with a ceiling at 90 points.
2020/21 Projection: 77 GP, 30 G, 51 A, 81 PTS
- Eichel is a big candidate for regression in 2020/21 (based on S% & chances for)
- Has no supporting cast to speak of; has to work harder for every point than anyone else in this series
- Had significantly better 5v5 success with Skinner than anyone else in a limited sample; a line combination to watch for going into next season
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