Hello everyone and welcome in for another article, starting a new series where I try to determine the truth about puzzling players. First I want to take a second to invite you to join the Apples & Ginos Discord server which is where I gathered ideas from the members on who to talk about. With that said, let’s discover the truth:
Rasmus Dahlin, D – BUF
Dahlin has had an apocalyptic-level start to his season, registering an impressive zero points in six games thus far. Starting with his individual contributions, we see he’s seen 19:43 of average time on ice thus far, a slight tick up from the 19:17 he registered last year, along with continued deployment on the top power play unit. So far this year he’s firing 9.63 shots/60, more than double the 4.74 mark he ended with last season. However while he is getting more volume, his individual scoring chances for/60 rate has dropped from 3.16 to 2.03; essentially what this means is his shots are coming from further away from the net than before despite there being more of them overall. Dahlin has maintained a shooting percentage a touch below 5% in his first two seasons, meaning he scores on roughly one in twenty shots. He’s fired 19 already this season, so it’s fair to say he’s “due” from that perspective.
Checking in on his team-based on-ice stats, Dahlin seems to be having the best season of his career thus far from an advanced stats perspective. He’s rocking a 60% expected goals for percentage, buoyed by a 3.64 expected goals for/60 mark which is 0.72 higher than last year’s 2.92. Buffalo is generating 31.9 scoring chances for/60 with Dahlin on the ice, once again not insignificantly higher than his 28.2 mark in 2019/20. Two stats jump off the page to me here though: Buffalo is shooting just 6.2% with Dahlin on the ice and their actual goals for/60 is just 2.53 (compared with that 3.64 expected goals for number above). Both numbers should jump significantly with positive regression. Ralph Krueger seems determined to run this ship into the ground in order to teach players a lesson and Dahlin may not ascend to that 22-23 minute level we had hoped, but he can score at a 55-60 point pace the rest of the way without the minutes if he can continue to generate chances for himself and his teammates the way he has thus far.
Verdict: Buy immediately
Mike Hoffman, RW – STL
Hoffman was touted as the new Vladimir Tarasenko for the St. Louis Blues’ power play, and was supposed to team up with fellow new acquisition Torey Krug to make that unit lethal. To say that things haven’t turned out very well in the first five games would be a severe understatement: Hoffman has a single goal and no assists to show for his efforts and is seeing just 14:04 of ice thus far. It was to be expected that leaving the Florida power play alongside aces Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau might result in a decline in power play scoring from Hoffman, but his individual chance for rates and shot generation numbers are not significantly lower with the Blues so far than last year with the Panthers. He’s still firing more than 10 shots/60, and his 8.5 individual scoring chances for/60 mark is higher than any of his past five seasons.
Hoffman does have some serious red flags in two areas: first, his even strength deployment where he is currently residing on the third line with noted offensive threat Tyler Bozak as his center. This is what is driving down his minutes to that previously mentioned 14:04 per game. He still remains on the PP1 unit, but until he gets back into the top six and sees at least 16 minutes per game, there will be a certain hard cap on his ability to put up points. The other side of that deployment is that it also means he doesn’t have play driving linemates to work with. Hoffman’s on-ice expected goals for/60 is just 2.08 through five games, a far cry from the 3.45 he posted last year. In fact, all of Hoffman’s on-ice team stats are pretty much horrific. As a sniper who is not always able to manufacture scoring chances happen on his own, Hoffman relies on strong linemates to hold the puck while he gets into the soft spots on the ice and lets his patented one-timer rip. Considering his third line status, his 9.1% on-ice shooting percentage is not unreasonable. Until Hoffman climbs back into the top six and gets to work with some play driving linemates, I’m not sold that Hoffman can produce more than perhaps a 20 goal, 40 point pace the rest of the way, even with top power play usage.
Verdict: Hold if necessary, sell if possible
Kevin Fiala, RW – MIN
Kevin Fiala was the subject of a lot of off-season talk. Was his late-season surge sustainable? Was he just a flash in the pan? His draft price reflected a pretty dampened view of his scoring potential, surely due in large part to the dearth of NHL-level centers the Minnesota Wild employ. When he got off to a tepid start this season with two goals and zero assists in six games, it became easy to point to his lack of production and say “see? even if he’s good he has no one to play with so he’s not good for fantasy.” Here’s the thing though: Kevin Fiala is not just good. Kevin Fiala is elite. That 30 points in 28 games he posted in the new year of the 2019/20 season was no charade and the numbers prove it.
Fiala’s underlying individual and on-ice chance for rates were phenomenal during those 28 games, but he also had a 90% IPP and a 12% on-ice team shooting percentage that made you wonder just how sustainable that pace was. Well, all Fiala has done through six games thus far is crush those chance for rates across the board. Three stats you need to know: Fiala’s team on-ice shooting percentage is just 4% thus far, his on-ice expected goals for/60 is at 4.27 after running a 3.07 mark in those 28 huge games last year, and his time on ice has risen to a very healthy 18:23 (versus just 16:47 in those 28 games last season). If Fiala can keep up these underlying rates, we’re talking about a projected 30-40 goal scoring pace and a 70-80 point scoring pace (using 82-game projections). And that’s being relatively conservative with his personal and team shooting percentages. Combine that with a 300-shot 82-game pace and you’re looking at a very valuable asset that might be severely undervalued by the current owner in your league.
Verdict: Buy immediately
Evgeni Malkin, C – PIT
Something is up with Evgeni Malkin. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe he spent his time off relaxing this year instead of training and he needs time to get back into game shape. Maybe he has an undisclosed injury he’s playing through – Malkin played just 14:55 in the Penguins game on Sunday, a wildly low number for a player who usually goes for about 19. Whatever the reason, through six games Malkin has been a shadow of his former self. His shot rate has dropped by more than 35%, his individual chance for rate has halved, and his individual scoring chances for rate has basically disintegrated into pixie dust and wasted dreams.
Ah, but he’s still creating chances for others, right? He’s been one of the best in the league at it for so long, turning Bryan Rust into a star last year seemingly by sheer force of will. Nope. Malkin’s 2.60 expected goals for/60 is a full goal/60 worse than his previous worst season in the NHL. His on-ice chances for have cratered alongside his individual chances for, and it’s frankly shocking. His IPP is certainly low at 33%, but with the way he’s been playing it’s not as outlandish as it sounds for a guy who usually rocks an IPP in the high seventies. Malkin is a truly puzzling case this year, and I’m loathe to sell him at any kind of a discount but he needs to turn things around in a hurry.
Verdict: Sell if you can get full price; if not, hold
Patrik Laine, RW – CLB
Saved the most difficult one for last here – how does Patrik Laine fit in with the Columbus Blue Jackets? Let’s start off with what appears to be obvious: Laine will be centered by one of Alexandre Texier or Max Domi. Texier has generated some buzz with a decent start to the season surrounded by terrible starts in Columbus, but ultimately I believe Domi will be the better option to bring out the most in Laine. So step 1: look for who is centering Laine and hope for Domi who has a track record of at least being a passable offensive player in the league. Beat reporter Aaron Portzline believes that Laine will play left wing on the Jackets, which makes sense given that they already have scoring wingers Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson on the right side (although Atkinson hasn’t been doing much scoring yet).
Step 2 is all about that power play. Portzline expects Laine to inhabit the Ovechkin spot, looking to set up one timers and cross seam passes as the focal point of the revamped PP1 unit. If that’s true, look for Columbus to opt for Seth Jones at the point as a right handed passer for Laine (think how John Carlson and Ovechkin work in Washington). Winnipeg always felt like they had a few too many cooks in the kitchen with Scheifele, Wheeler, and Connor et al to make Laine and his elite shot the focus. Columbus will have no such qualms, but the flip side of that is that they also don’t have a top tier playmaker to pull the penalty killers away from Laine. Columbus has been one of the worst power play teams over the past year, and while Laine will certainly help in that regard, the lack of talent around him will likely limit his upside to some extent.
Step 3 is about situation. I expect Laine will get played a fair bit – Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t make this trade to have coach John Tortorella play him fifteen minutes a night. Tortorella is notorious for not playing even his top forwards much more than seventeen minutes a night, but he did make an exception for Artemi Panarin in the past and Laine is a talent at least within shouting distance of Panarin. I’ll be expecting a 17.5 to 18.5 minute per night deployment, which isn’t much to write home about but isn’t terrible. However Tortorella will certainly be expecting Laine to fit into his defensive game plan, and that low-event style of hockey will almost certainly cap Laine’s upside further. One need only look at Panarin’s explosion the moment he left Columbus to understand that Tortorella willingly foregoes offense in order to maintain his defensive structure.
So where does this all leave us? I wish I could slap a number on it and call it a day, but the reality with these huge trades is that they are very unpredictable. Oftentimes it takes a new player weeks or even months to acclimate to a new style of play, but sometimes a disgruntled player gets their requested trade and goes on a rampage. Given the team context in Columbus however, I think it’s best to bet the under on Laine at least for this season. He will get every primo offensive minute available, but I expect the Columbus system and the lack of true top line talent around him to limit him to a 25-goal, 50-point kind of pace in his first season. That being said, he is obviously a player to watch closely; if he is able to spark the power play and maybe squeeze a few more minutes out of a reluctant Torts, he certainly has the talent to exceed this expectation.
Verdict: Hold and watch closely
That’s all for this one folks! Make sure you follow Apples & Ginos on Twitter or join the Apples & Ginos Discord server for more content and to ask any fantasy hockey questions you may have.
Thanks for reading, you are much appreciated!