Hello everyone and welcome in for another article. This is the tenth installment of a weekly article I’ll be writing all season long in which I’ll try to determine the truth about puzzling players. I pull suggestions for which players to write about for these articles from the Apples & Ginos community on Discord and the Apples & Ginos Patreon members. Be sure you check out those spots to catch up with me and I would be more than happy to answer any questions you have about the top line in St. Louis, US elections, or anything else with a lot of Russian influence. Let’s get it!
Alex Tuch, RW – BUF
I’ve had a lot of questions on what to expect from Tuch, the only current NHL player coming back to the Sabres in the Jack Eichel deal. There has been significant narrative that Tuch was some star in the making buried in a stacked Vegas lineup, and while I like Tuch, I’m urging some caution on those fronts. Tuch put up a 49-point pace last season while skating an average of 16:49 a night including 2 minutes of PP time per game. Tuch actually looks very projectable as a very good shot and chance generator who should shoot around 11% with a mid-60s IPP. My issue with those projecting Tuch for a big step forward with the Sabres is that you have to assume a significant increase in either PP or 5v5 time on ice and your guess is as good as mine which one of Tuch, Victor Olofsson, and Jeff Skinner will get those opportunities. If Tuch gets up to 18+ minutes per game I’ll be interested, but since it’s hard to imagine that Tuch’s on-ice scoring chances for rates improve much in Buffalo, any improvement from the 49-point pace he posted last year seems like it would have to come from a pure TOI increase. Keep in mind as well that all of this is assuming that Tuch comes back from a severe injury and is instantly the same player he was despite the rehab and a brand new environment. It’s possible, but definitely unlikely.
Verdict: Will need 18+ minutes a night to return consistent fantasy value in most leagues; most likely a streamer-level player
Clayton Keller, LW – ARI
Keller has run extremely cold and extremely hot at different points this season, and is currently in the midst of a hot streak, having scored five points in his last two games and firing fifteen shots to boot. On the season Keller has 22 points in 29 games, a 62-point pace. Everything looks relatively sustainable for Keller at that pace, especially considering pretty much all of Arizona’s offense starts and ends with him. One variable is that Nick Schmaltz has come back from injury and factored in on two of Keller’s three goals in the last two games. If Keller keeps skating 20 minutes a night and maintains some chemistry with Schmaltz, I think that a 60-point pace is reasonable. I’m not sure I’d want to value Keller quite there in terms of trade value, but he’s definitely someone who should be rostered in most 12-team leagues.
Verdict: Tons of usage and got his 1C back – the math checks out
Ivan Barbashev, C – STL
Barbashev has been red hot for a solid minute by now, with fifteen points in his last twelve games including seven in his last five. Barbashev has found chemistry with fellow Russians Pavel Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko at even strength and on the top power play unit. Barbashev is undoubtedly the third wheel on this line, but the mere fact that he’s been able to keep up with and factor in on goals from both wingers is indicative of at least a baseline of skill. Barbashev is certainly running far too hot in both shooting percentage (23% on the season) and on-ice shooting percentage (13.4%) so I don’t trust the 66-point pace for a second, but anyone playing 18-22 minutes a night with Tarasenko and Buchnevich will have fantasy relevance unless they’re abjectly terrible. It’s still uncertain what will happen with the top line center role once Robert Thomas rejoins the lineup, but for now I’m content to hold and ride Barbashev. As long as he’s in that spot he’ll hold fantasy value.
Verdict: A third wheel worth rolling with
Evan Bouchard, D – EDM
Bouchard has been up and down a bit this season, exciting fantasy managers with his potential early in the season but mixing in four and five-game pointless streaks before scoring three points in his last two games against the tepid Blue Jackets and Kraken. Most concerning is Bouchard losing his top pair role alongside Oiler #1 Darnell Nurse at even strength to Tyson Barrie. Given that Barrie dominates the majority of the Oiler power play time, Bouchard depends on that 5v5 time to generate his production. But I can’t say I’m too worried about Bouchard – he ranks 15th among defensemen in on-ice scoring chance for per 60 (SCF/60) and 27th in shots/60 over his last five games. Barrie is not a top pair minute muncher and I would expect him to eventually give up that top pair work to Bouchard again. Bouchard isn’t an elite option and I don’t expect him to overtake Barrie for that juicy PP1 quarterback role, but he’s probably one of the best 50 fantasy defensemen in your league and that means he should definitely be rostered in most 12-team leagues.
Verdict: A solid if unspectacular 4th defenseman in 12-team leagues
Mackenzie Weegar, D – FLA
Weegar has gone quiet of late, with a four-game pointless streak heading into the Christmas break. But similar to Bouchard, Weegar is 17th in shots/60 and 36th in SCF/60 among defensemen while skating his customary 23:06 a night in the last five games. On the season, Weegar has shown improvement in his shot rates while stepping up his average time on ice to 23:55 and joining many other Panthers with a huge increase in on-ice Corsi For/60 and SCF/60 numbers. Somehow Weegar has yet to score a goal on the season, and yet he’s been valuable for fantasy due to his solid assist numbers and great peripherals. Weegar’s 38% IPP looks a touch low to me for someone who has clearly taken the steps he has over the past couple of seasons, and if the pucks were going in for him at his career rate he’d have three or four goals and a 50-55 point pace. That’s my outlook for Weegar rest of season – a 50-55 point defensemen with great bangers ability that would be an asset to any fantasy team.
Verdict: Weegar is a fantasy star, don’t let this recent stretch get you down on his ability
Before you go, I want you to know I recently launched the Apples and Ginos Fantasy Hockey Podcast and I would be much obliged if you were to give it the time of day. I’ll be providing weekly shows focused on the strategy elements of fantasy hockey and I’m very excited about providing more value to the fantasy hockey community in this way. I’ve already had terrific guests like TJ Branson from Five Hole Fantasy Hockey and Elan Dubrofsky from Keeping Karlsson on the show and I believe the content is top notch.
That’s all for this one folks, I hope you had as much fun reading it as I had writing it! Make sure you follow Apples & Ginos on Twitter and join the Apples & Ginos Discord server for more content and to ask any fantasy hockey questions you may have. If you want to learn more about any of the advanced stats I mentioned in this article, be sure to check out my article on applying advanced stats to fantasy hockey, or check out Natural Stat Trick’s advanced stats glossary.
Thanks for reading, you are appreciated!
Soundtrack to my writing: 30 by Adele // Loveless I by Loveless
Advanced stats credit: Natural Stat Trick