With the opening of the 2013-2014 NHL season less than a fortnight away, fantasy hockey draft season is officially open, so as a resource for you hockey poolies out there, I wanted to share my projections for how some of the top Nashville Predators will produce offensively this season.
One of my personal rules when preparing for a fantasy hockey draft is to start with a projection list from a neutral source (something like Dobberhockey or Fantasy Hockey Scouts, for example), and only make adjustments where I have good reason to, such as when a player has been injured (Joni Pitkanen in Carolina) or where it comes to the Preds, who I can follow more closely than a league-wide expert is likely to.
Another great way to get ready for the new season is with the 2013-14 Hockey Prospectus, available at Amazon (a portion of each sale made through that link goes to support OTF).
Making any sort of prediction is obviously a risky endeavor, but when doing so I apply my judgment to the things we can reasonably guess on a player (amount of ice time, tendency to shoot the puck, etc.) and leave the factors which jump around entirely at random (shooting percentage) relatively fixed at a neutral value. In other words, I don't expect Colin Wilson to score on a quarter of his shots like he did last season, nor do I expect Patric Hornqvist to remain as stone-cold as he was.
We start off with a bit of a wildcard in Matt Cullen, given the uncertainty of how the ice time will be distributed among four veteran centermen. It does seem clear that he'll work with either the #1 or #2 line at even strength and will presumably get a decent amount of power play work as well, so here goes:
Fish is a favorite of the coaching staff, and likely won't see his ice time trimmed very much with the addition of Cullen to the lineup.
Hornqvist adds extra value if your fantasy league includes a category for Shots on Goal, because he puts the puck on net more frequently than any other Predator. If he received ice time on par with top forwards around the league (say, another minute of PP time and 1-2 minutes of EV time per game) we could have a star on our hands.
The signing of Matt Cullen looks as if it threatens Leggy's status within the team more than anyone. While Legwand's opportunities may be limited, he will surely be motivated to put up impressive numbers ahead of next summer's free agency market. There won't be many quality centers available, and with the salary cap set to rise again, he could hit the jackpot.
Stalberg is going to be the most interesting Nashville player to watch in the early going - is he ready for a featured role without superstars on his line, and how much trust will Barry Trotz place in him? I'm making my projection based on him getting similar ice time as Hornqvist (13-14 minutes of EV time, and 2:30-3:00 per game of PP time), which, given his similar level of puck-shooting frequency, yields similar scoring results.
Surprising fact: Stalberg has yet to score a power play goal in his NHL career. I'm banking on that changing this season.
While I'm sure many Preds fans are hoping for higher numbers than what I'm showing here, it has to be remembered that 1) his breakout last season was due in part to a hot shooting streak, and 2) even his hot pace from last season would only translate to 62 points if carried across a full 82 games (not mean feat, that). Even so, setting new standards this season should be considered a success.
Ellis is a superior puck-mover on the verge of becoming a major offensive contributor for the Preds. Putting him on the ice with decent forwards to move the puck up to would help, as well.
This is a big season for Josi, in that he'll be expected to become more of a leader on defense rather than just one of the young guys hoping to make it from one game to the next at the NHL level.
If Nashville's off-season moves can indeed bring back the whole-team commitment to defense known as "Predator Hockey", then Weber can work himself back into Norris Trophy contention with his all-around game. While individual fantasy leagues can vary based on what stat categories they use, Weber should be one of the top 3-5 defensemen taken.
The $7 million question in Nashville is whether Rinne will be 100% ready for the long grind of an 82-game season after having off-season hip surgery. He's scheduled to make his pre-season debut Sunday against the New York Islanders. If he is indeed healthy, expect him to carry one of the heaviest workloads in the entire league, which is one of the most important qualities a goalie can have from a fantasy hockey perspective. Like Weber, I would expect Rinne to be one of the top 5 goalies taken in just about any fantasy draft.
Carter Hutton is a complete unknown but will start out as Rinne's backup.
Note 1: These projections are meant as a mid-range; some of these guys will surpass these marks, while others will fall short. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a fantasy hockey manager is to fall in love with your hometown heroes, forecasting career seasons for your personal favorites.
Note 2: No, I didn't include Seth Jones as I doubt he'll be a major offensive contributor this season. If you want to burn a late pick and grab Jones for long-term purposes in a keeper league, there's always the chance you'll be pleasantly surprised this year, but don't count on it.
More from On the Forecheck:
- 2013 Nashville Predators Training Camp: Magnus Hellberg Deployed to Milwaukee
- Saturday's Dump & Chase: Training Camp Returns To Centennial
- Mattias Ekholm Season Preview: "Horrible, Just Horrible," Hero, or Holed up in Milwaukee?
- Nashville Predators Training Camp: 19 Players Cut Today
- Friday's Dump & Chase: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words