2011 is behind us and nearly half of this season’s games are in the books. This seems like a good time to reflect on what’s happened so far and recognize some of this season’s best players. That being said, I’m going to do things a little differently. Rather than simply highlight the players that excelled from a fantasy perspective, I’m going to focus on those who has given you the most or least bang for your buck. In other words, who have been the most valuable fantasy players based on where you could get them in a standard draft in the preseason and who have caused their owners nothing but pain. I’ll be using Yahoo!’s draft statistics to determine each players average placement as well as the percentage of drafts that they were selected in.
Most Valuable Rookie: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers)
It’s rare that the best player in a category is also the best bargain and it’s equally unusual for a first overall pick to exceed expectations, but there’s a simple reason Nugent-Hopkins is an exception to both rules. Unlike most first overall picks, the bar was set awfully low for him as far as his debut campaign was concerned. Before the season began, there was some speculation as to whether or not Nugent-Hopkins would even stick with the Oilers beyond the nine-game trial period. Consequently, those interested in Nugent-Hopkins waited until approimately pick 148 to get him in standard leagues, and he went undrafted in 85% of drafts.
Those that drafted him late or picked him up as a free agent have gotten 13 goals, 22 assists, and 18 power-play points out of Nugent-Hopkins in his first 37 career NHL games. Going forward, he should continue to excel, though not quite at that pace. He had two goals and eight points in 12 December games and we are looking for him to mimic that point-per-game pace overall in the second half of the season.
Least Valuable Rookie: Ryan Ellis (Nashville Predators)
It’s a stretch to call anyone in this year’s rookie pool a true disappointment from a fantasy perspective. For the most part, fantasy owners were cautious when selecting rookies from this year’s pool in drafts. In fact, while Nugent-Hopkins was rarely claimed by the conclusion of the draft, he was one of the most selected Calder-eligible players. Ellis was only claimed in 4% of league drafts and even then he usually wasn’t taken until the 14th round in a 12-team league.
All the same, he was one of the most sought after rookies before the season started. He was selected in more drafts than standouts like Adam Henrique, Craig Smith, and fellow rookie blueliners Raphael Diaz and Adam Larsson. However, Ellis hasn’t been a factor in fantasy leagues this season. He’s only played in three games with Nashville and has yet to record his first NHL point.
Does that make this a bad season for Ellis? No. He’s got tremendous offensive potential and he’s put up encouraging numbers at the AHL level. He was never expected to be a major part of the 2011-12 Nashville Predators, due in no small part to the team’s depth when it comes to offensively gifted defenseman. He’s a great guy to hold onto in keeper leagues, but you jumped the gun if you took him in a single season pool.
Most Valuable Forward: Joffrey Lupul (Toronto Maple Leafs)
There were a number of really great candidates for this category, including James Neal and Kris Versteeg. What made me go with Lupul is the fact that he was only taken in 11% of Yahoo! drafts, compared to 36% for Versteeg and the vast majority of drafts for Neal.
Toronto has been slipping out of the playoff picture lately, but the single biggest reason they’re even competing this season has been the strength of their top line. Phil Kessel and Lupul have been great together and both should end up setting new career-highs. Lupul already has 17 goals and 40 points in 38 games, which is nine more points than he recorded in 54 contests during the 2010-11 campaign. Perhaps the most impressive stat when it comes to Lupul is that he has yet to go pointless in back-to-back contests this season.
Lupul might slow down a bit as the season progresses, but he’s not likely to collapse. A 70-80 point campaign isn’t an unrealistic expectation for him at this point.
Least Valuable Forward: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
I was very tempted to make injured players exempt from this category, but injuries are a big part of the sport and can break a team. More than that, people knew about Crosby’s health concerns going into the season, so if they took him early, they did so with eyes wide open. In fact, the allure of a healthy Crosby compelled most fantasy owners to take Crosby early in the third round. That would have looked like a steal under normal circumstances, but it was a huge gamble going into this draft and one that hurt a lot of fantasy owners.
If you took Crosby, you’ve more or less wasted a high round pick. He’s been limited to eight games this season – albeit eight stunning games that makes his current absence sting even more for hockey fans. Although information on Crosby’s status has been scarce at times, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma reported on December 28th that he’s still dealing with symptoms. At the time of writing, he hasn’t practiced with the Penguins in almost a month. Maybe he’ll come back before the end of the regular season, but even that isn’t a sure thing.