The NHL season is quickly coming to its conclusion and as the attention of many fantasy players turns toward next season I’d like to highlight six players who may be struggling this season, but whose names you shouldn’t forget at your draft next year (and two you probably should).
Jonathan Quick: Maybe it was the off-season back surgery. Perhaps it was a case of Stanley Cup hangover. Whatever the reason, Jonathan Quick got off to a treacherous start to the season, winning only three of his first 11 appearances and posting a dreadful GAA and save percentage in the process. The emergence of Jonathan Bernier has only complicated matters for Quick, as the phenom’s exceptional play has reduced the American-born netminder’s workload more than his fantasy owners would care to see. If you’re a Quick owner or you’re considering trading for him, I’m here to tell you to go right ahead. Bernier will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and the line of suitors interested in him should stretch around the block. If he remains a member of the Kings, the club has too much invested in Quick to turn the reins over to him completely. After delivering Vezina-caliber performances in each of the last two seasons and backstopping the team to a Stanley Cup run in 2012, coach Darryl Sutter has the utmost faith in Quick and I expect him to be a top-3 goaltending commodity again in 2013-14.
Jake Gardiner: Let’s just throw away all the numbers when evaluating Gardiner’s season and consider it a complete write-off. It’s clear coach Randy Carlyle and the entire Maple Leafs organization are doing the same. In case you’ve missed it, Gardiner suffered a concussion while playing in the AHL during the lockout and that injury set into a motion a series of events that have conspired to ruin his entire year. We should have known something was amiss when his “conditioning stint” in the AHL after recovering from his head injury lasted longer than anyone would have imagined, proving he simply wasn’t playing well enough to make the Leafs brass recognize he was too good for the minors. At his best, Gardiner is a smooth-skating offensive blueliner reminiscent of Brian Campbell and can anchor the team’s power play. We haven’t seen that player this season, but he was spotted in Toronto at certain points last year so we know he exists. I’m willing to bet he makes another appearance next season.
Jeff Skinner: The arrival of the enigmatic Alexander Semin has proven to be a master stroke by Carolina GM Jim Rutherford as Eric Staal now has potentially the best sidekick he has had since coming into the league The downside seems to be that Jeff Skinner was forgotten somewhere along the way. A line of 20 points in 32 contests is definitely not a disaster, but we have come to expect bigger things from the former first round selection. I’m willing to ignore some of the roadblocks that have stood in his way this year, such as the concussion that sidelined him for two weeks in February, and concentrate on the bigger picture. Skinner is only 20 years old and already has close to 200 NHL games under his belt when some of the other top players in his draft class are just getting their feet wet in the league and others have yet to suit up for an NHL club.
Gabriel Landeskog: The Swedish captain of the Avalanche is the third player to have suffered a concussion this season and make it on this list so it will be interesting to see how accurate my predictions look at this time next year. Perhaps a more in-depth study of recovery times from head injuries would show it takes longer for players to return to full capacity than we realize, but that’s a research project for another day. Focusing on Landeskog’s production, it’s hard to be anything but disappointed with just 12 points in 26 contests, but I’ll direct your attention to his 84 shots on goal as evidence that he continues to generate scoring chances, even if many are not finding the back of the net. The setup in Colorado is one of the main reasons I’m so confident in Landeskog’s future. He’s only 20 years of age, already wearing a “C” on his jersey and receives all the ice time he can handle. Put simply, he’s the cornerstone of the Avalanche franchise. Don’t overthink it.
Patric Hornqvist: Everything about Hornqvist’s 2013 season has gone wrong, which will make him that much more of a bargain next year. Injuries have limited the unheralded sniper to just 22 games this season, allowing him to fly even further under the radar than he normally would, but he’s racking up shots on goal at a better rate than he ever has in the past. The power play specialist has only tallied four times all year, but he’s an integral part of the Nashville offense even if most casual NHL fans don’t know his name. I’m hoping he doesn’t do anything to draw attention to himself over the season’s final weeks because I think he’ll be the cheapest source of 30 goals in fantasy drafts next year.
Jack Johnson: After he was traded from Los Angeles to Columbus last season, Johnson racked up 14 points in 21 games with his new club, leading many to expect a breakout campaign this year, but things haven’t worked out that way. The typically durable rearguard didn’t record a point until the sixth game of the season, which placed him behind the eight ball from the outset. Since then he has registered 15 points in 30 contests around a four-game absence in the middle of the campaign. The acquisition of Marian Gaborik should provide a spark to a Columbus team already on the rise, which leads me to believe Johnson will establish a career-best point total in 2013-14.
Unlike the players I have mentioned above, there are certain underachievers whose struggles I believe is a sign of their downfall. Rather than look for a bounce-back season next year, I’ll be doing my best to stay away from these players in my fantasy leagues:
Dany Heatley: I probably should have known better than to take the plunge one more time with Heatley this season, especially as his diminishing peripherals in recent years signaled his troubles were the product of more than just bad luck. Thinking the arrivals of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter would lift the Wild to greater heights, I drafted Heatley in more than one league and dreamed of a power play juggernaut, especially when he opened up the season with two goals in the opener against Colorado. Well, I was correct about Minnesota’s improvements, but the Wild have succeeded largely without much contribution from Heatley. When I have watched Minnesota games this season it has been apparent he doesn’t have the same jump he once had, not to mention the team is committed to developing its young talent, such as Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle. It might be too late to recoup my investment this year, but I have finally learned my lesson and you won’t see Heatley on my any of my rosters next season.
Brad Richards: On the surface there appears to be good reason to predict a resurgence from Brad Richards next season. He plays alongside one of the game’s most talented players in Rick Nash, receives a ton of power play time and by the time his contract with the Rangers expires we’ll be discussing whether President George Clooney will win his second term in the White House. He’s also not particularly old at 32 and has been a little unlucky with his shooting percentage so he’s the perfect undervalued commodity next year, right? Not so fast. Whether it’s the result of John Tortorella’s system or not, the playmaking center has seen his shot rate decline drastically this season, a sign he might be entering the decline phase of his career. The fact he has never helped much in the areas of penalty minutes or plus/minus makes him that much more reliant on scoring to generate value and given he’s been unable to do much of that lately, I see no reason to pay the inflated sticker price for him.
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