2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Western Conference Preview - Pacific Division
One-Category Wonder: Radko Gudas, D, ADP: 160.8
If you have played in a banger league before, I am sure that you are aware of Radko Gudas. After making it to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Florida Panthers as a pending UFA, he hopped out of town to sign a big-ticket contract with the Anaheim Ducks.
For leagues that count hits as a category, Gudas is a must-own. Last season, he finished second in the league with 312 hits in just 72 games. The year before, he led the league with 355 hits. Looking forward to this season, it is very possible that Gudas can single-handedly win you the hits category each week.
Beyond hits, though, Gudas does not bring much to the table. His career-high in points during a season was 23, set back in 2016-17 with the Philadelphia Flyers. He also has only hit the five-goal mark twice over his 12-year career. If you are in a points-only league, or hits are not a valuable component of your scoring system, you are safe to pass on this Ducks' defenseman.
Wild Winger: Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, ADP: 122.7
Talk about a wild career trajectory. No player (okay, maybe Jeff Skinner) has fallen off so soon after signing a big-ticket contract as Jonathan Huberdeau. After four straight seasons of besting a point-per-game pace with the Florida Panthers, Huberdeau was the centerpiece in Calgary's return for Matthew Tkachuk. As a member of the Flames, he signed an eight-year extension that will see him earn $10.5 million per year.
On that kind of contract, the Flames expected the 100+ point pace to continue. However, Huberdeau struggled massively, putting up just 55 points in 79 games.
Looking forward to this season, I don't think there is a better player to take a flyer on than Jonathan Huberdeau. With recency bias pushing down his draft stock, Huberdeau is the best candidate for a bounce-back season. I would not be surprised to see Huberdeau finish in the top 10 of NHL scoring by the time the season is out. In my opinion, Huberdeau is a must-draft this season.
Powerplay Paragon: Evan Bouchard, D, ADP: 76.1
There is not a better powerplay in the league than Edmonton's, full stop. And as the best powerplay in the league, everyone wants to grab a piece of it. Unfortunately, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will likely both be drafted before the fourth pick. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is unlikely to perform at second-round levels (which is where he is being drafted), which makes him a bad value pick. The final forward slot has seen a rotating cast of characters fill it
Enter Evan Bouchard. After the departure of Tyson Barrie at the trade deadline, Bouchard took over as the sole quarterback on the first powerplay unit. In just over a month on the top unit, Bouchard racked up 13 powerplay points last season.
Looking forward to this season, it is easy to envision a scenario where Bouchard finishes in the top three of defensemen scoring on the back of the Edmonton powerplay alone, similar to RNH's success last year. For what it is worth, I project Bouchard to be the third-best defenseman in standard category leagues this year. At an ADP that pushes toward the sixth or seventh round, Bouchard is a must-draft as your first or second defenseman.
Los Angeles Kings
Goaltending Gongshow: Cam Talbot, G, ADP: 172.4
The Los Angeles Kings look like they are poised to make a big push this season, after sending Gabe Vilardi and Alex Iafallo packing in order to bring in Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Kings are now loaded down the middle, icing a 1-2-3-4 punch of Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danault, Dubois, and Quinton Byfield. However, they attempted to address their shaky goaltending by bringing in Cam Talbot.
This move was a puzzling move to me. While he was decent for Ottawa, a 36-year-old declining goaltender is not the kind of guy you want to pin your playoff hopes and dreams on. From a fantasy perspective, not only do I expect Talbot's performance to continue to decline, but his playing time will also be called into question. On top of Talbot, the Kings have Phoenix Copley and David Rittich fighting for playing time. There is a good chance that Talbot will see even fewer than the 36 games he played last year, which would only plummet his fantasy value even more.
When looking at goaltenders that will be available late in your draft, I much prefer Karel Vejmelka (ADP: 181.5) or John Gibson (ADP: 182.4) who can at least be counted on to start a palatable number of games.
San Jose Sharks
The Forsaken Fantasy Wastelands
I don't think there is a team in the league with worse fantasy prospects. San Jose has only two players who are being drafted in most leagues - Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. These two players are projected to score only about 60 points each next season, despite having a combined cap hit of $16.1 million.
For what it is worth, if you decide to "punt" the center-ice position in your draft, picking up one of these two guys in the last round of your draft may turn out to pay dividends. However, draft them knowing they will likely end up passing through the waiver wire early on in the season.
Overall, San Jose just stinks. Their forward core lacks any semblance of scoring touch. Their defense is as porous as a politician's promises during an election year, headlined by 36-year-old, aged-like-milk, Marc-Edouard Vlasic. And their goaltending tandem of Kaapo Kahkonen and MacKenzie Blackwood should not inspire confidence in anyone.
At least they will have a top-three pick at next year's draft, right?
Scoring Setback: Jared McCann, LW, ADP: 87.1
Jared McCann's 2022-23 season was nothing short of spectacular, as he lit up the scoreboard with a career-high 40 goals and 30 assists in just 70 games. His explosive offensive output undoubtedly made him a fantasy darling for those fortunate enough to have him on their rosters. However, as we flip the page onto the 2023-24 season, it's crucial to temper expectations and consider potential regression.
McCann's remarkable production last season will be a tough act to follow. While the move to the Seattle Kraken offered him an opportunity to flourish as a key offensive contributor, there are reasons to believe he might not replicate his 40-goal campaign. Consider the fact that McCann finished last season with a 19.0% shooting percentage, significantly higher than his career average of 12.1%.
In this upcoming season, it's reasonable to project a slight regression for McCann. My cautious projections expect that he'll tally 34 goals and 65 points over the season. While this still makes him a valuable asset in fantasy hockey, owners need to manage their expectations and understand that replicating the astonishing numbers from the previous season might be a tall order. McCann remains a valuable fantasy player, but the key to a successful season for fantasy owners is recognizing that not every year will be a career year.
If he is still available closer to the 125-130 overall mark in the draft, I would take a flyer on McCann, but otherwise, I would stay clear.
Reasonable Right-Winger: J.T. Miller, C/RW, ADP: 42.6
If you want to find a guy that does it all in your bangers league, look no further than J. T. Miller. While the Canucks are unlikely to make the playoffs this season, Miller is poised once again to make an immediate fantasy impact.
Last year, Miller was one of the most valuable assets in leagues that value hits. He racked up 31 goals and 82 points in 81 games. He also crested the 200-hit mark for the first time in his career, giving him added value when he could not find the score sheet.
Looking forward to this season, I would expect Miller to finish with results comparable to last season. Playing a powerplay with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes should guarantee that he finishes on a point-per-game pace or better. This may be a hot take, but with the hits and blocks that Miller provides, I expect him to finish as the fifth-best right winger this season, ahead of Mitch Marner.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Big Question Mark: Robin Lehner, G, ADP: Not Drafted
One player that has piqued my interest going into this season is Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner. In Early August of 2022, it was announced that the veteran backstop would miss the entire 2022-23 season after undergoing hip surgery. This was tough news for Lehner, who missed the last month of the season prior after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Going into this year, there has been radio silence from the team on the status of Lehner. Even if he is healthy, there is no guarantee that he will regain the starting role, given the team's Stanley Cup-winning tandem of Adin Hill and Logan Thompson.
While I probably will not end up drafting Lehner in my draft this season, he is a sneaky free-agent pickup to stash into your IR/IR+ slot. If he returns to form in March or April and regains the starting role, he will immediately be a top-100 fantasy option.
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