Hello and welcome in for the opposing piece to last week’s article in which I will detail three players that I believe are overrated by the fantasy community for the upcoming season. Today, we’re taking a look at a trio of brand-name centers who I believe will return lower than expected value on their draft position in 2020/21.
Jack Eichel is the first guy I’m just not buying into as a 90+ point player that most seem to believe he will be in 2020/21. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Eichel is probably one of the top 5 centers in the league in terms of talent, and if not top five certainly top 10. But digging into his stats I think we’ll find that Eichel doesn’t have much room to grow in terms of point production:
So at first glance we see where Eichel’s extra point production this season came from: he played an extra 1:46 per game in 2020/21 and shot 15.9%, more than 5% higher than his career shooting percentage. I did a quick study of the 15 players who scored 30+ goals in 2019/20, and a S% jump like Eichel’s is pretty unusual. Matthews, Ovechkin, Connor, Mackinnon, McDavid, Kucherov, Panarin, & Bergeron have all been quite consistent or varied in the opposite direction (one outlier season with a lower S%). There are a few players who had similar jumps in S% this season who will be interesting to watch in 2020/21 (Zibanejad, Aho, & Nylander), and one in Pastrnak who built up his S% over three straight seasons in which he also improved his individual chances for rates (which Eichel clearly didn’t do this year). Three players showed similar jumps to Eichel. Kane and Pacioretty both took similar 4-6% S% jumps in 2012/13 and 2013/14, respectively, despite decreasing or flat individual chance for rates, and both dropped back off that high the following season. The only positive comparison in this group was Draisaitl, who saw an enormous S% jump to 21.7% in 2018/19 and only dropped to 19.7% in 2019/20. However it’s worth noting that Draisaitl improved all of his individual chance for stats substantially in 2019/20 and still sustained a 2% dip in S%. All this to say: Eichel’s best case scenario for 2020/21 is probably a 12-13% S%, and dropping back to the 11% range is probably the most likely.
The other point I want to make is that it is not an easy thing for even the most talented NHL players to score 90 points in a season which I see as a common projection for Eichel in 2020/21. Of all the players to play at least 50 GP in the last three years with the PPG necessary to hit 90 points in an 82 game season, in my estimation only Taylor Hall in 2017/18 had a worse supporting cast than Eichel has in Buffalo, and we all know how he has fared since that Hart Trophy-winning performance. 90 points is a lofty projection for any player, and is nigh impossible for a player like Eichel who routinely plays with 2nd & 3rd line caliber teammates both on the power play and at even strength. I could get further into how Eichel’s extreme usage level did not result in significantly more counting stats, or how linemate Victor Olofsson is an above-average shooter and a below average hockey player, but we’ve already run two full paragraphs here. I have Eichel projected for just over a PPG, but I can’t get on board with 90+ and choosing him ahead of Stamkos & Matthews for 2020/21.
Mika Zibanejad was a fantasy darling in 2019/20, returning tremendous value on investment for many owners. As such, I think he’ll be remembered extremely positively in most people’s minds and they’ll get hung up on that unreal goal rate he posted and view Zibanejad as a Rocket Richard candidate in 2020/21. Let’s dig in to see if there’s any substance to that projection:
First off, I just want to say: Zibanejad has to be considered an injury risk after missing at least 10 games in three of the last four seasons. It may be a relatively low risk, but it must be at least acknowledged. Then there’s the 80.7% IPP, and that gaudy 19.7% S%. Both will regress in 2020/21, a nearly foregone conclusion barring some act of God. The good with Zibanejad is that despite his jump to 21:38 ATOI, he still managed to post the best individual chances for season of his career in terms of rates. The flip side of that equation is that he posted very similar rates in 2017/18 and scored at a rate 60% less than in 2020/21. The Rangers’ addition of Artemi Panarin certainly aided Zibanejad, but they were not linemates for the vast majority of the season so Panarin’s impact was limited to their shared minutes on the Rangers’ PP1 unit.
I don’t have a problem with Zibanejad scoring at 40ish goal rate next year, but it’s an extremely dangerous game to project a career 11.7% player whose previous career high was 13.3% to suddenly become a 15+% shooter simply because Panarin is on his team or he “broke out” at age 26. I have Zibanejad down for a 14.1% S% in 2020/21, and I can’t stomach going higher on a nebulous “but he’s better now” narrative. Maybe he is. But if he is he’ll be an absolute unicorn as a player who suddenly became an elite shooter in his eighth NHL season. Fantasy is about playing the percentages, and the safe money is with the players who don’t have to approximate their best season ever to return value. Perhaps if Zibanejad was a winger there would be more incentive to take a shot on him, but the truth is that he’s a center and there are literally a dozen other centers who will be at worst very close to his level of production.
Sidney Crosby rounds out this group, and as I’ve said before it pains me greatly to predict that he will be only very good in 2020/21 rather than elite. Crosby has been a top-5 fantasy pick for nearly as long as I’ve been playing the game, but the truth is that he is passing the baton to younger players for fantasy purposes and you’re going to want to be ahead of the curve with Crosby. Let’s see why:
The first thing that jumps off the page is the monstrous 83.9% IPP, nearly 13 points higher than Crosby’s average over the previous three seasons. The second thing is three consecutive years of decreasing individual chances for stats. Crosby will be 33 years old before the 2020/21 season starts, and like it or not Father Time comes for all at some point. The reality of those declining stats means it will be a struggle for Crosby to hit 30 goals in a season from here on out, a feat I’m projecting 13 centers to reach in 2020/21. Now, Crosby is still an elite playmaker and I don’t anticipate that the Pens are going to decrease his usage any time soon, so I have him tied for 3rd in assists among all centers.
The good news for Crosby is that while his on-ice GF/60 decreased in 19/20, his xGF/60 actually increased. This is a solid indicator that the Pens should have scored more goals while Crosby was on the ice than they actually did, but also that if Crosby maintains the same level of play next year he should see a nice bounce in team scoring while he is on the ice. I have Crosby just over a PPG in 2020/21, but the lack of goal scoring will keep his value down relative to the John Tavares’s and Steven Stamkos’s who he would normally be ranked higher than. While it’s tough to get past the mental block of considering that Crosby may no longer be a top-10 fantasy option, appropriate valuation of players is the name of the game and if any other player posted declining individual chance rates for three straight years this would not be a controversial opinion in the slightest.
If you’ve enjoyed this content I hope that you’ll take a minute and fill out my five-question survey here as I explore the possibility of doing this full-time. Make sure you follow Apples & Ginos on Twitter for more content and to ask any fantasy hockey questions you may have.
Thanks for reading, you are much appreciated!