As the NHL hits the halfway mark of the season, what non-star player do you think is ready to their game to the next level.
Kevin Brown: This may be cheating, but I think David Perron’s move to the Penguins has him set up to take a huge leap forward. We have already seen what a similar move has done for Patric Hornqvist, whose spot Perron is likely to fill in the short term, and the improvement in supporting cast he’ll receive by going from Edmonton to Pittsburgh is off the charts. I think it’s at least plausible that he averages a point-per-game from here on out.
Ryan Dadoun: Moving from Edmonton to Pittsburgh provides about the biggest fantasy boost possible for a winger, so I agree that Perron should do considerably better. I'll throw Jonathan Drouin into the mix. He was injured early, but he has played alongside Stamkos lately and has a lot of upside. Now that he has 30 games under his belt, I think we should start to see more from him.
Corey Abbott: I think we might have to wait another season before Jonathan Drouin shows everybody what he's capable of. Tampa Bay still doesn't give him much ice time and he gets shuffled around quite a lot. I think their cautious approach will hurt his value and they will be a little more liberal with him next year. I like what I've been seeing from Derick Brassard. He centers the top line alongside Rick Nash and he has a cushy spot on the power play as well, where he leads the team in points. Brassard is already on pace for a career year and he could end up with close to 70 points if he continues to produce at his current rate.
Michael Finewax: The selection of Brassard is not bad. I thought he would have lost some time on the power play with the return of Derek Stepan but that has not happened as both are in the top five in power play time. Perron is a no-brainer as he gets a primo opportunity with Sidney Crosby. I think that Drouin is still at least a year away and he could still hit the proverbial wall as a first year NHLer.
The player I see taking his game to the next level may surprise you but it's Dougie Hamilton. The Bruins have been using him to quarterback the power play and he leads the Bruins in ice time with the man advantage. He is tied for 18th in scoring among defensemen and is only 21. He certainly has a lot of talent around him with the likes of David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic etc.
Kevin Brown: I love Hamilton as well and he’s someone I highlighted in my column this week (shameless plug). The conventional thinking is that the return of Zdeno Chara from injury is taking a chunk out of his production, but a close look at the numbers reveals that’s just not true. He’s racking up shots on goal like crazy and I think it’s just a matter of time before he explodes.
That said, I’m also hesitant to agree on Drouin for this season since his role alongside Stamkos seems so tenuous. I probably wouldn’t take much for coach Jon Cooper to bump him off that unit, which would almost certainly torpedo his short-term value. I really like Drouin as a keeper league target, but I’m less enthused about him this year.
Ryan Dadoun: I agree that Drouin is far from a safe bet, but his upside is high and he has the potential to see a substantial jump in production compared to where he's coming from. When I think of the way certain players get eased into the NHL, I tend to think back to Stamkos given that they severely limited his playing time in the first half of his rookie campaign and his production was nothing special as a result (six goals and 19 points in 47 games through January), but his playing time skyrocketed after that, allowing him to record 27 points in his last 32 contests. Now, a lot has changed with the Lightning since then and Drouin isn't the equivalent of Stamkos, but it's an example of how a talented player can take off after some growing pains if they're given the opportunity.
Corey Abbott: It makes for an interesting speculation when it comes to Drouin. I was a big fan of Dougie Hamilton as well going into this season and he hasn't disappointed. I think next season, we'll see defensemen like Hamilton and Sami Vatanen going much higher in fantasy drafts than they went previously. I think Vatanen's play will pick up again now that Corey Perry is back in the lineup. The Ducks' power play will get a boost and Vantanen's breakout year will continue. I would still like to see him shoot more, though.
Michael Finewax: While I love Sami Vatanen, I think he has already far surpassed what poolies thought he would able to do and I don't think he has another level to get to this season. Ryan makes a good point about Stamkos but I don't think you can compare Stamkos to Drouin. Don't forget, Stamkos came into the league three months after being drafted, while Drouin did not make the team out of his draft year.
I think Radim Vrbata can get to the next level. He plays with the Sedin twins, has scored 34 before and only has 16 thus far.
Ryan Dadoun: How those players stack up depends on how we're ranking them. If it's just a metric of most fantasy value to least, then I think Brassard has to top the list as, like Corey said, he could get close to 70 points this season. That being said, he already has 30 points in 34 contests, so if we're ranking them by who will see the biggest jump in production going forward, then he would be last on my list. Continuing to rank them by who stands to improve the most going forward, I think Sami Vatanen, Dougie Hamilton, and Tyson Barrie would round out the bottom half of the list because the odds of them doing meaningful better than the impressive numbers they put up in the first half aren't great. Mike Green kind of falls into that camp too, but the difference is he's missed seven contests and if he can stay healthy in the second half (despite his history), then he should see a moderate boost in overall production compared to the first half, so I'd put him in the fourth slot.
I'll stick Drouin in third place. Of the group, I think he has the most upside and while he's not Stamkos and their situations aren't identical, I do think the example still has merit, especially seeing as when Drouin was made a healthy scratch, it was the example of Stamkos that Drouin could look at for inspiration. Ideally, Stamkos can be for Drouin what St. Louis was for Stamkos. That all said, the group's reservations about Drouin are valid as he is a far greater risk than any of the other players on this list and should be taken down a few pegs to reflect that. Which is why I would place Vrbata ahead of him. He might not have the same upside as Drouin, but in the short-term, Vrbata brings a lot more to the table. He already has strong numbers this season, but as long as he's playing with the Sedin twins, I can see him doing even better. If we're ranking these players by the best second half gain compared to their first half though, Perron is the winner and it's not even close. He had 19 points in 38 contests before the trade to Pittsburgh and he could get 30 points in Pittsburgh's final 43 contests. The move matters that much and you're unlikely to find a better second-half breakout candidate than Perron.
Kevin Brown: A discussion of which of the players stands to gain the most over the second half of the season is difficult since we may all have different viewpoints on how they stack up now. I think it makes more sense to simply rank them in descending order of fantasy projected fantasy production from this point forward.
Starting with defensemen, I like Vatanen most of the bunch because of the high floor his situation affords him. I would rank Green next mainly because of his upside, but I acknowledge there’s a pretty high bust potential. Dougie Hamilton would follow close behind while Tyson Barrie comes next.
Up front, I actually like Perron the most because of his fantastic opportunity in Pittsburgh. He played alongside Sidney Crosby in his first game as a Penguin and racked up a goal and six shots. There’s just no way he’ll end up on a checking unit so there’s little risk here beyond injury. Although everyone seems to be ranking Brassard near the top of the list, I prefer Vrbata goals are more valuable than assists in most formats and Vrbata’s shots on goal make him more likely to see improvement during the second half. I recognize Brassard’s excellent play of late, but we’ve seen this story before with him and we know that he often goes through weeks or even months of solid production, but ultimately slumps. As I said earlier, I think there’s a fairly wide gap between those three forwards and Drouin in terms of value for this season. I’ll agree that he’s got a decent chance of improving the rest of the way, but I can’t trust him yet.
Corey Abbott: If we are ranking them in terms of fantasy value for the rest of the season then I would put David Perron out front because the potential for points, hits and shots is tremendous as a top-six forward on the Penguins. Whether he sticks with Sidney Crosby or moves to a line with Evgeni Malkin, Perron is primed to succeed. Next, I would have Vrbata because he has been clicking with the Sedin twins and he isn't in any danger of being shifted off that line. I like Brassard after him because as Kevin pointed out, he won't have as many shots or goals as Vrbata. Drouin rounds out the forward group. He has tremendous potential but as I said earlier, I think we'll have to wait another year before we get to see it.
Among the defensemen, I like Vatanen because of his power-play success, followed by Dougie Hamilton. He can be dangerous whether he gets time on the man advantage or not. I would put Tyson Barrie slightly ahead of Mike Green because I am still weary about Green's lengthy injury issues.
Michael Finewax: Going into the second half of the season, I like Perron, followed by Vatanen, Brassard and Drouin. Perron’s value will only be lowered if both Crosby and Malkin get hurt (always a possibility) while Vatanen has been a first line forward for a few years now, first with the Coyotes and now in Vancouver. Brassard is enjoying a breakout season while Drouin is still unproven. That being said, in keeper leagues, Drouin likely will be the best of the bunch in a few years.
Among defensemen, I like Dougie Hamilton the most, followed by Vatanen, Barrie and Green. Green gets hurt too much and the Avalanche have been a disaster this season (maybe Paul Stastny meant too much to the team) for Barrie to have better value. While Vatanen and Hamilton are both good, I think the Bruins power play will be better the second half, enabling Hamilton’s fantasy value to be higher.