The bounce-back player. It's what we target in every fantasy draft. We hope to identify that player that struggled the previous season and will turn things around to be a dominant player in the year ahead. If we get lucky, we'll nab one of these bounce-back players, but determining who they are going into a fantasy draft is always the toughest part.
Going into the 2011-12 season, Alex Ovechkin was riding high off a dominant 2010-11 season and was viewed as one of the top fantasy players. He finished that year as the 36th ranked player in Yahoo! leagues in what many considered a disappointing 38-goal, 65-point season. Heading into the shortened 2012-13 season, Ovechkin could've been tabbed as a bounce-back candidate, and he did just that -- bounce back. He finished as the No. 1 overall fantasy player in Yahoo! leagues and put his name back in the discussion as one of the best fantasy hockey performers.
Matt Duchene is another example of a bounce back player from last season. In 2011-12 he struggled with just 14 goals, 14 assists and a minus-11 rating -- he finished as the 387th ranked player in Yahoo!. This forced many owners to hesitate drafting him. The Colorado Avalanche forward bounced back in a big way, ranking as the 87th best player last season with 17 goals and 26 assists in 47 games.
Whether it's a player at Ovechkin or Duchene's level, or someone on a lesser scale, having at least one solid bounce-back player on your roster is one of the major factors to a championship team. Here are 10 players I believe will bounce back from a disappointing 2012-13 season and pay big dividends for fantasy owners in 2013-14 (in order of who I think will finish the highest ranked this season):
Marian Gaborik (Blue Jackets)
Average Draft Position last season: 77.4 -- finished 107th in Yahoo!
Every other year. That's all you need to know about Gaborik. If you check out his career stats you can see what's to come for Gaborik in 2013-14. Since the 2005-06 season, Gaborik has been extremely productive every other year: 38 goals and 66 points in ’05-06; 42 goals and 83 points in ’07-08; 42 goals and 86 points in ’09-10; 41 goals and 76 points in ’11-12. The in-between years haven't been nearly as good, but luckily for fantasy owners, 2013-14 falls on a good year and big things should be expected. Gaborik, 31, will embark on his first full season in Columbus, and while he might not be surrounded with as much talent as he had with the Rangers, Gaborik has proven that he thrives regardless of who's around him. Playing in Minnesota for eight years, Gaborik didn't exactly have the most talented linemates, but he still managed to record five 30-plus goal seasons. During the 2007-08 season, he skated primarily with Pavol Demitra, and a combination of Todd Fedoruk, Aaron Voros and Mikko Koivu (according to dobberhockey.com). He finished that season with 42 goals and 83 points. In his first year with the Rangers in 2009-10, Gaborik played with a combination of current Jackets teammate Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen, not exactly the most talented bunch. He finished that season with 42 goals and a career-high 86 points. The Rangers brought in Brad Richards in 2011-12 to center Gaborik's line, but that didn't work out and he ended up skating primarily with another current teammate, Artem Anisimov, and Derek Stepan, and finished that season with 41 goals and 76 points. The bottom line is Gaborik succeeds without superstars on his side, and that's exactly the case in Columbus. While the lines aren't penciled in just yet, I think Gaborik will play on the same line as Anisimov and it's possible Dubinsky also ends up with that group. Gaborik has shown success with them in the past and will be good for 35-plus goals this season, which is why I ranked him sixth among my fantasy right wings and 35th among all players.
Bobby Ryan (Senators)
ADP: 53.4 -- finished 138th
As you can see by his Yahoo! rank, Ryan was a bit of a disappointment last season (11 G, 19 A in 46 games). In fact, his last two seasons in Anaheim were both a bit of a disappointment (57 points in 82 games in 2011-12), but that shouldn't scare off fantasy drafters this year. Thanks to a trade that saw the 26-year-old shipped to Ottawa, Ryan will get a chance to be a superstar with his new team. Already with four 31-plus-goal seasons under his belt, Ryan will no longer have to play under the shadows of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim. Instead, he'll be front and center on the Senators' top line alongside playmaking wizard Jason Spezza and should see a giant increase in power play ice time. Ryan's biggest flaw from a fantasy perspective was that he never contributed in the power play department (27 power-play points in his last 210 games). In Anaheim, the Ducks frequently used Teemu Selanne on the top power-play unit instead of Ryan, who averaged just 1:57 of power-play time last season. However, in Ottawa you can expect Ryan's power-play time to increase to the three-to-four minute range per game and that will result in a much better stat line by season's end. As long as Spezza can stay healthy, Ryan is capable of scoring 35 goals and could surpass his career-high of 71 points set in 2010-11.
Milan Lucic (Bruins)
ADP: 49.0 -- finished 109th
After consecutive 60-plus point and 120-plus penalty minute seasons, Lucic slipped in point production last season with just 27 in 46 games. He was struggling so much that he even found himself as a healthy scratch late in the regular season. Fortunately, Lucic showed he still has plenty to offer by putting together excellent playoff numbers (seven goals, 12 assists in 22 games) and he should be ready to bounce back in 2013-14. Lucic is a top-six forward in Boston and that means he'll be playing with some seriously talented players (we're expecting him to be with David Krejci and the newly acquired Jarome Iginla). Lucic's power-play ice time has decreased in each of the last three years -- 1:58 per game last season -- and he probably won't see more than that this season with all the talent in the Bruins' locker room, but the 6-foot-4 forward will be an extremely valuable asset in every other fantasy category. Over his last three seasons, Lucic has averaged 25 goals, 60 points, a plus-17, 132 penalty minutes and 160 shots on goal (even with a down season last year). This should be exactly the type of stat line you can expect for 2013-14, which would make him a top-50 caliber fantasy player.
Roberto Luongo (Canucks)
ADP: 71.0 -- finished 184th
Sure, last season was a bit of a debacle for Luongo, but we all know he's capable of thriving with Cory Schneider out of town. Luongo hasn't started more than 60 games since the 2009-10 season (67), but there's a good chance he exceeds that number playing for new coach John Tortorella, who showed in New York that he's not afraid to ride his No. 1 goalie. Despite all the turmoil surrounding Luongo, he's still proven to be a pretty valuable fantasy goalie over the last three seasons. Among goalies with at least 100 starts during that time, Luongo's 2.29 goals-against average is fifth, his .922 save percentage is fourth and his 11 shutouts are tied for 13th most. The Cancuks may be on the decline a bit, but if they're going to make some noise in the Pacific Division, Luongo will be a major reason. Going into drafts, Luongo should be selected around 10th among goalies, but he could exceed expectations based solely on the fact that he again is the No. 1 netminder in Vancouver.
Gabriel Landeskog (Avalanche)
ADP: 47.7 -- finished 280th
After winning the Calder Trophy two seasons ago, many fantasy owners had high expectations going into the shortened season, hence Landeskog's average draft position. Unfortunately, Landeskog's sophomore season was a struggle, as he finished with just nine goals and 17 points in an injury-plagued year that saw him play in just 36 of 48 games. Where does that leave us going into this year? For starters, Landeskog should be fully healthy, which is critical for his physical-style game. He's also expected to play on a line with two solid playmakers in Paul Stastny and Alex Tanguay, which could result in Landeskog scoring 25-plus goals. The plus-20 from his rookie season might not be there in 2013-14, but he should still put up 50-60 points, 50-plus penalty minutes, 10-15 power-play points and tons of shots on goal; he averages 3.2 shots on goal per game over his 118-game career.
Alex Pietrangelo (Blues)
ADP: 58.2 -- finished 217th
Make no mistake, Pietrangelo is a superstar defenseman. Of course we'll need him to re-sign with the Blues in order to fulfill those lofty expectations, but when he does, just watch him take off. Going into drafts last season, Pietrangelo was selected sixth among defenseman in Yahoo! leagues, behind only Erik Karlsson, Zdeno Chara, Kris Letang, Dustin Byfuglien and Shea Weber. That's pretty good company. As a rookie two seasons ago, Pietrangelo finished with 11 goals, 43 points and a plus-18 rating. He followed up that performance with 12 goals, 51 points and a plus-16, showing he was capable of taking the next step in his game. Then, in the shortened season, things took a turn for the worse as he disappointed those fantasy owners that spent an early pick on him (five goals, 24 points, even rating, 10 penalty minutes, 6 power-play points, 93 shots on goal). However, between the contract motivation and the fact he's already displayed two outstanding seasons in the past, the 23-year-old should be able to bounce back and finish as a top-10 fantasy defenseman this year.
Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes)
ADP: 70.8 -- finished 164th
Skinner has one more year under his belt over Landeskog, but at just 21, he's in a similar position as the 2011 draftee. Skinner had an outstanding rookie season in 2010-11 (31 goals, 63 points), but has regressed in each of the last two years, finishing with 13 goals, 24 points and a minus-21 rating last season. Because of his substandard season, fantasy drafters should be eyeing Skinner somewhere in the range of rounds eight to 10. And if you get him there, it could turn out to be the steal of your draft. Skinner has loads of potential and as long as he avoids any more head injuries, there's reason to hope for another 30-goal, 60-point season from the Carolina forward.
Scott Hartnell (Flyers)
ADP: 22.8 -- finished 250th
Of every player on this list, Hartnell had the highest average draft position in Yahoo! leagues going into last year (22.8). He did not live up to that selection, finishing the season with just eight goals, three assists and a minus-5 rating in 32 contests. He still managed to chip in 70 penalty minutes, but his production in every other fantasy category just wasn't what we expected after he posted career-bests the year before in goals (37), points (67), plus/minus (plus-19), power-play points (23) and shots on goal (232). At 31 and expected to start the season on Philadelphia's top line alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, Hartnell is certainly capable of rebounding to put up strong fantasy coverage across all categories. He might not reach his 2011-12 numbers, but something close to his 2010-11 season should be expected (24 goals, 49 points, 142 PIMs). Prior to last season's struggles, Hartnell had proven to be one of fantasy's best all-round players, and drafting him anywhere from rounds seven to nine would be a solid pick.
Ryan Miller (Sabres)
ADP: 41.8 -- finished 295th
The second goalie on our bounce-back list is a bit of a mystery. Miller has proven very durable and will be good for around 60-65 starts, but the big question is whether it will be in Buffalo. For the time being, we have to assume it's with the Sabres, and that won't help his fantasy value as his win totals might be less than you expect. But if he gets traded, Miller should immediately move up a couple of spots on your goalie rankings cheat sheet. The other mysterious factor regarding Miller is that we tend to assume he's an elite goalie. Maybe it's because of his name, maybe it's because of his role on the United States Olympic team in the past. However, Miller has really only had one outstanding season in the NHL, in 2009-10 when he posted 41 wins, a 2.22 GAA, .929 save percentage and five shutouts. Unfortunately, outside of that season, Miller has never had a goals against average better than 2.53 or a save percentage better than .918. You're probably asking yourself, "Then why is he on my bounce-back list?" It's because he's not nearly as bad as he displayed last season -- 17 wins, 2.81 GAA, .915 save percentage and zero shutouts -- which means most fantasy drafters will be devaluing him going into this season. Miller might not win a ton of games in Buffalo, but look for him to return somewhere closer to the 2.55 GAA range with a handful of shutouts, making him a top-20 goalie. Add in the motivation for him to make another Olympic team and he might elevate his game to that of a top-15 netminder.
Jack Johnson (Blue Jackets)
ADP: 109 -- finished 260th
Always viewed with tons of potential, it still feels like Johnson, 26, hasn't quite lived up to those expectations. With the Kings he posted 36- and 42-point seasons from 2009-2011, but then struggled in what turned out to be his final season in Los Angeles in 2011-12. During that season, when he arrived in Columbus, Johnson seemed more relieved and energetic. He finished off the year with 14 points in 21 games for the Blue Jackets, looking more like the player everyone thought he was. Last season was tough to gauge because of the lockout, but Johnson managed five goals and 19 points in 44 contests, not what many owners were expecting. Thanks to his slightly disappointing performance, Johnson will come on the cheap in drafts this year and should reward owners that take a chance on him in the later rounds. He'll receive plenty of power-play time (he averaged 3:37 per game last year) on a team that improved its offensive nucleus, and could be in line for his best season yet. Draft him as a No. 3 defenseman on your roster and look for him to perform like that of a No. 2 blueliner.
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