We've seen 16 days of NHL action to this point.
At this time last season it was the Anaheim Ducks' duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf dominating the NHL. Perry was leading the League with eight goals, including two hat tricks, while Getzlaf was leading the League with eight assists. Each player had an NHL-high 10 points through seven games (tied with John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars).
Perry, Getzlaf, Tavares and Seguin weren't surprises in fantasy hockey though. They were all top-level talents likely selected in the early rounds of their fantasy drafts. They were performing how their owners had hoped.
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However, there were some players that were providing dominant fantasy value that we didn't expect it from after slightly over two weeks of play. Players like Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen, who had started six games, winning all of them and posting a 1.32 goals-against average (GAA) and .951 save percentage (SV%) at this time last season. Or Islanders forward Brock Nelson, who had four goals and four assists through his first six games. Or defenseman TJ Brodie, who had seven points and a plus-3 rating in his first eight games for the upstart Calgary Flames.
There are always surprises early on in an NHL season. The big question is whether they can sustain that fantasy value for the remainder of the season.
Here's a look at some of the most notable surprises of the young 2015-16 season and whether I believe they can maintain their level of play for fantasy owners.
David Krejci, C, Boston Bruins
Last season Krejci disappointed fantasy owners and finished the season as the 339th-best fantasy player in Yahoo leagues. It's been a different story this October as Krejci has an NHL-high 11 points through his first six games, including six on the power play. He's the second-best fantasy forward in Yahoo right now. However, I believe Krejci will regress. He's a relatively proven point producer (69 points in 80 games in 2013-14), but he is a pass-first player that won't help in the goals, penalty minutes (PIMs) or shots on goal (SOG) categories, and I wouldn't expect his rating to be what it has been in the past considering the downslide the Bruins appear to be on. For the majority of this season Krejci has been centering a line with fellow Czech David Pastrnak and Bruins newcomer Matt Beleskey on his wings, but most of his work has been done on the power play. The Bruins currently lead the NHL with an unsustainable 38.1 percent conversion rate on the man advantage. Expect the power play and Krejci's point totals to take major steps back and for him to finish outside the top 75 fantasy players by season's end.
Martin Jones, G, San Jose Sharks
Jones is currently the eighth-best player in fantasy hockey and second-best goalie behind Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. Like Krejci, I fully expect a regression. If you own Jones you should be actively trying to sell him high in a trade. It's not that I think Jones will be a bad goalie this season, but he certainly won't continue to perform at this level. For starters, Jones had never been an everyday starting goalie at the NHL level before. Prior to this season he had appeared in 34 NHL games, and while his numbers were very strong, playing a full season as a starting goalie is a different animal and it takes time to get accustomed. His Sharks career is off to a fantastic start with four wins, a 1.64 GAA and .940 SV% through six games, but look for him to end up outside the top 15 fantasy goalies before this season ends.
Dion Phaneuf, D, Toronto Maple Leafs
Phaneuf was the 182nd-ranked fantasy defenseman last season. He had 29 points, 108 PIMs and a minus-11 rating. This season, Phaneuf is off to a terrific start and is the seventh-best fantasy defenseman in Yahoo with four assists in six games to go along with a surprising plus-4 and 12 PIMs. Two of his four points have come on the power play, where he's averaging 1:55 of man-advantage time per game. While I don't expect Phaneuf's rating to remain on the plus side, a return to the 40-point mark for the first time since the 2011-12 season is realistic. A third consecutive season of 100-plus PIMs should also be expected, and that would likely mean Phaneuf is a top-25 fantasy defenseman when the season ends.
Defense - TOR
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 4
SOG: 10 | +/-: 4
James Neal, LW/RW, Nashville Predators
This is a familiar story. Last season, his first in Nashville, Neal got off to a blazing start in October with seven goals in his first 10 games. Unfortunately Neal only scored 16 goals in his next 57 games. This season Neal has five goals and three assists with a plus-4 rating, eight PIMs, two power-play points and 29 SOG through six games. His five goals are tied for third-most in the NHL and his 4.14 shots-per-game are 11th-best. A one-time 40-goal scorer for the Pittsburgh Penguins and a seven-time 20-plus goal scorer throughout his career, the question is will Neal follow a similar path as last season? I'm going to say no. Like last season, Neal is skating on the top line alongside Filip Forsberg and this time around Mike Fisher instead of Mike Ribeiro. But the reason I believe in more sustainability is because of the further development of Forsberg, who cooled off in the second half of last season. In his second NHL season, I expect great improvement and development for Forsberg and that in turn will help Neal's overall game. Add in the fact he'll give you at least 50 PIMs and plenty of shots on goal, and I'll say you're looking at 30-plus goals and a lock for a top-50 fantasy player.
Martin Hanzal (C), Anthony Duclair (LW/RW), Max Domi (C), Arizona Coyotes
All three Coyotes forwards are currently ranked as top-25 overall players in Yahoo leagues (Hanzal 13th, Domi 20th and Duclair 25th). However, I wouldn't expect any of them to continue to be dominant fantasy forces. Domi is the player I'm most faithful in, mostly because of his category coverage ability, but he's a rookie and most rookies tend to wear down as the long NHL season kicks in. Duclair appears to be a natural goal scorer with five goals in seven games, but he too is a rookie I expect to wear down. As for Hanzal, he's never posted more than 40 points in a single season and has had major injury issues over the past four seasons. Hanzal does contribute in the PIMs category, but at some point you have to realize all three of these forwards will cool off. Of course if you're in a keeper league, Domi and Duclair are must-haves.
Center - ARI
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 8
SOG: 17 | +/-: 4