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Fantasy: Power-play units to target in drafts

Maple Leafs, Lightning among most potent; Stars, Blue Jackets should improve

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / Senior Fantasy Editor

One of the six standard fantasy categories is power-play points. Thus, fantasy owners should always be aware of the potent and most-improved man-advantage units entering the new season.

Many of the NHL's best first power-play units involve players who will be drafted in early rounds on average in fantasy drafts, but many components are attainable in mid-to-late rounds. It's a popular strategy to target multiple even-strength linemates in drafts, but targeting power-play specialists from the same team can also pay large dividends. 

Below are the best, most-underrated and most-improved power-play units entering this season. Players from these units warrant greater fantasy consideration in leagues that count PPP based on past production and future potential. Fantasy owners in a points-only league should also target these players as they offer greater exposure to high-end scoring chances on a nightly basis.

 

BEST POWER-PLAY UNITS:

Toronto Maple Leafs (power-play rank last season: 2nd): You won't find a deeper forward group than the Maple Leafs, who have three strong lines, two potent power-play units and a high fantasy ceiling. One unit was anchored by Auston Matthews, William Nylander and defenseman Jake Gardiner, and the other consisted of second-line forwards Mitchell Marner, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak with defenseman Nikita Zaitsev. Nazem Kadri roamed between the two units, and veteran left wing Patrick Marleau adds another strong finisher to the mix. Toronto had six forwards with at least 17 PPP, led by their rookie trio of Nylander (26), Matthews (21) and Marner (21). Look for the Maple Leafs' trio of fantasy-relevant defensemen (Gardiner, Zaitsev, Morgan Rielly) to get even more involved this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins (T-3rd): The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions remained a force on the power play last season despite their injuries. Forwards Sidney Crosby (25 PPP in 75 games) and Evgeni Malkin (23 PPP in 62 games) and defenseman Kris Letang (14 PPP in 41 games) each missed time, but right wing Phil Kessel (NHL career-high 30 PPP; 5th in NHL) and defenseman Justin Schultz (career-high 20 PPP) didn't miss a beat in their absences. Even if Patric Hornqvist (hand) misses any time, the Penguins can either go with two defensemen on their first unit or give even-strength stud Jake Guentzel an expanded role.

Washington Capitals (T-3rd): The Capitals have had forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin together on the power play since 2007-08, and have the best conversion rate over that span (22.3 percent; 23.1 last season). Their first unit last season was comprised of Ovechkin, Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson and one defenseman (John Carlson, Matt Niskanen or Kevin Shattenkirk). Now, with Shattenkirk and Johansson out of the picture, spots have opened for forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and/or Jakub Vrana. The Capitals can either load up their first unit or spread out their scoring. Backstrom has been the NHL PPP leader in two of the past four seasons, and Ovechkin has finished first or tied for first in power-play goals each of the past five seasons.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Backstrom banks in PPG off defender

Buffalo Sabres (1st): If centers Jack Eichel (24 PPP in 61 games last season) and Ryan O'Reilly (24 PPP in 72 games) stay healthy for a full season, this unit is potent enough to remain at the top of the man-advantage rankings. Right wing Kyle Okposo (65 games played), who's healthy after a late-season concussion, was one of four Buffalo skaters with at least 20 PPP (23); Rasmus Ristolainen led the Sabres with 25 PPP. Sam Reinhart (17 PPP) is likely the fifth member of the Sabres' first unit, but Matt Moulson (18 PPP) and Evander Kane (eight PPP; contract year) are other potential man-advantage contributors under new coach Phil Housley.

Tampa Bay Lightning (6th): The Lightning traded Jonathan Drouin (26 PPP), a first power-play staple last season, to the Montreal Canadiens, but fortunately have elite center Steven Stamkos back healthy to play alongside Victor Hedman (33 PPP; 2nd in NHL) and Nikita Kucherov (32 PPP; 3rd). Their supporting cast includes center Tyler Johnson, left wing Ondrej Palat and 21-year-old forward Brayden Point (C/RW in Yahoo) vying for the two remaining first-unit spots, giving the Lightning serious bounce-back potential after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Other power-play units with high upside:

- Edmonton Oilers (5th): Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Mark Letestu, Oscar Klefbom. Other candidates: Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Strome, Jesse Puljujarvi. Key injury: Andrej Sekera.

- Boston Bruins (7th): Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy. Other candiates: Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner. Key injury: Torey Krug.

- Philadelphia Flyers (14th): Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Travis Konecny, Shayne Gostisbehere. Other candidates: Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Ivan Provorov.

- Winnipeg Jets (18th): Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien. Other candidates: Jacob Trouba, Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey.

- Chicago Blackhawks (19th): Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook. Other candidates: Patrick Sharp, Richard Panik, Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat.

 

MOST-IMPROVED UNITS:

Dallas Stars (20th): Two seasons ago, the Stars had the fourth-best power play (22.1 percent) with much of their current core of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and John Klingberg in place. After an underachieving season, a coaching change (hired Ken Hitchcock) and various offseason improvements, this sleeping giant could be awakened after replacing Sharp with right wing Alexander Radulov (NHL career-high 16 PPP with Montreal last season). Since 2014-15, Seguin (82 PPP; T-5th), Benn (79; T-9th) and Spezza (69; T-19th) each rank among the League leaders in PPP.

Video: ARI@DAL: Klingberg buries wicked wrister for PPG

Columbus Blue Jackets (12th): From the start of last season to Jan. 1, the Blue Jackets had the best power-play unit by far (27.5 percent through 35 games). But from that point to the end of the regular season (47 games), Columbus converted at 12.8 percent, second-worst in the League behind the Colorado Avalanche (12.0). Adding left wing Artemi Panarin, who combined for 41 PPP over his first two NHL seasons with the Blackhawks, should boost their first unit. Panarin is projected to join defenseman Zach Werenski, and forwards Cam Atkinson (contract year), Alexander Wennberg and Nick Foligno, on the first unit. Boone Jenner also had a strong PPP total (14) two seasons ago and is a potential net-front option to play on the first unit.

New York Rangers (T-10th): The Rangers traded first power-play fixture Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes, but signed Shattenkirk, who's second among defensemen in PPP (131) since 2011-12 behind Erik Karlsson (146). Shattenkirk could raise the bar for some of his new teammates, including forwards Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Rick Nash (contract year). Their other offensive defensemen, Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei, lose some fantasy appeal unless the Rangers go with a two-defenseman look on their primary unit. Dark-horse power-play options include forwards J.T. Miller and Pavel Buchnevich.

Other improved power-play units to consider:

- New Jersey Devils (22nd): Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Johansson, Adam Henrique, Damon Severson. Other candidates: Nico Hischier, Drew Stafford, Pavel Zacha, Will Butcher.

- Arizona Coyotes (26th): Stepan, Max Domi, Clayton Keller, Anthony Duclair, Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Other candidates: Dylan Strome, Christian Fischer, Christian Dvorak. Key injury: Jakob Chychrun.

- New York Islanders (28th): John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, Mathew Barzal, Nick Leddy. Other candidates: Joshua Ho-Sang, Ryan Pulock.

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