All offseason long, NHL.com will cover all the angles leading up to your fantasy hockey draft. For some of the most compelling debates, our fantasy staffers will compare two players at a given position in the same projected draft range.
Value is quantified based on factors including (but not limited to) line combinations, power-play usage, team goalie situations, injury history, bounce-back, breakout or sleeper potential, possible regression and age. Once each writer has made his argument, fans can cast their votes in our @NHLFantasy Twitter poll.
Today, we compare centers Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals:
NOTE: Standard Yahoo categories include goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, power-play points and shots on goal for skaters, and wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts for goalies.
DAVID SATRIANO: Backstrom is one of the most underrated players not only in the NHL, but in fantasy as well. Last season, he was drafted 34th on average and finished No. 10 among all players, and was quietly second in the League in assists (63) and fourth in points (86). In the past four seasons, he's had at least 18 goals, 50 assists, 70 points and 30 power-play points. Backstrom was a plus-17 in each of his past two seasons and had taken at least 36 penalty minutes in each of his past three seasons.
Backstrom, 29, has 540 assists since his rookie season in 2007-08, and his 728 points (in 734 games) since then rank sixth in the League. Although Backstrom's SOG totals may not be high (162 last season; two times more than 200 SOG in 10 seasons), his value is seen virtually across the board and he should be selected above Eichel.
BEN ZWEIMAN: It was unfortunate that Eichel was forced to miss the first 21 games of last season because of a high ankle sprain. Had Eichel not sustained that injury, he would have likely finished in the top 20 forward group. The 20-year-old center was nearly a point-per-game player, finishing with 57 (24 goals, 33 assists) in 61 games. He had 249 shots on goal, eclipsing his total from his rookie season by 11 despite playing 20 fewer games. Eichel also set an NHL career high with 24 power-play points (10 goals, 14 assists). The only knock on Eichel's stat line was his plus/minus (minus-13), widely because of the Sabres' struggles. However, Buffalo made moves to solidify its defense (Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu) while maintaining a solid top-six forward group.
Sure, Backstrom is the safer pick here. He's proven that he can be an elite fantasy contributor season in and season out. But if you're trying to win a championship, Eichel could be the key ingredient. He has the clear edge in shots, that's no question. If Eichel can stay healthy for a full season, he'd also have the potential to surpass Backstrom in goals, points and PP points. It should also be mentioned that the Capitals have lost multiple key players from last season, including forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner. Those losses could cut into Backstrom's edge in plus/minus.
Video: TOR@BUF: Eichel pots backhand goal on breakaway