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Fantasy: Shocking midseason player comparisons

Many high draft picks have been outperformed by late-round steals

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / NHL.com Senior Fantasy Editor

There are plenty of surprises and disappointments across the League this season, so let's take a quick look at some of the many shocking player comparisons.

Each of the 30 NHL teams has played at least 43 games entering Friday, and a look at Yahoo average draft position, current rank and standard category statistics has yielded some shocking findings.

Below are comparisons of two players at each of the five positions (based on Yahoo eligibility). One player was either a breakout, sleeper or bounce-back candidate at the beginning of the season, and the other was widely regarded as a player worth drafting in the early rounds of a fantasy draft. Looking at these numbers side by side likely will have many fantasy owners scratching their heads.

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Anze Kopitar, C, LAK (ADP: 29.4; Current rank: 231)

39 games (20:43 per game), 24 points, even rating, 12 PIMs, 6 PPP, 78 SOG

Alexander Wennberg, C, CBJ (ADP: 153.2; Current rank: 62)

44 games (18:29 per game), 36 points, plus-7, 13 PIMs, 18 PPP, 59 SOG

Kopitar may shoulder a heavier workload on a nightly basis, but he and Wennberg are definitely comparable as top-line centers for their respective teams. Wennberg has had better, more stable linemates with the Columbus Blue Jackets (Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno) at even strength than Kopitar, but it's absolutely stunning to see Wennberg triple Kopitar's power-play output with only a five-game difference in games played. Kopitar remains a buy-low candidate with the Los Angeles Kings and Wennberg a sell-high one, but the average draft positions remind us how little name value can mean sometimes in fantasy.

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Jamie Benn, LW, DAL (ADP: 4.8; Current rank: 46)

43 games (19:55 per game), 38 points, minus-10, 41 PIMs, 13 PPP, 101 SOG

James van Riemsdyk, LW, TOR (ADP: 124.8; Current rank: 49)

43 games (15:48 per game), 37 points, minus-4, 20 PIMs, 13 PPP, 117 SOG

Benn was a consensus top five fantasy pick for the Dallas Stars, and van Riemsdyk was coming off an injury-ravaged season for the young, rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs. But the Maple Leafs have burst onto the fantasy scene earlier than expected with three standout rookies in Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander spread out onto three strong lines, with Marner and van Riemsdyk on the same line. If you take away hits and penalty minutes, JVR has been more valuable than Benn despite a glaring difference in ADP. The Stars' injuries and defensive issues are partly to blame for Benn's disappointing season, but the fact that Benn and JVR are even comparable statistically is an example of how bounce-back upside can pay off in the later rounds.

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Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, COL (ADP: 51.8; Current rank: 131)

43 games (20:13 per game), 31 points, minus-13, 4 PIMs, 9 PPP, 144 SOG

Charlie Coyle, C/RW, MIN (ADP: 159.1, Current rank: 58)

44 games (17:31 per game), 36 points, plus-14, 22 PIMs, 7 PPP, 87 SOG

There were some concerns surrounding MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche when Patrick Roy resigned Aug. 11. Also, MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog missed some of training camp under new coach Jared Bednar when competing in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. That said, MacKinnon dazzled for Team North America and was among the top 50 picks in most fantasy drafts based on upside. Coyle of the Minnesota Wild went undrafted in many formats, but has outperformed MacKinnon in goals, assists, plus/minus and penalty minutes with a similar PPP total. Each plays on the top line for their respective teams, but Coyle's chemistry with the resurgent Eric Staal has been the biggest difference as MacKinnon and Duchene have struggled on separate lines.

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Shayne Gostisbehere, D, PHI (ADP: 53.7; Current rank: 221)

43 games (19:59 per game), 19 points, minus-17, 20 PIMs, 12 PPP, 106 SOG

Justin Schultz, D, PIT (ADP: 138.5; Current rank: 69)

44 games (18:55 per game), 30 points, plus-24, 12 PIMs, 9 PPP, 79 SOG

These defensemen were polar opposites entering the season in terms of fantasy expectations. Each offers exposure to a potent offense, but Schultz is having a career year, taking advantage of an expanded role with so many injuries on the Pittsburgh Penguins defense. It's been a sophomore slump for Gostisbehere, who didn't even find his groove during the Philadelphia Flyers' 10-game winning streak from Nov. 27 to Dec. 14. He did not play Dec. 11 because of a hand injury and had no goals, five assists and 12 SOG in the other nine games combined. Gostisbehere has even been a healthy scratch at times this season. The Flyers have three wins in 14 games since their win streak ended, and Gostisbehere has three assists and is minus-12 in the span. Schultz, meanwhile, has 25 points and is plus-18 in 22 games since Nov. 30, and has even closed the gap on Gostisbehere's area of specialty (PPP).

Video: PIT@NJD: Schultz roofs one over Schneider late in 2nd

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Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (ADP: 34.3; Current rank: 339)

33 games, 19-12-1, 2.86 GAA, .902 SV%, 1 SO

Cam Talbot, G, EDM (ADP: 148.0; Current rank: 68)

42 games, 24-12-6, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV%, 3 SO

There is a stark contrast between the performance of these former teammates this season. Lundqvist is having the worst season statistically in his NHL career, and Talbot has reaped the benefits of having Connor McDavid as his teammate with the Edmonton Oilers through the first three months of the season. Talbot, known for his efficiency as a backup with the New York Rangers in 2013-14 and 2014-15, has translated quality peripherals to the heaviest workload in the NHL (42 starts, first in NHL). The Rangers have survived Lundqvist's struggles because of Antti Raanta's emergence and their high-powered offense (3.50 goals per game, second in NHL). That said, there's no debate about who the more consistent goalie has been this season, in fantasy and reality. There always seems to be a sleeper goalie who pays off big for fantasy owners, and Talbot is the prime example for this season.

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