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Spezza, McDonagh among bounce-back candidates

by David Satriano

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was the Fantasy MVP last season and no doubt helped many who owned him to fantasy championships.

But it takes more than a great season from a goalie to win. You also need to be able to identify when to drop a player who is playing below his draft value. It's not easy dropping Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, who had 38 points one season after winning the Calder Trophy, but holding on to a player and waiting for them to turn the corner during a rough year can be costly.

Here are 10 players you can expect to have bounce back fantasy seasons:

Milan Lucic, LW, Los Angeles Kings -- Lucic is always coveted in fantasy hockey because he covers every offensive category (goals, assists, points, plus-minus) and also adds penalty minutes and hits. But last season was the worst of his career. In his first 37 games, Lucic had six goals, 18 points (four power-play points) and was a plus-3. In the remaining 44 games, he had 12 goals, 26 points, and was a plus-10. The 44 points and 141 shots on goal were his lowest in a full season since 2009-10, and the 81 penalty minutes were his fewest since 2012-13. He did have a career-high 259 hits, which ranked 10th in the League. Now with the Kings, and with better talent around him, Lucic should see a spike in his offensive numbers and peripherals as well.

Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, Colorado Avalanche -- The No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and Calder Trophy winner saw a drop in production across the board last season. In 2013-14, he played 82 games, had 24 goals, 63 points, was a plus-20, had eight power-play goals, 26 penalty minutes and 241 shots (10.0 shooting percentage). But the only number that increased was his penalty minutes (34); the goals (14), points (38), plus-minus (-7), power-play goals (three), shots (192) and shooting percentage (7.3 percent) all decreased. True, he missed 18 games with a broken foot, but he wasn't nearly as productive as he was in 2013-14. Expect his third season to be closer to his first, in terms of production.

Zdeno Chara, D, Boston Bruins -- One of the most coveted fantasy defenseman for the past decade, Chara's production took a hit last season. His eight goals and 20 points were his fewest in a full season since the 2000-01 season, showing how valuable he's been. In 63 games, Chara had 42 penalty minutes, four power-play goals and 138 shots on goal, and a zero plus-minus ranking, each low totals for him. He missed seven weeks with a knee injury, but hadn't been very productive prior to that, so it's tough to blame most of his disappointing season solely on the injury. In the past 10 full NHL seasons, Chara has averaged 13.7 goals, 42.8 points, 96 penalty minutes, 8.1 power-play goals and a plus-17.6 rating. Chara is the 48th-ranked defenseman on Yahoo!, but should be taken well above that number.

Jeff Skinner, LW/RW, Carolina Hurricanes -- Skinner has been in the League for five seasons, and 2014-15 was the first time in a non-shortened season that he scored fewer than 20 goals (18). He had 31 goals and 63 points in 2010-11 when he won the Calder Trophy. In 2013-14, Skinner had 33 goals, 54 points, 11 power-play goals and was a minus-14. He had fewer points (31) last season than goals the previous season and had fewer power-play goals (four) and 39 fewer shots on goal in six more games, and his shooting percentage fell from 12 percent to 7.7 percent. Playing on the first line with likely linemates Eric Staal and Elias Lindholm, expect Skinner to top 20 goals and 50 points.

Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Seventeen goals and 40 points are not what you expect from a six-time 20 goal scorer. Kunitz did have nine power-play goals, but was a plus-2 and had 170 shots, and a shooting percentage of 10 percent. In 2013-14, he had 35 goals, 68 points, was a plus-25, had 13 power-play goals and 218 shots (16.1 shooting percentage). The Penguins finished 19th in the League in scoring last season, but the addition of right wing Phil Kessel should help that, and Kunitz, who likely will skate on a line with Kessel and Sidney Crosby is primed for a bounce back season.

Matt Duchene, C/LW, Colorado Avalanche -- It was a difficult season for the Colorado Avalanche, failing to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Matt Duchene had 21 goals and 55 points which may seem like good numbers, but it was his second-lowest goal total in five full NHL seasons. The 55 points matched his total from his rookie season (2009-10) and more was expected from Duchene, especially after 23 goals, 70 points and 217 shots on goal. His plus/minus rating went from plus-8 to plus-3 and he had fewer penalty minutes (16) and power-play goals (two) in 11 more games. Because of his disappointing season, Duchene likely will still be around in the seventh or eighth round.

Mike Smith, G, Arizona Coyotes -- In 62 starts, Smith won 14 games and lost 47 last season and had the highest goals-against average of his career (3.16) and his lowest save percentage (.904) since 2010-11 when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He also failed to have a shutout for the first time in his nine-year career. It's difficult to imagine Smith not doing better than each of those totals this season, even if the Coyotes' offense (29th in goals per game last season) and defense (28th in goals allowed per game) aren't much improved. Coach Dave Tippett and general manager Don Maloney have continually expressed confidence in Smith and he should see another 60-plus starts this season, barring an injury.

Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers -- McDonagh, who sustained a broken foot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, said he is fully healed. After a career year in 2013-14 (14 goals, 43 points, plus-11, 36 penalty minutes, 177 shots on goal, 7.9 percent shooting percentage), the 26-year-old defenseman played more of a shutdown role last season. McDonagh scored eight goals, had 33 points, was a plus-23 and had 26 penalty minutes. The 148 shots and 5.3 shooting percentage were also lower than his previous season. Expect a 10-goal, 40-point season from McDonagh, who should finish higher than last season when he was tied for 43rd in goals among defenseman and tied for 45th in points.

Antti Niemi, G, Dallas Stars -- A change in scenery may be beneficial to Niemi, who struggled last season in San Jose. He went 31-23-7 in 61 games with five shutouts but had the highest GAA of his career (2.59). He's won at least 24 games in each of the past six seasons, although that number could slip this season, since he's slated to split time with Kari Lehtonen. The Stars have a high-powered offense, but they also have a suspect defense. But expect Niemi to improve on most numbers from last season, except the win total.

Jason Spezza, C, Dallas Stars -- Spezza struggled with 17 goals and 62 points, his fewest goals since his rookie season (2002-03) and his fewest points since the 2010-11 season. He's an eight-time 20 goal scorer, and the addition of Patrick Sharp creates one of the best top-six forward combinations in the League. Spezza likely will either be centering Sharp and Ales Hemsky or on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Either way, the 32-year-old Spezza is in line for a big offensive season for the Stars, who added punch this offseason to what was already one of the highest scoring teams in the League.


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