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Staal, Nash top fantasy bounce-back candidates

by Matt Cubeta

In 2012-13 Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog had nine goals and eight assists in 36 games after winning the Calder Trophy in 2011-12 (22 goals, 30 assists). He was a disappointment for his fantasy owners in his second NHL season. However, going into the 2013-14 season, many pegged the now 21-year-old Swedish forward as a prime bounce-back candidate. And he did exactly that last season.

Landeskog had 26 goals, 65 points, a plus-21 rating, 71 penalty minutes, 10 power-play points and 222 shots on goal. He ranked as the 29th-best player in Yahoo leagues. Any fantasy owner that picked him in the middle rounds or later during their draft got an absolute steal on their team. Landeskog's 2013-14 season is the definition of a bounce-back season.

Every season we see dozens of players fall short of expectations. And each following season some of them end up bouncing back to where we expect. Determining who will bounce back is the tough part. And that's where I come into play.

Below is a list of 10 players I believe will bounce back from disappointing 2013-14 seasons and why. All of these players appeared in at least 65 games last season ('s Pete Jensen will have his injury bounce-back feature story Sept. 9). Be sure to grab these guys on draft day; they should come at a discount considering the seasons they had in 2013-14.

1. Eric Staal, C, Carolina Hurricanes

2013-14: 79 games, 21 G, 40 A, minus-13, 74 PIMs, 12 PPP, 230 SOG

Ranked 75th in Yahoo leagues last season

Eric Staal has proven to be a consistent fantasy force for years prior to last year's disappointing season and Matt Cubeta believes he'll bounce back in 2014-15. (Photo: Getty Images)

Staal never may approach the kind of numbers he had in his second NHL season (45 goals, 100 points and 81 penalty minutes were all career-highs), but there still was something to be said for his consistency throughout his 10-season career. That was until last season when he finished with his worst statistical season since he was a rookie in 2003-04. During a seven-season span from 2006 until 2013 (excludes his rookie year, his 100-point season and last season as all three can be considered outliers), Staal averaged 30 goals, 71 points and 59 penalty minutes. He arguably was the most consistent player in the NHL and a sure-fire top-20 fantasy player each of those seasons. That's why last season was out of the ordinary for the 29-year-old forward. However, there are some clear-cut signs why he struggled: Linemate, Alexander Semin missed 17 games; Staal's power-play ice time was a career-low 3:20 per game; his shooting percentage was 9.1 percent on 230 shots on goal, both totals the lowest since his rookie season. All three of these factors played a major role in what was Staal's most disappointing NHL season. Expect these things to revert closer to the norm in 2013-14 and that should make Staal a very rewarding fantasy pick. Pencil him in for 30-plus goals, 75-plus points, 60-plus penalty minutes, solid power-play production and around 250 shots on goal. Look to draft him before the third round closes.

2. Rick Nash, LW/RW, New York Rangers

2013-14: 65 games, 26 G, 13 A, plus-10, 36 PIMs, 7 PPP, 258 SOG

Ranked 122nd in Yahoo leagues last season

According to, since 2012 no player with more than 100 games has averaged more goals per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 regular-season play than Nash. During that same time Nash also averaged more shots on goal per 60 minutes than any other NHL player. Last season was a nightmare for the power forward, but fantasy owners still should be looking at Nash as one of the premier goal-scorers and shooters in the League. The biggest reason for his disappointment last season was his power-play production. Nash averaged just 2:29 of man-advantage ice time per game, which translated into four goals and three assists on the power play; prior to last season Nash averaged 22 power-play points per season during his previous 10 seasons. The other prime reason for his lack of success was his 10.1 shooting percentage, which was 2.3 percentage points lower than his career-average of 12.4. A few more lucky bounces and Nash would have had 30 goals in 65 games last season. He'll likely line up on the Rangers' top line alongside Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider and he should also see an increase in power-play time in 2014-15. Many owners will be hesitant to draft Nash because of his disastrous playoff performance (3 G, 7 A in 25 games), but all of the reasons above point to Nash bouncing back in a big way. Look for him to return to his usual 30-goal, 65-point ways with solid peripheral stats. Target Nash in the late third round or possibly the early fourth and you'll be rewarded.

3. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

2013-14: 48 games, 23-15-4, 2.85 GAA, .915 SV%, 4 SO

Ranked 174th in Yahoo leagues last season

Braden Holtby
Braden Holtby
Goalie - WSH
RECORD: 23-15-4
GAA: 2.85 | SVP: .915
After a solid breakthrough season in 2012-13 (23-12-1, 2.58 GAA, .920 SV% and 4 SO), Holtby took a big step back last season. He appeared in 58.5 percent of his team's games, was dropped in several fantasy leagues and finished as the 30th-most valuable fantasy goalie. A lot of this had to do with the fact that former coach Adam Oates wanted him to change the way he played the position. With Oates gone and Barry Trotz and his defensive-minded system in place, Holtby should be in line for a tremendous improvement in 2014-15. Despite a disappointing season in 2013-14, Holtby had a .928 save percentage during even-strength play and the Capitals have added defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik into the mix. Add them along with Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner and the Capitals should have one of the deepest defense groups in the Eastern Conference. Another promising sign for Holtby was the hiring of goalie coach Mitch Korn, who was the Predators' goaltending coach for the past 16 years alongside Trotz. Korn has a way with goalies and should be able to get Holtby back on track. Holtby comes into the season as a borderline top-20 fantasy goalie and he certainly is capable of bouncing back after last season to finish as a top-15 goalie. Expect Holtby to put together his best season yet in 2014-15.

4. Dion Phaneuf, D, Toronto Maple Leafs

2013-14: 80 games, 8 G, 23 A, plus-2, 144 PIMs, 11 PPP, 145 SOG

Ranked 121st in Yahoo leagues last season

Phaneuf finished as the 18th-most valuable defensemen in Yahoo leagues last season. However, a lot of that value came from his 144 penalty minutes (third among defensemen). His eight goals and 0.39 points-per-game were the lowest of his nine-season NHL career. At 29 Phaneuf is capable of bringing his point totals back to what we've come to expect from him. Since debuting in the NHL in 2005, Phaneuf is the only defenseman with more than 300 points and 900 penalty minutes. His 371 points rank seventh for his position since the 2005-06 season and his 945 penalty minutes and 1,862 shots on goal are the most. Last season just wasn't what we're used to with Phaneuf. Still in the prime of his career, Phaneuf should be able to bounce back, especially when you consider he's the Maple Leafs' No. 1 defenseman and receives more than three minutes of power-play ice time per game. With his shot and the Leafs possessing a healthy amount of offensive weapons up front, Phaneuf could have 10-plus goals, 40-plus points, more than 100 penalty minutes and around 175 shots on goal. That type of stat line would make him a borderline top-10 defenseman.

5. Daniel Sedin (LW) and Henrik Sedin (C), Vancouver Canucks

D. Sedin 2013-14: 73 games, 16 G, 31 A, 38 PIMs, 18 PPP, 224 SOG

H. Sedin 2013-14: 70 games, 11 G, 39 A, plus-3, 42 PIMs, 18 PPP, 97 SOG

D. Sedin ranked 103rd in Yahoo leagues last season

H. Sedin ranked 155th in Yahoo leagues last season

Will the Sedin brothers be able to bounce back after disappointing seasons under former coach John Tortorella? (Photo: Getty Images)

Both players had their worst seasons since they became fantasy mainstays in 2005-06. Was it because of former coach John Tortorella and his different style of play? Was it because they're both getting older and starting to decline? Or was it simply an off season for them? I'm not sure, but either way both players are more than capable of bouncing back. They might not return to their elite ways as a top 10-15 fantasy player, but they can be top-50 players. Daniel had the lowest shooting percentage of his career at 7.1 percent. If that number returns closer to his career average of 11.9, he should score at least 25 goals, which also will result in Henrik getting a few more assists in 2014-15. Another reason both players should improve is the addition of Radim Vrbata to the roster. Vrbata, who should play on the right side of the Sedin line, will bring speed and a consistent goal-scoring touch to the trio. It was just a few seasons ago that both Sedins were viewed as first-round fantasy players. Look to grab Daniel in the late third round and Henrik in the early fifth round and it could end up being a great bargain.

6. Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, Florida Panthers

2013-14: 69 games, 9 G, 19 A, minus-5, 37 PIMs, 5 PPP, 108 SOG

Ranked 376th in Yahoo leagues last season

Huberdeau seems to be following the same path as Landeskog. He was the third pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, one spot after Landeskog. Landeskog won the Calder Trophy in 2012 and Huberdeau won it the following season. In Landeskog's second NHL season he struggled mightily. Last season, Huberdeau's second, he struggled mightily. Last season Landeskog erupted for a fantastic season. Will Huberdeau follow in kind one more time with a bounce-back 2014-15? I believe he will. In his rookie season Huberdeau had a 12.5 shooting percentage and his 82-game output would've been 24 goals, 29 assists, 15 power-play points and 191 shots on goal. Last season his shooting percentage dipped to 8.3, he missed 13 games because of injury and he never found his rhythm. With Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland in the mix offensively for the Panthers, Huberdeau should be looked at as a prime bounce-back candidate capable of reaching 25 goals, 55 points and 200-plus shots on goal. Add in the fact that he has center and left wing eligibility in Yahoo leagues and he could end up being a major bargain come draft day.

7. Bobby Ryan, LW/RW, Ottawa Senators

2013-14: 70 games, 23 G, 25 A, plus-7, 45 PIMs, 9 PPP, 190 SOG

Ranked 123rd in Yahoo leagues last season

Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan
Right Wing - OTT
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 48
SOG: 190 | +/-: 7
Last season started for Ryan as many hoped and expected, with 18 goals and 18 assists in his first 42 games. Then things began to tailspin and Ryan finished with five goals and seven assists in his final 28 games. Now he's viewed as a borderline sixth-round fantasy pick. For years Ryan's role on his team has been a bit unclear. When he was a member of the Anaheim Ducks he often played on the same line with superstars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, but he also was moved to the second line quite frequently. Perhaps there simply was too much firepower for one line. Last season, his first with the Senators, Ryan never seemed to gel alongside Jason Spezza, who since has been traded to the Dallas Stars. Ryan did end up finding chemistry with some other linemates: Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur. And for the first time in a long time, perhaps for the first time in his career, that line should return intact to start 2014-15. Ryan has immense talent and could reach the 30-goal, 60-point marks for the first time since 2010-11. He also has exceeded 50 penalty minutes three times in the past five seasons, proving his fantasy versatility. Ryan might be slipping to the sixth or seventh rounds in most draft, but with a clear role in Ottawa he has the potential to finish as a top-50 overall player this season.

8. Ryan Callahan, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

2013-14: 65 games, 17 G, 19 A, plus-1, 24 PIMs, 12 PPP, 163 SOG

Ranked 219th in Yahoo leagues last season

Callahan, 29, has been a productive fantasy player when he's healthy. During the 2010-11 season he missed 22 games but still managed 23 goals and 48 points. The following season was his best to date, with 29 goals and 54 points in 76 games. In 2012-13 he had 16 goals and 31 points in 45 games. Last season, though, he finished with his worst offensive totals since he became a full-time NHL player in 2008-09. Now with a six-year contract, Callahan should be ready to bounce back in his first full season with his new team while holding down second-line duties on the right wing. Callahan could find himself in a very fortunate spot with the Lightning: on the top power-play unit with Steven Stamkos. Since the 2009-10 season Callahan's 45 power-play goals are tied for ninth-most in the NHL. Callahan is a power-play specialist and he also averages 2.75 shots on goal per game throughout his career. And for those of you in leagues that count hits as a category, he'll be among the league leaders. Selecting Callahan late in your draft should pay off immensely.

9. Mike Green, D, Washington Capitals

2013-14: 70 games, 9 G, 29 A, minus-16, 64 PIMs, 15 PPP, 172 SOG

Ranked 190th in Yahoo leagues last season

Capitals defenseman Mike Green might not put up 70 points anymore, but he still has the potential to be a valuable fantasy player on the blue line. (Photo: Getty Images)

He's proven once in his career that he's capable of bouncing back after a disappointing season. In an injury-plagued 2011-12 season Green had three goals and four assists in 32 games. The following season he had 12 goals and 14 assists in 35 games. Those 12 goals led all NHL defensemen and his 26 points were 17th despite missing 13 games. This gave many fantasy owners the hope that Green was back to his old self and could be a top-10 fantasy defenseman going into last season. Unfortunately Green struggled and finished with nine goals and 38 points despite playing 70 games for the first time since 2009-10. Looking ahead to 2014-15, Green is young enough (28) to deliver another big season. Many fantasy owners will hesitate to draft him because of his disappointing 2013-14 season and because the Capitals brought in Niskanen, who could cut into Green's power-play ice time. However, the added depth on defense (the Capitals also signed Orpik) could alleviate some of the pressure Green has faced. With shut-down defensemen in place, Green can focus on being an offensive threat and that could mean good things for his fantasy owners. Green's minus-16 last season was the worst of his career, but expect that to change with Trotz at the helm. Even if Green doesn't receive the same amount of power-play time he did last season (2:45 per game), his floor is finishing as a top-150 player with potential for even more.

10. Dustin Brown, LW/RW, Los Angeles Kings

2013-14: 79 games, 15 G, 12 A, plus-7, 66 PIMs, 4 PPP, 195 SOG

Ranked 199th in Yahoo leagues last season

Many fantasy drafters will avoid Brown on draft day. Don't be one of them. He might be coming off the worst statistical season of his career, but at 29 years old there's plenty of reason to believe he can right the ship in 2014-15. For starters Brown will begin the season on the top line with Anze Kopitar (No. 17 in's overall fantasy rankings) and sniper Marian Gaborik (No. 53). Secondly, his 7.7 shooting percentage on 195 shots last season was the lowest of his career; his career average is 10.1. Another reason to draft Brown is that he is one of the few players capable of providing value in all fantasy categories. While his power-play production was abysmal last season (one goal, three assists), he received 2:07 of man-advantage ice time per game, a sign that could point to more production in this category this season. He'll have a great plus-/minus playing on an elite offensive and defensive team and is no stranger to the penalty minutes category, having averaged 52 per season during his 10-season career. As for his shots on goal coverage, Brown has averaged 193 shots per season during his career. If you're able to draft Brown in any of the final three rounds of your draft, you very well could end up with a top-100 fantasy player by season's end.

Other bounce-back candidates: Ryan Kesler (Anaheim Ducks), Dan Boyle (New York Rangers), Mike Smith (Arizona Coyotes), Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers), Mike Ribeiro (Nashville Predators)


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