• Marcus Bender

Fantasy Hockey: Sniping That Surprise Top D

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

In 2019-2020, Tony DeAngelo came out of literal nowhere to become a Beast of the Fantasy World.

He exploded for 53 Points in 68 Games making him the 4th highest scoring D in the League. He was one of the biggest draft / FA Pick Up Steals of the 2019-2020 Season. Props to whoever ended up finding this gem.

Here’s the question. Could we have seen this coming? Was there any piece of information which would have suggested this level of production?

Most importantly, who will be next year’s Tony DeAngelo?

Every Year There is a D

It's the same for every position, but here’s an interesting observation. Every year there are a few Defencemen who seemingly come out of nowhere to become Top Assets. Every year this happens.

Two year ago it was Erik Gustafsson who put up 60 Points after a previous career high of 16 Points. Fantasy GMs who managed to snipe this rising meteor were extremely pleased he emerged as a Top 10 D on the season. Who saw that coming?

Three years ago it was Shayne Gostisbehere. You guys remember this. Out of nowhere like a Comet striking Hockey Fantasy Land, dropping 65 Points in 78 Games. Like a Ghostbear jumping out of the bushes, he shook the Fantasy Hockey Realm. The following season, like a Ghost, he was practically invisible. It would have been great to have him that first year. Now, it's terrible to have him. It almost doesn't make any sense.

The year before that it was Zach Werenski. The year before that it was John Klingberg.

We could go on and on naming Defencemen who seemingly come out of thin air to suddenly become Prime Fantasy Assets. This may seem like a banal observation, but it's important to note it happens every year.

With that in mind, we would like to be able to put ourselves into a position to pick up this year's Defenceman Surprise.

Strategy: Have at least one, if not two, Defencemen Roster Spots open, and put yourself in a position to get lucky by plucking this year’s Surprise D.

The key to this strategy will be to keep a "nimble" roster. Be prepared in late October, early November (or early season) to quickly be able to pivot to this year's Flavour of the Year. This means being very risky, and aiming for the fences, on the lower end of your Roster. Especially Defencemen.

So, how can we spot next year’s Surprise D?

As with anything in Fantasy Hockey, nothing is an exact science and could change on a dime. However, there are some signs which might point us in the right direction.

Sign #1: Power Play Ice Time

The first thing to identify with any Team in the NHL is the Top D on the Team. The Top D (Fantasy-wise) generally means the Defenceman getting the most Power Play Time (PPTOI). For most teams, this is pretty easy to identify.

I like to use a website called Quanthockey.com. You can sort a Team’s stats by PPTOI, and you can customize the dates. This can be a very useful tool.

So here’s how we are going to use this tool. First, let’s identify the Top D on every team based on PPTOI. Let’s start with the sure thing bets:

  • Washington Capitals: John Carlson

  • Nashville: Josi

  • Tampa Bay: Hedman

  • Florida: Yandle

  • Los Angeles: Doughty

Many Teams are very open and transparent about who their Top PP D man is. It is very unlikely our Surprise D comes from one of these Teams. We'll want to look at other Teams where the Top D hasn't yet been identified.

Take for example the Winnipeg Jets in 2019-2020.

Going into the season, they didn’t really have a Top D. Jacob Trouba had just left, and Big Buff was, well who knows where Big Buff was last season. The Jets going into the season have no real Top D. This is a factor to identify.

We know this is going to be a very cushy position. The Jets have a very potent PP with Wheeler, Schiefele and Laine, so for Fantasy purposes it’s very easy to see whoever ends up being the Top D in Winnipeg is going to be a steal for the season.

We’ve now identified a potential steal simply by identifying a power vacuum in an important positional steal. Now, how can we identify this player?

Going into the Season, most people thought Josh Morrissey would emerge as that player.

Indeed, Morrissey started out in the driver’s seat. If we filter Winnipeg’s PPTOI for the month of October, Morrissey initially did emerge as the Top D.

October PPTOI

Josh Morrissey PPTOI: 3:40

Neal Pionk PPTOI: 2:54

Morrissey starts out the Season as the Top D in Winnipeg averaging nearly 45 seconds more per game on the PP. Let’s move on to November.

November PPTOI

Morrissey PPTOI: 2:18

Neal Pionk PPTOI: 2:00

As we can see, from October to November, Pionk is closing the gap in average Power Play Time. This would indicate the Coach is gaining more confidence in Pionk.

December PPTOI

Morrissey PPTOI: 1:14

Neal Pionk PPTOI: 3:05

By December, it’s clear Pionk has displaced Morrissey at the Top PP.

It is at this point, or just before this, we would have liked picking up Pionk. From this point on, he went from being a largely an undrafted player, to a Top 50 Asset in less than a month.

Could we have seen this coming?

The answer is “sort of”.

It’s probably impossible to have imagined Pionk having the success he did. But it is possible to put ourselves in a position to succeed.

This is the key point to remember: We don’t need to be 100% accurate in our evaluation of future success (in fact, that’s impossible). What we would like however, is to be able to put ourselves in a position to get lucky.

In this case, this would have meant recognizing the gradual tilt in PPTOI from Morrissey towards Pionk. If you can identify this back in mid November when the trend really started to emerge, this would have been the time to pick up Pionk. In hindsight, it's kind of obvious. But you have to be able to make the observation first.

PPTOI is one of the most important stats for us to focus on in order to be able to determine future success. This goes for every position, but it is especially important, and obvious, for Defencemen.

Strategy: Read Gamelogs, and look for changes in PPTOI, especially for Defencemen on any given team.

Using Junior Stats to pick out Gems

Let’s get back to the Rangers.

At the beginning of the season, it wasn’t really clear who would be the Top D in New York. Jacob Trouba had just signed a major contract, and after a career season in Winnipeg putting up 50 Points, Trouba seemed to be on the inner track for the job. Let’s look at PPTOI:

October PPTOI

Trouba: 3:34

DeAngelo: 2:12

Adam Fox: 1:54

It’s clear early on Trouba is the #1 D. DeAngelo is #2, and Fox is even another player to keep an eye on. But it doesn't stay this way. Let’s look at November.

November PPTOI

Fox: 3:00

DeAngelo: 2:48

Trouba: 1:53

It’s clear by this time Trouba has dropped from #1 to #3 in terms of PPTOI. Those of us who had picked Trouba early on (like myself), are at this point panicking. But the observant Poolie will be taking notes and making adjustments.

In November, Adam Fox seems to be the trending towards the #1 D. But you also can see from the closeness of the ice times, the coach still hasn’t finalized that decision. Things seem to keep changing.

By the end of November, all we have really identified is:

  1. Trouba is losing his #1 PP job.

  2. Either Fox or DeAngelo is going to take it.

  3. This is significant, as this position will be a plume job playing with Zibanegood and The Bread Man.

That being the case, near the end of November, picking up either Fox or DeAngelo would seem like a very good idea.

Except, the ice times are close. It's almost a coin flip. The question is, how do we decide between these two?

Strategy: When trying to decide between two relatively equal players, without other better information available, have a look at their Junior Stats.

Okay, so let’s take a look at Junior Stats. I like to use hockeydb.com to do this. In the absence of other solid information, I like to look at Junior Stats.

Let's start with Trouba’s Junior Stats. He’s never really had much offensive success. His best offensive Junior Season was in University Hockey, and it isn’t really much to write home about. Having looked at his Junior Stats, it’s hard to imagine this player ever being a major offensive threat in the NHL. With the exception of a career season 2018-2019, Trouba has done exactly what is expected of him. He is a very solid defensive defenceman, which is great for the Team. But not so great for Fantasy (points wise).

So, how about Fox and DeAngelo?

Adam Fox did have some big seasons playing for Harvard in the ECAC. But that’s a pretty low-level league, in which Adam Fox, a Defenceman, was the leading scorer. So, not bad. But not great. How about DeAngelo?

The first thing that jumps out about DeAngelo, is his 71 Points in 51 Games with the Sarnia Sting back in 2013-14. He followed that season up with two seasons of over a point a game average. This is significant for a Defenceman, especially in the OHL. We have learned by looking at the Junior Stats that DeAngelo has a massive offensive upside.

Going back to November. At this point we’ve identified it's going to be either Fox or DeAngelo. We want to put ourselves in a position to get lucky. PPTOI was relatively the same between these two players, so we go back to look at Junior Stats.

DeAngelo emerges as having a bigger offensive upside. This doesn’t mean necessarily that DeAngelo is will beat out Fox for that coveted #1 Spot. However, it does mean if DeAngelo succeeds it will be a more significant success than if it is Fox.

Therefore, we pick up DeAngelo. We might ultimately end up being wrong about this, but given the data at hand, we have put ourselves into a position to "get lucky".

Had we listened to this data, we would have been very pleased to snipe a Top Asset on Defence essentially for free. That's quite a boost for our Pool.

To Summarize:

  1. There is always a Defenceman who emerges as a Top D asset which usually appears in the first 1-2 months of the Season.

  2. You'll want to put yourself into a position to snipe this player off of FA.

  3. Identify Teams which have no clear Top D.

  4. Compare PPTOI, and notices changes (either a coaching change, injury, or other).

  5. Check Junior Stats.

  6. Be aggressive and risky with your final D Roster Spot. Rotate it quickly, and try to snipe that Top D Gem early.

  7. This can help you win your Pool.

Strategy Review:

Strategy: Have at least one, if not two, Defencemen Roster Spots open. Put yourself in a position to get lucky by plucking this year’s Surprise D.

Strategy: Read Gamelogs, and look for changes in PPTOI for any reason (injury, coaching change or otherwise), especially for Defencemen, on any given team.

Strategy: When trying to decide between two relatively equal players, without other better information available, have a look at their Junior Stats.

Thank you for reading this week's Hockey Minute Fantasy Column. Next week, we will try to identify next year's D Surprise, but in the meantime. Using these strategies, can you identify next year's D Surprise?

If you are interested, please check out our podcast and our other Blog Entries. Comments and Feedback are always welcome. Thank you again! And don't forget to keep your stick on the ice!


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