Fantasy Hockey: The Top Eight
Andrew Dewhirst takes a look at the top four teams in each conference and analyzes each of their lines, and what it means in terms of fantasy hockey
This is the best line in hockey, and the Bruins ability to make a long playoff run will be largely dependant on how well they play. The combination of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak combined for the highest goals of any line this year, and they also function as the shutdown line for the Bruins.
A new line combination for the Bruins prior to the layoff, so don’t be surprised if you see DeBrusk up on the wing with Krejci and either Ritchie or Kase move down. In either combination, this isn’t going to be a line that teams game plan around, but it will be important for the Bruins to get some production from this line if they are going to make a long run. They will also need to at least hold their own against other team’s top six from a defensive perspective as well.
Much like Line 2, the Bruins will need the third line to chip in some goals and play sound defence. The names are liable to move around, but they will need to be able to eat minutes for the team. If the Bruins have to play their top line over 20 minutes per night they could struggle as the rounds go on.
Don’t expect to see this line much for than a few minutes per night to provide some energy.
From a fantasy lens, neither of these players is particularly exciting. Neither will see any significant power-play time. From a real-life perspective, Chara’s size and reach still offer him some advantages even as his foot speed has slowed, and McAvoy’s skating allows him to clear the puck effectively out of the defensive zone.
Defense Pair 2:
Krug is the top offensive option for the Bruins. He had 17 more points than the next highest defenceman (McAvoy) while playing fewer minutes per game and seven fewer games. Krug will be the primary power-play option Carlo functions essentially as the defensive ying, to Krug’s offensive yang.
Defense Pair 3:
Grzelcyk is an interesting player for fantasy purposes. He stepped in while Krug was injured and ran the powerplay effectively. Otherwise, this pairing will only see about 14 minutes per night, maybe a little less in the playoffs.
There isn’t much left for Rask to prove. He led the league in goals-against this year and had a 0.929 save percentage. He will be the man in net for the Rask. Halak did a fine job as the backup this year proving to be very capable in that role. I wouldn’t expect him to carry the load, but if he needs to fill in for a game here or there
PP1: Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak - DeBrusk - Krug
PP2: Ritchie - Krejci - Coyle - Kase - Grzelcyk
This group was the second best in the league during the regular season converting on 25% of their opportunities. There are typically fewer penalties called in playoff hockey but converting at this clip should prove to be a big weapon for the Bruins.
The Bruins also feature one of the top penalty-killing units in the league, with an 84.3% success rate, which was good enough or third in the league.
This is an experienced group, most of these players were on the team that went to the finals last year, and many have won the cup before. They have strong goaltending, special teams and perhaps the most unique strength of the Bruins is their top line. Serving as both one of the most productive offensive lines in hockey, while also being a line that can shut down the top line of opposing teams. If you’re going to beat the Bruins you’re going to need to do it with depth.
Secondary scoring. 47% of all of the team’s goals came from Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Marchand. If that line ends up only being a wash, the Bruins could be in trouble. They will need to see scoring from the likes of DeBrusk, Coyle, Krejci, Kase, Krug, and others if the Bruins are going to make a deep run and win the Cup this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning
When this line was together, it was among the best in hockey. Jon Cooper experimented throughout the season with moving Stamkos around, and I suspect we might still see this a bit in the playoffs from time to time to try and get some scoring on other lines. However, if the Lightning is in need of a goal, this will be the go-to trio.
This line didn’t have a lot of time to gel after Coleman was acquired, but if they can get it together this line could be very effective for the Lightning. In a full season, all three players would have scored 20 goals, and Killorn quietly was on his way to passing the 30 goal mark. Cirelli and Coleman are also not afraid to throw their body around. I expect this line to see 15-17 minutes per night, and to potentially be a catalyst for the Lightning in these playoffs.
As far as third lines go, this one is among the more capable. All three players have had 20 goal season as recently as last year, but all had less productive years this year. If his line can produce goals on a semi-regular basis, then the Lightning will be dangerous in these playoffs.
This line will bring the energy for the Lightning, and lots of hits. All 3 players average more than a hit per game in limited minutes. Look for them to come out, throw their weight around and maybe draw some penalties too.
Hedman has the ability to affect the game in all facets. I’m not certain that Ruuta will be his partner, but either way, expect to see a lot of Hedman as he averaged nearly 25 minutes per night.
Both players enjoyed solid seasons this year. Shattenkirk had a bit of a resurgence in the points department, while Sergachev continues to grow and solidify as a top four defenseman.
I am not certain if they will play together 100% of the time, but both have eaten minutes for the Lightning this year, and don’t expect to see either of them on the scoresheet often.
Vasilevskiy had a down year after winning the Vezina in 2019. He is very capable, and at one point this year was almost unbeatable for ten straight games. He has something to prove after having a really poor playoff performance last year, and I expect him to perform significantly better. McElhinney has proven capable in spirts, but if the Lightning needs to use him for a significant period of time, they could be in trouble
PP 1: Stamkos - Point - Kucherov - Hedman - Johnson
PP 2: Killorn - Cirelli - Palat - Sergachev - Gourde
This was a top five unit through the regular season, scoring at a 23% clip. Expect teams to do their best to keep from putting this unit on the ice. They can be a difference-maker!
As a group, Tampa’s power play was in the top half of the league this year. They are capable of neutralizing other team’s power play on most nights.
Few teams have the star power that the Lightning have. They have a superstar at nearly every position with Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, and Vasilevskiy. They also have lots of depth and should be able to roll three lines and keep their top-line fresh.
If this team has a weakness, it is the lack of a true shutdown forward line, and a lack of overall grit.
When you’re top-line features the best goal scorer of their generation (maybe of all time) you always have a place to start. Backstrom does the distribution, and Wilson takes care of the dirty areas. They won’t wow you defensively, which could limit how much time they see late in games especially on the road.
This line accounted for 70 goals for the Caps this year, that is only 5% less than the top line, and in some ways, because the scoring distribution is more even, they can be more dangerous (Ovi scored nearly 60% of the goals that the first line produced).
This line will prove important for the Caps. They aren’t a real checking third line, but they can back some scoring punch. Eller might have hit the 20 goal mark, and Kovalchuk seemed rejuvenated after he left Los Angeles. It will be important that they play good defense though, so they don’t get exposed against top lines on the road.
Like many fourth lines, this one will see the ice about five times per game, and they are there to bring energy and some physicality. Don’t expect to see them on the score sheet.
Believe it or not, a team with a bonafide legend, and 50 goal scorer, had defensemen lead them in scoring. Carlson was as good offensively as you will see from his position, and Kempny more than adequately held down the fort while he did so.
You don’t find much scoring punch for Dillon and Orlov, their primary purpose will be to keep the puck out of the net.
Much like Dillon and Orlov, the value of this pairing will be to eat minutes and play good defense for 15 minutes per night.
Holtby is a seasoned veteran who has been there before for the Caps but is on the backend of his career. I don’t expect him to steal any games for them. I actually expect the full-time job to be Samsonov’s by the end of the playoffs. He was the better of the two during the regular season, and he should be the goalie of the future in Washington.
PP1 Ovechkin - Backstrom - Wilson - Oshie - Carlson
PP2 Ovechkin - Kuznetsov - Vrana - Kovelchuk - Orlov
Surprisingly, the third highest-scoring team in the league was only the 17th best team on the power play. Having said that, they have all of the tools to be as good as anyone on the power-play so don’t be surprised if they get on a roll.
The Capitals had the sixth best penalty kill during the regular season. Don’t expect to see many short-handed goals from them as they play a conservative style on the PK.
Experience and depth are the biggest strengths for the Caps. They feature six twenty-goal scorers and a Norris-worthy defensemen.
Goaltending. While Holtby has won a cup, he hasn’t really been at his best since winning the Stanley Cup back in 2018. If the Caps make an early exit, I expect goalie play will be the reason.
Couturier is quietly a star, and one of the league’s best two-way players. He will see the majority of his time against the opposition’s top line. This combination will still need to score, but if they can score more than they give up, it should mean good things for the Flyers.
Hayes and Konecny were the top two scorers for the Flyers this year, and JVR just missed 20 goals in spite of missing time this year. They should have an opportunity to shine in these playoffs.
This line will be leaned on to be physical, and play solid defence. They likely won’t pack much scoring punch, but they are capable of taking on the oppositions top 6, to create an advantage for the Flyers top 6.
A gritty 4th line, that should bring some energy for the Flyers.
Proverov will be asked to play big minutes between regular duties and the power play. His big shot is a weapon from the point. Niskanen is steady defensively and is also capable of chipping in something offensively as well.
Sanheim has been a minutes eater for the Flyers all year. He has proven himself as a good puck-moving defenseman and has found his way onto the score sheet at 40+ points per game clip.
A skilled skating defenceman still lives in Gosisbehere somewhere, it wasn’t long ago that he was running the PP for the Flyers. Hagg will bring the body as much as he can and will help energize the team with big hits.
Hart broke out in the last two months of the season, posting a sub 2.00 goals against, and a 0.934 save percentage. For the Flyers to make a long playoff run they will need their young goalie to win them some games. Elliott is a reasonable stop-gap, but he is unlikely to be the guy who takes the team on a deep playoff run.
PP1: Konecny - Couturier - Voracek - Giroux - Proverov
PP2: Grant - Hayes - Aube-Kubel - Sanheim - Niskanen
The Flyers feature a decent power play. The converted at a 20.3% pace which was good enough for 14th best in the league. To look at it on the bright side, they don’t rely on their PP units to score, and were still one of the four best teams in the East, which is important when you move into the playoffs when penalties are called less often.
The Flyers penalty kill was an above-average unit this year. They have enough skilled defensive players however to shut down other teams when the game in on the line.
Two-way play. The Flyers were in the top third of the league this year in both goals for and goals against. They are strong down the middle and feature a 5-6 wingers who can score.
Experience is the biggest weakness for the Flyers. They haven’t made a deep playoff run in a while, and they will be using a 21-year-old goalie. However, not having to play in front of hostile crowds should help even the playing field for them.
St Louis Blues
Not a top line that you would expect to be concerned about Schwartz and Schenn both passed the 20 goal mark and as a line they are capable of keeping other teams top lines in check.
O’Reilly leads the team in points, while Perron leads the team in goals. This line does it all, they have grit, they can score, and O’Reilly is the reigning Selke and Conn Smythe winner as the league’s top defensive forward, so they will see tough minutes in the playoff, and he should be ready for it.
This might be the best third line in hockey. Sanford and Thomas enjoyed a bit of a breakout season. If they had played out a full season we might of see 50 points for Thomas, and 20 goals for Sanford, while playing around 14 minutes a night.
Not to be completely outdone, Dunqvist and Barashev both scored over ten goals this season in around 13 minutes per night.
Pietrangelo enjoyed somewhat of a career year, after winning the Cup the previous season, which is impressive. Faulk has played well beside Pietrangelo but might not flash the same point totals.
Parayko might be the best defenseman no one talks about. He averaged 23 minutes per night, and the play of this pairing really creates a 1a and 1b scenario from a defensive perspective.
It was a bit of a down season for Dunn, seeing his point total drop by over ten. Bortuzzo is a bit of a wild card and could be in and out of the Blues lineup depending on how he plays as he tends to play on the edge, and bad penalties can be a problem for him.
Binnington and Allen stack up as well as any goalie combination in the playoffs. Binnington is now a proven performer, and Allen was able to show this year that he is worthy of being a number one.
PP1: Tarasenko - Schenn - O’Reilly - Perron - Pietrangelo
PP2: Schwartz - Thomas - Perron - Dunn - Parayko
The Blues had the third best power play in the league this year at 24.3%. If they can keep that, nearly one in four, pace up in the playoffs they will be in good shape.
Oddly for a team that is as focused on defence as the Blues, they were in the bottom half of the league on the penalty kill. I likely wouldn’t worry too much about it, if they have the talent to kill a penalty when needed.
Team defense. Every line on this team plays good defense, and getting a healthy Tarasenko back helps provide some scoring punch to a team that was 11th in the league in total scoring. While their top two lines do much of the damage, they have enough depth to get scoring from their third and fourth lines as well.
The one disadvantage of spreading the scoring out as much as St. Louis does is that when you need a goal, there isn’t one certain place you can go and find it. Tarasenko will help that a bit, but if he is rusty (and he very well could be), playing from behind could be an issue.
When healthy this line is among the league’s best. MacKinnon is a top five player in the league and only getting better, Rantanen is capable of scoring 40 goals, and Landeskog will likely win at least one Selke trophy before his time is up.
This line is a bit of a tough read due to injuries throughout the year. Each of the three is capable of scoring 20 goals over a season, and Kadri brings a lot of energy and grit, however, their lack of experience together leaves me bearish on them as a collective.
As a third line, they should be capable, but as a group, they are somewhat of a group of cast-offs. For the Avs to be successful in these playoffs they will need to get quality minutes from this line and have them chip in some scoring.
This line will likely be a mix and match as the Avs will rely on this group to bring energy each night.
Makar started to make his mark in last year’s playoffs when we saw a glimpse into what would become not just a likely Calder winning campaign, but what might be the start of the career to what could be a generational offensive defenseman. Graves takes on the defensive role but still provides some offence.
While technically the second pairing, Girard and Johnson play the most minutes. Girard has shown flashes of offence, and Johnson remains a steadying presence on the blue line.
Cole and Zadorov played well for the Avs and play more than most third pairings at 17 minutes per night. They won’t fill up the stat sheet but should play a key role in the Avs success.
Grubauer and Francouz shared the starts this year nearly 50/50, and both performed well in their starts. I expect Grubauer to get the start and Francouz to see time should he struggle. This should prove advantageous, allowing the team to ride the hot goalie.
PP1: Kadri - MacKinnon - Rantanen - Makar - Landeskog
PP2: Burakovsky - Jost - Nishushkin - Johnson - Girard
The Avs power play struggled at times this year finishing the year as the 19th best power play. I expect injuries played a prominent role in that, but they will need the power play to be better if they are going to make a run at the cup.
The Avalanche’s penalty kill was average in the league last year. The key for them will be ensuring that they don’t burn out their top players like Landeskog killing penalties.
The Avs are a young top-heavy team. They shouldn’t struggle to score, and both of their goalies are capable which should allow them to ride whichever goalie is playing best.
The Avs are a team that could struggle defensively especially playing against top competition night in and night out. They have some individuals that are capable of shutting down the other team’s top player but they will need to show it as a team.
Vegas Golden Knights
Prior to the break, Smith was on his way to a 30+ goal year, while Marchessault was on his way to cementing himself as a consistent 60-point player. This is a line with more than enough scoring prowess that the opposition will take notice.
While listed as the second line, it is easy to make the case that this is actually Vegas top line. Pacioretty had a big bounce back this year passing the 30-goal mark for the first time in his last three seasons, while Stone has established himself has a point per game player and a perennial Selke contender. Stastny has filled this role for part of the year, as has Chandler Stephenson , Cody Eakin and William Karlsson , so don’t be surprised if that player changes during the playoffs.
Don’t expect too much from this line come playoff time. They will fill a strict checking role for the Golden Knights, and likely see 10-12 minutes per night.
Much like the third line, this line will see a few shifts per night, but not much more than that, with the top two lines likely playing 20 minutes per night each.
Much like the forwards, the top four defense is pretty interchangeable with each pair playing around 20 minutes per night. Schmidt takes on the offensive role and is a 40-50 point player in a full season, while McNabb is the steadying defensive presence.
While Martinez has contributed points since coming over from the Kings, that isn’t typically his game. He will play steady defence and provide some valuable experience to the locker room having won the Cup with the Kings in 2012 and 2014. Theodore is a budding star, who would have passed the 50 point threshold this year at age 24. He will be depended on to provide some offense for Vegas.
This pairing, if it ends up being this pair, both parties could be swapped out. Will need to hold their own in the minutes they get, to ensure the top four aren’t overburdened.
Few teams have two number one goalies in the way that Vegas has. Marc-Andre Fleury has a resume a mile long having won three Stanley Cups, Olympic Gold, and MVP at the World Junior Championships. He will likely get the first crack, however, you could easily make a case that Lehner is deserving of the job, having posted a 0.920 save percentage with a Chicago team that was defensively inept.
PP1: Pacioretty - Karlsson - Stone - Marchessault - Theodore
PP2: Cousins - Stastny - Smith - Martinez - Schmidt
Vegas’ powerplay was a top ten unit throughout the year scoring on 22% of their opportunities.
The Golden Knights penalty kill was among the worst in the league this year. They will need to clean that part of their game up to have success in the playoffs.
With a strong top six forward group, and top four defense they are going to have an advantage over most teams, and the second line also has the potential to play a shutdown role against other teams’ top lines. Add to that two top goalies
Overall depth. If Vegas has any injury issues with key players they could struggle, as the bottom half of their roster isn’t nearly as strong as the top half.
I expect this to be the top line to start, and if that is the case, they are going to need to find ways to outscore their opponents. Seguin lead the team in scoring this year but was well below a point per game. Benn would have passed the 20 goal mark, and still plays a heavy game, but could at some point get moved down in favour of Gurianov if the Stars need a spark or are struggling to score. Radulov was largely inconsistent but has played his best hockey this year in big games.
Ultimately this is the line that will make decide the Stars fate in the playoffs. Gurianov has proven himself capable of scoring, and Hintz has been productive when healthy. While Pavelski has been a disappointment, he was playing better in the second half and has proven himself to be a playoff performer in years past.
We will see if Corey Perry has found the fountain of youth in the time off, because if he has this line can make a real impact for the Stars. They will play a checking role, but getting production from them will go a long way.
An experienced fourth line, who the Stars can rely on to hold their own when needed to give their top line some extra rest.
Defense Pair 1: Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
This is one of the more under-rated pairings in the league. Lindell is a solid all-around defenseman who can provide some points when needed, and Klingberg is a top-tier point producer front the blueline.
In his second NHL season, Heiskanen has taken a step forward and started to play big minutes seeing upwards of 25 per night at times. He is as capable as anyone and could break out in the playoffs for the Stars, but he is just 20. Johns will be asked to make up for any of Heiskanen’s shortcomings, and hold down the proverbial fort.
Oleksiak and Sekera are a sound defensive pair. Neither will produce much from a point perspective, but they will be counted on to eat minutes and play good defense.
Bishop will be counted on to play well for the Stars. He is the undisputed number goalie, and he is likely one of the five best goalies in the league. Khudobin has been very good in a back-up role and has allowed Bishop to be rested for the playoffs. If called upon he won’t hurt the team, but likely isn’t going to steal them a game either.
PP1: Benn - Pavelski - Gurianov - Seguin - Klingberg
PP2: Faksa - Hintz - Radulov - Perry - Hiskanen
Despite scoring the third fewest goals overall this year, the Stars powerplay scored on more than 21% of their opportunities this year. They will need to keep this pace up in the playoffs.
The penalty kill was nearly the opposite of the power play. The Stars allowed the second fewest goals this season, however, their penalty kill was in the bottom half of the league below 80%.
The biggest strength of this team is the defence. They excelled in this department this year, and they will need to continue to do so. Ben Bishop is a big part of that.
The Stars play a style of hockey that is made for the playoffs, but they are going to need to find scoring. The team didn’t have a point per game player this year, the only one of these eight teams, so for them to be successful they are going to need score at a higher pace than they did during the regular season.