2016 NHL Draft Guide: Importance of Line Combinations
Understanding line combinations and a coach's tendency to mix and match will be a key to your success during your fantasy hockey draft.
In hockey, line combinations can play a vital role in the success or failure of a team. Unfortunately, steady line combinations have practically become an endangered species. Today's modern NHL head coach is more interested in playing the right system than in who plays with whom. Previous generations saw lines on a hockey team remain fairly stagnant compared to today's NHL. It led to a few historically significant combinations such as the Buffalo Sabres' 'French Connection' featuring Richard Martin-Gilbert Perreault-Rene Robert, the Los Angeles Kings' 'Triple Crown Line' of Charlie Simmer-Marcel Dionne-Dave Taylor and the Philadelphia Flyers' 'Legion of Doom' with John LeClair-Eric Lindros-Mikael Renberg. These days, it is much rarer to see three forwards remain on the same unit for long periods of time. Coaches prefer to switch things up when the team struggles, even if he has a combination that is productive and consistent.
Therefore, in fantasy hockey it is dangerous to draft players according to their linemates because changes in the lines are seemingly inevitable. Edmonton Oilers power forward Patrick Maroon looked great late last season playing on the top line next to wunderkind Connor McDavid. Earlier last season, Russian disappointment Nail Yakupov also played well alongside McDavid. Eventually, Jordan Eberle rotated in next to McDavid which boosted his fantasy value while simultaneously destroying that of Yakupov. Now that Milan Lucic is on board, he is now expected to replace Maroon at left wing which would seemingly kill whatever fantasy value Maroon had going into 2016-17. The moral of the story here is simple: draft good players who could remain valuable even if placed on a different line, because coaches today will always make changes.
As the 2016-17 campaign approaches, here are five more intriguing line combinations to keep an eye on:
1. Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson, Canucks
The Swedish twins have seen several different right-wingers join them over the years, including a few still on the team. New arrival Eriksson is the clear first choice to play there this season. A fellow Swede, Eriksson has played with the Sedins before and should be an ideal fit. Productive in Boston last season, Eriksson may not suffer too much if coach Willie Desjardins decides to move him to a different line. Jannik Hansen, Alexandre Burrows, Sven Baertschi and Jake Virtanen are all candidates to play on Vancouver's top line if a change occurs.
2. Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-______?, Stars
Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff is one of the NHL's itchiest bench bosses when it comes to making changes to his line combinations. Benn and Seguin have played with a myriad of forwards to complete the No. 1 line last season. When Seguin lines up at center, veterans Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza, strapping Russian Valeri Nichushkin and two-way vet Patrick Eaves can all line up on the top unit. When Seguin is on right wing, Cody Eakin usually centers the line. The preferred choice may be Nichushkin but Ruff will likely mix and match.
3. Taylor Hall-Adam Henrique-Devante Smith-Pelly, Devils
New Jersey now has a legitimate superstar up front again in left-winger Hall, who spent much of his six seasons in Edmonton alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Since he played with Henrique in the junior ranks (the OHL's Windsor Spitfires), it is logical to assume Hall and Henrique will be an NHL combination in '16-17. Henrique, a solid performer who can play both center and left wing, may see a significant spike in fantasy value if he spends the entire season next to Hall. That said, Devils coach John Hynes has plenty of options.
4. Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Troy Brouwer, Flames
Two seasons ago, the Flames rode the Gaudreau-Monahan-Jiri Hudler line all the way to the playoffs, where they defeated Vancouver in Round 1 before bowing out easily to Anaheim. Last season, Hudler struggled and was later traded to Florida but was never replaced. Calgary signed Brouwer in the off-season to play the complementary role on the top line. A solid 40-point producer in the NHL, the 31-year-old Brouwer could enjoy a career season playing with Gaudreau (one of the NHL's best playmakers) and stout, two-way stud Monahan.
5. ______?-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa, Blackhawks
Several players who have toiled on the port side with Chicago captain Toews and steady two-way veteran Hossa the last few seasons are gone, leaving a gaping hole on the team's second scoring (and best all-around) line. Slovakian Richard Panik may join countryman Hossa and Toews, as he did at times last season. Another possibility is rookie Tyler Motte, who was a big scorer in the NCAA ranks. Whomever gets the gig should see a nice spike in fantasy value, though the 'Hawks may again acquire a short-term replacement late in '16-17.