Every Monday, Last Word on Hockey will survey the Fantasy Hockey landscape and select a handful of players to assist in your weekly match. We will attempt to select “Studs” who may be available in your league as opposed to those who we know are already owned by other teams. The “Duds” will most certainly be taken and will serve as a warning when you have “who do I start/sit” questions. The “Sleepers” will be almost exclusively available in most leagues. We will also attempt to have a mix of players that will apply to traditional leagues as well as banger leagues. All ownership numbers are based on Sunday research and may be slightly different at the time of publication. Here are our selections for Week 19:
2022-23 Fantasy Hockey Studs, Duds, and Sleepers: Week 19
We always discuss the “change of scenery” when a player has struggled prior to a trade. O’Reilly fits this bill. It’s been a tough year for him, with only 12 goals and 20 points in 41 games played. Yet, a fresh start isn’t always the answer. In this case, it should be. In his first game with the Leafs, O’Reilly slotted into the middle of the second line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner. No other trio of forwards played more minutes together. He did not pick up much, but he did have a secondary assist. Where the additional fantasy hockey value will come in the faceoff category and power play opportunity. O’Reilly went 12 of 14 on the dot and slotted into the second unit of the leagues 5th best power play.
Assuming O’Reilly stays with these assignments, there is a huge fantasy hockey boost for owners. He should receive more ice time, but it is how that ice time plays out. At even strength, he had an oZS% of 75. He proceeded to win 10 of 12 faceoffs at even strength. Starting with the puck, in the offensive zone, with Tavares and Marner with him…look out. The points could come in bunches here. The good news for fantasy hockey owners is the availability of O’Reilly. He is just about even at 53% in both ESPN and Yahoo leagues. That number has risen fast. This may be someone you want to jump on very quickly before your opponent does.
It seems counterintuitive to say Tavares is a dud in this scenario. Yet it is possible. For starters, he moved to the wing. The addition of O’Reilly seemingly has destroyed his faceoff value. This will be frustrating for fantasy hockey owners of his. He had been the Leafs best on the dot, clicking at 57.5%. Aside from losing this, he still has provided great value offensively. He seems a lock to eclipse the 30-goal mark for the first time since year one in Toronto. Yet, while it is a one-game sample size, there are reasons to be concerned.
No Toronto player has a larger expected goals for than Tavares, sitting at 30.9. Additionally, no Toronto player has a lower goals above expected, at -6.9. On the wing with O’Reilly and Marner, he produced the second-lowest expected goals, no points and a minus one. This is not to say that the trio will not build chemistry. What it does say is that while it is happening, he has lost the fantasy hockey value of the faceoffs in the meantime. Moreover, building chemistry takes time. Harder to accomplish when he is averaging the lowest amount of ice time in his entire career. For fantasy hockey owners of his, there could be some dark times ahead, and right before the fantasy playoffs start.
For a more traditional approach, this week provides an opportunity for a skater on the other side of that trade from the St. Louis Blues. Ivan Barbashev has an opportunity here. He is far off from his career year numbers of 2021-22. But with O’Reilly and Noel Acciari now in Toronto, and Vladimir Tarasenko now with the New York Rangers, someone has to fill the minutes. Barbashev has seen a boost in minutes and did have a three-point game recently. The biggest boost should come from the power play where he has yet to score this season. He is now playing top unit minutes and that will show a benefit. As many problems as the Blues have had this season, the power play is not one of them. They are ranked 13th with the man advantage at 22.3%.
Aside from the benefit of more even-strength ice time, circle on your calendar February 23rd. Barbashev will face the league-worst penalty kill of the Vancouver Canucks. Look for this to be the moment where he gets going on the power play. There is another matchup against a bottom-half defensive team, who allow over three per game and at least five in three of their last four. Barbashev does have four goals and eight points in his last nine games. He could use this extra role and ice time to get back to last year’s production. He is widely available in both ESPN and Yahoo fantasy leagues. This may be worth looking at.
Photo Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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