Fantasy spin: NHL coaching changes

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MORE FANTASY COVERAGE: Top 250

 

RANGERS HIRE GALLANT

Gerard Gallant was named coach of the New York Rangers on Wednesday. Gallant could give the Rangers offense an even higher ceiling and improve their Stanley Cup Playoff chances next season. Gallant has an impressive NHL coaching record (270-216-4-51) and led the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018.

The coaching change gives New York’s elite forwards, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, even more fantasy appeal for next season. Panarin, who led New York with 58 points (17 goals, 41 assists) in 42 games and was third in the NHL with 1.38 points per game this season, remains a consensus top 10 overall fantasy pick and could exceed his NHL career high in points (95 in 2019-20) in Gallant’s up-tempo system.

Zibanejad, who had a slow start to this season with nine points (three goals, six assists) in his first 25 games, finished strong by scoring 41 points (21 goals, 20 assists) in his final 31 games. Fantasy managers should expect more consistency from Zibanejad under Gallant and target him among the top 15-20 overall in fantasy considering he could have a floor around 70 points and ceiling as high as 90

Defenseman Adam Fox, who broke out by scoring 47 points (second among NHL defensemen) in 55 games, should also see a positive impact from the hire and could be drafted above Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and/or Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche in some leagues. Fox solidified his long-term fantasy value this season by earning and thriving in a first power-play role (23 power-play points; T-2nd among defensemen) and could score a point per game or better next season if the Rangers’ power-play percentage (20.7 percent; 14th in NHL) improves under Gallant.

Goalie Igor Shesterkin remains a top 10 fantasy option at the position under Gallant, who coached elite veteran Marc-Andre Fleury during his time with the Golden Knights, and gives the Rangers four players around the top 50 overall in NHL.com’s fantasy rankings. Shesterkin is one of the most valuable options in fantasy keeper leagues after going 26-16-3 with a .921 save percentage in 47 games over his first two NHL seasons.

The real test for Gallant is to get more production from young wings Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. Lafreniere scored 21 points (12 goals, nine assists) in 56 games as a rookie, and Kakko scored 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 48 games in his second NHL season. It’s feasible that one, if not both, of the skaters can reach his true potential under Gallant after inconsistent lineup placement and performance under previous coach David Quinn. The fantasy edge should be given to Lafreniere (No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft), who could skate on the top line with Zibanejad at even strength, but Kakko (No. 2 pick in 2019 NHL Draft) could be a deep sleeper if he plays more often at right wing on Panarin’s line. Each forward, along with right wing Vitali Kravtsov, should compete for top power-play time under Gallant.

NYR players in top 250 rankings: Artemi Panarin, LW; Mika Zibanejad, C; Adam Fox, D; Igor Shesterkin, G; Pavel Buchnevich, RW; Ryan Strome, C/RW; Chris Kreider, LW; Alexis Lafreniere, LW

 

BLUE JACKETS HIRE LARSEN

The Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the most disappointing teams in fantasy this season, have slightly renewed upside after the hiring of Brad Larsen as coach. Larsen, who spent the past seven seasons as an assistant with the Blue Jackets, brings a sense of familiarity to the players and also John Tortorella’s system, which helped the Blue Jackets qualify for the playoffs in four of his six seasons.

Columbus’ top fantasy player, Seth Jones, can become an unrestricted free agent after next season and reportedly does not plan to sign a contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Much of the Blue Jackets long-term fantasy appeal hinges on whether Jones will re-sign, but he and defenseman Zach Werenski are each consistent options at the position despite team concerns.

Beyond their defensive group, forward Oliver Bjorkstrand took a step forward this season, scoring an NHL career-high 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 56 games. Larsen will likely keep Bjorkstrand in a prominent role and potentially play him with better linemates, making the forward worth prioritizing in middle rounds as the Blue Jackets’ top ranked fantasy forward. 

Larsen’s biggest task will be to help wing Patrik Laine, who scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 45 games with the Blue Jackets, become more productive next season. The coaching change gives Laine some bounce-back appeal, but it’s unlikely he’ll regain his previous 44-goal form with the Blue Jackets limited offensive weapons. Larsen has a chance to help the Blue Jackets power play (15.4 percent; 27th in the NHL) considering Laine scored 20 power-play goals and 31 power-play points with the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18. Potential offseason moves could further boost Laine, but, for now, he should be targeted around or outside the top 150 overall in fantasy.

Drafting goalies Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo was a popular strategy in fantasy after the Blue Jackets established themselves as a safe defensive team under Tortorella, but neither option returned value this season. Still, each goalie is worth being drafted as a bench option in standard 12-team leagues, and the Blue Jackets have intriguing young skaters in Jack Roslovic, Liam Foudy and Emil Bemstrom who could benefit from the coaching change in fantasy.

CBJ players in top 250 rankings: Seth Jones, D; Zach Werenski, D; Oliver Bjorkstrand, LW/RW; Elvis Merzlikins, G; Patrik Laine, LW/RW; Cam Atkinson, RW; Jack Roslovic, C/RW

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