Are you ready? We are back to the regular season format of 82 games, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions every season, because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses, while the bad ones feel like we’re falling into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay tuned to rationalize later why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
Here’s your fantasy preview for all 32 teams. The annual Polar Guide is now available and also check out Matt Larkin’s top 250 players for the upcoming season.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Columbus Blue Jackets
Last season: As the season progressed, it became clear that the jackets weren’t going anywhere. The trades for Max Domi, Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine didn’t work out well. John Tortorella couldn’t squeeze anything more out of a roster that had to win games by sheer will. And so GM Jarmo Kekalainen went to work, quickly swapping Riley Nash, David Savard, Nick Foligno and Seth Jones, then getting a year of cap flexibility, swapping Cam Atkinson’s contract with four seasons remaining for Jakub Voracek’s three . The BJs eventually finished fourth in the league and Tortorella was not re-signed. The sweet memories of the forever underdog Blue Jackets overthrowing Goliath-esque enemies will remain, but sometimes you have to take a step back to make a leap forward.
Best Option: Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW
It’s a small roster in the Jackets lineup, but 26-year-old Bjorkstrand, whose five-year, $27 million extension starts this season, has become a very reliable top-six scorer. He has either achieved or is on pace to score at least 20 goals in each of the past three seasons, and THN’s Pool Guide predicts he will lead the team in scoring with 60 points. The lack of game-changing centers hurts the Jackets’ army of wingers, and so the fantasy values of Laine, Voracek and the returning Gustav Nyquist take a dent, but Bjorkstrand has the youth advantage. He’s also much more consistent than Laine, who has the potential to score at least 30 goals but isn’t particularly good at attacking himself. According to naturalstattrick.com, Bjorkstrand’s 2.27 5v5 xGF/60 is the tallest of the forwards still with the team over the past three seasons and much better than Laine’s 1.80 5v5 xGF/60.
Hidden Gem: Adam Boqvist, D
Boqvist was a vital part of the trading package the Jackets received for Jones, and is sure to get more playing time than the 16:59 he averaged in 35 games with the Blackhawks last season. Most of the power play minutes obviously go to Zach Werenski, their best player, but the Jackets can opt for a set of two defenders on their top unit as they did with Werenski and Jones last season (both he and Boqvist are right), and it’s whether they even have enough staff to skate a set of four forward. With a bigger role waiting for him, Boqvist’s numbers should improve, although like many young defenders he will be going through growing pains. He could be worth a late-round flyer, or at least worth keeping an eye on if he suddenly gets hot.
goalkeepers: Elvis Merzlikins should get the inside track given his stronger performance last season, and he has his eyes set on a quite lofty goal in honor of good friend Matiss Kivlenieks. Joonas Korpisalo can definitely stand his ground — who could ever forget that playoff feat with 85 saves — but other than his rookie and 2019-20 season, Korpisalo was a below average goalkeeper according to hockey-reference.com’s GSAA. . Merzlikins’ track record isn’t that long, but he has shown great promise over the past two seasons, finishing fifth with a .920 Sv% (min. 50 GP), equaling Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck. It’s likely Merzlikins will manage to keep them in games, but without a lot of target support, he’ll have a really hard time racking up wins, ultimately hurting his fantasy value because it’s such an important category. If goalkeepers are a rare commodity in your league, it would be ideal to have both Merzlikins and Korpisalo, but if goalkeeper spots are limited and managers are only interested in certain matchups, Merzlikins is the man to aim for.
Outlook: Scoring goals will be a chore, because they really don’t have that An top six center. Domi’s poor defensive play means he is a better winger than a centre, and he is scheduled to return in December after shoulder surgery. Roslovic looked promising in spurts, but lost 60 percent of his face-offs and has not consistently shown high-end playmaking ability or hockey IQ. That leaves — gulp — Boone Jenner, Alexandre Texier, and Sean Kuraly.
There’s extra quality on the wings, including speedy Liam Foudy (18th overall pick in 2018), sniper Yegor Chinakhov (21st, 2020) and 28-year-old Gregory Hofmann, a former teammate of both Merzlikins and franchise icon Rick Nash ( now the Jackets’ director of player development) in Switzerland, and a two-time champion of the Swiss National League.
There is a benefit, but much is unlikely to be realized, which makes most of the BJ’s fantasy options at their best and only worth rostering in if managers are patient and willing to go through dry spells while Kekalainen prepares for reconstruction.
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