Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster 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 belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Edmonton Oilers
Last season: There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Connor McDavid’s dominance, whose 1.88 P/GP performance was by far the best performance in the cap era. He carried the Oilers to the seventh-best offense in the league, and thanks to an incredible season from Mike Smith, made the playoffs as the second seed in a division in which nearly every team disappointed.
Despite finishing nine points ahead of the Jets, the Oilers were swept in the first round with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl held to just three goals total. It was a really concerning result because it revealed that the Oilers truly had no way of winning games unless McDavid and Draisaitl were playing well. Between McDavid and Draisaitl, 45 minutes of the game was covered, but for the other 15 minutes the Oilers were just hoping it wasn’t a complete meltdown.
Best option: Darnell Nurse, D
You know about McDavid and Draisaitl, but Nurse also had a really good season, ranking second in goals (16), 14th in points (36), fifth in plus-minus (+27) and fourth in TOI/GP (25:38) among defensemen. The only reason he’s not in the elite tier with Roman Josi and Victor Hedman yet is because he has to show that he can do it again. There are a lot of detractors because what Nurse did last season was truly incredible; among the 27 defensemen who managed to play at least 50 games and score 15 goals with a shooting percentage over 10 percent in the cap era, only Lubomir Visnovsky was able to do it in consecutive seasons (and he did it twice).
Nurse and Jakob Chychrun are the only defensemen who get to chase this rare milestone, and Nurse is also just one of seven defensemen to record at least 100 blocked shots and 100 hits, though only two of them (the other being Seth Jones) are worth drafting in fantasy leagues.
Hidden gem: Zach Hyman, LW
I’m excited to see what Hyman can do. Reliable middle-six wingers who are willing to do the dirty work and don’t get too fancy with the puck are ideal fits for McDavid and Draisaitl, who don’t always need another talented player to help them score. Think Alex Burrows with the Sedins or Chris Kunitz on the Pens; utility wingers who were really good at winning puck battles and retrieving pucks, and ended up having career seasons simply because they were good fits with players much more talented than them.
This is not a new role for Hyman; 23 of his 33 points last season were scored or assisted by either Auston Matthews or John Tavares, and both Burrows and Kunitz had parlayed their good fortunes into at least one 30-goal season. Hyman is projected to score 54 points, according to THN’s Pool Guide, the third-highest total among Oilers forwards behind McDavid (129) and Draisaitl (113).
Goalies: The Oilers’ season is a potential disaster because their tandem could easily be mistaken for one looking to tank. Smith was great – he generally is when Dave Tippett is behind the bench – but it was easily the second-best season of his career and a .923 Sv% and 2.31 GAA would be difficult to replicate for any goalie, much less one who will turn 40 next March.
It’s not like the Oilers have a good insurance policy in either Mikko Koskinen, who they can’t get rid of, and Alex Stalock, a 34-year-old journeyman with only 151 NHL appearances. The defense won’t be of much help beyond Nurse, barring a renaissance season from Duncan Keith and a Calder-worthy season from Evan Bouchard, neither of which seem likely to happen. Smith has fantasy value because he’ll get the wins, but it’s going to be a tough win to swallow when Smith allows four goals every night.
Outlook: McDavid and Draisaitl should be two of the first three picks in any format and any league, and by virtue of being next to them, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman – and maybe Yamamoto, Puljujarvi and Warren Foegele, in that order – carry some fantasy value. Hyman provides some hits even when he doesn’t score, but both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi also have 20-goal upside.
The McDavid effect extends to the blueline with Tyson Barrie, who led all defensemen in scoring with 48 points and will be particularly valuable for his power-play points. An assist is an assist, and stats do not care if Roman Josi had to walk the line and saucer the puck over a maze of sticks and legs to set up a one-timer or if Barrie left the puck behind his own net for McDavid to go end-to-end.