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: Vegas Golden Knights
Last season: They were primed for another run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but Carey Price and the Habs put a dash to those dreams with their Cinderella run. The Wild gave them a scare and so did the Avs, but the Knights pulled through on the back of Marc-Andre Fleury (again), and it was the lack of scoring that ultimately did them in. Individually, it was a great season for a number of players, including Max Pacioretty, who has arguably had the best two-season stretch of his career despite being on the other side of age 30.
You couldn’t really go wrong with any Vegas player in fantasy; only two players finished with a negative plus-minus and the tandem of Fleury and Robin Lehner was the league’s best, winning both the Vezina and Jennings trophies.
Best option: Mark Stone, RW
The Knights captain has scored at least 60 points in six of his seven full seasons in the league, ranking 24th since 2014-15. He’s also fifth in plus-minus, 14th in even-strength points and 10th in shooting percentage (min. 100 goals) – the by-product of being on a good team with good linemates.
As long as the Knights are competitive – they’ve made it to the third round in three of their four seasons of existence – Stone will remain a top-tier fantasy option due to his consistency. Pacioretty could be more valuable in leagues that count goals and shots, and his current Yahoo ADP of 36.1 edges Stone’s 42.4, but THN’s Pool Guide is also projecting Stone to outscore Pacioretty by 14 points. Which player gets drafted first will really depend on your league settings.
Hidden gem: Nolan Patrick, C/RW
Trading for Patrick seemed like one of the minor moves for the Knights this off-season, but stylistically it could change a lot. Last season, Vegas’ power play ranked an abysmal 22nd in the league despite being flush with talent and having one of the league’s best offensive defensemen in Shea Theodore. Patrick is expected to help remedy that this season, and he was spotted on the top power-play unit during the preseason as net-front presence.
It’s not an unfamiliar position for Patrick, but it’s an opportunity he never got in Philadelphia, where he was often relegated to the second unit. Playing with Stone and Pacioretty should give his fantasy value a huge boost, though it’s not without some risk; Patrick’s power-play production hasn’t been particularly good, and he’s likely the fifth and last option when it comes to handling the puck. At the very least, he should get a boost from the 13:17 TOI he averaged last season, giving Patrick some untapped upside that could be worth keeping an eye on.
This is Robin Lehner’s net and he’ll get the majority of the starts. (I swear I didn’t copy and paste this from last season). Laurent Brossoit isn’t really a threat to take the starting job, and with no timeshare, Lehner becomes a top-five fantasy goalie. His underlying numbers have always been good; he’s been above average nearly every season, according to hockey-reference.com’s GSAA model, and managed to post save percentages of .914 and .916 in eight combined seasons with wretched Senators and Sabres squads. This is his first real chance to be the starter on a good team, and in an easy division at that. Lehner’s injury might give us some pause, but the upside is well worth the risk. After Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck, Lehner is next on the list along with Darcy Kuemper and Juuse Saros, but Lehner should get the edge because the Knights are likely going to run away with the division title (again).
Outlook: A lot has to go off the tracks for the Knights to not clinch their second straight Pacific Division title. The regular season is almost a joke for them at this point, more a rite of passage as they search for the first Cup, and they have a good a chance as any team in the league right now. Stone, Pacioretty, Theodore and Lehner will be popular targets early in the draft, and rightfully so, but both William Karlsson and Chandler Stephenson have silenced critics over and over again with their ability to capitalize on offensive chances.
Both centers are projected to score more than 50 points, according to the Pool Guide, in contrast to their reputations as speedy, checking players with little offensive upside. They tend to be great value picks because they’re often overlooked for that reason. The more interesting bets are Patrick, Evgenii Dadonov, who is also slated to play on the top power-play unit, and rookie Peyton Krebs, who has not been cut from training camp as of this writing, but the trio should remain on the waiver wire until the season gets underway. Patrick and Dadonov will have to show results in their new roles before fantasy managers take the plunge due to their relative uncertainty.