Fantasy Hockey: Predictions for players who will bounce back in the 2021 NHL season
By Sasha Yodashkin, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Many of us would like a mulligan on 2020, and the players below are no exception. They’re all coming off down years relative to their lofty standards but are well-positioned to bounce back in 2021. While injuries played a part in plenty of down campaigns last year, the focus of this article is primarily on players who are positioned to improve their per-game production, rather than guys like Jake Guentzel, who should raise their counting stats just by staying healthy.
Hall had just 16 goals and 36 assists in 65 games between the Devils and Coyotes last season, but the 2018 Hart Trophy winner is in position to hop back over the point-per-game mark in 2021 after signing a one-year deal with Buffalo. Both New Jersey and Arizona finished in the bottom 10 offensively last season, and neither team had a player score more than 45 points. In fact, Hall’s 19 assists in just 30 games with the Devils put him five helpers shy of second on the team. In Buffalo, Hall will join forces with Jack Eichel, who has both the playmaking ability to set Hall up for success and the sniping ability to finish off the pretty feeds that Hall’s teammates last year were flubbing. Hall bet on himself by signing for just one year, and the highly motivated winger has put himself in a great position for that bet to pay off.
Alex DeBrincat (CHI)
After scoring 69 goals over his first two seasons, DeBrincat dropped to just 18 last year. So, what happened? The answer lies in his shooting percentage, which plummeted to 8.7 — just over half of the 17.2 conversion rate DeBrincat posted in his first two years. Even if some of that decline is being attributed to other factors, luck more than likely played a sizable role, especially considering DeBrincat’s 2.96 shots on net per game actually marked a career-high. Even in a truncated 56-game campaign, it’d be surprising if DeBrincat doesn’t at least top last year’s goal total.
Gaudreau experienced an unexpected drop in production last year, falling short of 60 points for the first time in six full NHL seasons and finishing with just 58 points in 70 games (.83 P/G) after racking up 183 points in 162 games (1.13 P/G) over the previous two campaigns. Like DeBrincat, Gaudreau converted on a career-low percentage of his shots (8.6), though the drop-off wasn’t nearly as drastic for the career 12.1-percent shooter. Johnny Hockey’s decline was thus less luck-related and more due to a true drop in form, but he’s still in his prime at 27 and should be able to figure it out on a well-rounded Flames team.
The Sharks have a number of bounce-back candidates, including goalie Martin Jones and defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. All three of those players may simply be on the downside of their careers, however, while Meier’s just 24 years old and had been on a steady upward trajectory prior to last season. San Jose missed the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2019-20, and a multitude of injuries to the team’s forward corps certainly played a role in the Sharks’ disappointing performance. Meier escaped the injury bug, but his numbers took a beating without his usual highly skilled linemates alongside him, as the winger dipped to 22 goals, 49 points, and a minus-22 rating in 70 games on the heels of a breakout third NHL season that included 30 goals, 66 points and a plus-9 rating over 78 appearances. There weren’t any glaring differences in shooting percentage or power-play production between the two years, so Meier should get back on track in 2021 if at least one of Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl can stay healthy to center his line.
After back-to-back seasons with at least 57 points to finish his tenure in Colorado, Barrie failed to adjust well to his new surroundings in Toronto, totaling just 39 points in 70 games. Like Hall in Buffalo, Barrie bet on himself this offseason by signing a one-year deal with the Oilers, where he’ll feature on a star-studded power play that converted on a league-high 29.5 percent of its opportunities last season. Barrie’s bread has been buttered with the extra man in his career, as evidenced by his 55 power-play points in his last two seasons with the Avalanche, so he’s basically hand-picked the perfect situation for a bounce-back at age 29.
Thomas Chabot (OTT)
Chabot looked like a budding superstar two years ago, ranking 10th among defensemen with 55 points in 70 games — one more than Victor Hedman in the same number of appearances. He took a step back last year with just 39 points in 71 appearances, due in large part to Ottawa’s reduction in talent up front. While getting back to the heights of 2018-19 will be difficult, Chabot should improve on last year’s numbers, as the Senators have gotten an extra year of growth from their young core while also upgrading (from Anthony Duclair and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to Evgenii Dadonov and No. 3 overall pick Tim Stuetzle) their top-six forward group. Chabot will turn just 24 at the end of the month and is heading into his fourth full NHL season, so his growth as a player is likely far from complete, as well.
Sergei Bobrovsky (FLA)
Bobrovsky struggled mightily in his first year with the Panthers after signing a seven-year, $70 million contract, posting career worsts in GAA (3.23) and save percentage (.900). While some of his decline can be attributed to a downgrade in the defense in front of him after coming from John Tortorella’s defense-first system in Columbus, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner is certainly capable of much more than he showed last year given his career 2.54 GAA and .917 save percentage. Now that he has had a year to adjust to his new surroundings, Bobrovsky should improve, especially playing in the cushy Discover Central Division, which will feature three of the six teams that averaged fewer than 2.6 goals for last season.
Cam Talbot (MIN)
Talbot actually played well last season, but he had limited fantasy value, starting just 22 regular-season games for the Flames (David Rittich started 48). Now that he’s in line for a starting role on a Minnesota team that has only Kaapo Kahkonen on hand to compete for playing time with Alex Stalock out indefinitely due to an upper-body injury, Talbot should resemble the goalie that won 73 games between 2016-18 more than the guy who notched just 23 victories in the two seasons since. The veteran netminder posted a 2.63 GAA and .919 save percentage for the Flames last year and usurped Rittich as the starter in the postseason, and he’ll benefit from an easier schedule in the Honda West Division, which contains the three bottom-six offenses that didn’t get thrown into the Central.