NHL Fantasy: Players on new teams to target in early draft rounds

After the most hectic offseason in recent memory, the 2021–22 NHL season is inching ever closer. With training camps getting underway in just under a month, and opening night around six weeks out, team rosters are starting to take shape. Another year of fantasy hockey is also starting up. With the season inching closer by the day, fantasy drafts will begin starting up over the next few weeks, with draft prep starting now for most fantasy managers.

With so many players switching teams around the league, it’s not only shaken up the landscape around the NHL, it’s shaken up fantasy projections and brought on new value to certain players in new situations. Changing teams can raise a fantasy players value from extra bench player, to every day starter. Let’s take an early look at three players who switched teams this offseason to target in your fantasy draft. These three can potentially have the biggest jumps in fantasy value based on their new teams alone.

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Darcy Kuemper, G – Colorado Avalanche

Previous team: Arizona Coyotes

Perhaps the largest shift of value among any player this offseason fantasy-wise was that of Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper goes from the 22nd ranked team from last season in the Coyotes to the league’s number one team. Not bad. The Coyotes are in full tank mode right now and were a favourite pick to come dead last this year, while the Avs are the favourite’s to claim the Presidents Trophy once again in 2021–22. Drake once wrote a song about Kuemper’s situation.

Kuemper did have a bit of a down year last season, posting a 10-11-3 record along with a .907 save percentage and 2.56 GAA, but it’s only fair to note just how bad the Coyotes were last year which clearly had an impact on Kuempers numbers. The two seasons prior he looked like a legitimate top-end number one goalie, posting save percentages of .928 in 2019–20, and .925 in 2018–19.

Over the past three seasons, Kuemper’s goals saved above average (GSAA) ranks third league wide behind only Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop at 39.99. His goals saved above expected (GSAx) of 16.06 ranks sixth. Needless to say he’s been criminally underrated thus far in his career, most likely because of where he played.

Another factor to consider is just how dominate the Avs are defensively. Colorado was the best team in the entire league last year at preventing chances and goals against. They ranked first league wide for xGA/60 at 1.78 and first league wide for CA/60 at 43.57. In other words they make life very easy on their goaltenders. Comparatively the Coyotes ranked 19th for xGA/60 and 22nd for CA/60.

The one major concern with Kuemper every year is his injury history. Kuemper has only played more than 30 games in his career twice, in 2014–15 with Minnesota, and in 2018–19 with Arizona. The Avs are no strangers to injury-plagued goalies as Phillip Grubauer had the same issues. However Grubauer showed us last year that if you can stay healthy, you can put up massive numbers playing behind this Colorado team as he was the second most valuable goalie in fantasy last season behind only Vasilevskiy.

If Kuemper can stay healthy—and that’s a big if—he’s in line for a massive year in fantasy. With only Pavel Francouz behind him on the depth chart, Kuemper is locked in as the go to guy for the league’s top team. He’s currently being drafted as the third ranked goalie in fantasy behind Vasilevskiy and Robin Lehner. Drafting him that high carries some risk given his injury history, but it’s worth it considering the huge potential value he brings. Whoever drafts him would be wise to scoop up Francouz as a handcuff in the later rounds.

Sam Reinhart RW – Florida Panthers

Previous team: Buffalo Sabres

Perhaps the forward version of Kuemper’s massive jump in team quality, Sam Reinhart escapes Buffalo to play for one of the league’s best teams. Reinhart moves from the league worst Sabres to the 2020–21 fourth place Panthers. Make no mistake, the Panthers success last year was very real and they are here to stay as a fantasy goldmine.

Reinhart moves from the team who ranked fourth last for goals last year to the team that ranked fifth best. The Panthers also ranked fifth in xGF/60 at 2.6 and and sixth for CF/60 at 57.67. The Panthers were simply one of the premier offensive teams in the league last year and they should only be better this year with Reinhart in the mix.

For comparison the Sabres ranked 27th for xGF/60 and 30th for CF/60. In others words an offensive black hole. Despite this, Reinhart still put up 25 goals and 40 points in 54 games which put him on pace for 61 points and a career best 38 goals. Now he did benefit from a career-best and frankly unsustainable shooting percentage of 19.2% last season, but for the three seasons prior his shooting percentage was still a very solid 13.6%. He’s unlikely to reach the same lofty goal totals this season, but on a much better team he’s still set to pass his point pace from 2020–21.

A big reason for that is the increase in talent around Reinhart which cannot be understated. Last season with Jack Eichel out, Reinhart’s most common linemates were 14 point Jeff Skinner and 32 point Victor Olofsson. As of right now Reinhart is penciled in as the Panthers top right wing, playing on their first line with Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe. Barkov is one of the league’s premier fantasy centres and a top-10 player at the position. Meanwhile Verhaeghe is a breakout high-value player who is still one of the most underrated players in the league, putting up 36 points in 43 games for the Panthers last year.

Reinhart goes from carrying a weak line in Buffalo to riding shotgun to one of the best centres in the league and should have no problem absolutely lighting up the scoresheet this year. If he can get some top power play time with the likes of Barkov, Johnathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad as well he could be in line to smash his career-best 65 points.

Reinhart is currently the 70th ranked player in fantasy by and behind teammate Sam Bennett, which makes little sense to me. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Reinhart finish as a top-50 fantasy player next year and he should be drafted as such. Let someone else in your league waste a high pick on Bennett while you grab Reinhart.

Conor Garland RW – Vancouver Canucks

Previous team: Arizona Coyotes

Yet another player to escape the disaster that is the Arizona Coyotes. When you leave the Coyotes there’s pretty much nowhere else to go but up in terms of fantasy value, even if it’s to the Vancouver Canucks. Conor Garland has a breakout season last year on the Coyotes posting 39 points in 49 games, and should be set for another big year on a much better offensive team in the Canucks.

Last season, the Coyotes were not good at generating chances or scoring goals, yet Garland still managed to post a career-best pace of 65 points. Arizona ranked 23rd in the league for goals, while ranking 24th for xGF/60 at and 20th for CF/60. Now at first glance it doesn’t seem like a huge upgrade going to a Canucks team that ranked 24th for goals and 21st for CA/60 but we do need to consider that the Canucks are set for a big bounce back year offensively.

Firstly, the Canucks ranked 15th for xGF/60 in 2020–21, suggesting they suffered from some bad luck last season. Secondly, the team was without their best forward in Elias Pettersson for 30 games. Finally, the team suffered a scary COVID-19 outbreak in the middle of the season, which no doubt had a huge impact on the teams performance.

Going into the 2021–22 season, the Canucks will have a fully healthy Pettersson back in the mix, a fresh lineup, and highly touted rookie Vasily Podkolzin joining the team. It’s easy to forget the Canucks finished ninth in the league for goals in 2019–20 while having the league’s fourth best power play. They may not reach those heights again this year, but they should once again be a very valuable offense in fantasy, especially with Garland around now.

Last year Garland spent the majority of his time on a line with Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller where he outscored both and was the key piece carrying that line. The big question is where he will play on the Canucks. Will it be on the team’s top line with Pettersson and J.T. Miller, or on their second line with Bo Horvat and Nils Hoglander?

Obviously getting a spot on their top line would provide a massive opportunity for Garland, but even playing on their second line should provide a boost over his situation last year considering the talent the Canucks possess in their top nine compared to the Coyotes. He’s also very likely to get top power play minutes on the Canucks’ stacked top unit.

Garland is currently ranked as the 146th fantasy player by, which seems way too low considering his upside and potential playing alongside a very solid Canucks top six. If he can get a spot on their top line, 70 points is a legit possibility, but even on their second line he offers 60+ point potential which makes him much more valuable than his current 146th rank.

A change of scenery

Sometimes a change of scenery is just what a player needs to find their game again or to reach their potential. Other times it’s just getting away from terrible teams like the Sabres and Coyotes. For Kuemper, Reinhart, and Garland, the offseason moves that saw them move to much better teams offer them the chance to become top-end players in fantasy hockey. When draft season gets underway, fantasy managers should be targeting all three, as they all offer huge potential on their new teams.

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