NHL Fantasy: Using expected goals to identify players to target and avoid

It’s draft prep time. With mock drafts opening up on most fantasy hockey platforms now, it’s time to start planning for upcoming drafts. The preseason is just a couple weeks away and now that the NHL season is returning to the normal 82 game schedule for all teams, there are several players that will be looking to rebound after rough years, and several who will inevitably see a decline after excellent seasons through the pandemic.

Looking at expected goals can provide insight into some of the players who should be expected to do better this season, and those expected to do worse. We took a look at every player in the NHL last season and compared their actual goals to their expected goals to identify five players to target ahead of their ADP, and five players to temper your expectations for.

Players to target

This list of players saw a sharp drop in the actual goals compared to their expected goals when looking at the past five seasons. These are players that are due to bounce back and should overperform their 2020–21 season.

Kyle Palmieri

Kyle Palmieri has been a consistent 25 goal scorer for the past five seasons. At 30 years old, he isn’t quite at the point where his production should drop completely off a cliff, and now with a essential role on a solid Islanders team, Palmieri is a top candidate for a serious bounce back season.

To the left is the chart of Palmieri’s goals above expected numbers from the past five seasons.

It’s a little bit comical how massive a drop Palmieri had last season. Normally this is a player who hovers around the +6 goals above expected mark, but last year he finished over 10 goals below that threshold.

Even if he bounces back to a +2 goals above expected, Palmieri will get you that 25 goal pace. It’s not a big ask for the historically consistent Palmieri. Add in the fact that he’s a dual position eligible player that can slot in at right wing and you’ve got a valuable fantasy asset.

Tomas Tatar

The jury is still out on why Tomas Tatar wasn’t able to stay in the lineup in the playoffs. He’s an extremely talented player and goal scorer but for whatever reason he hasn’t gained the trust of his coaches in back to back post seasons.

Now with the Devils, a team that added quite a few nice pieces this offseason, Tatar should be able to put that previous drama behind him and just focus on scoring tons of goals, which he’s very good at.

Tatar generally scores at least five goals above expected, so dipping below the +2 mark last season was extremely uncharacteristic for him.

Getting back to that pace puts him at around the 25 goal mark.

Travis Konecny

Travis Konecny was one of the league’s up and coming stars, and then just hit an absolute wall last season. The three prior seasons, Konecny shot extremely well, at over +6 goals above expected in every season, peaking at almost +10 in 2019–20.

Last season’s dip to just around breakeven was very uncharacteristic and caused many Flyers fans to turn on Konecny. However, he’s just too young and too talented for this to be the new norm.

A return to form could see Konecny surpass the 30 goal mark, and currently has an ADP of 166.4 in Yahoo leagues. That is just criminally low for the talented Flyers winger. Reach for him ahead inside the top 120 if you need to, he’ll be worth it.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

It feels wrong to put Ekman-Larsson in the bounce back category consdiering how disappointing he’s been the past few years, but we have to respect the numbers.

I would be wary of Ekman-Larsson in general, but his situation is intriguing.

The Canucks have an excellent forward group and should have one of the most dangerous power plays in the NHL next season. If Ekman-Larsson gets exposure to that top unit, he could have a serious bounce back season.

Looking at his goals over expected chart, he had a significant drop off last season. For the four seasons prior he hovered around the +3 goals above expected mark. Last season he dropped down to negative numbers. A swing of luck and a new team might be just what the doctor ordered.

Jonathan Drouin

His career has been a far cry from what was expected of him after junior, but Jonathan Drouin was hit with a wave of incredible bad luck last season. Drouin has almost never been below expected in terms of goals, and last season he sunk to almost -4 goals above expected.

With a hopefully healthier campaign, Drouin should be able to bounce back.

That steep drop in goals above expected rebounding to even the +1 or +2 range, combined with higher shot volume will make Drouin fantasy relevant once again.

He’s worth a late round flyer.

Players to avoid

Tyler Toffoli

It was truly fun watching Tyler Toffoli torch the North division—especially against his former team the Canucks—last season. However, his insane goal scoring pace is simply unsustainable, and it’s very likely that he comes back down to Earth this season.

Contrary to what is assumed about the player, Toffoli has not been a significantly above average shooter the past five seasons. He saw a huge spike the past couple years, but his average the four seasons prior was around the breakeven mark. Jumping up to the +10 mark last season was amazing for Toffoli, but don’t expect him to repeat that.

Right now Toffoli is being drafted ahead of players like Anthony Mantha, Claude Giroux, and the aforementioned Palmieri. Please don’t do that.

Ryan O’Reilly

Ryan O’Reilly had a massive 2021 season. With 24 goals and 54 points in 56 games, he was an absolute beast for the Blues.

However, looking at his trend of goals above expected, O’Reilly had what looks to be a season where he overperformed.

At under +4 goals scored above expected the previous four seasons, he jumped up to +11 goals above expected. This is simply an unsustainable number and it’s extremely unlikely O’Reilly meets that number this year.

O’Reilly’s ADP is 64.7 in Yahoo leagues, ahead of other centers like like Evgeni Malkin and Anze Kopitar. Take one of them instead.

Darnell Nurse

Darnell Nurse‘s 2021 season came at the best time. It led to a massive contract extension that makes him among the top paid defensemen in the NHL, and he did earn that deal with his results last season.

However, take his 2021 season with a grain of salt, and hold your expectations for him repeating that this year.

Historically, Nurse has bounced around being slightly above or below breakeven when looking at his goals above expected.

Last year’s mark of almost +9 goals above expected was a huge jump for Nurse, and this season he’s likely to drop back down closer to his average.

He does provide category coverage so in banger leagues Nurse still has value. Just make sure you don’t take him too high, and don’t expect him to be a 60 point defender like some are suggesting.

Pavel Zacha

The Devils are a bit of an odd team to predict this season. They brought in several interesting pieces in the offseason, but it’s hard to put too much faith in them because we’ve seen this from the Devils in the recent past.

Pavel Zacha is a player who had a breakout year of sorts with 17 goals and 35 points last season. He’s a name found on many breakout player lists, but Zacha had a career high in terms of goals above expected last season.

Historically, he’s hovered around the breakeven mark with his totals bouncing up and down the past five years. Last year’s mark of almost +7 goals above expected was extremely high compared to his average, and it indicates he might be in for some regression this year.

Maybe pick a different breakout player to target in late rounds instead.

Sam Reinhart

This one feels wrong, but once again we have to respect the numbers. Generally, players leaving Buffalo should be expected to perform better than they have in the past. Buffalo has been a tough place to play and succeed lately, and Sam Reinhart is just one player who is undoubtedly looking forward to a fresh start on a new team.

I think Reinhart is a fantastic player with tons of talent, but he did have an incredibly high goals above expected last season, much higher than what would be considered normal for him.

Florida is a much deeper and more talented team than Buffalo is, but it’s possible Reinhart doesn’t live up to the hype this season.

His ADP is 82.8 right now; maybe let him fall a few rounds before making the selection.

Ups and downs of fantasy hockey

When it comes to drafting for fantasy leagues, finding value at the right time is what makes an average roster turn into a great roster. While goals aren’t everything, using goals scored above expected still gives a strong indicator towards what type of overall season a player has had. It isn’t a direct measure of all things offence, but it includes a bit of goal scoring talent mixed with a bit of luck.

For players with consistently high goals scored above expected over several seasons, their raw scoring talent drives their value and expecting bounce back seasons isn’t out of the question at all. For those with perennially low numbers with sharp spikes, it suggests the shortened pandemic-hit season was a blessing for their individual numbers but the return to normal league play could see them take steps back.

Going into the draft equipped with more information than your rival managers is never a bad strategy. Best of luck heading into the 2021–22 fantasy hockey campaign.

Back to top button