NHL Fantasy: Buy low/sell high candidates

Now entering the fifth week of the season, fantasy league standings are beginning to take shape with the top teams rising above the rest, while some struggle and sink in the standings. Still though, we’re just beginning what is a very long season full of ups and downs. That said, small sample sizes can make some desperate fantasy managers do crazy things.

Every year there are certain players who unexpectedly come flying out of the gate, while others predicted to be elite fantasy options struggle to produce to match their ADP. This presents the perfect opportunity for shrewd managers to take advantage of the early season results and make moves that will benefit their rosters down the line when it matters most.

Let’s take a look at three players to sell high on, and three players to buy low.

Sell high

Kyle Connor LW – Winnipeg Jets

There’s no question that Kyle Connor has had an outstanding start to the season. With 16 points and eight goals in his team’s first seven games, the left wing is off the best start of his entire career.

Going into the season Connor was ranked right around the 48-50 range on most fantasy rankings and his Yahoo ADP of 48.5 placed him right around the fifth to sixth round. So far this year he has smashed those projections. He currently sits alone in fourth place in the NHL for points, and tied for third for goals. Among wingers he ranks second for points and goals behind only Alexander Ovechkin. He also ranks fourth league wide for shots with 44.

That said, he’s been getting some great luck along the way this season that has certainly been boosting his point totals. So far this year Connor is shooting right around 18%. In his five previous seasons in the league, he’s never posted a shooting percentage higher than 16%, with his highest rate of exactly 16% coming in 2017–18. As the year goes on it’s fair to assume his percentage will regress back to his career average of around 15%, and his goal production will follow.

Connor has also never posted more than 40 goals in a season, with his career high of 38 coming in 2019–20. It’s obviously still early, but he’s currently on pace for over 60 goals, a pace that will be impossible to live up to. His goal production has already begun slowing down, as after putting home six goals in his first five games, he has two in his last five.

As a team, the Winnipeg Jets are currently shooting the lights out as well. The Jets currently rank fifth in the NHL with a team shooting percentage of 11.92%. It’s worth noting that despite the fact the Jets sit sixth league wide for goals with 35, they rank 19th league wide for shots. In other words they’re getting a ton of bounces right now, and their goal production is more than likely unsustainable.

Connor will continue to be a valuable fantasy asset for the rest oft he season, however he’ll be in tough to live up to his current production and market value. If you can find a manager in your league willing to overpay for Connor, it’s certainly worth considering as his value will never be higher than it is right now.

Tyler Bertuzzi LW – Detroit Red Wings

Tyler Bertuzzi has had quite the wild start to the season. First off he came out and proclaimed that he would not be taking the vaccine, thus removing himself from nine games this season as he is unable to travel to Canada. Then he came out of the gate and scored four goals in the Red Wings first game of the season. He followed that up by putting up five points in the Red Wings next four games to star the season with nine points in five games.

Going into the season Bertuzzi was ranked right around the 240-250 range in fantasy rankings, and was being drafted with an ADP on Yahoo around 162, placing him right around the 14th round. His production has clearly far surpassed his pre draft rankings, but Bertuzzi is producing at a rate right now that will never be sustainable, especially for a player who is guaranteed to miss a few games along the way.

As it stands right now, Bertuzzi is currently shooting at a ridiculous 28.6% clip. He’s scored six goals on just 21 shots through eight games played. Throughout his career Bertuzzi has typically been an efficient shooter, posting back to back seasons with a 16% shooting percentage between 2018–2020. That said his current rate is obviously completely unsustainable.

Bertuzzi has never eclipsed 50 points or 22 goals to date in his career, so the odds of him continuing this pace and finishing the year at or around a point per game are slim to none. As well, after a hot start for the Detroit Red Wings posting 13 goals in their first three games, they’ve now scored 13 goals in their last eight games including being shutout twice.

It’s no surprise that Bertuzzi is already struggling to produce after his torrid pace to start the season. After posting six goals and nine points in his first five games, Bertuzzi has gone pointless and produced just seven shots in his last three games. Further, Bertuzzi has now missed three of his teams last six games due to Covid protocols in Canada. There’s not doubt that coming in and out of the lineup like that has had an effect on his performance and will continue to do so all year.

Bertuzzi was a late round flier in almost every league, but with nine points on the year already his value has risen dramatically. However given his vaccination status and his unsustainable shooting luck, fantasy managers would be best off selling him now before it’s too late.

Buy Low

Kevin Fiala RW – Minnesota Wild

It feels like Kevin Fiala pops up on a list like this just about every season since joining the Wild. A notorious slow starter and streaky player, Fiala has a habit of making fantasy managers who draft him panic to start the season. However if you’re a previous owner of Fiala, you know the story and how things typically go.

To start the season Fiala has produced just one goal, and four assists for five points in nine games for the Wild. In fact his only goal on the year game in the first game of the season back on October 15th as he’s gone without a goal for eight straight games and over two weeks. Not exactly the type of production you like to see from a player ranked around inside the top-100 and as the 74th forward off the board going into the season.

As mentioned though, this is nothing new from Fiala. To open the season last year, Fiala produced six goals and just nine points in his first 17 games. Despite this he still ended the year with 20 goals and 40 points in 50 games. He would close out the season with 26 points, and 11 goals in his final 22 game games.

If we go even further back to his first full year in Minnesota in 2019–20, Fiala started out the season with just one assist and no goals in his first eight games. He would then go on a tear putting up 53 points and 23 goals across his next 56 games of his season to end the year with a career high 54 points and 23 goals.

Just like his last two seasons, he’s suffering from brutal luck to start the year. Through nine games Fiala has a team leading ixG of 3.31, yet has just one goal on the year. The reason for that is his brutal career worst 3.7 shooting percentage to start the season as he has just one goal despite registering 27 shots through nine games.

In his two previous season in Minnesota, Fiala has posted shooting percentages of 12.3% and 13.1%, and has scored at a pace of 36 goals in 2019–20 and 33 goals in 2020–21 in a full 82 game season. Odds are his current pace of just nine goals and 3.7% shooting percentage is not going to hold up and he’s going to break out sooner rather than later.

Fiala is bound to go on a hot streak offensively anytime now, and can be had for much cheaper than he’s worth given his slow start to the season. He’s a perfect buy low candidate right now as history has shown despite his slow starts, he always picks it up eventually.

Shea Theodore D – Vegas Golden Knights

Coming off a career-best season in 2020–21, the sky was the limit for Shea Theodore. Many had pegged him to continue his success from last year on the high flying Golden Knights and challenge for the league lead for points among defencemen. Well to say that’s been far from the case so far this year would be an understatement.

Through 10 games this season Theodore has just four points in 10 games, a pace of just 33 points in a full 82 game season. That total would be the lowest Theodore has produced since the 2017–18 season when he had 29 points in 61 games. This after coming off a career year with 42 points in 53 games, a 79 point pace.

It’s not like Theodore isn’t getting the opportunities to produce. He’s currently averaging over 23 minutes a game, the highest total of his career. He’s also averaging nearly two minutes of powerplay time a game to start the season. With that he has produced a very solid 28 shots and 52 shot attempts. So why has Theodore struggled so much to start the season?

Well one look at the Golden Knights’ injury report should explain that. The team has been without their two best forwards for all but two games this year in Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and now another top-six forward in William Karlsson is out week-to-week as well. Alex Tuch, who was recently traded to Buffalo, has also been out all season for Vegas. In other words Theodore is surrounded with a suboptimal supporting cast right now and it’s having a massive affect on his value.

As a result Vegas’ goal production has taken a massive hit. They currently rank 25th in the league for goals per game after ranking third last season. In particular the Golden Knights powerplay has been dreadful without Stone and Pacioretty. Vegas is currently sitting with a league worst 0% on the power play to start the season.

Yes you read that right, Vegas is 0 for 19 on the powerplay to start the year. Last season Theodore produced 15 of his 42 points on the man advantage, in other words 36% of his production. That’s a massive block of production to take away.

The good news is there’s no possible way the Golden Knights continue to struggle to this degree on the power play, and when they start producing again Theodore will be right in the middle of it. As well, Stone and Pacioretty are both on track to return at some point over the next couple weeks which will of course provide a massive boost to Theodore’s value.

Looking even more long-term, the Golden Knights will also have Jack Eichel joining their lineup sometime in February or March of next year. Anytime a defenceman can gain exposure to an elite player like Eichel, they’re bound to gain massive value in fantasy.

Theodore has gotten off to a rough start to the season, but most of the factors contributing to that have been out of his control as Vegas have been hit hard with the injury bug. It’s more of a long term investment, but Theodore is certainly worth picking up for cheap as his rest of season outlook looks superb once Vegas is healthy.

Acting on transactions

There is never a bad time to look to trades in fantasy, and with some enticing players with uncharacteristic production (or lack thereof), pushing in the trade chips and getting a deal done early can be the difference maker later on in the fantasy season. It can be hard to make trades since it feels better to be right through the draft, but look at the Golden Knights right now—their best players were all acquired through trade or free agency. Emulate that in fantasy and turn good drafting into better trades into best in league rosters.

Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

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