NHL Fantasy: Comparing preseason fantasy predictions to actual performances

With the 2021–22 fantasy hockey season officially wrapping up for any remaining leagues this week, it’s time to move on to the offseason for fantasy managers. Before that though, it’s worth looking back at the various preseason and pre-draft predictions and suggestions we made going into the season.

During the lead up to fantasy drafts and the NHL season beginning, we identified players to target and avoid in your drafts going into the 2021–22 season. Let’s take a look how those predictions look now that the fantasy season has played out and finished.

Using expected goals to identify players to target and avoid

In our main preview post for the 2021–22 season, we took a look at players to target in your drafts, and some players with bust potential to avoid based on the previous season’s expected goal totals. Let’s see how we did.

Target – Kyle Palmieri

Kyle Palmieri was coming off one of his lowest scoring season of his career in 2020–21, scoring just 10 goals in 51 games. That total was around five below his expected total. As a player who had scored at least 24 goals the five seasons prior, it made sense that Palmieri would return to that form, especially in his first full season with the NY Islanders.

Unfortunately that was not the case. The Islanders were one of the biggest disappointments as a team this season, and Palmieri suffered because of it. As it stands, he’s scored just 14 goals in 64 games. His expected goal total is a tad higher at 17, but still below what we’ve come to expect from Palmieri. Perhaps his age has caught up to him and the 25-goal scoring Palmieri of old is no more.

Target – Tomas Tatar

Another player in his first full season on a new team, Tomas Tatar was expected to do big things in New Jersey. An underrated analytic darling during his time in Montreal, Tatar had an uncharacteristically poor season goal-wise in 2020–21. He scored just 10 goals in 50 goals during the shortened season, an 82 game pace of just 16. Before last year, Tatar had scored at a 20-goal pace for seven consecutive seasons.

He also scored just two goals above expected in 2020–21, after scoring at least five above expected for most of his career. Tatar had all the makings of a bounce back sleeper pick in 2021–22 on a New Jersey team with a ton of young talent. Unfortunately it just hasn’t worked out for Tatar this season, as he’s scored just 15 goals in 74 games, a number below his expected total of 16.

Target – Travis Konecny

Our predictions were hit hard by teams just being way worse than anyone could have predicted. Like the Islanders, the Flyers were dreadful this year. That obviously had a huge impact on any chance Travis Konecny had of a big year.

Before the season started, Konecny seemed like a player that could be an easy buy low come draft season. He was coming off a season in 2020–21 in which he produced just 11 goals and 34 points in 50 games, after a breakout 24 goal 61 point season in 66 games the year prior in 2019–20.

He had produced over six goals above expected for three straight seasons before getting just one above expected in 2020–21. Naturally most would predict a 25-year-old just two years removed from a 30-goal, 76-point pace would be in line for a return to form. Unfortunately the Flyers imploded and left Konecny almost no chance to be fantasy relevant this year as he’s scored just 15 goals in 75 games to his 19 expected.

Target – Oliver Ekman-Larsson

We outlined off the get go that targeting Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a big gamble in the first place. However the numbers suggested that he might be set for a bounce-back seasons of sorts in 2021–22 on a new team. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case, as Ekman-Larsson has seen his offence disappear again this season on an average Canucks team.

It seemed like a decent bet at the time. For the four seasons prior to 2020–21, he sat around three goals above expected each season. Last season he saw that total plummet to the negatives as he scored just three goals in 46 games. This season he sits with just four goals in 75 games despite having an expected goal total around 6.5. It’s unlikely he’ll be fantasy relevant again in his career at this point.

Avoid – Tyler Toffoli

Tyler Toffoli exploded last season with the Montreal Canadiens to the tune of 28 goals in 52 games, 10 higher than his expected total of 18. In a full season, he would’ve been on pace for 44 goals. Naturally he was being drafted with a ton of hype going into the season. We cautioned against that, and hopefully you listened.

Toffoli had a tough start to the season on a downright terrible Montreal team, scoring only nine goals in 37 games. Luckily for him he was dealt to Calgary and has had more success, but not by a large margin. With Calgary he’s posted 11 goals in 33 games. In total he sits with 20 goals in 70 games, a respectable pace but far off his 44 goal pace of last season.

Avoid – Ryan O’Reilly

Another player we nailed the avoid tag for. Ryan O’Reilly had a tremendous season in 2020–21 with 24 goals and 54 points in 56 games, so the odds of him repeating that production were low given his history. Here we are eight months later and that’s exactly what has happened.

O’Reilly produced at 11 goals above expected last season, but he’s come crashing back down to Earth this season as he sits with just 17 goals in 74 games compared to his expected total of 19.62. O’Reilly has never been a big offensive producer, so it was a good bet he would never keep up his near point-per-game production from 2020–21. Here’s hoping you didn’t use a valuable draft pick on him.

Avoid – Darnell Nurse

Let’s be honest, we all saw this one coming. Despite the Oilers shelling out massive dollars to Darnell Nurse after a career season, most people knew his production would never continue at the same level compared to 2020–21. Anyone who drafted him near his ADP was set for a big let down.

In 2020–21 Nurse produced a crazy 16 goals in 56 games, a total that was nine higher than his expected goal total. This season as expected, his luck ran dry as he’s sitting with just nine goals in 70 games. It’s not like he’s been unlucky either, as his expected goal total sits at just 10.62. Let’s hope fantasy managers didn’t commit to Nurse so quickly after his outlier season like the Oilers did.

Avoid – Pavel Zacha

Pavel Zacha had a career year in 2020–21, posting 17 goals and 35 points in 50 games after having never eclipsed 13 goals in his career prior. Unsurprisingly he produced at a pace that was seven higher than his expected goal total. Throughout his career he’s hovered right around his expected goal total, so his 2020-21 total was certainly out of character.

Well this season he’s returned to his career norm as he’s scored just 14 goals in 65 games against his 16.48 expected goals. This one could’ve been seen from a mile away given Zacha’s history. Anyone who drafted Zacha hoping for a big breakout season has been left with some major regret.

Avoid – Sam Reinhart

This one was without a doubt our boldest prediction. After being dealt to the Florida Panthers in the offseason, it seemed like things could only go up for Sam Reinhart. That said, his expected vs actual goal total over the past few seasons seemed to suggest otherwise.

Reinhart’s expected versus actual total has typically hovered right around zero, however in 2020-21 it skyrocketed to +10 as he scored 25 goals in just 54 games. Even on a much better team, it seemed unlucky Reinhart would produce at that pace again.

This year he’s has seen that total drop to just +2 as he’s scored 29 goals in 74 games compared to an expected total of 27. We nailed the prediction that his goal scoring would slow down, however Reinhart’s assists have him sitting over a point per game this season and have made up for his goal scoring dropping off from 2020–21.

Reflections on the season

Expected goals are just one stat to help make bold moves or know who to avoid. There’s so much more that goes into drafting than just a single stat, but there are clearly benefits. If you’re pressed for time and need to make a quick decision at the draft, expected goals is far from the worse option if you’re focused on the category.

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