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

It’s been an absolutely wild NHL offseason, and finally, the 2022–23 season is just weeks away from starting. That means it’s draft prep time for fantasy hockey.

Last season saw scoring increase leaguewide. Eight players finished with over 100 points, 16 with 90+ points, 34 with 80+ points, 50 with 70+ points, and 54 players finished with at least a point per game.

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. Using this data, we identified 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 outperform their 2021–22 season.

Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel already gets a bump with his move from the Arizona (State) Coyotes to the Vegas Golden Knights, but he may have even more left in the tank.

He’s been known for his ability to score goals in the past, but last year in Arizona he showed he can dish the puck as well. Recently, he chirped the Coyotes for not being a team that wanted to win, so he’s clearly motivated to play well in Vegas. Couple that with a massive GAx drop last season, and Kessel becomes a very intriguing fantasy option. He’s ranked 415th on Yahoo so Kessel will be available late in drafts. Keep an eye on him.

Jesse Puljujarvi

The Oilers ae a wagon this year. Yes, the Flames loaded up and might even be better this season despite losing their two best players from last year, but the Oilers look unreal.

Jesse Puljujarvi has been heavily criticized by Oilers media for not scoring enough goals, while simultaneously being praised by analytics folks for doing all the right things and having bad luck at finishing.

Put me in the latter category. Last season, Puljujarvi finished with more than seven goals below expected, compared to a career average of around even. Expect him to rebound in a big way this season.

Pierre-Luc Dubois

Pierre-Luc Dubois is intriguing for a few reasons. Since he told the Jets he wasn’t interested in signing there long-term and intends to hit free agency in two years’ time, every year is a contract year for him. Dubois should be trying to increase his trade value every single night. The Jets are due to see some positive regression anyway, so this just helps.

On top of that, Dubois finished with more than four goals below expected last season. It was the first time he was below expected in any of the past five years. He should rebound nicely this season.

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron is an ageless wonder. Coming off arguably the best season of his career, he saw a massive drop in goal scoring, finishing over four goals below expected.

With some expected positive regression, Bergeron is still an extremely valuable player on the ice and in fantasy, and shouldn’t be written off just because of his age. He’s not done yet, and still has lots left in the tank.

Miro Heiskanen

Miro Heiskanen is one of the best defenders in the game. His strengths don’t necessarily translate to fantasy though, and he is not a type of player who can be your number one or number two defenseman.

However, last season was Heiskanen’s worst season in terms of goals scored above expected. He finished over five goals below expected, significantly lower than his career average. He’s young, and it’s extremely likely that Heiskanen spikes back up to positive next season. He has an incredible goaltender behind him too, so he should be able to lean into his offensive side a bit more.

Players to avoid

Chris Kreider

I mean, look at that spike. Chris Kreider had an incredible season scoring over 50 goals. This is an ice cold take, but don’t expect him to repeat that type of success this season.

He’s been trending up in each of this last five seasons, but he’s due for a huge fall back to Earth this season.

Kreider still looks like he has a lot more to give, but don’t get too swayed by his monster 2021–22 campaign.

Filip Forsberg

This is a tough one because it was the first time Filip Forsberg has really ripped it and played to what many believed his ceiling was. It’s entirely possible that Forsberg continues to be a 1.2 points per game player, but realistically he probably tops out at point per game.

He’s still an incredible player and one that is worth drafting high, but he’s also one to temper your expectations about. He put up almost 18 goals above expected last season after averaging around three the previous four years. There is almost definitely a correction coming.

Brock Nelson

The Islanders had a very odd summer. They seemed to miss out on even single free agent and appear to be on the outside looking in. Brock Nelson had a great year with 37 goals last season, but finished at around 17 above expected. Correcting that back to his career average of around four goals above expected, he would have finished with a much more average 24.

Nelson is on my “do not draft” list this season.

Tage Thompson

As a Tage Thompson owner last season, his breakout was great to see. He’s a very young player so it’s possible he’s just found his stride in the league, but over the past five seasons he hasn’t finished positively in goals scored above expected even once, until last season where he had 15 goals above expected.

Even if he comes back down to four or five above expected, it’s a massive drop from last season. Draft with caution.

Ryan Johansen

Ryan Johansen saw a huge bump (and Matt Duchene could easily be on this list too). Both Predators centremen had excellent season seasons, but they scored a ridiculous number of goals above expected. Johansen finished at just over 13 goals above expected, a big jump from his career average of around zero.

With the expected correction this season, Nashville is going to be a team to be cautious about in fantasy hockey.

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 there was more luck involved than skill.

Going into the draft equipped with more information than your rival managers is never a bad strategy. Best of luck heading into the 2022–23 fantasy hockey campaign.

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