This offseason hasn’t been as crazy as last year’s, but a new season always brings a new opportunity for growth. Several players are in new situations, whether they’ve moved teams or have seen a change in coaching staff. Coupled with a leaguewide increase in scoring across the board, there are lots of candidates to have a breakout season.
Looking at expected goals can provide insight into some of the players who should be expected to do better this season. We took a look at every player in the NHL last season and compared their actual goals to their expected goals over the past six seasons. Using this data, we identified 10 players to watch for improvements, and to target ahead of their ADP in fantasy hockey.
Despite scoring 40 goals, Auston Matthews had a down year in 2022-23. Normally, he sits at around 16 goals scored above expected, but last year he finished at just under one goal above expected. This is a massive drop from both the year before and his career average, and with an improved Toronto Maple Leafs team, Matthews could easily see a spike back up above his career norm. A return to ~60 goals seems likely for Matthews in 2023-24.
He finished third in NHL scoring last year, but Nikita Kucherov has more to give. He was right around breakeven on goals above expected last year but normally he is at around 13 goals above. With 30 goals last year, Kucherov could easily hit 40-45 goals and challenge for the scoring title once again. The only concern is that his GAx appears to be heading in a downward direction, but even the drop from two seasons ago is pretty stark.
On a new team now, Alex DeBrincat should return back to form as a premier goal scorer in the NHL. He had just 27 tallies last year, but has a career average north of 10 above. The Detroit power play should be very good next year and DeBrincat should be the primary trigger man on it. Look for a return to at least 35 goals for him and a solid bounce back year overall.
The Winnipeg Jets are not an inspiring team by any means, but Kyle Connor is a player to watch in 2023-24. With five 30-goal seasons across his seven-year NHL career thus far, Connor has become known as one of the premier snipers in the league and should bounce back from a very lackluster 2022-23 campaign. Even a return to his career average of around nine goals above expected, Connor should easily hit the 40-goal mark once again.
Elias Lindholm is just one of a few Calgary Flames players on this list. With news that he will likely re-sign in Calgary and his spot secured as the team’s number one center, Lindholm, who has shown he can shoot the puck as well as anyone. He should bounce back from a dreadful 2022-23 year after finishing with his lowest goals above expected over the past six seasons. Expect him to bounce back with at least 30 goals once again.
Yegor Sharangovich is a bit of a gamble on this list, but with two previous seasons at over five goals above expected, one has to assume that last year’s drop was the outlier. He lost ice time when the team traded for Timo Meier, but is poised to have a prime spot alongside Jonathan Huberdeau in 2023-24. With an elite passer on his wing, Sharangovich should easily surpass 20 goals and challenge for 30.
Over the course of his career, Johnny Gaudreau has proven time and time again that he is an elite player in the league. Last year was a tough one for him and the Columbus Blue Jackets, but even a return to his career average would have put him close to the 30-goal mark. The Jackets should be improved from last season, and if Adam Fantilli or Kent Johnson can become impact NHLers as early as next year, Gaudreau could easily bounce all the way back to 30 or even 40 goals.
This may look like a downward trend but Sam Reinhart has been steadily above the breakeven mark in terms of goals above expected for essentially his whole career. The Florida Panthers didn’t actually have a great regular season, but should be riding a high after a brilliant playoffs. Look for Reinhart to continue the momentum and improve on an already solid 31-goal season.
News just broke that Andrew Mangiapane spent almost the entire 2022-23 season with a shoulder injury, which explains a lot about his massive drop in goals above expected. Mangiapane had a fantastic 2021-22 year with 35 goals, but dropped to just 17 last season. With a new offensively minded coach and a mended shoulder, Mangiapane should easily bounce back and challenge for 30 goals once again.
Finally, Ottawa’s Drake Batherson had a dreadful 2022-23 season with around 12 goals below expected. He still managed to pot 22 goals but his career average is closer to four above, which would have given him a whopping16 more goals last year. Batherson may not have that big of a bounce back, but he is a very good goal scorer and should flirt with at least 30-35 this year.
A fresh start
For many of the players on this list, 2023-24 represents a fresh start for them. It’s not an exact science, but using advanced stats like expected goals can help predict trends for players on a year-to-year basis. Hopefully these 10 players see a turn in their fortunes in 2023-24.
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