Special to Yahoo Sports
Players having down years is nothing new, and it's up to fantasy gamers to decide which are simply on the decline and which are primed for bounce-back campaigns during their drafts. There are a lot of factors that go into whether a player fits the mold of a bounce-back candidate, but opportunity and situation are always most important.
The following players will be in a great position to bounce back in a big way in 2019-20.
Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils
Although rookie netminder MacKenzie Blackwood burst onto the scene in 2018-19, splitting starts with Schneider down the stretch, Schneider outplayed the youngster from February until the end of the season, posting a .921 save percentage and a 2.46 GAA in his final 17 outings. Unfortunately, he compiled an ugly 6-8-1 record over that span. Nonetheless, Schneider's $6M AAV essentially guarantees that it's his starting job to lose, and the 33 year old won't be supplanted if he can continue to play at the level he finished at last year.
Meanwhile, the addition of P.K. Subban (53.4 Corsi For Percentage) on the blue line will help defensively, while a healthy Taylor Hall along with rookie Jack Hughes and KHL stud Nikita Gusev should add enough offensive support to make Schneider's win total worthwhile in the fantasy realm.
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders
Varlamov isn't a traditional bounce-back candidate since the .909 save percentage he logged in 2018-19 wasn't necessarily bad (although it did represent a notable regression from the .916 mark he posted over the previous six seasons). However, he makes this list primarily due to the immense upside he'll have with the Islanders in 2019-20. It's important to remember that we just saw a previously inconsistent Robin Lehner put himself into Vezina Trophy contention with the same squad last year. Lehner's .930 save percentage represented a dramatic rise from the .908 he recorded the year before with Buffalo, and a large part of that improvement can be linked to head coach Barry Trotz's dedication to the defensive zone. Although Varlamov, 31, will likely be used in a tandem role, he should be able to maintain 1A duties over Thomas Greiss throughout the campaign.
Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues
Schwartz went through an unprecedented low last year with just three goals in his first 41 games, which included a 22-game goalless streak. The 27 year old winger is far too talented for that type of slump to repeat itself, which he demonstrated in the playoffs by racking up 12 goals and 20 points in 26 contests. Of course, Schwartz's durability is always a concern — he's missed 82 matches over the last four seasons — but he showed promise in that area by suiting up for 80 straight games last year (including the playoffs). The Blues have also retained their entire top-six forward group heading into 2019-20, so consider Schwartz a strong candidate to post 25 goals and 60 points this season.
Derek Stepan, Arizona Coyotes
Stepan posted the worst stat line of his career last year with 35 points in 72 games, failing to eclipse the 53-point mark for the first time since the shortened 2012-13 season. One of the biggest contributing factors for his downslide was Arizona's anemic power play. Stepan posted just three points on the man advantage last year after racking up 18 power-play points during the 2017-18 campaign.
However, the Coyotes' offseason acquisition of Phil Kessel should do wonders for their power play in 2019-20. Kessel has racked up 160 assists — 76 with the man advantage — over the last three years. Of course, it helped that Kessel generally logged power-play minutes with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, but Stepan is no slouch, either, and has the potential to record 20 goals and 50-plus points with the proper linemates.
Corey Perry, Dallas Stars
Perry had a late start last year due to offseason knee surgery, and he finished the campaign with just 10 points and an ugly minus-16 rating in 31 outings. Even before his injury, Perry's stats had been regressing for two straight years; he totaled 49 points in 2017-18 after picking up 53 during the previous campaign. However, if he's able to stay healthy, the 34 year old will get the benefit of playing for a contender in the Stars rather than a rebuilding squad in the Ducks this season. Perry will also have a chance to crack Dallas' power play, which will be stacked with young talent, giving him legitimate 40-point upside and making him an intriguing late-round pick for fantasy gamers.
James Neal, Edmonton Oilers
Neal averaged 26.3 goals per year through his first 10 campaigns in the league and he never fell below 21 scores or a 10.0 shooting percentage in a single season over that span. So when he produced a measly seven goals on 140 shots (5.0 percent) in 62 games with the Flames last year, it was obvious that something was off. That highly disappointing performance led to him being dealt to Edmonton in exchange for Milan Lucic in July.
Neal will hope to find the chemistry in the Oilers' top six that he couldn't secure in Calgary, and considering he'll have a chance to play on a line with Connor McDavid, the potential upside is massive. A grouping with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl wouldn't be so bad, either. Neal will be 32 years old when the season begins, but his track record is simply too strong to expect another dud, so fantasy gamers can find late-round value with expectations of another 20-goal year on the way.
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
After holding out for the first 28 games of the 2018-19 campaign, Nylander was simply never able to find traction with the Leafs, finishing with just 27 points in 54 contests. It was clear that the missed training camp and extra (self-induced) pressure of a new contract affected the 23 year old, but Nylander is too talented to underachieve again. The 2014 eighth-overall pick already has two 60-point campaigns under his belt, and he should find himself in a consistent top-six role skating with either John Tavares or Auston Matthews this season. As long as he's able to stick on a line with either superstar center, Nylander will have 25-goal and 70-point potential in 2019-20.
Justin Schultz Pittsburgh Penguins
After battling a lower-leg injury for most of the 2018-19 campaign, Schultz ended the season with just 15 points in 29 games. With a full summer of healthy training under his belt, Schultz should be rejuvenated and ready to perform in his contract year. The 29 year old is a lock to work on one of Pittsburgh's power-play units, which ranked sixth in the league last season at 24.6 percent, and he's started at least 54.5 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone for four straight years. That looks like a recipe for success, and he'll likely slip in drafts despite owning 55-point potential.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning
Shattenkirk's childhood dream of playing for the Rangers was cut short when the Blueshirts bought out the final two years of his $6.65M AAV contract in July. The veteran defenseman posted just 0.41 points per game during his two seasons with New York after averaging 0.68 over the first seven years of his career. Now with the Lightning, the 30 year old will likely be paired up with either 2018 Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman or Ryan McDonagh in 2019-20.
He already has a track record of success with the man advantage, notching at least 25 power-play points in each of his last four seasons with the Blues, and will now see time on what was the best power-play unit in the league last year. Shattenkirk's past accomplishments are no mistake, and now he'll be surrounded with enough talent to give him a chance to surpass the 40-point mark for the seventh time in his career.