Jordan Buckley, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
It’s no secret that the power play is an integral part of hockey. A team’s success, or lack thereof, with the man advantage often dictates the outcome of games — and by extension, playoff berths, seedings, and championships.
The fantasy world is no different. More often than not, prolific and efficient power-play producers are among the most valuable fantasy assets, especially in leagues that award extra points for special-teams scoring. Locking in some of the NHL’s most dangerous scorers with the man advantage on draft day — as well as seeking out the complementary players that benefit from skating on the same unit — is a tried-and-true strategy that’s essential in ensuring the offense rolls in for poolies all season long.
Let’s explore a few of the league’s most intriguing power-play assets heading into 2017-18.
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals
This should come as no surprise, as the veteran Swede took home the NHL power-play scoring title with 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) last season after putting up 30, 33 and 44 in the prior three campaigns. Digging a little deeper, though, reveals that Backstrom was remarkably efficient, accomplishing that feat while receiving the 27th-most man-advantage time in the league. There are some concerns that Backstrom may experience a downtick in overall production following the offseason departures of forwards Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, but that won’t impact his role centering one of the league’s scariest power-play units, which still features Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson. Look for more of the same from the 29-year-old in 2017-18.
Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers
Nobody saw the ice while up a man more than Giroux last year — a whopping 307 minutes in all, good for an average of 3:45 per game. The Ontarian pivot turned that into 31 points and a league-high 221 man-advantage faceoff wins — an important consideration not only for owners in leagues that include that category, but also for anyone who values the importance of puck possession. There are a couple red flags with Giroux, though: his point total has declined steadily over his last five full seasons (from 93 in 2011-12 all the way down to 58 last year), and Brayden Schenn was traded to St. Louis in the offseason. Schenn is a power-play whiz in his own right (26 points last year), and while some suggest that Giroux was a big reason for his success, others would say that Schenn is what made the Flyers’ power-play unit tick. The good news for Giroux is that Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere are still in town, and there’s hope that Valtteri Filppula — who currently projects to round out the team’s No. 1 unit — can at least somewhat capably fill the void left by Schenn. If not, No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick may be of some use on that front.
Shayne Gostisbehere, D Philadelphia Flyers
Sticking with the orange, black and white theme, let’s take a peek at another interesting power-play asset in the blueliner they call “Ghost.” After bursting onto the scene with an impressive 46 points in 64 games as rookie, Gostisbehere spun his wheels somewhat in his sophomore campaign to the tune of 39 points (and a hideous minus-21 rating) in 76 contests. The Floridian’s goal-to-assist ratio on the power play was lopsided (two goals, 21 helpers), but his 23 points still ranked seventh overall among NHL defensemen. Ghost’s dependence on the power play is worth noting, as a whopping 59 percent of his total offense came in man-advantage situations. That could spell trouble — and regression — for him if Philadelphia’s man advantage takes a step back without Schenn, so it might be wise to temper expectations when it comes to the 24-year-old rearguard.
Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets
Scheifele was essentially the antithesis of Gostisbehere last year — that is, no player relied on power-play scoring less than he did. The big Jets center rocketed to stardom in his fourth full NHL campaign, piling up an eye-popping 82 points, but inexplicably, only 15 of those came on the power play. It’s not like Scheifele didn’t get his looks, either, as his per-game average of 3:06 led all Winnipeg forwards and trailed only minute-muncher Dustin Byfuglien. His 44 percent faceoff win rate probably didn’t help things, but that’s a minor detail, considering the 24-year-old managed 67 even-strength points and got to spend power-play time with a combination of the same studs he skated with at five-on-five (Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine). All things considered, if you believe that Scheifele is here to stay as a legitimate point-per-game producer, then it’s only logical to assume that his efficiency while up a man will improve, especially given the potency of his supporting cast.
Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres
Eichel’s sophomore campaign was cut short due to a high-ankle sprain that kept the 2015 No. 2 pick shelved for 21 games. Because of the injury and his status playing for a perennially lackluster squad in Buffalo, Eichel’s success last year (24 goals, 57 points in 61 games) didn’t receive as much fanfare as it deserved. That said, the youngster’s power-play prowess makes him one of fantasy’s most exciting players heading into the new season, as his 24 points in 2016-17 equate to nearly 0.4 per game, which is among the very best in the NHL — by comparison, Backstrom averaged 0.43. Fellow Sabres Rasmus Ristolainen (25 power-play points) and Ryan O’Reilly (24) both finished among the league’s top man-advantage producers, and Kyle Okposo wasn’t far behind with 23 in 65 games, so Eichel should have everything he needs to make his opponents regret their trips to the sin bin.