Fantasy hockey point projections underestimate Elias Pettersson
A closer look at fantasy hockey point projections for the Canucks forwards and defensemen.
The Vancouver Canucks were one of the NHL’s most successful teams during the 2019-20 season, finishing eighth in the league with 3.25 goals per game. Last season their attack came to a halt.
In a tough year where they lost franchise center Elias Pettersson for more than half the season and faced many other obstacles, the Canucks managed just 2.64 goals per game. , finishing 24th in the NHL.
That has to change next season. Despite the overhaul of the defense and Thatcher Demko in net, the Canucks are unlikely to be a stifling defensive team. They’re going to have to score goals – a lot of them – to get back to the playoffs.
Fortunately, the Canucks have a great group of forwards heading into next season. Plus, they’re good at hockey.
Canucks have options galore with top nine forwards
The additions of Conor Garland, Jason Dickinson and Vasily Podkolzin should make for a much stronger top nine if everyone can stay healthy. It’s a group that gives head coach Travis Green a lot of options. He can keep the Lotto Line of JT Miller, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser together, give Bo Horvat two talented wingers to Garland and Nils Höglander, and create a line of control from Tanner Pearson, Dickinson and Podkolzin.
Alternatively, Green could spread the talent, moving Miller to the center and Dickinson to the wing to create three scoring lines, handing the defensive assignments to the fourth row to Tyler Motte, Brandon Sutter and Matthew Highmore.
It’s an intriguing mix of players, but how much can Canucks fans expect them to score?
To set those expectations, I turned to the realms of fantasy. Fantastic hockey, that is to say. Sadly, the works of JRR Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and Robin Hobb didn’t have much to say about how many points Elias Pettersson will score next season.
Fantasy Hockey projections, on the other hand, have predictions of how many points Pettersson and the rest of the Canucks will score. Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic released their fantasy hockey projections on Wednesday, and ESPN and CBS also have point projections among their fantasy hockey tools.
I’ve looked at the projections of 12 Canucks skaters – eight forwards and four defensemen – from these three sources and put them together in this handy table, complete with an average of the three projections.
A few quick notes before we dive in: CBS made their point projections to two decimal places – that’s how you know those are good stats – but I’ve rounded those projections to the nearest whole number. Additionally, they inexplicably projected that every player will appear in 78.7 games.
I’ve included leads Vasily Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone here, although only two sources had point projections for either player. CBS is clearly bullish on Rathbone and his 3 points in 8 games last season. He might even have a hard time staying in line with competition from Olli Juolevi and Brad Hunt, but he’s arguably good enough to be an everyday NHL player, so the screening doesn’t bother me. not.
Pettersson and Boeser sub-sale
All three fantastic screenings are in the same stadium when it comes to the Canucks’ top forward, throwing 69-72 points to feed Pettersson, despite ESPN getting him those 72 points in just 70 games.
Those are conservative projections, likely influenced by his disappointing 21 points in 26 games last season before injuring his wrist. Pettersson clearly has the ability to score more points – he was better than a point per game in the 2020 playoffs and he was also a point per game player in his last 20 games of the 2020-21 season after a slow start.
Even a projection of 72 points seems too weak. Considering that he was on track for 80 points in the 2019-2020 season shortened by COVID and can be expected to take another step forward on the occasion of his 23 years next season, Pettersson should be able to beat those projections. A more optimistic projection would build on that 80-point pace in 2019-2020 and suggest 85-90 points in the 2021-22 season.
In fact, a 72-point projection seems more apt for Brock Boeser, who had 72 points in 82 games last season as he led the Canucks in scoring. It was without Pettersson as a center for most of the year. If the two can stay healthy together next season, they could feed off each other and achieve career years each.
Both Athletic and CBS are projecting a small setback for Boeser, while ESPN are projecting a 71-point pace but just 68 games played.
Predictable Differences: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Many projections are similar in all three lists. 57-58 points seem reasonable for Bo Horvat and The Athletic and ESPN both project 44 identical points for Höglander. What’s interesting is where there are big differences.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a good example. The Canucks’ commercial acquisition has consistently scored around 40 points per season for the Arizona Coyotes, including a 43-point pace in 82 games last season. Based on this, ESPN and CBS’s 46 and 40 point projections look pretty reasonable.
Athletic, however, are projecting 32 points for Ekman-Larsson, which would be his lowest point total on record in a full season. We understand why, because Luszczyszyn’s projections also take into account a player’s place in a team’s depth table.
With Ekman-Larsson unlikely to take Quinn Hughes’ place in the first unit on the power play, he might not be able to match his power play point totals from previous seasons. This is a problem, as it has traditionally been a primary source for a large portion of its scores.
As a result, The Athletic only projects 9 power play points, while ESPN projects 16 power play points. That alone constitutes the bulk of the difference between their projections. Additionally, Ekman-Larsson may have to carry a heavier defensive load next season, which could reduce his even-matched points total.
On the other hand, Ekman-Larsson only had a 3.6% shooting percentage last season, well below his career average of 7.4%. He’s been generally a lock in scoring double-digit goals every season and only had three goals last season – it could be due to a positive regression there.
Different projectables: Conor Garland
Another player with a wide range of projections is another former Arizona Coyotes member: Conor Garland.
It’s understandable why there would be different projections for Garland, as it’s hard to predict exactly how a player will fare for a new team. Luszczyszyn projects 51 points for Garland and CBS is similar to 54 points, but ESPN projects 65 points in just 70 games.
That’s 0.93 points per game, which would be a big jump for Garland, who averaged 0.80 points per game last season.
Much will depend on where Garland fits into the lineup. Garland could be a good choice alongside Bo Horvat on the second row, but he could also potentially get minutes with Pettersson on the front row. There is also the question of whether Garland can take out anyone from the higher power play unit or if he will play on the second unit.
65 points doesn’t seem outrageous as a projection for Garland, but it tilts on the optimistic side, especially if he only plays 70 games.
What’s interesting is that ESPN also has a higher projection for Tanner Pearson – 45 points versus 32 for The Athletic. With Garland taking Pearson’s place in the top six and possibly also on the power play, Pearson could struggle to reach 45 points, which is his career high.
The hardest players to project, of course, are those who haven’t played in the NHL yet. Vasily Podkolzin racked up modest point totals in Russia, but has already been included in the Canucks’ opening night roster.
The Russian rookie has a tenacious defensive play that should immediately endear him to the Canucks coaching staff, so the 70-game projection for Podkolzin seems reasonable. This well-rounded aspect of his game should keep him in line, but offensive production is a whole different matter.
Athletic are planning 33 points – 14 goals and 19 assists. As for the Canucks rookies, that’s a drop from Boeser’s 55 points, Pettersson’s 66 points, Hughes’s 53 points or even Höglander’s 27 points in 56 games last season.
Still, 33 points would be a solid second-row production and match the performance of a similar player at the same age; Valeri Nichushkin had 29 points in 79 games at age 20 after playing in the KHL the previous two seasons.
The production of Podkolzin will depend on where it ends up in the formation. If he finds an adjustment on a third line of control, the points might be more difficult to achieve, but he could still have a significant impact. If he gets the chance to play with Horvat on the second row, however, they will expect more point production from him.
Looking at a few of these players with different projections, however, gives rise to an intriguing possibility: Between Ekman-Larsson, Garland, Pearson and Podkolzin, the Canucks have the makings of a very good second unit on the power play.
Will this be enough for these players to match or exceed their projections? It remains to be seen.