Fantasy Hockey: Will hot finishes from 2022 carry over to 2023?

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      The NHL and fantasy hockey season are a long, gruelling 82-game season. Due to the sheer volume of games, hot stretches can often go unnoticed as we lose them in the grand picture of an entire season. Heading into the 2022-23 fantasy hockey season, we wanted to take a look at a few surprising players who quietly heated up in the second half of 2021-22 and see if it is a trend that will continue as we head into this upcoming fantasy season.  

      Brock Nelson (NYI – C)

      Second Half – 44 games – 23 goals, 15 Assists, 38 Points, 108 Shots

      Nelson went on a tear in the second half, finishing seventh in league-wide goals (23) and 43rd in points. Stellar production for a player who was occupying less than 10 percent of fantasy rosters at the mid-season point. The 6-foot-4 centre was the difference maker for many fantasy teams come playoff time, as they were able to add top 50 production off the waiver wire. Nelson’s second half was fueled by a heavy increase in shot volume (2.45 shots/game) and an incredibly high 21.3 SH%. Both numbers seem unsustainable, given Nelson’s previous history. The 30-year-old will be looking to build off his strong second half as he heads into 2022-23, proving this near point per game production wasn’t merely a flash in the pan. If he can continue his high shot production and return results anywhere close to his second half on an Islanders team that hasn’t changed, he should be good for another 30-plus goals as he has surpassed the 25-goal mark four times in his nine-year career.

      Kevin Fiala (LAK – LW/RW)

      Second Half – 42 Games – 21 Goals, 32 Assists, 53 Points, 134 Shots 

      No player drafted outside the top 50 ADP in 2021-22 helped fantasy owners more in the second half than Minnesota’s Kevin Fiala. The Swiss left-winger contributed across the board as he was ninth in points (53), 16th in goals (21), and 11th in shots (134) during the second half. His incredible 1.26 points per game during his final 42 games would have placed him 14th among all scorers across an 82-game season. Extrapolated over 82 games, that is 41 goals, 103-point production along with 262 shots. Fiala was traded to Los Angeles in the offseason and signed a massive seven-year, $55.125 million extension. He should likely line up alongside Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe in his first season in California. He should play more than ever, which could lead to a full-fledged breakout for the 26-year-old. 

      Blake Wheeler (WPG – RW)

      Second Half – 38 Games – 15 Goals, 25 Assists, 40 Points, 100 shots 

      Wheeler started 2021-22 decimating fantasy teams with two goals through his first 27 games. His assist numbers (18) and shot volume (67) were solid, but the lack of goal production made him one of the most dropped players. A model of fantasy efficiency over his long career, Wheeler quietly spent the next 38 games recovering what many thought was a lost season. His 40 points in 38 games during the NHL’s second half ranked him 32nd in the NHL. Over that span, he shot an unsustainable 15 percent, scoring 15 goals. That’s a 32-goal pace for a player who has a career-best 28 goals (2014). He offers modest goal production but 50-assist upside, giving him plenty of sleeper appeal in the 14th round.  

      Tim Stützle (OTT – C/LW)

      Second Half – 41 games – 14 goals, 23 Assists, 37 Points, 15.9 SH%

      It took nearly 100 games for the 2020 No.3 overall pick to find his bearings in the NHL, but if the second half of the 2021-22 season was any indication, Stützle is a fantasy star that is here to stay. Collecting 37 points (14G / 23A) in 41 games, Stützle was the 47th best point producer in the second half of the NHL season. Across a full 82-game season, those numbers would round out to 28 goals, 46 assists for 74 points. Mid 70’s point production would have landed the youngster just inside the NHL’s top 50 in league scoring. Look for Stützle to build off his incredible second-half production as he enters 2022-23 at the ripe age of 20 years old with the new additions of sniper Alex Debrincat (41 goals in 2021-22) and Claude Giroux (65 points in 75 GP) into the Senators top 6. He is a terrific high-upside pick in the middle rounds.

      Nico Hischier (NJD – C)

      Second Half – 32 Games – 13 Goals, 23 Assists, 36 Points, 17.6 SH%

      Hischier has been on my fantasy sleeper list every year since he broke into the NHL with his 52-point rookie season in 2017-18, a trend that will not change as we enter 2022-23. Whether it was health or general lack of production, the 2017 No.1 overall pick has never been able to put together a full productive fantasy season in his first four years. 2021-22 opened looking much the same as Hischier started the campaign to the mediocre tune of 24 points in his first 38 games. The emergence of Jesper Bratt seemed to be the missing link for the centre, as he took the fantasy and hockey world by storm with his strong second half of the season. Amassing 13 goals and 23 assists for 36 points in just 32 games, his point-per-game production across an entire 82-game season would be good for nearly 93 points and top 15 fantasy production. Hischier makes a sneaky pick heading into 2022-23 as he still is only 23 years old despite having five years of NHL experience. If he can stay healthy and pick up where he left off, Hischier could be a fantasy star in the making.

      Nick Schmaltz (ARI – C/RW)

      Second Half – 39 Games – 18 Goals, 26 Assists, 44 Points, 22.2 SH%

      Only 24 players recorded more points than Schmaltz in the second half of 2021-22. His 18 goals in the final 39 games were top 30 in the NHL over that span. Often overlooked in fantasy because he plays in Arizona, Schmaltz proved the saying “someone has to score” to be incredibly accurate last season. His 1.13 Pts/gm during the 39-game stretch would have placed him tied for 28th with Colorado’s Cale Makar across a full season. Although incredibly impressive, duplication of this elite production in 2022-23 for Schmaltz is surely unattainable as his 18 goals came on an impressively low 81 shots, thus making his incredibly high 22.2 SH% unsustainable through a full 82-game schedule. Still, he’s going to play big minutes with Clayton Keller atop the Coyotes depth chart and has proven that he can put up big point totals in the desert. Schmaltz costs nothing on draft day (ADP – 169.9) and could be a 20-40 player in 2022-23.

      Robert Thomas (STL – C)

      Second Half – 35 games – 15 goals, 30 assists, 24.6 SH%

      From undrafted afterthought to fantasy playoff saviour, Thomas had an incredible second half of the 2021-22 fantasy season. Finishing the final 35 games with an impressive 1.29 points-per-game, Thomas ranked 23rd in league points across the last half of the season while playing five/six fewer games than most other names on the list. Across an entire 82-game season, his second-half production would have led to a 70 assist, 105 point year, placing him eighth among league scorers in 2021-22. His production is driven by his heavy assist totals, as his lack of shot volume limits his goal-scoring. He did improve his shot volume down the stretch, so there’s reason to think he could shoot more and maintain a 20-goal pace. There’s also reason to believe he’s a modern-day Henrik Sedin.

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