NHL Playoff Preview: Western Conference Play-In Preview
Andrew Dewhirst breaks down the Western Conference play in match ups and gives his outlook on the teams.
For the upcoming Western Conference play-in series (best three out of five), we are taking a look at the matchup’s and what to look forward to from a fantasy perspective.
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs (12) Chicago Blackhawks
This should be a fun match-up as both teams are going to be happy to race up and down the ice. You have two of the most creative playmakers in the game in Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid going head to head. I expect both to put up big totals. Not to be lost however in the mix is the league’s leading scorer Leon Draisaitl , who while less flashy, will put up his fair share of points. If you are playing in a playoff pool, it will be tempting to stock up on Oilers. If they can play a couple of rounds you could still see more points from them, then you might see from most players on the Blues or Stars. Also because of this matchup, I wouldn’t mind taking someone like Kane or Alex DeBrincat , or Dominik Kubalik if the value is right, as they could get you a good number of points even in a short series.
There isn’t a lot here to look at. You can make a case for Klefbom, and maybe Nurse for Edmonton, and I think you look at Keith and Boquist on the Chicago side, but I am hesitant to make a significant investment in any of these players.
For the Blackhawks to have a shot here, they are going to need Crawford to steal them games. He played well in his 39 starts this season, but anything less than stellar play likely leaves Chicago on the outside of the playoffs. On the Edmonton side, I expect Koskanin will get the first start for the Oilers, but it really has been a 50/50 split all season. Choosing either goalie in a playoff pool will be a gamble, as Oilers coach Dave Tippett won’t hesitate to flip flop between Koskanin and Smith.
(6) Nashville Predators vs (11) Arizona Coyotes
An interesting facet of this series is how little either forward group scored during the regular season. If we look at things from January 15th on, the Coyotes scored 2.52 goals per game(26th in the league), with Taylor Hall leading the way at 0.67 points per game, and the Predators scored 2.54 goals per game (25th in the league), with Filip Forsberg scoring at the same 0.67 points per game. From a fantasy perspective, I would want to minimize my investment in either group, but if you had to choose you should be looking at Taylor Hall , Conor Garland , and Christian Dvorak for Arizona, and Forsberg, Granlund, and Johanson for Nashville.
This group is a little more interesting. Roman Josi is a strong Norris Trophy contender this year leading Nashville in points and was nearly a point per game. Behind him, is the often-forgotten Ryan Ellis , who was in the top 5 in team points, while only playing in about 60% of the Predators games. On the Arizona side, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been the primary contributor for the Coyotes, Jakob Chychrun has started to take part up that mantle at least in part, so he could provide value as a sleeper.
This is an area that the Coyotes have an advantage. When healthy this year Darcy Kuemper was among the best in the league, and Antti Raanta filled in admirably while he was injured. This is a system that will make goalies look good. I expect Kuemper to be the starter in this series with Raanta waiting in the wings. For Nashville, Jusee Saros should be the starter, with this serving perhaps as the formal handing of the torch off from Pekka Rinne . However, that may not be the case, so keep an eye on information coming out of the Nashville camp.
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs (10) Minnesota Wild
The Canucks feature one of the premier lines in hockey in Pettersson, Miller, and Toffoli. All three, were at a point per game or better this year for the Canucks (Toffoli however only played 10 games with the club). If the Canucks are going to beat the Wild in the play-in round, they should be a big part of it. Their second line of Pearson, Horvat, and Boeser are capable but are yet to gel and become a real threat for the Cancuks. On the Wild side of things, Kevin Fiala broke out this year, and they have some other serviceable forwards in Zach Parise and Eric Staal , but at this stage in their careers, they likely won’t strike fear into their opposition.
The Wild’s top four is very good. Ryan Suter showed that he can still produce, with 48 points in 69 games this year. Jared Spurgeon is perennially under-rated and will steadily put up points. Matt Dumba is a real wild card for the Wild. He was on a 30-goal pace before getting hurt, and if he is healthy, he could be a difference-maker for the Wild and your pool. For the Canucks, the focus on defense will be Calder candidate, Quinn Hughes . Hughes averaged nearly a point per game since January and has been a consistent power-play threat for Vancouver all year. Alex Edler will be the other defenseman that will be relied upon for some offense, but I expect the output will be significantly less than what you see from Hughes.
Alex Stalock carried the load for the Wild late in the year and did so successfully. I expect the job should be his heading into the playoffs, but the Wilds could still go back to Dubnyk or even roll the dice with Kaapo Kahkonen if he plays the best in camp. The Wild is one of the better defensive teams in the league so from a numbers perspective I expect them all to look no worse than average, but I also don’t see any of the 3 stealing Minnesota any games. For Vancouver, Jacob Markstrom established himself as a number one goalie in the NHL this year, with a 0.916 save percentage and a 2.75 GAA. He will be the guy in the playoffs and could be a really nice dark horse pick in your playoff pool if the Canucks can make a run.
(8) Calgary Flames vs (9) Winnipeg Jets
This should be a fun matchup for forwards. Both teams feature top-shelf talent in their top 6. Calgary’s top line struggled for much of the year after being electric for so much of the 2018-19 campaign, however, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm came to life after the new year both averaging nearly a point per game. Michael Backlund was a real surprise in that time span as well, leading the Flames in points, while Matthew Tkachuk continued to make his presence known both on the score sheet and with his physical play. Tkachuk’s play in the playoffs could be a real difference-maker for the Flames. Kyle Connor broke out this year for the Jets and would have passed the 40-goal mark had the season not been shortened. He was tied with Mark Schiefele for the team lead in points, and when you add Patrik Laine to the mix on that line you have one of the most dangerous lines in the league. Blake Wheeler while ageing, continues to rack up the point. He had 28 points in 28 games in the new year and has benefited from spending more time on the wing.
Neal Pionk was far and away the most reliable offensive contributor for the Jets. The next closest in points (Josh Morrissy) was 14 points back. The Flames will need Mark Giordano to return to the level he had played at in the last 3 years. Gio’s performance dipped significantly this year after having back to back 60-point seasons. If he can play well, he could be a real difference-maker for the Flames and could also be a player that really helps folks in a playoff pool.
David Rittich played the majority of the games for the Flames; however, he arguably didn’t play as well as Cam Talbot in those games. None the less, expect Rittich to play the first game, but if he struggles, Talbot will play. For the Jets, they saw what could be a Vezna winning year from Connor Hellebuyuk, and they will need him to play well for the Jets to win a couple of playoff rounds, as the team isn’t stout defensively. Hellebuyuk should benefit from the time off, after playing 58 games during the regular season.