The first handful of games from a season can both be a portend of things to come or simply be a small sample to be written off over the course of an 82-game campaign. On one hand, it’s only been about five or six games for most clubs, but on the other hand, six games is more than seven percent of the fantasy totals you’ll get from a full season.
This is a time to both shrug and buckle down, depending on the circumstances. A lot of it comes down to how confident you are in a player’s ability, whether that’s to keep up a torrid start or overcome a slow one. You’ll need to assess each roster piece on its own merits and come to a decision. But it’s worth noting that seasons can be won or lost based on the early jockeying for assets.
In the interest of both stoking and quelling your fears simultaneously, let’s have a look at how some players were faring at this time last season compared to now.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Minnesota Wild: On Oct. 26 last season, Fleury was 0-4-0 for the Chicago Blackhawks and had averaged minus-5.49 fantasy points per game, on pace to subtract more than 200 fantasy points from rosters by season’s end. The 36-year-old at the time tender had allowed 18 goals in those contests and posted a 5.75 goals-against average. His fantasy demise was nigh. Or so it appeared. As we all know, the Hawks didn’t get a lot better and Fleury wasn’t a set-and-forget fantasy asset, but he turned his season around. He finished with 28 wins, was traded to the Wild and earned 125.6 fantasy points, which was good for 17th among goaltenders last season. Right now, Fleury is 1-1-1 across four games, averaging minus-3.20 fantasy points per game, on pace to subtract 170 fantasy points by the season’s end. The 37-year-old has allowed 18 goals and posted a 5.25 GAA. Given how last season turned out with a start that was even worse than the current one, I think we can cut Fleury a little slack here.
Mitchell Marner, W, Toronto Maple Leafs: Are managers who selected Marner biting their fingernails as the alleged top-20 pick sits tied for 155th with 9.8 fantasy points? I certainly wouldn’t blame them. One goal and four assists through five games is not what you signed up for at the draft. But maybe Marner is just a slow starter. On Oct. 26 last season, Marner had only 4.4 fantasy points after seven games. His one point was a lonely assist in the season opener and then he posted goose eggs for six consecutive games. Of course he would finish last season 19th among all skaters with 191.9 fantasy points.
Andrei Svechnikov, W, Carolina Hurricanes: What about a player who went the other way? At this stage last season, Svechnikov had posted five goals, nine points and 24 shots through five games, pushing his fantasy totals to 18.5 points and 3.7 fantasy points per game (FPPG). For a 21-year-old entering his fourth NHL season, it sure seemed like he was breaking into the elite tier. He did and he didn’t. Svechnikov would finish last season with 161.3 fantasy points — or 2.1 FPPG. That’s solid, but he ranked 57th among skaters by the end of the campaign. His rates on Oct. 26 were among the top 10 at the start of the season. What about this season? Well, he’s doing it again. Heading into Monday’s matchup, Svechnikov is ninth among skaters with 3.7 FPPG and 18.5 fantasy points through five games — literally the exact totals he posted last season after five games. Now a 22-year-old entering his fifth NHL season, it feels like he might do a better job of maintaining his pace. For one thing, he’s averaging almost 90 seconds more ice time to start this season compared to last season. For another, his line looks upgraded with a rejuvenated Martin Necas and a commitment to Jesperi Kotkaniemi as a top-six forward.
Valeri Nichushkin, W, Colorado Avalanche: This isn’t about what Nichushkin himself did to start last season, as we can all he agree he has grown since then into the offensive profile he boasts now. This is about other hot-starting power plays that simply score at untenable rates to start the season and inflate stats. David Perron was 10th among skaters for fantasy points at this stage last season thanks to the St. Louis Blues power play rocking at 37.5% through five games. The Blues advantage was ultimately the second best in the league, but cooled off to 27% by the end of the season. Perron would ultimately finish 136th among skaters for fantasy points despite his power-play fueled start. So, about those four power-play goals Nichushkin has scored through six games this season. Let’s just say the Avs won’t finish with a power play that converts at 52.9%.
Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis Blues: At this stage last season, Binnington was 4-0-0 with a .919 save percentage and 4.75 fantasy points per 60 minutes (FPP60). At those rates, he would have finished seventh among goaltenders by the end of the campaign. Of course, Binnington would actually finish 36th among goaltenders, behind the likes of backups like Kaapo Kahkonen and Anthony Stolarz. Binnington even lost his No. 1 status for much of the season to Ville Husso (now with Detroit). He’s looked great through three starts this season, with a 3-0-0 record, .940 save percentage and 6.79 FPP60. But you can be forgiven for approaching with caution.
Juuse Saros, G, Nashville Predators: It’s starting to look like we need to give Saros a little time just to warm up each season. Through his first five games this season, Saros is 1-3-1 with 15 goals allowed and only 0.2 total fantasy points. But it didn’t look much better at this stage last season, with Saros posting a 1-4-0 record with 14 goals allowed and 1.2 total fantasy points. He finished last season fourth among all goalies with 207.8 fantasy points.
Brent Burns, D, Carolina Hurricanes: Is this too plum a spot for Burns with the defensively sound Hurricanes? Through five games last season, Burns had the same three assists he’s had this season. Last year he had 11 shots; this season he has 18. But the biggest difference between Burns’ 2.7 FPPG early last season and his 1.2 FPPG early this season is from the supposed staples of blocked shots. Last year, Burns had posted 19 blocked shots through five games. This season, he hasn’t blocked one heading into Monday’s action. The Hurricanes dominate so much possession and have so many other proficient shot-blockers, this could be a lingering concern.