But before we close the door on the 2017-18 campaign, let’s acknowledge the on-ice difference makers who overwhelmed — or, in one case, underwhelmed — ESPN fantasy managers during the season. Fantasy hockey experts Sean Allen and Victoria Matiash weigh in with their selections of each award winner.
Fantasy hockey MVP
You could make a case for Evgeni Malkin here, but I’m inclined to pick a goaltender when it comes to MVP discussions. They are, on the whole, personally responsible for a much larger percentage of your fantasy team’s fate. Sure, Pekka Rinne had better ratios, but Hellebuyck appeared in eight more games than Rinne and was still starting consistently in crunch time, winning nine consecutive games while only resting three times in the final three weeks.
In a toss-up between Hellebuyck and Kucherov, I’m intuitively disposed to side with the Lightning winger. Beyond the flash of hitting three digits in points, the 24-year-old effectively checked all boxes across the fantasy board in reliable fashion. Outside of one bizarre stretch in late January (during which he scored a hat trick in one game, earned three assists in another and then registered zilch over six other contests), Kucherov was endearingly consistent from October to April.
Sleeper of the year
Karlsson scored six goals and 19 assists in 81 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last year. In Vegas’ inaugural campaign, the 25-year-old steered his newly-cobbled squad with 43 goals and 35 helpers. He also comfortably led the league with a plus-49. If that doesn’t qualify Karlsson as sleeper extraordinaire, I’m not sure what does.
Among players drafted in fantasy leagues back in September, MacKinnon stands head and shoulders above everyone else for sleeper value. We knew the success of the Avs hinged on MacKinnon realizing his potential, but that has been true for several seasons, and MacKinnon failed to eclipse 53 points in the previous two campaigns. But with Mikko Rantanen as his sidekick and a rejuvenated Tyson Barrie aiding on the power play, MacKinnon barely trailed Malkin and Kucherov for overall fantasy value among forwards this season, despite playing four fewer games than Malkin and six fewer than Kucherov.
Taken as the 17th defenseman off the board in drafts, it’s almost unbelievable that Keith finished 82nd among defensemen on the ESPN Player Rater despite playing all 82 games. Keith will be 35 years old next season and will justifiably be a late-round flier with value completely dependent on the Blackhawks’ power play and his role on it.
With the Oilers’ collective dud of a 2017-18 barely in the books, Lucic is already pledging to do better next year. Once projected to skate on a top line with Connor McDavid, the veteran winger fell well short of productive expectations, earning only 34 points (minus-12) through all 82 games.
Fantasy rookie of the year
Centering a scoring line with Jordan Eberle, the 2015 first-rounder easily exceeded our fantasy-fueled hopes and dreams with 22 goals and 63 assists. Barzal’s better-than point-per-game numbers are too rich too ignore.
Allen: Yanni Gourde, C/LW/RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
In a season where we weren’t supposed to enjoy rookies at the top of the rankings, we were spoiled with two youngsters finishing among the top 50 skaters on the Player Rater — and it was a photo finish. Gourde edged Barzal by 0.04 points. For me, it’s the way they earned those points that made me prefer Gourde’s body of work over the season. Getting a plus-34 made a huge difference in the standard ESPN scoring. While only four players had more assists than Barzal, only two players had a better plus/minus than Gourde.
Fantasy defenseman of the year
I’m not picking the guy who had the best season for a fantasy defenseman (that would be Victor Hedman). I’m picking the guy who embodied a combination of elite fantasy skills and value for where you picked him. Hedman finished first among defensemen, and rightly so. He was the third one off the board in September. While Hedman was comfortably ahead of Subban for overall value, Subban was drafted 15th among defensemen with an ADP of 80.1. He finished second to Hedman on the Player Rater.
Matiash: Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
Unlike Sean, I am picking Hedman. Finishing 10th on the Player Rater between forwards Alex Ovechkin and Tyler Seguin among all skaters, the well-rounded Lightning defenseman ranked top five in points, power-play points, plus/minus and average time-on-ice.
Fantasy goalie of the year
Matiash: Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets
Remember when Steve Mason was tapped as the No. 1 starting netminder for the Jets? A legit contender for all-around fantasy MVP, Hellebuyck is my clear favorite for goalie of the year.
Allen: Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville Predators
Even though I gave Hellebuyck the overall MVP award, I’ll give Rinne this one as to not repeat winners within my own awards list. And the argument for Rinne is very strong here, as well as the overall fantasy MVP. After all, he had more fantasy value than any other player this season. His first-overall finish on the Player Rater was his third 40-plus win season, was his fourth season with a save percentage better than .920 and featured a new career best with eight shutouts. That said, he yielded more starts to Juuse Saros in the fantasy playoffs than was ideal for most managers. Next year, he’ll celebrate his 36th birthday in November, and Saros has shown some potential as a starter, so I won’t be overly invested in Rinne.
Waiver-wire streamer of the year
Rostered in fewer than 30 percent of ESPN leagues at the end of the season, Wilson finished among the top 50 on the Player Rater. Such is the life of a streamer for penalty minutes. Wilson had some fabulous months of hockey; December featured four goals, six helpers, a plus-9 and 34 penalty minutes in 14 games. He also had some not so good months, as January featured no goals, two helpers, a minus-4 and 27 PIM. Really, Wilson was roster-worthy when he was playing minutes with Ovechkin on the top line, but just another PIM streamer when he wasn’t.
Largely available across the ESPN spectrum when No. 1 Roberto Luongo fell injured in early December, Reimer did more than an adequate job as substitute. Through that full month (and before stumbling somewhat in the new year), the Panthers backup rocked a 7-3-3 record and .932 save percentage. In late March and early April, Reimer once more helped in keeping his club playoff-relevant and rewarded invested fantasy managers by running 6-1-1 in his own eight closing contests.
Dynasty stash of the year
Allen: Eeli Tolvanen, RW, Nashville Predators
Among all youngsters, Tolvanen has all the right components for me to get excited about him as a fantasy hockey asset. In the skill department, he owns the all-time record for scoring by an 18-year-old in the KHL, beating the marks set by Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vladimir Tarasenko and fellow dynasty-stash Kirill Kaprizov. As for opportunity, he got to finish out the year with the Predators and is currently enjoying the NHL playoffs from the press box as a way to acclimate to the North American game. I think he has a relatively clear path to top-six minutes with the Preds next season by bumping Craig Smith or Kevin Fiala.
Matiash: Juuse Saros, G, Nashville Predators
While there’s plenty of up-and-coming offensive talent in which to invest up front — Tolvanen certainly qualifies — Nashville’s young backup goalie could also pay out rich fantasy dividends for years and years to come. Through 26 appearances (23 starts), the 22-year-old boasted a .925 save percentage and 2.45 goals-against average in his second real NHL season. At 35 years old, Rinne has one year remaining on his current contract. We’ll see what course the Preds choose to take after that.