All offseason long, NHL.com will cover all the angles leading up to your fantasy hockey draft. For some of the most compelling debates, our fantasy staffers will compare two players at a given position in the same projected draft range.
Value is quantified based on factors including (but not limited to) line combinations, power-play usage, team goalie situations, injury history, bounce-back, breakout or sleeper potential, possible regression and age. Once each writer has made his argument, fans can cast their votes in our @NHLFantasy Twitter poll.
Today, we compare left wings Jonathan Drouin of the Montreal Canadiens and Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils:
PETE JENSEN: Drouin, 22, is coming off NHL career highs in four of the six standard fantasy categories; he had 21 goals, 32 assists, 26 power-play points and 183 shots on goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. After center Steven Stamkos sustained a season-ending knee injury Nov. 15, Drouin stepped up to score 48 points (19 goals, 29 assists) in 63 games. Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, remained in a second-line role but thrived on the Lightning’s first power-play unit with two top 25 fantasy finishers, right wing Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman. We finally got a glimpse of Drouin’s fantasy potential after a mostly disappointing and controversial start to his NHL career.
Now, Drouin has a chance to take another step forward after being traded to the Canadiens on June 15. Drouin has a real chance to challenge left wing Max Pacioretty for the Montreal scoring lead whether he continues playing wing or is shifted to center. Drouin didn’t have strong even-strength linemates for much of his tenure in Tampa Bay, so he could improve at 5-on-5 if he lands with center Alex Galchenyuk or on the opposite wing of Pacioretty. There are some glaring concerns, no doubt; the Canadiens could move Galchenyuk to wing, have weak center depth as it is, and lost right wing Alexander Radulov to the Dallas Stars in free agency. But Drouin’s fantasy upside as the focal point of the Canadiens offense and power play is very appealing in the sixth or seventh round of a 12-team draft.
Drouin still brings exposure to high-end fantasy assets Pacioretty and defenseman Shea Weber after being traded. The same cannot be said about Hall in New Jersey, at least in the short term. Drouin should have a heavy enough workload to reach at least 60 points and 200 SOG for the first time in his NHL career, and is likely to improve his plus/minus on a strong defensive team with an elite goaltender like Carey Price. Hall, who’s more than three years older than Drouin, has not had more than 17 PPP in any of the past five seasons and has taken steps back since scoring 80 points for the Edmonton Oilers four seasons ago. Each left wing comes with concerns, but Drouin’s breakout potential should be the overriding factor when comparing the two.
BEN ZWEIMAN: Many would consider Hall’s first season with the Devils a disappointment. He had 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists) and was minus-9 with 32 penalty minutes, 15 PPP and 238 SOG. Those numbers weren’t good enough to land Hall among the top 100 in Yahoo fantasy hockey last season, but there were plenty of encouraging signs. He was productive despite playing for the third-worst offense in the NHL (2.20 goals per game). Had Hall not missed 10 games because of knee surgery, he likely would have finished with 60 points for a second straight season and had a chance to surpass his previous NHL career high of 286 SOG from 2015-16. He had the third-highest PPP total of his NHL career despite New Jersey ranking 22nd in PP percentage (17.5). Should the Devils improve — which appears likely — Hall can return to being one of the top left wings in fantasy.
Among the reasons New Jersey should improve its offense this season are the additions of multiple talented forwards. Most notably is center Nico Hischier, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old will bring skill and playmaking ability to an offense starved for such a player, and he could play center on the top line with Hall or play with him on the power play. The Devils also acquired forward Marcus Johansson in a trade from the Washington Capitals. The 26-year-old set NHL career highs in goals (24), points (58) and plus/minus (plus-25) for the Capitals last season. Johansson should boost the power play, having scored 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) on the man-advantage in 2016-17. The Devils will surround Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, with much more talent and speed to suit his strengths this season.
A change of scenery isn’t always a good thing. Drouin had a breakout season in 2016-17, seeing increased playing time with Stamkos missing 65 games. The Lightning have a far superior roster compared to the Canadiens, featuring a deeper forward group that includes Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point, and a defense group that is led by Hedman. Drouin will get every opportunity to succeed in Montreal but will be under scrutiny and immense pressure in one of the top markets in the NHL. He also has to deal with a new coach in Claude Julien, who may not give Drouin the playing time or role everyone expects. Ultimately, Hall is the more proven player, and the Devils’ improved roster suggests he should rebound and outperform Drouin.