Are you ready, NHL fans? We’re back to the 82-game regular-season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly-flopping into an empty swimming pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Anaheim Ducks
Last season: The insults practically write themselves when you name your team after a bird that’s best known to be butchered for food. The lame Ducks finished 30th in the league and offered up mostly low-end options for the 2021 fantasy season. They averaged a league-low 2.21 goals per game, set the record for the most incompetent power play in history at just 8.94 percent and lost 30 games. Their top scorer was Max Comtois, whose team-high 33 points ranked 112th in the league, and John Gibson won just nine games, the fewest total since his rookie season.
Best option: Trevor Zegras, C
The ninth overall pick in 2019, Zegras was one of last season’s few bright spots and he will be the centerpiece in the post-Ryan Getzlaf era. Despite playing just half the season, Zegras had the second-highest P/GP (0.54) behind Comtois, ranked fourth in primary assists and first with a 54.4 5v5 CF percentage (min. 20 GP), according to evolving-hockey.com. He has a lot of offensive upside and he should get more playing time in his first full rookie season after averaging 15:24 TOI/GP in 24 games last season. The obvious downside is he’s stuck on a lottery-bound team and he does not have a particularly strong supporting cast or an elite finisher to finish off his no-look passes.
Zegras was particularly dangerous on a line with Comtois and Troy Terry, most famous for a clutch shootout performance at the 2017 world juniors when he scored three goals against Russia in the semifinal. Terry’s one of the better finishers on the team so pairing him with Zegras makes sense while Comtois adds a little bit of everything, though you could swap Comtois for Jakob Silfverberg, a stronger, more responsible two-way player. In 80:25 of 5v5 TOI together, Zegras, Terry and Comtois generated 56.7 shot attempts per 60 minutes – that’s pretty good, considering Winnipeg’s top line generated 52.9. THN’s Pool Guide is projecting Zegras, who still qualifies as a rookie this season, to lead the Ducks with 58 points.
Hidden gem: Jamie Drysdale, D
The former world junior gold medallist is a slightly bigger version of Quinn Hughes, a skating defenseman who can escape any situation and generate a ton of scoring chances with the way they can manipulate the play using their angles. He scored 18 points in 38 games split between the Ducks and the San Diego Gulls in American League, and along with Zegras will be major lynchpins for whatever offense the Ducks can muster. Drysdale will likely get sheltered minutes, perhaps limiting his playing time, but he can also be a great source of points on the power play.
Gibson looked disinterested at times last year, and who could blame him? His GSAA numbers were negative for the second straight season, according to hockey-reference.com, and the Ducks aren’t expected to be any good. He’ll do fine in spot starts but he doesn’t put up the same kind of peripheral numbers like he used to even when he didn’t get the wins. Gibson has battled injuries recently, being placed on injured reserve twice last season and at least every February from 2017 to 2019. Draft Gibson and hope he stays healthy, but at best he’s just another talented goalie stuck on a bad team.
Keeper leagues will pay attention to Zegras and Drysdale, though Terry and Comtois could be good late-round options because they’ll be given scoring roles. Rickard Rakell and Silfverberg are bound to improve from last year’s subpar performances, but they’re top-six wingers on the lower end of the scale at best, and would likely benefit if traded to another team. Alexander Volkov, who scored seven points in 14 games in his first month with the Ducks and perhaps is another hidden gem from Tampa’s system, is an enticing option but not worth a draft pick and should be readily available on waivers. The Ducks offer late-round options with only moderate rewards and unlikely to factor into the fantasy season very much.