Each player develops differently in the NHL and has a different skill set at the table. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t clear trends and peaks when it comes to fantasy production.
Looking at all of the NHL scoring over the past seven years and outputs from different age groups, positions and levels, we can see where the more acute inclinations lie for a specific player’s development.
In other words, yes, we can imagine a breakout.
I took the top 72 defensemen in Fantasy Points from each season between 2015-16 and 2021-22, and combined the outputs from each age (based on their January 31st age in the respective season). So, over the course of seven seasons, we have a sample of 504 seasons from Defensemen that we can consider fictionally relevant.
The average fantasy output from each era is a relatively flat line. This is understandable, because there are fewer players in each age group when you go to either end of the spectrum. In fact, there is only one 18-year-old who qualified for the dataset at the young end and only one 39-year-old who qualified at the old end. (The 18-year-old was in 2018-19, while the 39-year-old was in 2016-17; can you name them both? Answers are given below.)
But while the average output may not provide much information for breakouts, looking at the number of players in each age group and the total fantasy points they produced gives us a curve to conclude.
The age generating the most fantasy points for fantasy-relevant defensemen is 26, with 6,958 fantasy points in 55 out of 504 player-seasons from a sample combination.
But this is not where breakouts happen. While 26 peaked, it’s a slight increase from 51 player-seasons to only 25 years of age generating 6,648 total fantasy points.
Breakout growth ranges from age 23 to age 25. Each season there has been a significant increase in the number of players ranked in the top 72 and with that, the expected increase in the total fantasy points they earn.
Again, every player is different and every situation is different, but it’s worth noting that some players fall into that key demographic to consider whether they’ll follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
Zach VerenskyD, Columbus Blue Jacket: Well, well, right… Verensky’s team has added a free agent who is sixth in the NHL to score since 2014-15 and reunited with a player who’s spent 24 years since 2010. Has scored the fourth most goals at a young age. Phrased another way: johnny goudreau plus Patrik Laine Equals to a very good power play. While it may be easy to say that Verensky is already broke and expecting more may be asking too much, something may be happening here. During Verensky’s tenure, the Blue Jackets didn’t have a scoring offense on paper this season. Gaudreau and Laine are game-breaking geniuses. Some of the top defenders can reach 2.5 fantasy points per game (FPPG), while Verensky posted a career-high 2.04 FPPG last season. If he has another level, this is the season we should be getting. During the summer Verensky turned 25.
Mikhail SergachevD, Tampa Bay Lightning: If not this season, which it probably won’t, then sometime in the next two seasons, Sergachev will have to start taking the lead in the Bolts power play-over. Victor Heidman, But after season as Hedman simply put it, it’s hard to imagine the year he looks like begins. That said, it wouldn’t be the first time a team had two defensemen in the top 2.0 FPPG – but usually one of them manages the feat through quick blocked shots and hits. Sergachev could have easily gotten there with a little bump from his physical figures. But he probably needs power-play work to find another level. It’s his age-24 season, so he still has some time before he finds his next gear.
Sign up for free today and be your own commissioner ESPN Fantasy Hockey League, Set the rules, invite your friends, and compete against it throughout the season.
Aaron OakleafD, Florida Panthers: While he’s technically his age going into season 26, Eckblad actually misses the cutoff by only seven days with his early February birthday, so we’ll take a quick beat up here. If we haven’t seen the best Ekblade ever presented from a fantasy perspective, that would mean its upside is pretty close. Cale Makar,Roman Josie/Victor Hedman level. With an ADP closer to 40 to 10, the Eckblade can be a steal if you can wait a few rounds on the D.
Noah HanifinD, Calgary Flames: ok i agree rasmus anderson Going into 25 seasons of the same age as Honeyfin, so calling one over the other is weird. But I keep coming back to the fact that if Hanifin has another level of his game, it will be a far higher range than what we’ve seen from Anderson. Note that Hannifein scored six more goals than Andersen and had only 12 fewer assists last season, but Andersen played with top line members on the power play for over 200 minutes, while Hannifein played less than 40 . I’d love to see Hanifin get more opportunities as the Flames’ quarterback.
Vince DunnD, Seattle Kraken: one more time. I swear No more Dunn touting after this season if he disappoints in fantasy again. He’s turning 26 in October, so the window for the summit is closing. But if newcomers to the Kraken can solidify this offense, Dunn will be in a good position to capitalize on, as there’s no more competition for the power-playing quarterback job. This is a low-risk game, as Dunn is rocking ADP north of 200. If fourth-overall pick Shane Wright and Matty Beniers What this offense needs to start the goal, Dunn must have a path of value.
Quinn HughesD, Vancouver Canucks: He’s not big enough to hit major breakout epochs, but Hughes started a little smaller, so he can hit a little early. He turns 23 in October and the offense is already in spades (60 assists last season is nothing to sneeze at). But it is physical play that is holding him back from a fictional standpoint. Quinn had only 56 blocked shots and 19 hits last season, literally the lowest in the NHL, playing more than 50 games and an average of 20 minutes of ice time. But Hughes just needs to see Adam Fox While Fox doesn’t hit either, it’s added enough blocked shots to its game to round out its profile, as a blueprint for a future 2.0 FPPG to climb north. Perhaps not just 23 years old this year, but Hughes still has some footing to climb in the coming season and will likely be in talks for the top tier by 2024-25.
New faces in new places? Catch up on all off-season moves and fantasy hockey analysis, with Transaction Tracker!
miro hiskanenD, Dallas Stars: with John Klingberg Now completely and utterly out of his way, Heiskanen could be another defenseman who manages to breakout a little early than most. With four NHL seasons already under his belt, Heskanen turned just 23 years old this offseason. But the key factor here is that he has played all four of those seasons under the power-playing shadow of John Klingberg. With Klingberg gone, Heskanen will get its first crack at a time of continuous ice when the stars benefit. While he got a lot of looks on the PP, the majority of it was on the other unit. For example, Jason Robertson Last season he played a power-play time of 176 minutes with Klingberg, but only 30 minutes with Heskanen.
Scott PerunovichD, St. Louis Blues: Considering the other names on this list, Perunovich’s resume in the NHL is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. But outside the NHL his resume is that of a budding power-play quarterback. Perunovic began the season in the AHL before he reached the Blues and ended with an injury. There, he put up 22 points in just 17 games, 12 of which came in the power play. This was a very unrealistic performance for a rookie defenseman in the league and showing the eighth-best all-time points per game among defensemen having played at least 17 games. In other words, Perunovich, who turned 24 last month, is somewhat of an upside. Justin Foulkey And torey krugMeanwhile, they were ranked 17th and 48th respectively for power-play points – despite the fact that only the Colorado Avalanche scored more power-play goals than the Blues last season.
Charlie McAvoyD, Boston Bruins: Major off-season surgery means McAvoy may have to wait until the 2023-24 campaign to find his next gear. McAvoy will be about 25 by the time he is expected to return to the lineup in December, but banking on an immediate return to form after shoulder surgery is a risky investment. I included McAvoy here for more as I await the anticipated bump in 2023-24. If it weren’t for the Bruins’ cascade of injuries off-season, we’d be talking about McAvoy in the same category as Adam Fox in the draft; After the big three left.
rasmus dahlinD, Buffalo Sabers: While he won’t be 23 until April, which puts Dahlin too young for our age curve, he is a defender who has always been ahead of the curve. In fact, the trivia tidbit in the Dahlin introduction has our answer: He’s the only 18-year-old to feature in a season eligible to be in the top 72 for fantasy in any of the past seven seasons. (With a season worthy of 39 years, as you surely guessed, zadeno variableDahlin already took a big step forward last season, but her ceiling is still ahead. After a 1.89 FPPG performance last season, Dahlin could join the elite group of defensemen to put up a 2.0 FPPG this season… and then spend the next few years repeating the feat.
ready to play? Sign up for ESPN for free!