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The Winnipeg Jets locked up two very important pieces to their franchise within the last week: Right Winger Blake Wheeler was signed to a 6-year deal with a cap hit of $5.6 million per season while defenseman Zach Bogosian got a 7-year deal with a cap hit of $5.142 million per season. The timing of these contracts is fairly impeccable as Wheeler is only going to be 27 years old going into the season so at least half of his contract will come through his peak-talent years while Bogosian just turned 23, which means his contract will endure for essentially the peak of his career.
In fantasy hockey terms, only one of these guys is a viable option but in real hockey terms, these are both pretty good signings.
Wheeler was traded to the Jets during their final season in Atlanta and has quietly become one of the most underrated fantasy hockey performers. This is a list of players with at least 50 goals, 90 assists, 125 penalty minutes and 500 shots on goal in the last three seasons:
- Steven Stamkos – 134 – 111 – 172 – 732
- Eric Staal – 75 – 124 – 174 – 710
- Corey Perry – 102 – 92 – 303 – 695
- Teemu Selanne – 69 – 101 – 127 – 519
- Alex Semin – 62 – 90 – 173 – 529
- Blake Wheeler – 54 – 95 – 129 – 516
- Justin Williams – 55 – 94 – 125 – 596
It’s safe to put Stamkos, Staal and Perry in their own category, but I bet if I had told you Blake Wheeler would have been about as valuable on your fantasy hockey teams as Semin or Teemu Selanne in the last three years you may not have believed it. Wheeler is good and only getting better: his 0.85 points/game was a career-high last year and a 70-point pace over a full season.
One of Wheeler’s big problems is that because he’s one of the top players in Winnipeg, he also draws top opposition. When you draw top competition and play for a middle-of-the-road possession team then your traditional plus/minus isn’t going to be very strong. This is why Wheeler is just a +2 through 151 games in the Thrashers/Jets franchise.
In short, Wheeler is a very good real hockey player and an underrated fantasy hockey player. For the last two years, I’ve been drafting Blake Wheeler somewhere in the ninth – 10th round in drafts and invariably he returns value. The later you can wait on him, the better, but with his success last year expect to use a seventh round pick(ish) on him.
You look at a defenseman who has five seasons in the NHL, has cracked 30 points just once in that time and has a 29-point 82-game pace for his career and wonder “seven years at $5 million-plus per season!?” I understand that angle, but this is one case where the metrics/comparables and not the raw numbers tell the story.
Bogosian cracked the Thrashers roster at the tender age of 18. It’s a very short list of players who have had significant impacts in their age 18 season:
- Only four players – Sidney Crosby, Jeff Skinner, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexandre Daigle – have scored 20 goals and 50 points as an 18 year old in the last 20 years.
- Among defensemen, Bogosian is the only defenseman to score at least nine goals and 10 assists in his Age 18 season in the last 20 years.
- He’s also the only defenseman to tally 19 goals and 20 assists as a teenager in the last 20 years.
- He’s also just one of 39 defensemen since 1993-1994 to tally 30 points in any season by the age of 21.
- There are also only 13 defensemen to have 100-plus points in less than 300 games played since 1993-1994 by age 22, one of them being Bogosian. To this point in his career, he actual compares pretty favorably to Chris Pronger.
So despite his low point totals, he’s actually performed pretty well as a young defenseman in the NHL. He’s a (-8) over the last two seasons, but faces the same issues as Wheeler; Zach Bogosian is used primarily as a shut-down defenseman, which means he draws top competition, and starts much more often than not in his own zone. When you face the other team’s top competition, frequently start in your own zone and play in front of one of the worst goalies in the NHL, then your plus/minus will suffer. Also, if you compare Bogosian to other established defenseman, he will of course pale in comparison. The point here was to compare him to other defenseman in terms of production for his age.
Staying healthy has been Bogosian’s biggest enemy so far in his career. BoGo has managed to miss 44 games in the last four seasons. In an 82-game season, this means he doesn’t quite average 70 games (69.7). If a player wants to be regarded as elite, part of it is staying on the ice. Regardless of your feelings on injury-proneness, he can’t stay healthy for one reason or another and until he does, he won’t be able to take that next step to elite-defenseman status—regardless of his actual production.
The way Bogosian is used right now and his injury history are both warning signs about drafting him in fantasy hockey leagues. If he were used as an offensive defenseman and not a shut-down defenseman, he could push for 40 points. However, until he gets those assignments, I would be hesitant to draft him in any non-deep leagues (any league that doesn’t draft at least 70 defenseman).
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