One of the biggest keys to finding success in Fantasy hockey is avoiding overspending on players who may have either overachieved during the previous season, or who may be on the precipice of a major decline due to age, team situation, etc. Spending a high-round pick on a player who ends up busting can put an end to your championship aspirations before the season even gets underway.
In an attempt to help you avoid making that sort of mistake, I've put together a list of some of the biggest names who could underperform relative to their draft position in 2020-21.
Max Pacioretty – LW – Vegas Golden Knights
Pacioretty had an underwhelming first season with the Golden Knights in 2018-19, totaling 22 goals and 40 points in 66 games, but he returned to form last year, leading Vegas with 32 goals, 66 points and 307 shots on net in 71 contests.
It may seem odd to see a player who's only had two sub-30 goal seasons in the last seven years on this list, but there are a few reasons I think Pacioretty might not live up to expectations in 2020-21. For one, Pacioretty will be 32 years old when the upcoming season gets underway, and although he may not be a true power forward, he fits the mold of one, at least from a physical standpoint, and those types of players historically have begun to decline somewhat rapidly around that age, the most recent example being Corey Perry.
I don't necessarily foresee a Perry-esque decline for Pacioretty on the horizon, particularly because Patches has yet to suffer anything resembling the major knee injury Perry sustained ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, but two of his sub-30 goal seasons have come in the last three years, and he's dealt with injuries in both of those seasons, so it's something to consider. Additionally, Pacioretty's name has begun to surface in trade talks, as the Golden Knights are currently $1 million over the cap and are actively looking to shed salary, so there's no guarantee that he'll still be with Vegas when the upcoming season gets underway.
I still think Pacioretty will be a solid Fantasy asset this year, but he won't come without risk, so I'd let someone else roll the dice on him in the early-to-mid rounds of this year's drafts.100 percent for the first time in quite some time when the 2020-21 season gets underway.
J.T. Miller – LW – Vancouver Canucks
Miller had a breakout year in 2019-20, setting new personal bests in nearly all major categories including goals (27), assists (45), power-play points (25) and shots (165) in 69 games during his first season with the Canucks. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the fact that Miller just had the best season of his career is really the only reason he appears on this list.
His previous career high in points was 58, which he set in 82 games split between the Rangers and Lightning in 2017-18, and I'm always hesitant to jump on the bandwagon the year after a player makes such a dramatic leap in production, particularly at the age of 26. To be fair, 2019-20 marked the first campaign in which Miller had a featured role, skating on Vancouver's first line and top power-play unit, which obviously explains a lot of his success, but there's still going to be inherent risk whenever you rely on an outlier of a season to predict future production.
I still think Miller will be a high-end Fantasy asset in 2020-21, but I also think he carries too much risk to be worth a pick in the top half of the third round, which is where he's currently poised to go in this year's drafts.
Brent Burns – D – San Jose Sharks
Burns had a down season in 2019-20, notching 12 goals and 45 points in 70 games just one year after racking up 16 goals and 67 apples in 82 contests. There were a few different culprits behind the 35-year-old blueliner's sharp decline.
For one, the Sharks' offense struggled as a whole, going from one of the most prolific scoring teams in the NHL in 2018-19 with 3.52 goals per game, good for second best in the league, to one of the NHL's worst last season with a mere 2.57 goals per game, fourth worst in the league. Those offensive struggles correlated with a steep dropoff in Burns' offensive zone starts percentage, from 63.4% – the highest percentage on his team – in 2018-19, to just 51.9% last campaign.
There aren't a lot of reasons to believe San Jose will be much improved in 2020-21, so don't expect a substantial bounce back in offensive opportunities for Burns during the upcoming campaign. Beyond his lousy team situation, Burns will be 35 years old when next season gets underway, so a decline in production over the next few years is inevitable.
Despite everything that's working against him, Burns is still being viewed by many as a top-10 option at his position heading into this year's Fantasy drafts, and I'd simply much rather select a young, emerging option such as Miro Heiskanen or Seth Jones at that point in the draft, or a guy like Erik Karlsson who has similar upside and concerns a bit later.
Anthony DeAngelo – D – New York Rangers
DeAngelo burst onto the scene in a big way last season, setting career highs in goals (15), assists (38), power-play points (19) and shots (149) in 68 games with the Rangers. That breakout performance came just one year after the 25-year-old blueliner totaled four goals and 30 points while averaging nearly identical ice time in 61 contests. That's the first red flag here, as this is another classic case of being wary of committing a relatively high draft pick to a player who just exploded with career highs across the board during the previous campaign.
The second red flag boils down to DeAngelo's shooting percentage, which was an unsustainable 10.1 percent last year – he shot at a 3.6 percent clip in 2018-19. DeAngelo should continue to quarterback New York's No. 1 power-play unit in 2020-21, and that's an admirable position to be in considering that unit boasts the likes of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, but there are plenty of reasons to believe the New Jersey native will take a step back this year, and I'd simply rather invest in someone tried and true such as Keith Yandle, who should be taken off the board at a similar spot in this year's drafts.
Robin Lehner – G – Vegas Golden Knights
Lehner started the 2019-20 season with the Blackhawks, compiling a 16-10-5 record while posting an admirable .918 save percentage behind one of the league's worst defenses. He was then dealt to the Golden Knights at the trade deadline, going 3-0-0 while registering an impressive 1.67 GAA and .940 save percentage in three regular-season appearances before overtaking Marc-Andre Fleury for Vegas' starting gig heading into the postseason, during which he racked up nine wins in 16 starts while maintaining a solid 1.99 GAA and .917 save percentage.
There's a lot to like about Lehner heading into 2020-21. He's been one of the league's best netminders in three of the last four seasons and will be playing behind what should be one of the NHL's best defenses this campaign. However, unless he's traded, Marc-Andre Fleury will still make a significant number of starts this year, and if Lehner falters, coach Pete DeBoer likely won't hesitate to hand the reins over to Flower, potentially for long stretches.
I actually think in all likelihood, both Vegas netminders will be solid Fantasy options this season, but due to the presence of Fleury, I'd be hesitant to drop a third, fourth or fifth round pick on Lehner, which is where he's currently projected to go in most Fantasy drafts. At that point in the draft, I'd much rather go with a sure thing such as Tuukka Rask or Carter Hart rather than a player like Lehner whose upside will be capped by the presence of his two-time Stanley Cup champion backup.
Igor Shesterkin – G – New York Rangers
The only reason Shesterkin appears on this list is his lack of a track record. The 24-year-old backstop was unquestionably dominant as a rookie last season, posting a 10-2-0 record while registering an eye-popping .932 save percentage in 12 starts despite playing behind a Rangers team that allowed the second-most shots against per game.
There's a reason Shesterkin was considered one of the league's very best prospects before making his NHL debut, and there's a real possibility he'll continue to play lights out in 2020-21, but I'd hesitate to invest a high-round pick in a player with just 12 games of top-level experience, particularly when he has another talented young netminder behind him in Alexander Georgiev ready to take over should Shesterkin falter.
Shesterkin has the ability and the opportunity to be one of the best netminders in Fantasy this season, but I'd like to see him continue to play at an elite level over the course of a full campaign before investing a fourth round pick in him, which is where he's currently expected to go in most drafts.