The holiday break has come and gone, and teams are quickly approaching the half-way point of the NHL season. 40 games isn’t a perfect sample size, but it’s enough to make harsh conclusions about your friends’ questionable decision-making on draft day. Here are the Mid-Season Fantasy Awards for the 2018-19 season.
Biggest Bust: Vladimir Tarasenko
With just 11 goals and 11 assists through his first 35 games, Tarasenko has earned himself the dubious distinction of being the biggest fantasy bust of the first half. His 0.62 points per game is incredibly disappointing for a guy with an average draft position of 29.4 in standard Yahoo! leagues. The good news for Tarasenko owners is there should be better days ahead. His 8.5% personal SH% and 6.85% on-ice SH% are both well below his career averages, and he’s shooting the puck as much as ever. He’s on pace to break the 300-shot plateau for just the second time in his seven-year career. Still, his power-play production will need to improve if owners want to justify taking him in the third round.
Honourable Mentions (ADP): Anze Kopitar (33.5), Jonathan Quick (35.8)
Biggest Draft Day Steal: Mikko Rantanen
It’s hard to classify someone who put 84 points a year ago as a sleeper, but that’s exactly what Rantanen was on draft day. Too many touts and pundits were writing off the success of Colorado’s top line last season as a fluke, and those smart enough to see through the smoke are reaping the benefits. To say Rantanen has outproduced his average draft position of 61.8 would be a grave understatement. The Finnish phenom has piled up a ridiculous 16 goals and 44 assists through 38 games. His 61 points is good for second in the NHL, trailing Nikita Kucherov by a single point for the league lead.
With 144 points in 119 games since the start of last season, it’s safe to say Rantanen is more than just a flash in the pan. He’s posted a 15.0% SH% or better in every one of his NHL seasons, so he should have no problem maintaining this year’s rate of 16.5%. His on-ice SH% is a tad high at 12.4%, suggesting his assist totals might start to fall off as the season progresses. Still, 100 points seems like a lock at this point for the 22-year-old, unthinkable value for what was a late fifth-round pick in the pre-season.
If you're looking for the sauce at Thanksgiving dinner, Rantanen has it. pic.twitter.com/XqtiO31Urn
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) November 22, 2018
Honourable Mentions (ADP): Elias Lindholm (159.6), Elias Pettersson (155.2)
Top Goaltender: Pekka Rinne
At 36-years-old, many were expecting Rinne to finally start to take a step back this season, especially given the looming presence of the young backup-goaltender, Juuse Saros. Rinne, instead, has outperformed everyone’s wildest expectations, posting a .925 SV% and a league-best 2.15 GAA. He’s won 14 of his 26 starts and inked a two-year contract extension in early November. Saros struggled when called upon early in the season and the thought of him stealing playing time from Rinne seems laughable at this point. Rinne’s .943 even-strength SV% is yet another testament to his consistent, steady play, and bodes well for his production moving forward. Once Nashville gets healthy, you can expect the wins to pile up for Rinne. He’s well on his way to back-to-back Vezina Trophies.
Business as usual for Rinne. pic.twitter.com/bYU8ARFVe9
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) December 2, 2018
Honourable Mentions: Frederik Andersen, Jaroslav Halak
Top Forward: Nikita Kucherov
In fairness to Rantanen, there’s a bit of recency bias here. Kucherov is in the midst of a nine-game point streak and picked up an absurd nine points in his last two games. His most recent scoring rampage was just enough to give him the league lead in points and, by default, our award for the top fantasy forward of the first half. He was the clear-cut third overall selection behind Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin in the pre-season, and though owners can hardly complain about having McDavid or Ovie on their team, some might be experiencing buyer’s remorse thanks to Kucherov.
The 25-year-old Russian superstar continues to take his game to new heights. He’s on pace for a ridiculous 132 points this season, though his production is likely due for some regression given his 12.3% on-ice SH%. Still, he’s set to soar pass his previous career high of 100 points from last season and is the best bet for the Art Ross Trophy moving forward, all while playing a full minute less per game than he did a year ago.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) November 30, 2018
Honourable Mentions: Mikko Rantanen, Alex Ovechkin
Top Defenseman: Morgan Rielly
Rielly leads all NHL defensemen with 13 goals and 44 points and is the undisputed top fantasy-defenseman of the first half. He’s already eclipsed his previous career high in goals (10) and should top his 52 points from last season by the end of January. He leads the NHL in plus/minus (26) after posting a negative plus/minus in each of his first five seasons. That speaks to both the fantasy value of Rielly and the uselessness of plus/minus as a stat.
Rielly’s remarkable jump in production is the result of a revamped Maple Leafs’ team and Rielly himself taking full advantage of a dream opportunity. After conceding the role on the Leafs’ top power-play unit to Jake Gardiner last season, Rielly has become the featured puck-mover on a unit that includes Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner. His 16.0 on-ice SH% is astronomically high for a blue-liner and casts doubt over Rielly’s ability to maintain a point-per-game from here on out, but the power-play production should remain steady.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) December 24, 2018
Honourable Mentions: Thomas Chabot, Mark Giordano