Fantasy - Fact or Fiction: 3 players to watch using advanced stats

Every Tuesday, we examine 3 players you should watch in your hockey pool using advanced statistics.

Thomas Vanek, F, Minnesota Wild

Vanek came into 2014-15 averaging 33.7 goals per 82 games over his nine NHL seasons. With just one goal in his first 10 games with the Wild, some owners have decided to outright drop him, but we suggest tapping the brakes on such a hasty decision.

For starters, Vanek ranks 13th (among players with at least 100 minutes played) in even-strength points per 60 minutes with 3.42, a number boosted by his seven assists, six of which were primary. He's still involved in the Minnesota offense, but without the headlines that come with goals.

The issue is Vanek's lack of shooting and his diminished success rate. On pace for only 131 shots (which would be his lowest output by far in an 82-game season), Vanek - a career 2.8 shot-per-game player with a 14.6 percent success rate - is currently rolling at a clip of 1.6 shots per game and converting at 6.3 percent. 

If he's able to get his shot rate and shooting percentage back up to career levels through the final 72 games of the season, he could still hit 30 goals.

That's a fairly large if. While Vanek isn't likely to maintain a pace of 5 goals over 82 games, he'd have to start scoring in bunches to hit the 30-goal mark. All things being equal, he should finish somewhere in the 20-25 range, with a healthy enough dose of assists to keep him active on most fantasy rosters. 

The fact is, he's simply not a 35-40 goal scorer at this stage of his career, but it would be silly to cut bait unless there's gold to be found on the waiver wire.

Nick Bonino, F, Vancouver Canucks

Acquired in a deal that saw Ryan Kesler fly off to Anaheim to join the Ducks, Bonino has filled in admirably through 12 games in Vancouver.

The 26-year-old is tied for seventh (with Phil Kessel) among all NHL players with an average of 3.79 even-strength points per 60 minutes, as each of his nine points has come five-on-five.

Bonino scored 22 goals on 159 shots in 2013-14. While his shooting percentage sits a touch higher this year than last (15.4 to 13.8), maintaining his current rate of 2.16 shots per game should mean pushing for 25-30 goals even if his success rate falls back.

Bonino is receiving over two minutes per game on the power play, and if he can start to produce five-on-four, he's sure to top the career-high 49 points he posted a year ago. 

This extrapolation suggests Bonino is criminally under-owned at 27 percent in Yahoo leagues, especially in formats that count faceoffs.

Nikita Kucherov, F, Tampa Bay Lightning

Owned in only 37 percent of Yahoo leagues, the 21-year-old forward has scored five goals and added six assists in 12 games to start the season, with a plus-five rating and 29 shots on goal to boot.

There's two sides of the story to consider in relation to whether Kucherov can keep this up.

First, Kucherov's likely to see his shooting percentage drop from 17.2, especially as fellow rookie phenom Jonathan Drouin gets more involved in the offense.

At the same time, Kucherov ranks second in the NHL with 4.66 points per 60 at even strength, and his production is coming in under 13 minutes of ice time per game. He's also received only 19:39 of power-play time this season. 

Add it all up, and Kucherov could remain a dynamic fantasy performer even if his shooting percentage falls closer to earth.

(Advanced statistic information courtesy puckalytics.com)

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Fantasy - Fact or Fiction: 3 players to watch using advanced stats
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