To bounce back a player has to fall off.

So any discussion around players that may or may not return to form in the 2020-21 (should we just call it 2021?) season has to begin with identifying who fell off in 2019-20.

The new default scoring system for ESPN.com makes comparing statistics from season to season a little easier, as we have an assigned value we can give a player for their fantasy production. Further, that assigned value happens across a set number of games.

You are going to see a lot more fantasy points per game discussion now that points are the default scoring here. As such, we’ll roll with FPPG as our go-to acronym.

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

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Now, the low-hanging fruit for bounceback candidates would come in the form of players who are hurt. But that’s low-hanging for a reason: It’s not that helpful. Vladimir Tarasenko scored 168.3 fantasy points in 2018-19 and then just 22.3 fantasy points in 2019-20, but, as we all know, he played just 10 games last season.

In those 10 games, he potted 2.23 FPPG. In his strong 2018-19 season, he scored 2.21 FPPG. Labelling him a bounce-back candidate doesn’t really tell a story. Once he heals up for the coming season, it’s probably a safe bet to count on 2.20 or so FPPG. Which isn’t really bouncing back. He never fell off; he was just hurt.

To identify potential bounceback players, we are looking for someone who had a plunge in FPPG from 2018-19 to 2019-20, who also has a chance to get back to that previous form due to a new or different situation.

But we are going to look at all of the top drop-offs in FPPG and then decide whether we like their chances to play more like it’s 2018-19.

Potential candidates

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

Alexander Radulov and Joe Pavelski, F, Dallas Stars:

These two have some of the largest drops in FPPG among all skaters. And, while they are on the same team, they didn’t spend much time together on the ice last season. So, while I’m lumping them together for prognostication, how they each got here is unrelated.

Verdict: Stay down. The Stars are one of the biggest defense-first teams in the league, having posted the third- and fourth-best goals-against per game totals in the past two seasons. It’s what they do. Radulov and Pavelski’s FPPG from last season should be expected to stay in the same range (1.55 for Radulov and 1.43 for Pavelski). In 2018-19, the Stars power play had a particularly good year to account for Radulov’s spike and Pavelski, of course, was on a different team then.

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

Jeff Skinner, F, Buffalo Sabres:

Going from 1.86 FPPG in 2018-19 to 1.11 last season, Skinner had a down season for one very identifiable reason: A lack of Jack Eichel. No longer teamed up with Eichel at even strength, Skinner was tasked with doing his best to make a secondary scoring line. It didn’t work that well.

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Verdict: Bounceback a little. With his former teammate (though rarely linemate) slated to be his center in Eric Staal and an improving Dylan Cozens likely to get first crack at completing the second line, Skinner will be in a better situation for this coming season. But it’s doubtful he can hit those Eichel-adajenct heights – especially with the top power-play unit looking unlikely for him.

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

Viktor Arvidsson, F, Nashville Predators:

The Preds winger dropped from 2.04 FPPG in 2018-19 to a less impressive 1.31 in 2019-20. In 2018-19, Arvidsson skated almost exclusively with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, but that was not the case last season as the team did more mixing and matching with the offense. His roll on the power play has been inconsistent both seasons.

Verdict: Bounceback. Coach Jon Hynes closed the season with more consistency in the lines, especially in the form of a Johansen-Arvidsson-Forsberg top unit. I don’t think Arvidsson will crest 2.0 FPPG again (his 2018-19 was really, really good), but close to it is possible. Especially with the team securing Mikael Granlund to balance the second line again.

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

Phil Kessel, F, Arizona Coyotes:

The desert was not kind to Kessel, dropping him from 1.94 FPPG in 2018-19 with the Penguins to 1.24 last season. He just never clicked with the offensive weapons on offer, including Taylor Hall and Clayton Keller.

Verdict: Stay down. There isn’t one category that Kessel struggled in, as the drop was just across the board. He still scored some goals and was effective on the power play, it was just fewer goals and he was less effective. Taking Hall out of the equation without any real impact replacement is unlikely to help.

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

Thomas Chabot, D, Ottawa Senators:

A drop from 2.27 FPPG in 2018-19 (a Victor Hedman range) to just 1.68 FPPG in 2019-20 (more of a Ryan Suter range) was a stark difference to Chabot’s fantasy value. Some of this can likely be chalked up to the Sens overall showing and reduced potency on offense (2.95 goals per game in 2018-19 versus 2.68 in 2019-20). The power play was probably better in 2018-19, too, when Bobby Ryan and Mark Stone were contributing.

Verdict: Bounceback: Evgenii Dadonov plus some combination of Josh Norris, Tim Stuetzle and Drake Batherson will make for a better power play than last season. Not to mention the aforementioned pieces plus Derek Stepan making the offense more dangerous. Chabot could climb back among the top 12 defensemen.

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

Matt Murray, G, Ottawa Senators:

With a workhorse number of starts in 2018-19, Murray turned in a top 10 fantasy showing for goaltenders by posting 3.38 FPPG. In 2019-20, it was Tristan Jarry posting the stellar 3.50 FPPG, while Murray slipped to 1.67 and was shipped to the Senators this offseason.

Verdict: Not yet. Maybe with another season for the Senators to develop, Murray can settle in and post some solid stats as their goaltender. This is a rebuilding team that is going to take strides this season, but probably not enough of them to make their goaltender a fantasy asset.

Fantasy hockey drafts – bounceback candidates

Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Florida Panthers:

After posting the fourth-best fantasy total in 2018-19 by collecting 3.07 FPPG across 62 games, Bobrovsky struggled behind the Panthers in his first season with Florida. His 1.40 FPPG was only better than John Gibson’s among the seven goalies with 50 starts.

Verdict: Wishful bounceback. There’s not a ton of evidence to suggest things will be better for Bobrovsky this season. The Panthers have been a rough place to be a goaltender in recent seasons, as the team relies on its scoring to win. But with fewer scoring pieces on board this season, one has to wonder if some of the focus won’t shift to preventing goals? Maybe. Maybe not. But logic flows that the investment the Panthers made in Bobrovsky was to improve the defensive game. Here’s hoping they just needed a mulligan season to get their ducks in a row. It certainly feels like a risk worth taking a little earlier in a draft than the 17th goaltender off the board.

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