June 22, 2024

Not everyone comes back from a poor season. Sometimes the drop in fantasy production that a player provides is simply the next step in the decline curve.

So how do we separate out players we hope can return to prior form?

Injuries are a big factor. That applies to the type that keep a player out for the majority of a season, which is obviously a stark dip in production — think Nikita Kucherov missing all of 2020-21. But injuries also apply when a player has been dinged up for a while but finds their way back to full health — think Erik Karlsson‘s return to form last season.

A change of scenery or surroundings can go a long way, too, though there is less evidence of that in recent campaigns. In fact, there may be something to the second season post-movement that can bring back the mojo. In going through the last three seasons looking for players that dipped at least 0.4 fantasy points per game (FPPG) in one season and then had a rise of at least 0.4 FPPG in the next season, there are a couple examples of this (out of what is actually a much smaller of pool of players that meet that criteria than what you might expect).

Joe Pavelski‘s first season with the Dallas Stars stands out as a big dip in his FPPG, but he returned to his usual levels after that initial drop. Patrik Laine‘s first season with the Columbus Blue Jackets resulted in his lowest career FPPG, but he bounced back to expected levels in his second year with the Jackets.

But a lot of the time, decline is simply decline and we need to accept that.

Whatever the reason for a dip, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment and assess whether a player can conjure past forms for the coming season.

To identify some players in position to bounce back, I am taking everyone’s combined fantasy points per game (FPPG) from the 2020-21 and 2021-22 season, then contrasting it with their FPPG from the 2022-23 season to look for the biggest dips. These players are listed by the FPPG difference they experienced last season compared to those two prior campaigns.

Connor Brown, W, Edmonton Oilers (1.15 FPPG drop): Admittedly, this FPPG drop is meaningless because Brown missed so much time last year, but I am pouncing on the excuse to feature him at the top of this list because I absolutely buy into the narrative — hook, line and sinker. Connor McDavid‘s linemate from his first two campaigns with the OHL’s Erie Otters now joins him at what should be near the peak of McDavid’s career with the Oilers. McDavid can make bank with anyone on his line, so if Brown can get his wheels going again after a torn ACL last season, he could be a steal in fantasy. The secret is definitely out though, as Brown’s early ADP is 195.1, which is pretty high for a player that has just crept into fantasy relevance twice in his career.

Verdict: Bounce back to new heights. If his ADP stays muted, he offers great value headed into the season.


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Jonathan Huberdeau, W, Calgary Flames (1.04 FPPG drop): The actual poster child for the bounceback concept, Huberdeau’s FPPG drop is a legitimate concern. The narrative here is all about how much of that dip is at the feet of former coach Darryl Sutter and how much is on Huberdeau. Huberdeau is also the reason I included the references to Laine and Pavelski bouncing back to form in their second season after a big move. This will be an opportunity for Huberdeau to settle in, play his game and attempt to return to the level that saw him finish the three seasons prior to last season ranked as 14th, 37th and 27th in fantasy.

Verdict: It’s hard to envision a return to the 2.66 FPPG Huberdeau put up in his last season with the Florida Panthers in 2021-22. But with a fresh face behind the bench and plenty of talent still around, Huberdeau has a shot at top 50 again. He’s going in drafts late at 166.4 ADP, which makes the investment quite tantalizing.

Josh Norris, C, Ottawa Senators (0.70 FPPG drop): An injury-associated dip in FPPG, Norris missed out on the Sens first season in a while with a filled out top six. However, he gets a do-over in the sense that Alex DeBrincat was replaced by Vladimir Tarasenko and the team’s scoring lines remain formidable. Norris finished 108th overall in 2020-21 and 89th overall in 2021-22, so the hope is that a surgically repaired shoulder has him in position to regain some of that momentum.

Verdict: Tim Stutzle emerged as the new No. 1 center for the Sens, but the top six is talented enough here to fill out two lines. Norris should bounce back to form, with the power-play access as maybe the one variable that could limit him.

Max Pacioretty, W, Washington Capitals (0.57 FPPG drop): Achilles tear followed by Achilles tear means Pacioretty won’t hit the ice right away this season. That said, having a spot kept warm for him in the Capitals scoring lines with Alex Ovechkin as a possible linemate puts him in good position, if healthy, to potentially have another big season in him. That said, he’s in his age-35 season and health has not been on his side. It’s been two seasons since he was a top 50 fantasy asset.

Verdict: Few fantasy managers are taking a chance on him in early drafts, with him showing up on rosters in only 8.3% of leagues. Given the minimal investment required, it almost doesn’t matter if he manages to bounce back. You can take him at the tail end of drafts, stash him on IR until he’s healthy and see if you have a productive player on your hands in December or so.

Teuvo Teravainen, W, Carolina Hurricanes (0.56 FPPG drop): Even with playing most of the season, Teravainen plummeted on the Hurricanes depth chart last season. He just never got going despite coming into the campaign with his usual spot next to Sebastian Aho. Now there is a good chance he doesn’t get that plum spot to start following the addition of Michael Bunting in the offseason. The main problem for banking on Teravainen pushing back toward the top 100 is that there is no soft landing spot if he doesn’t reclaim a top-line role. Because of how the Canes are built, it’s top line or fourth line for Teravainen this season.

Verdict: Bunting was signed to add some grit to the top line and has experience playing wing to stars like Aho. The safe bet is that Teravainen won’t be in the mix for fantasy this season.

Brad Marchand, W, Boston Bruins (0.56 FPPG drop): Another year older and a hall-of-fame center shorter, Marchand will be hard pressed to push beyond the fantasy performance we got out of his last season with Patrice Bergeron. The missed time at the start of the season certainly played into Marchand not being at the top of the fantasy list at the end of the season. But the per-game rate wasn’t there either, as Marchand slipped below 2.0 FPPG for the first time in the past eight seasons. With no Bergeron and no David Krejci back as the Bruins top two centers, it’s tough to say how Marchand will fair in his age-35 season.

Verdict: His early ADP of 165.9 feels about right. There is upside if the Bruins can find the right combination for a top line that includes Marchand, but it’s no sure thing given the exodus of pivots.

Patrick Kane, W, Free Agent (0.53 FPPG drop): Still without an official home, we don’t really need to know where Kane is playing this season to assess the potential outcome. Why? He’s not going to sign on to a team that doesn’t make sense. Kane has the luxury of being choosy when it comes to where he plays this season. Coming out of his offseason shoulder surgery, he does have to try to answer for his precipitous drop in production last season — though plenty of that can be explained away given the dearth of a supporting cast on the Blackhawks and the fact he needed his shoulder repaired. Kane will be in his age-35 season, which doesn’t bode well for most scorers.

Verdict: It doesn’t look like Kane is on the permanent decline yet. We saw enough pep right before the trade deadline that I think we can chalk up the overall picture to circumstances and shoulder issues. Assuming he finds himself a good home for the season, Kane could be a steal going late in drafts.

Filip Forsberg, W, Nashville Predators (0.49 FPPG drop): Was this really a decline to bounce back from? Or did Forsberg just have a really good season in 2021-22? The latter certainly looks like the more likely scenario when you take in his body of work. Forsberg is still on the back edge of his prime, but it’s not as if the Predators loaded up on offense to help him this season. Ryan O’Reilly might offer some consistency at center, but was acquired by the Leafs to be their No. 3 center just last season, so he’s probably not a massive upgrade.

Verdict: Two seasons ago really does look like a blip when you take a step back. Without some heavy hitters being added to the lineup, Forsberg will probably not bounce back to the 23rd overall finish he put up in 2021-22.


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