Players to target to jumpstart your fantasy hockey season

Travis Konecny could get off to a hot start if he sticks with Claude Giroux on the top line. Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire

Maximizing your team's value during the course of the season is an accumulation of micro transactions in which you buy low and sell high. This doesn't just mean trades. Adding a player while his value is low and moving that player when his value is high (and maybe going to crash) can be done through the draft or even free-agent pickups through the season.

Winning your league goes beyond just drafting the best team, making the best trades and picking up the best players. It's about doing all those things at the right time to maximize the value you possess.

While there isn't a hard and fast rule for players who have fast starts to the NHL season, we can go over some overarching themes that you can use to help potentially identify players who are going to start hot.

No surprises

In going over the past nine seasons of data for early returns, there is only one consistent theme among the players who you find coming out of the gate hot over the first 20 games of the season: They are elite or elite-adjacent.

Specifically, looking at the players who have the most points in the first 20 games of a season since the 2009-10 season, you have a top 15 that shouldn't surprise you: Steven Stamkos (three times), Sidney Crosby (three times), Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Anze Kopitar, Jakub Voracek, Tyler Seguin, Thomas Vanek (his 2012-13 was exceptional), Phil Kessel and Jamie Benn. They all had seasons (or multiple seasons in the case of Stamkos and Crosby) with 27 or more points in the first 20 games of a campaign.

It should be a firm reminder that the elite are the elite for a reason.

But if we dig a little deeper into the list of hot starts, we start to see the other type of player here. I don't like to call them coattail riders, but they are certainly stars by association. You have your ridiculous starts by Rich Peverley (playing with Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta), Alexander Semin (with Alex Ovechkin), Joffrey Lupul (with Kessel in Toronto), Matt Moulson (with John Tavares), Chris Kunitz (with Crosby), Josh Bailey (Tavares, again) and Anders Lee (again, with Tavares).

If a player is going to score 20 or more points in the first 20 games of a season, it's fair to conclude they are either a superstar or basking in the glow of one. (Or named Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss or Tomas Fleischmann; remember that bizarre start to the 2011-12 season for that Florida Panthers line?)

So, the question becomes, who is going to get a chance to skate with an elite linemate at the start of the season and will have an opportunity to come out of the gates strong?

Stars by association

Mitch Marner, C/W, Toronto Maple Leafs: I know Marner is a star by his own rights and doesn't necessarily need the presence of Tavares to have a breakthrough season, but he's getting the J.T. bump anyway, so we might as well embrace it. You'll notice on the list of stars by association above that Tavares has been one of the more consistent kingmakers in the NHL. That is partly a product of being forced to work with lesser talent on his wings, but also a direct result of his next-level talent. Given his own skills, Marner could be absolute gangbusters with his new superstar center.

J.T. Miller, C/W, Tampa Bay Lightning: On that list of most points in the first 20 games of a season for the past nine years, Stamkos' and Kucherov's totals from last season (35 and 33 points) stand as No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. (For the record, Stamkos' start to the 2010-11 season was No. 2.) Miller finished last season on the top line with this elite pair and has the first right of refusal for the job again. Stamkos has at least 20 points in the first 20 games in eight of the past nine seasons, so there is a history that can't be ignored here.

Ty Rattie, W, Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid has started the past two seasons with at least 24 points in the first 20 games. As the Oilers have struggled to find him consistent linemates, Rattie came out of left field late last season to close the campaign with nine points in the final 12 games on a line with McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Getting cheap shares of both Rattie and RNH gives you an early chance to draft off McDavid's talents.

Travis Konecny, C/W, Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux has started four of the past nine seasons with at least 20 points in the first 20 games. His partner in crime for those seasons has typically been Voracek, but the Flyers spread out the offense at the end of last season, playing Voracek on a different line. Konecny was the beneficiary of the move and should have first crack at opening the season on Giroux's line again.

Jeff Skinner, W, Buffalo Sabres: While neither Skinner nor his potential centerman, Jack Eichel, have ever scored 20 points in the first 20 games of a season, this has the feel of a campaign in which Eichel is finally considered among the NHL's elite. The ankle issues have prevented him from taking that next step (pun intended), but the stars appear aligned for things to start looking up in Buffalo. If you don't think Skinner plays on a line with Eichel, sub his name out for Sam Reinhart or Conor Sheary here.

James Neal, W, Calgary Flames: Neal is no stranger to hot starts, having potted at least 20 points in the first 20 games three times since 2009-10. It's the potential role with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan that has me excited for his potential again. Neal is gunning for the spot on their wing, as he told the Calgary Sun this week, so it's not just speculation that he'll land there.

Kyle Connor, W, Winnipeg Jets: Last season, Connor didn't even have a regular gig with the Jets to start the campaign. He was thrust into the spotlight when Mathieu Perreault was hurt early in the season and never looked back. Now going into the season with a reserved role alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, the sky should be the limit for Connor's scoring, including the opening month.

Starting slow

There are almost no players who pop as a consistent slow starter. Some players are conspicuously absent from consistent appearances on the list of players with 20 or more points in the first 20 games (Ovechkin with only one season in the past seven), but by no means would I label them as an expected "slow" starter for that.

You could try to point to slow starts from last season, but such things are relatively meaningless from year to year. Brent Burns didn't score until Nov. 24 last season, but in the year prior he had eight goals at that point.

One thing to keep in mind for slow starts is when injuries are already present before the season begins. You don't start the grind of an NHL season hurt and get healthier as the season moves on. Ideally, players are in peak physical condition before the season begins so they can survive the 82-game marathon as best they can.

Injuries during training camp or the preseason are a definite reason for concern. Even more concerning is when those injuries are present before camp even starts:

  • Patrice Bergeron isn't travelling with the Boston Bruins to China for the exhibition series with the Flames as he recovers from a groin injury that required offseason surgery. I think he'll have a better season than last year, but it may take a couple of weeks for him to ramp up after missing some preseason work.

  • Corey Crawford's status is still up in the air as camp approaches. He missed most of last season with a head injury. Any concerns could be alleviated if he shows up and looks good in training camp.

  • Zach Werenski is already questionable for opening night as he recovers from shoulder surgery. His value will be tied to a role on the power play alongside Seth Jones, but that role could be in question if another option helps the unit succeed in the early going.

  • Henrik Zetterberg is looking indefinitely questionable with his continued back ailments. I don't know that I'd take him at all in fantasy drafts given his age and chronic issues. This should be Dylan Larkin's team for offense moving forward.

  • Ryan Suter is rehabbing his ankle from surgery and also must fend off the emerging Matt Dumba for the prime role on the point.

  • Cory Schneider is working his way back from hip surgery to address an injury that has impacted his past two campaigns. While he should be elite again when he does return, that might not be the start of the season.

  • Sean Couturier tore his MCL during the playoffs and then re-injured it during the offseason. All signs point to him being ready again, but it wouldn't be a shock to find out he needs more time.

  • Jaden Schwartz suffered an undisclosed injury while playing for Canada at the World Championships in May. All we know is that it didn't need surgery, but it's still a cause for concern.