Matt Larkin

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News. He's been part of the THN team since 2011, but he's been married to hockey since he got beat up for collecting NHL sticker books in the mid-1980s. If you like strong opinions on the game itself, fantasy hockey tips and a hefty dose of pop culture in your readings, he's your man. And yes, the eyebrows are real.

Top 10 fantasy sleeper picks for 2015-16

Matt Larkin
David Pastrnak.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

They’re back. Everyone’s favorite players to draft in fantasy pools. The sleepers.

There’s a special high that comes with being “the genius who predicted _______’s breakout season.” That’s why it’s so intoxicating to research sleepers every year. If you’ve already studied my most recent update of the top 200 overall players, now it’s time to dig for undervalued guys.

As I outlined in last year’s sleeper list, I identify them as follows:

(a) Players who will outperform their average draft position
(b) Players who will outperform some players drafted before them
(c) Players you can steal cheap at the ends of drafts to reap major profits

After taking last year’s feedback into consideration, I want to stress (a) and (b) a lot more than (c). There’s a misconception every sleeper has to be “that guy no one else knows about who’s still on the board in the final round of a draft.” Anyone looking for only that type of sleeper on this list will end up posting something like “Gee, thanks for the shocking insight on Teuvo Teravainen, I had no idea who that guy was, jerk.” But that person misses the more important point. Teravainen goes on average 172nd overall in fantasy drafts, according to Yahoo’s ADP (average draft position) numbers. My rank for Teravainen in the top 200: 139th overall. Essentially, I’m saying he should outperform 32 guys currently being drafted ahead of him. Savvy GMs may think it’s no big revelation to talk up Teravainen, but the general drafting public evidently hasn’t caught on yet. Teravainen’s a legit sleeper.

Of course, I’m not going to tout Ryan Johansen as a sleeper when I rank him 18th and he’s going 33rd. There’s a line to draw here. I still want to help you find guys you can actually steal in the mid to late rounds. With that, let’s begin the 2015-16 list:

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Could Cody Franson make the Buffalo Sabres a playoff team?

Matt Larkin
Cody Franson.  (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Cody Franson sure seemed destined to cash in a-la Scrooge McDuck this summer, diving into a pit of money. With each passing day, his situation increasingly resembles that of the exact opposite: a down-on-his-luck beggar.

OK, so that’s an exaggeration. Franson isn’t wandering the streets asking for a team to sign him. He is, however, running painfully low on suitors. He’s expressed how sick he is of one-year deals and, as a right-shot defenseman, he should command a hefty price tag. But there just aren’t many teams with the wiggle room for a multi-year deal at what should more than double, if not triple, the cap hit of Christian Ehrhoff’s new pact with L.A.

The Kings would’ve been a nice fit for Franson as long as suspended Slava Voynov’s cap hit remained off the books, but they opted for the far cheaper Ehrhoff. The Boston Bruins sure seem like a fit but, with $4.76 million in cap space, would press themselves up against the cap or over it with a Franson contract.

That voice you hear in the distance? “What about us? Excuse me! EXCUSE ME?” It’s that of deep-pocketed Terry Pegula and his Buffalo Sabres. They have more than $12 million to play with, and Pegula loves flexing his financial muscle. The Sabres also happen to have a weak defense corps. It’s no wonder, then, The Buffalo News cites two sources stating the Sabres have offered Franson a two-year contract.

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Let’s predict Phil Kessel’s goal total as Sidney Crosby’s linemate

Matt Larkin
Phil Kessel in his new Penguins jersey. (via Pittsburgh Penguins/Twitter)

Phil Kessel has escaped the media madness of Toronto. He’ll soon settle in the considerable shade cast by Sidney Crosby’s shadow. The Toronto effect won’t wear off instantly, however. Kessel’s performance this season will be scrutinized like crazy as he joins the sport’s highest-profile player on a line.

That’s right. It’s confirmed Kessel will open the Pittsburgh Penguins’ camp on Crosby’s wing. Coach Mike Johnston told the team website to expect Kessel “on the right side with Sid to begin with.” Could Kessel end up with a different center? Sure, but it would only be Evgeni Malkin, an equally plum partner. And it’s highly unlikely the Pens break camp with news “Kessel and Crosby just couldn’t get on the same page.”

It’s thus time to ask a fun question. Assuming Crosby is his center, how many goals will Kessel score in his first season with Pittsburgh?

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Fantasy hockey: the top 30 keeper league players by position

Matt Larkin
John Tavares (Getty Images)

It’s nowhere near time to panic. You aren’t behind on your cramming for fantasy hockey draft day. You can print out my latest top 200 player list and leaf through it at the cottage.

Keeper and dynasty league GMs, though, have to be a bit more on the ball. These folks are running long-term franchises. They technically never stop playing, as they’re free to make trades all off-season. They can also host their drafts earlier, as their leagues depend less on immediate health and up-to-date depth charts.

It’s thus an ideal juncture to explore some keeper league rankings. Doing so means dispelling the hell out of some myths. For one, keeper league rankings are not merely prospect rankings. Sorry, but Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and Aaron Ekblad do not automatically top these lists. Elite prospects like Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl and William Nylander don’t make the cut at all here, as I think they’re still multiple seasons away from being impact NHLers.

And here’s the thing too many people forget about keeper leagues: they still have standings and championships this year, and the next, and the next. So as long as an established star player projects to stay dominant for the next few seasons, he warrants strong keeper league consideration over the youngsters. McDavid tops the ranks if we’re projecting for five or 10 years down the road. But will he outscore John Tavares in the next two or three years? Doubtful. That’s not a knock on Connor. That’s a compliment to Johnny T.

Some veterans, however, are punished in these rankings. The likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have reached their mid-30s and dealt with nagging injuries in recent seasons. They will outscore many of the players on these lists this season, but they could decline sharply within two years. Give me Mark Scheifele in 2016-17 over Datsyuk if I’m starting a keeper league team from scratch. That’s why you won’t see Detroit’s dynamic veterans make the list.

Here are my top 30 keeper league picks by position. Age as of opening night, Oct. 7, 2015, listed in brackets.

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New concussion handbook teaches kids and parents how to heal properly

Matt Larkin
ConcussionHandbook

It’s difficult to type these words. Not because there’s nothing to say, but because my brain is in my way.

Today, it’s the pain. It’s not a sharp pain – that comes some days, too, in the form of migraines – but more of a dull, steadily increasing pressure, like the inside of my skull is hosting a birthday party and some poor clown keeps trying to inflate balloons inside it.

It’s been 11 years since my last serious concussion, with a couple car accidents sprinkled in since then, and I know my life will never be the same. I’m lucky to write about hockey for a living, as I can’t play it anymore. I can do 30 minutes of cardio, once a week, and if I push my luck with a second session, the vertigo kicks in. Missing a step on a staircase or hitting a big wave on boat can do me in for a couple days, too. When a subway train pulls up, I have to look away until it comes to a stop.

After visiting the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital this past Wednesday, however, I realize my path could have been very different. Had I not returned to class, cracked the books hard and written my exams just days after my severe head trauma, and taken the time to recover properly, I might have no limitations today.

That was the message delivered by Dr. Nick Reed, Dr. Michelle Keightley, and a team of uniquely qualified hockey people at Holland Bloorview as they launched Concussion & You: A Handbook for Parents and Kids. The central tenet is ensuring no young person returns from a major head injury too soon.

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Is Wayne Simmonds right to be optimistic about his Flyers?

Matt Larkin
Wayne Simmonds. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Want to make an NHL player bristle? Just follow these easy steps:

(a) stand a foot away from him;
(b) remind him his team missed the playoffs last season;
(c) ask him if his team is rebuilding.

The experiment works like a charm on Philadelphia Flyers right winger Wayne Simmonds between training sessions at BioSteel’s 2015 hockey camp, where players from all over the league – and other leagues – gather to compete, hone their skills and rehabilitate. Reminded of the Flyers’ sixth-place finish in the Metropolitan division, and asked whether a new coach and large shipment of elite young defense prospects signifies a rebuild, Simmonds shakes his head so fast you can practically see the sweat fly.

“No,” he said, recoiling slightly, brow furrowed. “We’re a good team right now.”

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THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2015-16

Matt Larkin
Pavel Datsyuk falls 10 spots from 43rd to 53rd. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

It’s never too early. Not even in the middle of summer.

The ideal image of fantasy hockey prep at this time of year might be curling up on a dock with THN’s Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide. That’s a great idea. It’s loaded with useful information, it projects the NHL’s top 300 scorers and it hits newsstands any day now.

But what happens when you’ve read that paper edition cover to cover? As the summer inches closer to fall and training camps start up, you’ll want another update in hockey pool expertise. That’s what this specialized list of rankings is for. I will update my top 200 players periodically, and with increasing frequency, until opening night of the 2015-16 season.

Think of this ranking set as a companion piece to the pool guide. The former focuses on points, while this list blends goalies and skaters into a master breakdown tailored for anyone drafting in leagues with multiple stat categories. The rankings below are based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Did last year’s list steer you right? It helped me win both my pools, so hopefully that buys your trust. Remember, these rankings are about fantasy, not real life, so a few stars will be listed lower than you might expect. Enjoy, and feel free to debate the rankings – and let me know about any glaring omissions – in the comment section below.

Aug. 14 UPDATE: Time for the rankings’ second draft and what will likely be the final update before training camps begin in the coming weeks. For this edition, the tweaks are minor, but I’ve taken into account a few reader comments that swayed me. I’ve also pondered the Patrick Kane situation.

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