29-Year-Old Defenseman – Washington Capitals
Matt Niskanen Contract Information:
Signed a seven-year, $40.25 million contract with Washington in July 2014.
Niskanen picked up two assists, a plus-2 rating, one shot and four blocks Thursday in Florida.
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RotoWire's Preseason Outlooks
Niskanen took a step backward in his first year with the Caps. After delivering 10 goals and 46 points in 2013-14, he fell back to just four goals and 31 points in 2014-15. It really wasn’t a surprise – Niskanen didn’t get nearly as many offensive opportunities as he did with the Pens. But this season will be different. Mike Green is gone, and the Caps expect someone from the existing roster will fill the void. We’re looking at you, Mr. Niskanen – carpe diem! Niskanen is the logical choice to fill Green’s boots, and that means he’ll deliver like he did in 2013-14. He’s not exactly a sleeper, but he’ll be a bit underrated on draft day. You’ll be happy you grabbed him.
The top defenseman on the free agent market, Niskanen capped off Washington’s offseason spending spree when he signed a seven-year, $40.25 million contract with the Caps in July. Niskanen performed admirably for the Penguins last season when the injury bug ravaged their blue line, and the 27-year-old Minnesotan was able to to take advantage of increased playing time with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to generate a banner year, tallying 10 goals and 46 points and averaging over 21 minutes of ice time. Many believe that the stars aligned for Niskanen last season, and as such, his point totals might regress due to the competition he faces for ice time on such a deep defense. Still, the disparity in talent between Crosby/Malkin and Alex Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom isn’t significant, and Niskanen should get plenty of opportunities to be a productive fantasy blueliner.
Niskanen has been the topic of trade rumors after a disappointing season in 2012-13. His $2.3 million AAV contract is also more than the Penguins can afford. Pittsburgh tried him as a No. 4 defender at times, but he's probably better suited as part of a bottom pairing. Niskanen compiled 14 points (4G, 10A) in 40 games despite seeing ample action with Kris Letang and Paul Martin missing significant time. He has the potential to go on a two-week run as a solid fantasy producer, but he's better as an in-season pickup than as a rostered player except in the deepest of fantasy leagues.
Pittsburgh thought enough of Niskanen to offer him a two-year, $4.6 million deal in the offseason, which he readily accepted. The defender rebounded from a weak 2010-11 showing with a consistent game nightly last season. His counting stats were nothing special -- four goals and 21 points in 75 games -- but he'll see plenty of playing time as a no. 4 or 5 defenseman. He scored 35 points in his sophomore season with Dallas in 2008-09, so the upside of a 35-40 point season is possible, especially with a couple years of experience in Pittsburgh's defensive system under his belt.
Niskanen was considered a throw-in as part of the Alex Goligoski-James Neal trade, and he played like one as the season went along. Niskanen, a former first-round pick, is scheduled to make $1.5 million in 2011-12. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Pens move him at some point, as his defensive shortcomings became apparent with each passing game in Pittsburgh. He compiled 35 points for the Stars in 2008-09, so the potential for offense is there. Still, his four-point (1,3) production in 18 games for the Pens might not be enough to warrant his pay in 2011-12.
Niskanen had a second straight disappointing season (3 G, 12 A, minus-15) after a promising rookie campaign back in 2007-08. The absence of Sergei Zubov the past two seasons seems to have impacted Niskanen the most, as there's virtually no confidence left in the youngster. A change of scenery may be required because he was just as invisible most nights under new coach Marc Crawford, as he was in Dave Tippet's system the year before.
Niskanen led the Dallas blue line in scoring, albeit with a pretty pedestrian 6-29-35 line. He'll continue to see time on one of the two power play units for the Stars, though Dallas may opt for a forward (Brad Richards or Mike Modano) on one of the two points at times. He's had two decent seasons in his young career, and this could be the year Niskanen steps up his play another notch and approaches 50 points.
Niskanen had a fine rookie season with 26 points in 78 games, being paired with Sergei Zubov while Zubov was healthy. His puck-moving skills could land him on the top power play unit if Dallas doesn't load up with Brad Richards or Mike Modano on the point alongside Zubov. He doesn't posses a heavy shot but could be a nice source of assists from the back end.
Niskanen jumped from 14 points in his freshman season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to 31 points in his sophomore season. Once his college season ended, Niskanen joined Iowa of the AHL. Dallas envisions him as a future PP quarterback, but it will likely be a year or two before he becomes an everyday NHL player.
Will play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2006-07.
Niskanen may very well be the best athlete in the 2005 NHL draft class. He is a two-sport star (quarterback) who also plays baseball (pitcher and infield) pretty darned well. He's smart and fast (think wide receiver kind of speed) and hockey is his game. He was a Mr. Hockey finalist (Minnesota high school honor) and on the All-State first team in 2004-2005. He's poised beyond his years, probably from taking so many snaps from behind center. Calm, cool, collected and headed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for 2005-2006.