The fourth and final Divisional December breakdown features the Pacific Division. Hockey's looked pretty good out west in a surprisingly competitive division that's seen a number of teams find a new level in 2021-22. All stats are through the holiday break.
Injuries to key players tested the Golden Knights early, but now they're almost at full strength. Sure, other teams have been more consistent, but this is a talented roster that should be stronger for having its depth tested.
MVP: Chandler Stephenson (nine goals, 22 assists in 31 games). Thanks to long-term injuries to Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, Stephenson's stellar point-per-game pace has made him the Golden Knights' MVP. The 27-year-old has gone from a fill-in as top-line center to a legitimate option in that role, with or without his more noteworthy linemates. Stephenson's a selective shooter (50 shots on goal), but he cashes in at an above-average rate – his lowest shooting percentage in a full season is 13.9, and he's converting at 18 percent this year. A 70-point campaign is realistic, even if he drops off slightly.
Breakout player: Nicolas Roy (six goals, nine assists in 29 games). Stephenson would have a good case for this title as well, but Roy has been very effective regardless of role. His 15 points this year matches his output from 50 games last season, and he's playing 16:46 per contest now, including 1:49 on the power play. The 24-year-old chips in a hit per game, showing a slight edge, but his scoring rate could have him push for 40 by the end of the year. Center is a deep position, but he's been effective enough to help in deeper formats.
Letdown: Robin Lehner (14-9-0 record, 3.03 GAA, .905 save percentage in 24 games). Lehner has simply struggled this year. The last time he posted a save percentage this low was 2014-15 in 25 appearances with the Senators. I can attribute some of his struggles to not having the best version of the Golden Knights on the ice for much of the season, but he's also posted a poor 3.23 GAA and .881 save percentage despite going 5-1-0 in December. Perhaps a smaller workload the rest of the way, with Laurent Brossoit as a solid backup, could help Lehner get back to his usual level of play.
The Ducks have completely turned things around from last season. One stat explains it: they scored a league-worst 2.21 goals per game last season, and they've increased that to 3.16 this year. Maybe the rebuild isn't completely over, but this team looks significantly more competitive than they have in years.
MVP: Troy Terry (18 goals, 12 assists in 31 games). The bulk of Terry's damage came in a 16-game point streak, during which he scored 12 times and added 10 helpers. He's cooled off with eight points in 14 contests since, but there's no question that he's earned a top-six role. Terry has no physicality in his game, but he looks like a reliable scorer in his second full season.
Breakout players: Trevor Zegras (eight goals, 17 assists in 30 games) and Sonny Milano (eight goals, 13 assists in 27 games). There's really no talking about Zegras and Milano individually – they've taken the scoring pressure off Terry's top line. Zegras' impressive play could get him into the Calder Trophy conversation, while the 25-year-old Milano was bordering on cementing a first-round bust label before rattling off 17 points in 21 contests before the holiday break. The chemistry here has gone a long way to solidifying the Ducks as a potential playoff team, which would make this one of the most memorable seasons in Anaheim since their 2007 Stanley Cup win.
Letdown: Jakob Silfverberg (one goal, 11 assists in 26 games). It's not that Silfverberg's been bad – a COVID-19-list stint derailed what looked to be a promising start to his campaign. Unfortunately, that has led to Silfverberg being stuck on the third line. He hasn't scored since the second game of the season, and he's picked up just four helpers in his last 17 outings. That's not great for a player that's provided diminishing returns in the last couple of years.
It's not defense, it's checking – or that's what Darryl Sutter would like to describe as the key to the Flames' success. Getting excellent contributions from nearly every player has been a huge thing for a team that was generally considered to have played below expectations last season.
MVP: Elias Lindholm (11 goals, 16 assists in 28 games). Lindholm has only been held off the scoresheet in seven games this season. He's consistent, and that's a dream in fantasy, but he's also an underrated first-line center. Johnny Gaudreau's talent and Matthew Tkachuk's physicality provide the pop and sparkle, but Lindholm's steady play makes him key to just about everything that goes right for the Flames.
Breakout player: Oliver Kylington (three goals, 12 assists in 27 games). Entering this season, Kylington was on his last chance to establish himself – after all, he only posted one assist in eight outings last year. The 24-year-old became a lineup regular in the Flames' third game, and now he's a top-four defenseman alongside the stalwart Chris Tanev. Kylington has more talent on offense than defense, but it's taken a while for him to put it all together. He only needs one more point this year to match his combined total from 85 games across four previous seasons.
Letdown: Sean Monahan (four goals, nine assists in 28 games). Coming off a 28-point effort from 50 contests last year and offseason hip surgery, it was initially expected Monahan would play in the top six. Outside of rare instances, that hasn't happened. He's picked up eight of his 13 points on the power play, where he remains a key player, but lugging Milan Lucic and Brad Richardson up the ice isn't going to give Monahan many scoring chances. It's very possible he's the player the Flames let go if they decide to shake things up this offseason, but his value has arguably never been lower.
Some things don't change – despite a retooling in the bottom six, the Oilers remain as top-heavy as ever. There's question marks down the lineup, on defense and in goal, but elite offense can cover a lot of those issues in the regular season.
MVPs: Connor McDavid (17 goals, 32 assists in 29 games) and Leon Draisaitl (23 goals, 26 assists in 29 games). With matching 49-point totals atop the league's scoring chart, the Oilers' offense remains to be in good hands. McDavid and Draisaitl are unquestionably the best duo in the league, and that applies whether they play together or apart. They're also set to be together for at least three more years – goal-scoring isn't going to be a problem in Edmonton.
Breakout player: Jesse Puljujarvi (10 goals, 13 assists in 28 games). Last year saw Puljujarvi establish himself as an NHL player. This season, he's taken another step toward justifying his fourth-overall draft position in 2016. He's seen most of his even-strength playing time alongside at least McDavid. Puljujarvi has added 33 hits, showing a physical edge in addition to his flourishing offense.
Letdown: Kailer Yamamoto (five goals, two assists in 29 games). As much as I want to believe in Yamamoto being capable of getting back to his 2019-20 breakout, I don't think it's happening. He's seen second-line minutes throughout much of this season, but his scoring pace has nosedived even from last year's lackluster 21 points in 52 contests. He's a solid defensive forward, but he needs to do more than hound the puck to help in fantasy.
The Kings aren't ready to join the Pacific's elite just yet, but they've pieced together a solid veteran core with complementary pieces down the lineup. They're solid and competitive, and there's fantasy value to be found throughout.
MVP: Anze Kopitar (nine goals, 18 assists in 30 games). Even with some of the prospects stepping up, Kopitar remains the cream of the crop for the Kings. He posted five points in the season opener, but he's gotten back to the clever playmaking he's known for over the course of the year. Even at 34 years old, he's not done being one of the league's strongest centers.
Breakout player: Jonathan Quick (8-6-4 record, 2.19 GAA, .930 save percentage in 18 games). This is more of a return to form than a true breakout, but Quick retaking a majority of the playing time in goal from Cal Petersen is impressive. Quick has long been a solid goalie, but he's turning back the clock at age 35 to keep the Kings in the playoff hunt. No one saw this coming before the season.
Letdown: Lias Andersson (one assist in 10 games). Not to beat a dead horse here, but Andersson doesn't seem like he'll ever be able to live up to being the seventh overall pick in 2017. Now in his second season with the Kings, he's struggled to secure a place in the lineup, and he hasn't pushed for a top-six role. His next appearance will be the 100th of his career, and he's mustered just 15 points. Maybe he'll be a late bloomer some other season, but there's little reason to think he'll flip a switch overnight.
The Sharks are another solid team with structured roles, much like the Kings. There's top talent in the key places for the Sharks, but the depth hasn't evolved to make them competitive yet.
MVP: James Reimer (9-5-1 record, 1.99 GAA, .936 save percentage in 16 games). Considering goaltending ruined the Sharks in recent years, having Reimer turn in one of his best stretches of play to open this season is huge. His second stint in the Bay Area has seen him emerge as the Sharks' No. 1 goalie. His numbers aren't sustainable, but Reimer should still be a positive both on the ice and in fantasy for the rest of the year.
Breakout player: Timo Meier (12 goals, 17 assists in 25 games). This isn't the first time we've seen Meier pop off, but it feels more legitimate this year. His ice time is a career-high 18:22 per game, he's seeing more power-play time, and a plus-10 rating shows he's been a bit better in his own zone. Meier, at his best, is a dream in fantasy – he fills the stat sheet with not only points, but also hits and shots. Playing alongside Logan Couture or Tomas Hertl should keep him in a good place.
Letdown: Kevin Labanc (three goals, three assists in 21 games). Labanc is currently battling a shoulder injury that will need surgery, which could partially explain his poor stats from the first two months of the season. His season has almost been the other side of the coin from Meier's. Labanc is talented enough to play in a top-six role, but this is likely a lost year for the New York native.
The Canucks cleared house earlier in December – that was a month too late, at a minimum. New head coach Bruce Boudreau has revitalized the offense, although there's still some holes in the boat deck. Getting all players up to their potential will be the target the rest of the way, but the playoffs could still be in the cards.
MVP: J.T. Miller (10 goals, 22 assists in 31 games). The do-it-all forward has lived up to the title this season. With players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser slumping, Miller has topped a point-per-game and played a career-high 21:19 per game. He hits, he kills penalties, he's got 15 power-play points. Miller is also versatile enough to play center or wing. He's tied for 10th in scoring league-wide. Fantasy managers who got him in the early-to-middle rounds have gotten plenty of return on investment so far.
Breakout player: Thatcher Demko (13-11-1 record, 2.63 GAA, .919 save percentage in 25 games). Last year, Demko began to take over the No. 1 job in net after Braden Holtby struggled. This year, Demko has been entrusted to be a workhorse in net. He leads the NHL in minutes played in goal, and the Canucks' coaching change has led to him winning seven of his last eight games. With scheduling chaos, having a set-and-forget goalie like Demko is huge in fantasy.
Letdown: Elias Pettersson (six goals, 10 assists in 31 games). For the average player, a scoring line like Pettersson's isn't a bad thing. For the 23-year-old himself, he's shown 70-point potential in his career, so hovering around a 40-point pace is not good enough. He hasn't produced a multi-point game since Nov. 7. Pettersson is talented enough to make this letdown designation a laugher by the end of the year, but he needs to hit the ground running out of the holiday break.
After the Golden Knights' inaugural season, the specter of expansion-year struggles seemed to be on the way out. The Kraken haven't been able to enjoy the same success. This is a tough year to try to build team chemistry out of nothing, but the Kraken have seen a lot of other things go wrong in their maiden voyage.
MVP: Jordan Eberle (12 goals, nine assists in 28 games). Even without an elite center like Mathew Barzal feeding him passes, Eberle has looked good in a top-line role for the Kraken. The 31-year-old will likely be a key piece of the team's foundational years, and he's on pace for a 60-point campaign for the first time since 2014-15. The only real flaw in his numbers is a minus-14 rating, which is more a statement to the Kraken's poor defense.
Breakout player: Ryan Donato (eight goals, five assists in 27 games). In just his fifth NHL season, Donato's on his fourth team, but he looks like he's got a home in Seattle. The 25-year-old has floated up and down a fluid lineup while retaining a role on the power play. A second-round pick of the Bruins in 2014, Donato has got some scoring potential in a middle-six role, as well as a slight physical edge.
Letdown: Philipp Grubauer (7-12-3 record, 3.29 GAA, .882 save percentage in 23 games). Grubauer went from a Vezina candidate last year to a replacement-level goalie. Obviously, the Kraken's good-on-paper defense hasn't translated to the ice, which leads me to wonder aloud if he was a system goalie last year. The Kraken committed to him with a six-year contract, so he'll receive any and every chance to turn things around, but it probably won't happen in 2021-22.
That's a wrap on Divisional December! I'm going to let the NHL get back up to speed (and work my way out of my holiday food coma) before recommending any players. A lot could change in the next week, given the return to play and all of the virus-related roster movement that's happening. Next week's article will be a return to the more familiar form of general player trends and trade targets from the first two months of the season.