Fantasy Focus: Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen

Fantasy Focus: Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen
Matt Niskanen

After a monster 2013-14 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Matt Niskanen signed a seven-year deal with the Washington Capitals in the offseason.

Hello, fantasy hockey fans! Today we have the Matt Niskanen profile — and no, you do not have to pay like Washington did.

There are a lot of people who are a little skeptical as to how the new defenseman will fare in the nation’s capital in 2014-15. Some will say his 2013-14 numbers were skewed by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but Niskanen has had a 35+ point season before in Dallas.

Let’s get down to business. Here are those numbers:

81 10 36 46 33 3 12 0 0 6 51 162 6.17 124

From One Superstar To Another

If you look at the progress Niskanen made in his contract year alone, the move by Washington to sign him was an excellent idea. He was a plus-33 with 46 points. Combine that with 124 hits and six game-winning goals, and he was a late-round gem that will be going much earlier in drafts this year.

Throughout the year, it seemed like the defenseman was progressing along nicely points-wise. His defense was kind of an afterthought to a point, because — let’s be honest — it’s Pittsburgh we’re talking about here. Harsh criticisms aside, they are a team that thinks offense first.

Another thing that helped Niskanen was the stroke that sidelined Kris Letang. Even afterwards, Matt Niskanen was a first-pairing defenseman in a Sidney Crosby world. Now, Pittsburgh lost arguably its most consistent defenseman and best producer fantasy-wise last year to a division rival. That is going to leave a mark.

The concern is whether or not the defenseman will be paired with a coach who knows how to maximize two-way blueliners. Take a look at how Roman Josi developed in Nashville.

Niskanen was allowed to play a more wide-open style for the Pens, but it is unknown what philosophy Washington will use. Will it be an even mix of counter and attack? We all know what worked in Pittsburgh, but ultimately that may not affect Niskanen’s production.

The defenseman had a taste of what it was like to be the top guy on defense, and he fared pretty well. Now he has to be that in Washington where defending was not the forte last season.

Thriving in the phone booth?

Will Niskanen be able to handle the increasing pressure in Washington?

After all, Alex Ovechkin is in his prime and not getting any younger. The pieces needed to be brought in. The Capitals brought in a more defensive-minded coach who knows how to play a system (unlike Adam Oates), yet the management — more or less — remained the same.

There are prospects, a KHL import that came stateside last year and likely some new line pairings that will all play into the mix.

Also, there has been a renewed endorsement of Braden Holtby, who had a tough time in net last year. Right now he is the clear No.1. With Mitch Korn as the goalie coach, Holtby should improve, and that should help Niskanen’s transition in Washington.

What does this do as far as a fantasy hockey projection?

This truly is tough to determine, considering that John Carlson could eat into Niskanen’s points a little bit. One thing is absolutely certain: The new Washington defenseman is not going to be a plus-33 this year, period! Fantasy owners might see a slight bump in power-play production, as the Capitals have boasted a top-three power-play unit over the last five years.

We’ve cooked up some stats, and this is what we came up with:

81 11 33 44 8 4 14 0 0 3 56 170 6.47 119

Alright, ladies and gentlemen. Have at it in the comments section, and thanks for reading!


A New Jersey native, Chris covers fantasy hockey for Along the Boards. He joined the staff in July 2014.

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