2023-24 Fantasy Hockey: 7 NHL players who will fall short of their projections

These players are coming into the NHL season with plenty of hype, but could be worth avoiding.

If you’re anything like me, at some point you’ve probably scrolled through your draft room with your pick coming up, looking for gaudy numbers in the Yahoo projected stats.

Most may pass the sniff test, but just how closely should we trust the projected numbers we see? I took a deep dive on the Yahoo player projections and found a few players I’m significantly more bearish on through my work on the Apples & Ginos projections.

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You may agree or disagree with my opinion, but at the very least, every fantasy manager owes it to themselves to critically evaluate any projection they see and think through the potential ways a given player could outperform or underperform that projection.

7. Andrei Kuzmenko, Vancouver Canucks

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t see any possibility that Kuzmenko reaches his 45-goal, 81-point projection on Yahoo. Let me put it this way: Kuzmenko’s 27.3% shooting percentage last season was the highest by a full-time player in over a decade, resulting in 39 goals.

Yahoo’s current projections have him shooting 29%, which is hard to fathom as a reasonable outcome. For reference, Kuzmenko shot 14.7% across 315 KHL games before making his NHL debut last season. It's not impossible Kuzmenko couldn’t generate more shots on goal in his second NHL season, but even if he does, the math simply does not work out for me.

6. Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators

Stützle had a massive breakout in 2022-23, scoring 39 goals and 90 points in 78 games while skating an impressive 21:16 average time on ice. The former third overall selection was forced into a massive role for the Senators due to an extreme lack of center depth caused by injury — and he thrived.

This season, the Senators should have top line center Josh Norris back and healthy, making it hard to imagine that Stützle will be asked to shoulder such a heavy load again, even after his laudable performance.

That line of thinking, combined with a higher-than-expected 17.1% shooting percentage, leads me to believe that Stützle is more likely to take a step back from last season’s numbers and underperform his current 42-goal, 93-point Yahoo projection.

5. Alex Killorn, Anaheim Ducks

Killorn signed a big four-year, $25 million dollar deal with the Anaheim Ducks this offseason, eschewing his tertiary role in Tampa Bay's crowded lineup to become a prominent player on a young and building Ducks squad.

I think Killorn was probably in his most ideal deployment in Tampa last season, seeing a lot of power play time alongside superstars like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. While I like Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry just fine, neither are at the level Kucherov and company have exhibited for many years now.

I’ve got Killorn regressing to a 22-goal, 48-point season, while his Yahoo projection has him maintaining last season’s 64-point pace. I just don’t see a scenario where the 33-year-old can be as efficient in Anaheim as he was in Tampa Bay given the stark drop off in his linemate's talent.

4. Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings

Seider is a guy the fantasy community would love to be a star, especially after his massive rookie season breakout in 2021-22 that saw him post 50 points. The Red Wings, however, have brought in a lot of competent defensemen this offseason — including Shayne Gostisbehere, who profiles as a power play specialist.

Detroit’s power play is nothing to write home about at the best of times, and if Seider is going to be blocked from top special teams minutes by Gostisbehere (not to mention late acquisition Jeff Petry), his offensive ceiling will be heavily handicapped.

I have Seider projected for just five goals and 35 points compared to his Yahoo projection at seven goals and 52 points. Seider just may not be deployed heavily optimally enough to be a valuable piece for fantasy this season.

3. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning

Hedman has been a fantasy star for so long now that it’s hard to envision him as anything but a locked-in top-five defenseman for fantasy.

Jon Cooper's use of Mikhail Sergachev on the top power play over Hedman for most of last season, however, might mean it's time to accept that the 85-point version of Hedman in 2021-22 may be the high water mark for his career. As such, last year’s 49-point output may be more indicative of his future production as the two-time Cup champ enters the back half of his NHL career.

I’m not saying that Hedman isn’t capable of the 11-goal, 65-point projection Yahoo has for him currently; I’m simply saying that there was a clear shift by the coaching staff away from using Hedman on the top power play, and without those minutes, there’s almost no way for a defenseman (no matter how good) to reach a 60+ point ceiling.

2. David Perron, Detroit Red Wings

Perron looked completely broken for the majority of the 2022-23 season before ending the campaign on a crazy bender that helped him finish with a respectable 24 goals and 56 points in 82 games.

Detroit has added Alex DeBrincat to the mix, meaning it's likely the diminutive sniper immediately supplants Perron from his customary half-wall role on the power play. If that comes to pass, it’s going to be very difficult for Perron to match the 24 power play points his Yahoo projections currently list him for, and even more difficult to reach his overall projection of 25 goals and 60 points.

Perron is now 35 years old, and while I’m not ruling out the possibility that there’s more in the tank here, I’m just not willing to take that risk when the team's decisions around him suggest they’re ready to move on.

1. Dawson Mercer, New Jersey Devils

Let’s be clear, I really like Mercer as a player. He’s a clear net positive-play driver for the Devils, one that any team would jump at the chance to add to their own roster. But the fact is that the Devils now have an absolute embarrassment of top six talent with the additions of Timo Meier and Tyler Toffoli.

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 07: New Jersey Devils right wing Timo Meier (96) celebrates with New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer (91) after scoring a goal during Game 3 of an Eastern Conference Second Round playoff game between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New Jersey Devils on May 7, 2023, at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
A full season for Timo Meier with the Devils, plus the addition of Tyler Toffoli, throws a wrench into Dawson Mercer's potential fantasy ceiling. (Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mercer should still see the majority of his minutes come in a top-six role, but I don’t see a path to top power play minutes barring multiple injuries to other players.

Without that, it's tough seeing Mercer reach the 30-goal, 60-point projection Yahoo currently has for him. Perhaps Lindy Ruff will get creative by double-shifting Mercer throughout the lineup, helping him get there on the basis of sheer volume, but that feels like a bet on an outlier situation and one I’m not willing to make.

Nate Groot Nibbelink is the creator of Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey and the originator of the #ZeroG draft strategy. You can find him pontificating about obscure fantasy hockey strategy topics in the Apples & Ginos Discord Server or on Twitter/X @applesginos.