By Ryan Dadoun, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
A disappointing season from a player can make fantasy managers nervous and cause their draft stock to slip. However, if the player has a bounce-back campaign, whoever ended up selecting them will reap the rewards of a bargain-bin pickup. But of course, not every player who declines will subsequently rebound. To try to determine which players are more likely to regain their form and which will fade, it's important to look at the context of what held them back in the first place. Without further ado, let's explore some players you shouldn't underestimate come draft day.
Hamilton's tenure with the Devils got off to a fantastic start in 2021-22. He racked up seven goals and 20 points in 30 games through Jan. 2, but he went on to miss 17 contests with a broken jaw and his production slowed once he returned – he finished with nine goals and 30 points through 62 games. In terms of points per game, Hamilton's production last season tied for his lowest since 2013-14 and represented a substantial drop from 2020-21, when he finished with 42 points in 55 contests. Part of the problem is he was never 100 percent healthy following the jaw injury. He suffered a broken toe in the game before he broke his jaw and that toe injury continued to bother him for the rest of the campaign. He's had the summer to heal and should return with high-end production in 2022-23.
Murray had a weird 2021-22 campaign — he even spent some time in the AHL. Maybe a stint in the minors to regain his confidence was what he needed because once he rejoined the Senators, he posted a respectable 5-6-2 record, 2.72 GAA and .918 save percentage through 13 starts. He made the move from a Senators club that was still rebuilding to the Maple Leafs this summer, where he'll get a ton of offensive support. The progress Toronto has made in upgrading its blueline has been overlooked, so the team's defense shouldn't be a detriment to Murray. He's still a major injury risk, but he's been put in a position to succeed.
Eichel's insistence on having artificial disk replacement surgery ultimately led to him being traded to Vegas. Immediately after recovering from that procedure, he had to adapt to a new team. If that wasn't enough, he played the final six weeks of the 2021-22 campaign with a broken thumb. With all that in mind, it's actually pretty impressive that he scored 14 goals and 25 points in 34 games, even if that pace is less than he's capable of under better circumstances. With his health issues hopefully behind him, this could end up being one of Eichel's best seasons.
Another Vegas player looking to bounce back is one of Eichel's projected linemates. Stone was plagued by injuries last season – he was limited to nine goals and 30 points in 37 games. He had back surgery in May, but the good news is he's expected to be ready for Vegas' opening game. There is some concern given he's questionable for the start of training camp, so the margin of error in his recovery timetable before it starts bleeding into the season is minimal. However, when healthy he's a superb two-way forward.
After missing almost the entire 2020-21 campaign, Seguin logged 81 games last season, but he left plenty to be desired with his 24 goals and 49 points. From a points-per-game perspective, that was his worst campaign since 2010-11 and a far cry from the 72-84 points he recorded every season from 2013-14 through 2018-19. He did have a major hip injury in 2020, and getting back up to speed after that was doubtlessly challenging, but now that he's had a full season under his belt plus a relatively healthy summer to adjust, he'll have an easier time in 2022-23. Combine that with Pete DeBoer taking over as the Stars' head coach, which should allow Seguin to get a fresh start, and there's cause for cautious optimism.
Kucherov has endured some terrible luck in recent years. He missed the 2020-21 regular season due to a hip injury and 32 games in 2021-22 due to a lower-body issue. The good news is neither setback has had a lingering effect on his production. He still had 25 goals and 69 points in 47 contests last season along with another eight goals and 27 points in 23 playoff games. He's shown he's capable of recording over 100 points in a healthy season. His recent injuries do provide cause for concern, but it's worth noting that prior to the last couple of years, he didn't have much of an injury history and at the age of 29, it's not unreasonable to hope he can go back to having relatively healthy seasons.
Doughty had no luck last season. He missed 16 games early in the campaign because of a knee contusion and then didn't play past March 7 because of a wrist injury. However, when Doughty was healthy, he was his usual dominant self, scoring seven goals and 31 points in 39 games while averaging 25:44 of ice time. He's expected to be 100 percent healthy going into this season, and if he stays that way, the Kings will lean on him heavily. He's not the league's best defenseman in terms of raw offensive output, but he's certainly one of the better ones.
After recording at least 40 points in four straight seasons – including 42 points in 55 contests in 2020-21 – Petry saw his production drop to six goals and 27 points in 68 games with the Canadiens last year. It's important to remember that Montreal was dreadful for most of the campaign. In fact, when Martin St. Louis took over as head coach in February, their offense picked up, and Petry's production rose. He had five goals and 21 points in his last 28 contests. He's with Pittsburgh now and will probably serve in a somewhat reduced role compared to how he was used in Montreal, but he's still a top-four defenseman for the Penguins and won't have a shortage of skilled forwards to work with. A return to the 40-point range is a realistic expectation for Petry.
Merzlikins' 27-23-7 record, 3.22 GAA and .907 save percentage in 59 games last season marked a clear decline from his first two seasons in the NHL, but he was dealing with a major personal issue and his game improved dramatically toward the end of the season. Merzlikins had an 8-8-4 record, 2.81 GAA and .917 save percentage in 22 games from March 11 onward. He's still a solid starting goaltender, and after the Blue Jackets acquired Johnny Gaudreau, Merzlikins has a strong team in front of him.