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Slappers and Bangers: Fantasy Hockey Analysis of Alex Iafallo and Jake Walman

Hey folks, welcome back to Slappers and Bangers, where we look at fantasy hockey through a multi-cat lens; specifically for limited keeper and dynasty leagues.

Here we skip most of the superstars and instead focus on depth fantasy players that will improve the depth of your lineup.

This week, I will provide a fantasy analysis of two players. One you may have already taken notice of and one that, depending on the depth of your pool, is still flying slightly under the radar. I’m talking about Alex Iafallo and Jake Walman

Through this fantasy analysis I hope to shed light on two or three things: 1. Are they for real? 2. Is this sustainable? 3. Is there more upside?

Let’s dive in…

Fantasy Hockey Analysis of Alex Iafallo, LW, Winnipeg Jets

Undrafted, Alex Iafallo spent four years at the University of Minnesota-Deluth. Before he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Los Angeles Kings in 2017.

He was a marginal prospect going into his senior year at UMD where his production jumped from 23 points in his junior year to 51 as a senior.

Every year there are several NCAA Division 1, undrafted graduates that NHL teams attempt to sign. A lot of them don’t pan out.

Iafallo was able to make the jump directly to the NHL, playing 75 games as a rookie. If this wasn’t impressive enough, he spent over 75% of his five-on-five ice time alongside Anze Kopitar on the Kings’ top line.

For six years, this is where he spent the majority of his even-strength ice time. As far as power play goes, he bounced between first and second units throughout.

It is striking that Iafallo’s career high in points is 43. His career points per game is .50. Surprising for someone playing as much time with Kopitar as Iafallo.

Iafallo was traded, with Gabriel Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, and a second-round pick, to the Winnipeg Jets for Pierre-Luc Dubois. With the Jets, Iafallo seems to have found another offensive gear.

So what changed? Well, the quick answer is deployment.

Only once in the six previous years did Iafallo average over 50% in offensive zone starts. So far with the Jets, he is averaging 60.7%; a sizeable jump.

There are not a lot of red flags with his early production. His 12.5 SH% is slightly higher than his career average of 9.7%. It’s not an increase that is unsustainable. A 2.8% improvement can be the result of a focused offseason, a new offensive scheme, or a heightened willingness to get into the dirty areas around the net. Not a percentage that screams concern.

He is also receiving consistent time on the power play with 59.4% deployment, almost double his deployment from last year. His five-on-five shooting percentage is slightly elevated at 9.7%. Considering he only has 4 goals on the season, this is more a matter of shots on goal at five-on-five than unsustainable puck luck. This will lower as he takes more shots.

Speaking of shots, his 2.1 per game (31 in 15 games) is on par with his career average.

As a final observation, Iafallo is not playing the penalty kill in Winnipeg. For the last three years, he averaged close to two minutes a game, with the Jets, it is 15 seconds. Yet, his overall ice time remains the same. More time on the power-play and five on five equals more opportunity

Iafallo’s .87 points per game is almost double his career average. So what is the cause of Iafallo’s spike in scoring? It appears a lot has to do with being on the Winnipeg Jets and them using him in more of an offensive capacity.

All this indicates that Iafallo’s production should not fall off a cliff. I am expecting some slippage in his production though. With no track record under his belt, until proven otherwise, this is likely.

However you want to look at it, Iafallo is well on his way to crushing his career high in points and passing 50 points with ease. His current pace of 72 would be a massive windfall. I would happily take anything over 60 this year.

It’s amazing what a new team can do for a player.

Jake Walman, D, Detroit Red Wings

It has taken Walman a long time to become an NHL regular. Moving from forward to defense in his draft year, this shouldn’t be a surprise

Like Brent Burns, it took him several years to fully transition. No, I’m not making a fantasy comparison to Burns. I am pointing out that even the elite offensive players take time to convert from forward to defense (Burns did so in the NHL, which is special).

The St. Louis Blues blue line was crowded when Walman left NCAA’s Providence College to turn pro (2017). At 27, Walman is entering his third NHL season and his second full season. He did play 24 games in 2020-21, but only averaged 14:28 in ice time.

Getting traded to Detroit in 2021-22 was the break Walman needed to become an NHL regular.

To say he has made an impression, might be an understatement. At five-on-five Walman spends 85% of his ice time attached to Moritz Seider. Not too shabby.

Now, he is third on the depth chart for power-play time (31.4%) behind both Seider (56.9%) and Shayne Gostisbehere (63.2%). This is unlikely to change without an injury to someone.

Even still, Walman is on pace for 36 points, with double-digit goals and power play points.

So, what stands out?

His role is growing. His ice time is up from 19:43 in 2022-23 to 21:05 to date, this season. Even with the signing of Shayne Gostisbehere, he has seen a 14.2% increase in PPTOI (power play time on ice). And in the last three games, he has averaged over 23:00 per game.

His shooting percentage is double what you would expect from a defenseman, at 12.9%. Even Cale Makar’s career average is 10.1%, which is as elite as it comes. It is early, and numbers are often inflated. This will drop closer to 5-7%, which will still be above average for a defenceman.

Walman’s shot is one of his assets. He will score more goals than the league average. He had nine on 140 shots last year, and four on 31 already this year.

We can also look at his Corsi For (CF%), which is 48.7%. Not exactly what you expect being paired with Seider (or is it?). At 40.7 OZ%, Walman and Seider are matching up against the other teams’ best lines. This will always impact the CF% of top defensemen.

At 155 career games, Walman is approaching the standard breakout threshold for most players, 200 games. We could see Walman bump his 36-point pace in the fourth quarter of the season.

For now, Walman is a legitimate 40-point threat. We will need to wait and see what Detroit does next summer, do they re-sign Gostisbehere? Or, will Simon Edvinsson be ready to make the full-time jump? There will be constant competition for offensive roles in Detroit.

Ahh, but year over year we have witnessed consistent increases in offense from defensemen. More and more teams are running their offense through the defense. Gone are the days of only one 50-point defenseman per team.

Walman is likely to remain a complimentary piece in Detroit’s offensive scheme; relied upon more for his all-around play during five-on-five. This is a player I have really liked for years. He won’t be the elite defenseman on your roster, but he will give you a deep bottom half.

There is 50-point potential here. Whether he makes it or not is up for debate. Time will tell. He should provide consistent double-digit goals throughout his career. He has a scoring touch and as the fourth or fifth defenseman on your fantasy roster, that’s not too shabby.

In closing, I would be remiss if I failed to mention he is on pace for over 200 blocks. If you’re looking for depth peripherals, scooping a guy that has double-digit goal, 40-point, 160-shot, and 200-block potential is pretty solid. I didn’t mention hits because they don’t exist.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @doylelb4

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