Real or not real: Drop or keep these struggling fantasy hockey players

Should fantasy mangers keep or drop Johnny Gaudreau? Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

There's nothing quite like the holidays to inspire a traipsing of the reflective, nostalgic path, is there? So this Thanksgiving week, ESPN's long-time family members, Sean Allen and Victoria Matiash, are throwing back to an old fantasy hockey favorite: "Real or Not Real"; where they talk a little turkey about several potentially dried-out assets who are fowling up (nearly done here) after providing great fantasy blessings in 2022-23. And whether we can expect similar slim servings moving forward, or a return to last season's more feast-like fantasy helpings.

Along with their availability by percentage in ESPN.com competition, we're including each player's respective drop in fantasy points per game (FPPG) production in standard leagues from last season.

Resources: Goalie depth chart | Daily lines | Projections | Play for free | Player rater | Most added/dropped | Mock draft lobby | How to watch on ESPN+

Jake DeBrusk, W, Boston Bruins (46.5% available in ESPN.com leagues; 0.91 FPPG drop [1.01 FPPG this season, 1.92 last season])

Victoria: Turns out, and not all that surprisingly, skating with center Matthew Poitras or Charlie Coyle isn't quite the same as competing alongside David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron. Which helps explain DeBrusk's single goal and five assists - all at even-strength - through 16 games. Particularly since the winger isn't seeing any regular ice-time with wingers Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak either.

Sean: Agreed. With only two forwards to skate next to that can act as offensive catalysts, the Bruins don't have the depth to fuel fantasy performance from some of their important pieces. Especially when Marchand and Pastrnak oftentimes play on the same line at even strength.

Victoria: On the upside, Debrusk's dismal 2.9% shooting percentage can only rise. Still, not enough to justify rostering the forward in all but the deepest of ESPN.com leagues. Drop him and pick up a red-hot/yet-available Pavel Zacha - who is playing with Marchand and Pastrnak - instead.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers (7.16% available; 1.03 FPPG drop [1.50 FPPG this season, 2.53 last season])

Victoria: While it was wildly unreasonable to expect Nugent-Hopkins to rack up another 53 power-play points - or 104 altogether - through a full campaign like last year, his current pace of 0.24 points/game with the extra skater serves as a pointedly disconcerting drop. I don't know how we can anticipate any considerable fantasy turnaround here.

Sean: But Vic, the same is true for all Oilers this season, as their horrific start to the campaign that resulted in a coaching change is - hopefully - slowly being put behind them. No one is counting out Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl from turning this ship around. We've even seen some rare RNH deployments alongside McDavid from new coach Kris Knoblauch (just one-quarter of McDavid's even-strength minutes last season included Nugent-Hopkins on the ice). There's still a light at this tunnel's end.

Andrei Svechnikov, W, Carolina Hurricanes (13.3% available; 0.85 FPPG drop [1.17 FPPG this season, 2.02 last season])

Sean: At the end of November last season, Svechnikov ranked 32nd among all skaters with 56.0 fantasy points. He had 14 goals across 23 games and registered 72 shots. This was peak Svechnikov with 2.43 FPPG.

Victoria: Then, even before sustaining that nasty ACL injury in March, he fizzled out, didn't he? Especially in the scoring department.

Sean: Correct. From Dec. 1 on last season, he would score only nine more goals in 41 contests (1.78 FPPG).

Victoria: Which suggests there's a streakiness to his productive game - further supported by his habit of potting goals in bunches in 2021-22, when he notched 30. This is too dynamic a player to release this early in his (own injury-delayed) season. For what it's worth, Svechnikov himself isn't all that bothered about failing to yet find the back of the net. ("No, not really. I know I'm going to score and it's all about the time.") Once that first one squeaks through, we could be in for a blitz. Particularly if he starts shooting more, like he did against the Flyers the other night.

Johnny Gaudreau, W, Columbus Blue Jackets (31.8% available; 0.83 FPPG drop [0.90 FPPG this season, 1.73 last season])

Sean: For context, this is also a drop from 2.43 FPPG in the 2021-22 season, Gaudreau's final campaign with the Calgary Flames. The precipitous dip into what is now fantasy-irrelevant territory has Gaudreau off rosters in 31 percent of ESPN leagues. Are those 31 percent being too hasty with the former star winger?

Victoria: Nope. Can't make much fantasy hay when you're stuck riding the bench during key stretches of any given game. Flippancy aside, the numbers - or lack thereof - speak volumes. While Gaudreau is still making an effort out there, that exertion isn't reaping productive fruit. Blame his supporting cast all you like; the why doesn't matter to fantasy managers. Not when there's no clear turnaround in sight. Never mind the disconnect with his new head coach.

Sean: That all said, there may be some, however muted, name value that you may be able to squeeze out of Gaudreau here. We are, after all, only 15 months removed from him being the most-sought after NHLer in free agency. I dunno. It just feels wrong to outright drop him. Maybe you can at least toss him into a bigger trade to make it feel like you are getting something. But with his entire Blue Jackets track record verging on unstart-able for fantasy, sigh, yes, it's time to move on.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, C, Los Angeles Kings (16.1% available; 0.89 FPPG drop [1.20 FPPG this season, 2.09 last season])

Victoria: Competing on L.A.'s third line and secondary power play, Dubois has five goals and four assists through 17 games, which isn't terrible. But he isn't shooting, blocking shots, or throwing hits as frequently as last year in Winnipeg. Also, the center's minus-2 rating - when every King other than Kevin Fiala is in the black - bugs me.

Sean: Yeah, the balanced attack from the Kings doesn't bode extremely well for Dubois, as his line is sometimes third in the pecking order depending on game flow. But while they've experimented with separating Dubois and Anze Kopitar on the power play in recent games, the pair should be back together on the top unit before too long. So hang tight, as Dubois is only a slight uptick in play away from being a fantasy starter again.

Victoria: Hang tight for another minute or two. If Dubois doesn't start contributing in more valuable fashion across the fantasy board by the first week of December, I'm out. To be honest, I'm already moving on in shallower leagues.

Andrei Kuzmenko, W, Vancouver Canucks (20.74% available; 0.52 FPPG drop [1.3 FPPG this season, 1.82 last season])

Victoria: To be fair, the severe drop in Kuzmenko's fantasy productivity since missing a game after taking a puck to the face last week has palpably sunk his recent average. Don't pull the chute quite yet. Also, there's no chance I'm relinquishing a skater, who not only scored 39/35 last year, but is playing on a line with Elias Pettersson, and often shares the ice with Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller (power play). Not when those three have combined for 87 points thus far.

Sean: Yeah, stick it out. In fact, I'd feel at least equal about having Kuzmenko on my fantasy team as I would Brock Boeser, whose 13 goals on just 49 shots are calling for a drought on shooting percentage. That said, Kuzmenko needs to manipulate his shooting percentage as well - and the key is volume. He had 40 shots through 17 games last season compared to his measly 26 in this campaign.

Rickard Rakell, W/C, Pittsburgh Penguins (54.1% available; 1.05 FPPG drop [0.94 FPPG this season, 1.99 last season])

Sean: Rakell used his top-six role with the Penguins last season to finish 66th for fantasy points among all skaters. He's back in the Pens' top six, so what's the problem here?

Victoria: Skating on Pittsburgh's top power play in 2022-23 helped - when he earned 21 of his 60 points with the extra skater. A gig he no longer has this season.

Sean: Yeah, that'll do it. There's only room for one additional skater on the advantage after you account for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Erik Karlsson, and it appears Rakell is behind both Bryan Rust and Reilly Smith in the pecking order for the job.

Tony DeAngelo, D, Carolina Hurricanes (46.51% available; 0.69 FPPG drop [1.09 FPPG this season, 1.78 last season])

Sean: He's still getting the requisite power-play time he needs, leading all Hurricanes defence in quarterback time by a fair margin. His reduced totals could just be a byproduct of the Hurricanes inability to draw a penalty of late. They had 25 power-play opportunities in the first five games of the season, but have only had 36 chances in the past 12 games.

Victoria: Power play/shmower play. Four special teams' points through 16 contests does not a valuable fantasy commodity make. DeAngelo (minus-10) doesn't block shots (nine), throw hits (one!), or log any significant number of minutes each game. Even considering a likely uptick in power-play production give me Brady Skjei or Jaccob Slavin in ESPN.com standard leagues over this underperformer any fantasy day of the week.