Cage Match: Jamie Benn vs. Evander Kane


The single toughest aspect of fantasy hockey is analyzing breakouts. Obviously you want to get ahead of the game but pre-season estimates are hit and miss. You just can’t know for sure until you see the product on the ice. Once you see a breakout in action you need to quickly decipher its validity and the future implications. In this week’s Cage Match we look at to players in the midst of breakout seasons and analyze what these breakouts mean going forward. It’s Jamie Benn vs. Evander Kane – and no, it is not a boxing match.


What makes breakout candidates so difficult to read is the fact that their brief NHL track record can only tell us so much about the future. Both Benn and Kane are in their third NHL season and have grown leaps and bounds since their rookie season. Looking at their rookie seasons won’t tell us much if they are breaking out right now. That’s why the patented Cage Match three year averages table will do us no good. Instead, let’s look at a breakdown of their current statistics this season.


























A quick analysis scores this a tight 3-2 victory for Benn. Kane shoots more and gets more goals so that wins him two categories but they split plus/minus and the rest belong to Benn. Benn is much more of a playmaker and thus has assists. Benn’s playmaking also lends itself to creating more on the power play so he has the edge there too.


What’s puzzling is Benn’s advantage in the PIM category. The PIM are close enough to draw this up to random chance but it is worth mentioning that Benn does not have any huge aberrations on his game log with regard to PIM. Both Benn and Kane play a hard brand of abrasive hockey and will get their fair share of PIM. I just hate to give away a cheap win based on PIM when it can be so variable. Tentatively let’s call the numbers game a draw. With that in mind let’s look a little deeper.


Kane plays the game with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball. Whether he is playing the body, flinging rubber or taking out the trash, Kane is looking to put an absolute pounding on you. This is what makes him an absolute rotisserie-monster but it may also be the reason Kane has yet to play an 82 game season. Kane is still young and has all the makings of a big time power forward but at just 190 lbs. he needs to fill out if he wants to play complete seasons.


Kane is also too reliant on his physical skills. Speed and strength are great assets but that’s only part of the game. Kane still has some things to learn with regard to seeing the ice and positioning. It’s not that he thinks the game poorly he just is not on that elite level. Right now he is using his speed and strength to bulldoze his way to the net. It is working pretty darn well but imagine when if/when he learns to find those soft spots in the defense and if he put on even more weight. He would be unstoppable. He would be Batman!


Still, let’s not take too much away from what Kane is doing. He is firing almost four SOG per game and is on pace for over 300 SOG this season. Getting that many pucks on net is an absolute skill. Only six players took that many shots last season. That places him among the elite. Better still, Kane is on pace to eclipse his career high in goals by mid-season and score nearly 40 for the whole year and his shooting percentage is not so high that it’s unsustainable. The biggest improvement in Kane’s game has definitely been in finding ways to get the puck to the net because he is most effective as a shooter.


Kane is also getting it done without receiving the primo ice time that some players receive. Kane is only averaging 17:15 minutes per game with 2:20 coming on the power play. While he is definitely a top line guy, these minutes are still below what he could be receiving.


What’s more, as Frozenpool will show us, Kane has not exactly been playing with the most primo linemates either.




Kane began the season on a line with Burmistrov and Antropov but has played the bulk of the season alongside Little and Wheeler. These line combinations seem strangely formulaic. The recipe is simple, take Kane and sprinkle in a little underrated centerman (Burmistrov/Little) and complete with a dash of physical specimen with sawdust for brains (Antropov/Wheeler). Mmmmm, delicious!


What’s clear however is that Evander Kane is driving the offense for these lines. Of Little’s 20 points this season, 12 have come with Kane on the ice. Likewise, seven of Burmistrov’s 15 points this season came with Kane.


Working with crafty playmaking centermen makes sense for Kane as they can set him up where he likes. Similarly, meatplugs like the Antrosloth and Banana-Peeler work wonders in front of the net banging in rebounds off Kane’s bombardment of shots.


It is entirely possible that while I say Burmistrov and Little are underrated I am still underrating them but I can’t help but imagine how Kane would look playing with an elite playmaking centerman. The sky really is the limit for Kane but I can’t help but feel this year he is headed for a letdown. Power forwards take time to marinade. They rarely make that huge leap in one shot. Kane’s career high is 43 points with 234 SOG. His body and hockey sense are not where they need to be. As the year drags on there will be more wear and tear. Let’s see if he can sustain this high level of play.


The reduced ice time should help. As will the way that Winnipeg is matching lines. 57% of Kane’s shifts start in the offensive zone and the coaching staff makes sure to try to get his line out there against favourable matchups. This is why we see such a disparity in Kane’s home/road splits. At home Kane has 16 points in 16 games and is a plus-14 over that span. On the road he has just nine points in 16 games and is a minus-eight in those games. These road struggles are not just indicative of the difficulties in line-matching on the road but also of the ups and downs young players face.


The sky remains the limit for Kane but keep expectations low for the near future. 30 goals and 55 points would be a significant improvement for Kane and hints at a true breakout in the future.


Benn, on the other hand, looks like he is legit. He is a full two years older than Kane and at 207 lbs. is better built to withstand the grind of an NHL season. What’s more, while Kane’s game is reminiscent of a mallet, Benn’s approach is more like Andy Dufresne’s rock hammer; equally capable of bludgeoning and carving opponents like a prison wall.


Benn has that IT factor. The puck follows him around the ice and he has that uncanny ability to sneak into the soft spots of the defense. His hockey sense is extremely high. So he doesn’t just play the game hard but he plays it smart. This is why he was moved to center. You want guys like Benn with the puck on their stick at all times because they make their teammates look good.


What is scary is that like Kane, Benn may still be just scratching the surface. His ice time is very comparable to Kane’s. He is receiving 17:50 minutes per game with 2:30 on the power play. Give Benn a minute or two more on the power play like most elite players and let’s see what he can really do. It’s only a matter of time.


Frozenpool shows us that Benn could also benefit from improved linemates.




Playing with Loui Eriksson is awesome. That’s a top notch linemate for Benn to skate with, but he is not a huge goal scorer. The other wing position is really where they need some help. The whole Ott-Ryder-Burish experiment is ludicrous. Those guys would be better off skating around with a plywood board in their hands than a hockey stick, at least that way Benn would have a bigger target to try to bounce his passes off of.


Get that line a third guy and just watch the fireworks.


Benn is also not a benefactor of line matching or offensive zone starts. The Stars struggle with pushing the puck into the offensive zone and as a result Benn is starting just 45% of his shifts in the offensive zone and is producing equally on home ice as he is on the road.


The only lull you can find in Benn’s stats is his slump when Goligoski was out. As Dobber mentioned in the ramblings Benn scored just five points in the 12 games Goligoski was out but otherwise has 23 points in 20 games. You can’t criticize Benn for struggling without Goligoski. The Stars blueline is pretty thin and without a top notch playmaker out there they struggle getting the puck up to the forwards. Goligoski’s presence is an absolute game-changer. With Goligoski back, let the good times roll.


Benn’s start to this season looks to be more sustainable than Kane’s. Because he is older, stronger and thinks the game better Benn puts himself in a better position to succeed over a long stretch. He also has more pedigree in the form of his 56 point sophomore season. That makes 65 points a reasonable expectation for this season. It is also entirely possible that he reaches even loftier heights. He is already on pace for 71 points but factoring in the lull with Goligoski out and the fact that Benn is actually shooting well below his career average at 8.2% we could reasonably expect Benn to score as many as 80 points this season.


In one year leagues poolies absolutely need to take advantage of Kane’s recent roto-studliness and cash him in for Benn. You obviously want to take into account team strengths with regard to goals and SOG but in terms of pure point scoring Benn has a serious advantage.


In keeper pools there is a little more at stake. Evander Kane can become an absolute roto-beast a la Corey Perry. He will also hold a positional advantage over Benn in the future as Benn has made the move to center full time. The question with Kane is whether he will figure it all out. It’s a tough gamble to make. Pure upside has to favour Kane because of the scarcity of goals and his SOG prowess but it isn’t enough to sway me off Benn. Benn just gets it and he plays the game just as hard as Kane. He also is no slouch with regard to the PIM and SOG. He can more than make up for any goal differential Kane creates because of his added assists. Give me Benn, because things like hockey sense just cannot be taught.


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steve laidlaw said:

... Well like I said, if the upside and pure point production is the same then I do favour the goal scorer if for no other reason than goals are often a H2H tiebreaker but my main point was that Benn is going to get you so many more assists that it is not worth it to go for Kane and his goal advantage. But again, from a pure categorical standpoint goals are just as valuable as assists so there is some team specific needs-based analysis that needs to take place but in a vacuum there is no difference.

Interesting on Enstrom. I really did not even think about that impact. I guess I just forgot because the Jets offense started the year stagnant with him and then got rolling without him. My assumption is there will not be too much of an improvement as the Jets are middle of the pack in scoring and power play performance and should most likely stay there. Enstrom is one of my favourites but it is really interesting to see how well the team did in his absence. The impact of Goligoski was easy to include because his absence has had a well-documented and significant impact.

As I said in the outset of the article, breakouts are very hard to read. If I thought Kane would keep it up and keep pace with Benn my article would probably have been inconclusive but I just do not think Kane is keeping up with Benn. Not short term. Not long term. His goal advantage is nice but if I am looking at a 10-20 point separation without a massive peripheral advantage one way or the other then I am taking the points.
December 22, 2011
Votes: +0

ktox said:

... Steve,

The implication in your response is that my argument is inconsistent.

Firstly I understand Benn shoots. He's no Thornton in that regard, so the drop off, Kane to Benn is not great.

Secondly, my point about goals is a general one, not specific to this cage match. IMO if you want to win a league with a set-up similar to the standard ESPN league that I play, then you will want to do well in goals. No argument there I hope. Where do your goals come from? Your forwards, even the best Dmen are assist heavy. So rightly or wrongly I always look to draft forwards that score over forwards that assist. I figure I can get assists from a solid blue line, so I don't draft assist heavy forwards unless they have other things going for them. I'd never take H.Sedin in the first round for example.

So I don't think I'm being inconsitent.

One further thing on the match, you talk about Goligoski's impact. No mention of Enstrom's absence so far this season. Will Kane get better with Enstrom back? more PPP? Again, small sample size, hard to tell.

Overall though, thought provoking cage match which is what it's all about.
December 22, 2011
Votes: +0

steve laidlaw said:

... Ktox, I find it interesting that you would argue the categories argument and then also argue that goals should be worth more than assists. Assists are a category just like goals and carry the exact same weight in the standings.

Now if we are talking pure points here then a heavy goal guy with less points is actually giving you less in PPP and Plus/Minus so there is a very solid reason to favour an assist guy if he is reaching higher scoring totals. If the upside is the point production is the exact same for both players I would understand a goal scorers advantage but that's not the case in this Cage Match. Kane needs to hit his upside to make that argument and he's still not close.

Also re-SOG. Remember that Benn is no slouch here either. He's on pace for 250. Kane has him beat but let's see what happens if/when the missed games and slow down come. Kane has yet to prove he's an 82 game player so I refuse to treat him like one. Do so at your own risk. A 75 game season puts Kane under 300 SOG and that's a manageable difference considering what Benn is giving you in other categories.

PIM are still a wash. Benn has not been a huge PIM producer thus far in his career but neither has Kane. Over two and a half seasons Kane is only holding a 21 PIM advantage. That's not enough to be decisive.

You can hang onto Kane hoping he continues to grow both mentally and physically and you could prove right but I'm putting my money on the guy who is there right now.
December 21, 2011
Votes: -1

ktox said:

Swap The analysis is good as always. I have Kane. There is no way I would swap him for Benn. Fantsy hockey is a game of categories, and as mentioned 300+ SOG is gold dust. Kane could win that category for you. Benn may be a bit better all around, but he is unlikely to impact a single category like Kane can. + Kane's extra fisticuffs, and stronger goal/assist ratio really help out too.

As a general point, when comparing forwards, I don't think assists should be given the same weight as goals. A winning fantasy team should get a lot of assists from the blue line. The forwards have to score goals. Kane scores more goals.

(depends on your league set-up obviously)

December 21, 2011
Votes: +0

shaun b said:

Best Cage Match!
Awesome job. I drafted Benn in my 3 leagues this year so I'm a bit biased. He definitely seems to have "it". I freaking love players that can do it all.

Last year Benn scored at a 67 point pace but missed some games and finished with 56 in 69. Impressive. He's on pace for 71 in 81 now, so there's no reason he can't follow Grioux's path of last year when he finished with 76. My fingers are crossed that Benn can get to 80-85 points this year.
December 21, 2011
Votes: +0
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