The 2022 fantasy hockey awards: Who were the biggest difference makers?

Which one of these two players was the 2022 fantasy hockey MVP? Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

If you are still fighting for ground in your fantasy league, congratulations and good luck. But the dust should be settled in most leagues at this stage, whether you are headed into the final two or three games in a rotisserie or points league, or in the final games of a two-week head-to-head championship.

It's time for a bit of a retrospective; a look back at some of the most pleasant surprises this season, the disappointments and the future assets. Using ESPN's preseason top 300 rankings (the one's done in the fantasy game itself that you would have seen in your draft room back in the fall), I've compiled a few "all-star" teams of fantasy players based on what they did this season versus what the preseason rankings thought they would do.

I did a smaller sample of these back in February to mark the NHL's all-star game, but this list is expanded to include a few more themed teams.

First team all-stars

These are your fantasy MVPs: the smallest investment for the biggest return. If you had some of these players on your fantasy team, you probably had some success. ... Hartman, Seider and Dobson were on this list back in February, with Duchene on the second team back then. ... Seider and Dobson both emerged as fantasy stalwarts for years to come on their respective non-playoff teams. When these squads get competitive again and have quality power plays, these young defenders will be even more valuable. ... With Hartman, we are going to want to be pretty sure he'll continue playing in lockstep with Kirill Kaprizov to consider him this highly next season. ... Andersen simply proved, once again, that system trumps goaltender track record when it comes to fantasy. The Hurricanes play a lockdown defense and whoever is in the net is going to rack up points.

Second team all-stars

Thompson's breakout may not have happened with any other team, as the Sabres afforded him ample opportunity to push up the depth chart and finally find a way to use his combination of size and skill to generate offense in the NHL. It was an ideal situation alongside Jeff Skinner and only made better when Alex Tuch joined the fold midway through the season. ... More than 20 goals and 300 hits is a rare feat and the physical play vaulted Jeannot into the top 100 fantasy assets. Brady Tkachuk knocked off the feat a couple years back, but prior to that you have to go back to prime Dustin Brown in 2010-11 to find the combination. ... I'll be on the edge of my seat next preseason to see if Bratt is poised to be Jack Hughes' linemate again. If so, we could see another season like this one. ... Oettinger wasn't a game-changer for fantasy creases, but he earned his role as the Stars No. 1 of the future and could be a No. 1 for fantasy teams in the next couple seasons. ... Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler both held up as fantasy assets this season thanks in large part to Jamie Drysdale not being ready for prime time yet. I'm not so sure that will be the case again.

Drafted all-stars

Here's another team of all-stars that intentionally includes players that were guaranteed to be on fantasy teams coming out of your draft - which is not the case for the first two squads above. Some of these are bounce-back players, while others simply took the next step. ... While Kuznetsov has lost some shine from his early-career projections, he's still more than serviceable as the Caps top pivot alongside Alex Ovechkin. ... Tarasenko shook off all the preseason drama to have a rock solid campaign and prove he is still an elite scorer. ... Dahlin's strides were welcome and he should continue to rise the ranks as the Sabres improve. Though I still want to see how Owen Power integrates with him in a full campaign. ... Andersson and Markstrom both benefited from the Flames exceeding all expectations this season. I'm still a bit concerned the Flames could seek an upgrade on the blue line for the power play next season though.

"Where's the love?" all-stars

This all-star team is made up of players who never managed to crest being picked up in at least two-thirds of ESPN leagues. To this day, they remain available in at least 35 percent of ESPN leagues. ... Thomas' strong showing is a coming out party and he should come into next season as the Blues top-line center. ... Kempe came way closer to topping Anze Kopitar's fantasy output than he has a right to - and it's a positive sign for a team that is both rebuilding and still in the postseason hunt. The Kings have a few young assets ready to break through in the next couple seasons and it may be Kempe, not Kopitar, that is the star of the show. ... It took more than half the season to get there, but eventually Bunting started taking full advantage of the opportunity to play next to the best goal scorer in the league. Perhaps he comes out full steam next season and is a top-50 asset.

Predicted perfectly all-stars

These are the players that the ESPN game designers were closest on. ... Matthews and Ovechkin were no-brainers. It's impressive to see Giroux pegged so correctly, but that is largely thanks to his late-season burst after the trade deadline. ... Brodie arguably didn't do much of anything for fantasy teams this season, but at least that was correctly predicted. ... Trouba had an underrated season, currently just six fantasy points behind fellow Rangers blue liner Adam Fox. Most of Trouba's value is derived from hits and blocked shots, so he doesn't get as much love. ... Jarry was a solid call that I wasn't on board with before the season. His stamina has been tested at the end as his production has petered out. But Jarry sits now as the seventh-best fantasy goaltender of the season.

The bust all-duds

Sigh. Not exactly an all-star team, as this is our top busts list. Some hurt more than others, to be sure. Comtois and Grubauer, for example, were probably jettisoned from teams in October. But others, like Backstrom, Barrie and Chychrun continued to offer enough hope that it was hard to part with them - especially in deeper leagues. This list excludes players who had unexpected injuries eat into a majority of their season, by the way. ... Backstrom's early absence was expected and accounted for in his draft ranking, but it dragged on longer than expected and, even when healthy, he never found his footing. ... Barrie somehow despite getting more power-play time on this team than any other defenseman, finished fourth on the Oilers in fantasy production. Yep. Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard and Cody Ceci have more points than him.

Fantasy hardware

Fantasy Art Ross - Igor Shesterkin or Auston Matthews: With just a couple games left, Shesterkin has a 12-point lead on Matthews for the most fantasy points this season. Because goaltenders can earn negative points, it's not set in stone that this is Shesterkin's award. With both likely topping 250 fantasy points, both are equally impressive. No goaltender has reached that mark since 2017-18 and no skater has crested it in any of the previous six seasons.

Fantasy Hart - Darcy Kuemper: Kuemper sits 11th among all fantasy players in points at the moment. But in choosing a fantasy MVP, he excels in other ways. Kuemper was ranked No. 277 by the ESPN game at drafts, so was by all accounts a freebie at the draft table. He then did enough in the first half of the season to justify staying on your team - which turned out to be absolutely key when he went on his second-half tear. On Dec. 31, Kuemper had only 49.8 fantasy points - 18th among goaltenders and five points fewer than Elvis Merzlikins. Since then, he's totalled of his 210.8 points during the final four months and pushed more than a couple of fantasy teams toward the titles they'll be earning this week.

Fantasy Calder - Moritz Seider: A no-brainer here, as Seider sits 39th among all players and seventh among defensemen for fantasy points this season. He might even finish sixth if he can push past John Carlson (trailing by 0.3 points). Seider's poise and production on a cellar-dwelling Red Wings team is incredibly promising for the future.

Fantasy Norris - Roman Josi: If fantasy awards also account for relative value from the preseason to now, this one is going to be just as tough as the real Norris Trophy. Josi was ranked 37th coming into the season and currently sits sixth, while Cale Makar was ranked 34th and currently sits eighth. I guess we have to give it Josi, but this was this close.

Fantasy Vezina - Jacob Markstrom: There's a few arguments to be made here for different goalies: Shesterkin has the most points, but was also ranked in the top 60 coming into the season; Markstrom was right on Shesterkin's heels, but ranked much lower at drafts (No. 125); Kuemper made enormous gains against his draft ranking; as did Frederik Andersen. Since Shesterkin is in the running for the fantasy Art Ross and Kuemper got the fantasy Hart, let's give this one to Markstrom, who sits third behind Shesterkin and Matthews for total fantasy points, but was a mid-to-late round selection at drafts.

Fantasy Masterton - Vladimir Tarasenko: Unlike the real Masterton Trophy, which takes into account human achievement and perseverance outside hockey, this award is just about bouncing back stats-wise. With all the preseason talks of a trade or holdout surrounding Tarasenko, you had to take a risk while drafting him. It would have been expected if he didn't live up to expectations, especially considering his limited early-season ice time and recent injuries. But Tarasenko has the best fantasy campaign of his career, sitting at 2.5 fantasy points per game.