It feels like it’s still early in the NHL season, but given the condensed schedule a good portion of teams are already an eighth of the way through the year and there are only 10 weeks left before the fantasy hockey playoffs begin in most leagues. Crazy, I know.
That’s why this year more than ever, it’s important to play for the week and worry less about the long term. Players have a shorter runway for lift off, so it’s increasingly costly to waste time waiting for players to turn their season around.
With that in mind, here are my top 10 fantasy hockey takeaways from the previous week in the NHL:
1 - Dallas Stars make up for lost time, but don’t get too used to it
The Stars’ season started later than others due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team, but have they ever made up for it. Largely without Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Roope Hintz, Dallas’s offense has looked absolutely incredible. Led by veteran forward Joe Pavelski’s four goals and nine points, the team’s top players have been exactly that to begin the season. John Klingberg (two goals, seven points), Denis Gurianov (three goals, seven points) and Alexander Radulov (two goals, four points) have all seen their fantasy hockey stock rise over the past week.
This kind of production doesn’t seem sustainable with all the absences, however. The team’s upcoming schedule gets a little more difficult with a pair of matchups against the Carolina Hurricanes and stingy Columbus Blue Jackets. While collectively everybody was too low on this offense, the smart play here is to move one of these players to an overeager manager.
2 - What will Pierre-Luc Dubois’s (85% rostered on Yahoo) impact be on Jets’ red-hot second line?
Andrew Copp, Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny combined for 20 points this past week, more than any other line in the NHL. Both Stastny and Copp remain under 30 percent rostered on Yahoo so there’s a clear opportunity to add, but doing so is a risky proposition given the pending return of Pierre-Luc Dubois to the ice and his likely presence on the team’s second line.
It’d be fair to assume that Stastny, the current middle man of this trio, is the most likely to be demoted to the third line. Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, however, suggested that Stastny could be moved to the wing, according to Mike McIntyre of Winnipeg News. This would consequently drop Copp to the third line instead. It still seems more likely Stastny will join the bottom-six, which makes Copp the better add in fantasy hockey.
3 - Thatcher Demko (47% rostered on Yahoo) is taking over the crease for Canucks
Prior to Vancouver’s three-game series against the Ottawa Senators, neither Thatcher Demko nor Braden Holtby did much to solidify themselves as the leader in the team’s crease. Sure, both are playing behind a Canucks defense that’s turned the puck over 81 times (fourth-most in the NHL), but it’s fair to say that neither were meeting expectations. This week, however, Demko has been able to deliver some positive results.
The 25-year-old has turned aside 77 of the 79 shots directed his way over his last two games, earning a victory in each contest. Holtby had similar results in his start on Thursday, stopping 36 of 37 shots for a win. It’s worth a reminder, however, that this was against the Senators. The real test, likely for Demko, will come on Saturday in a road date against the Jets. How he performs against one of the hottest offenses in hockey will be telling. For now, he remains the preferred option between the pipes in Vancouver.
4 - Lots of reason to be concerned about Evgeni Malkin (97% rostered on Yahoo)
Evgeni Malkin had a top-30 ADP in Yahoo fantasy hockey drafts, but he hasn’t performed like an elite forward. With just one goal and three points through his first eight games, it’s fair to wonder if time is catching up to the 34-year-old.
The former MVP has the fifth worst even-strength expected goals for percentage (xGF%) on the Penguins, only slightly ahead of Cody Ceci (41.82% vs. 41.68%), according to Natural Stat Trick. Malkin has played a very physical brand of hockey over the years and it has cost him a significant amount of games played in the process. Over the last seven NHL seasons, the Russian superstar has appeared in 70 games just once. A troubling injury history and a slow start are big red flags for Malkin’s fantasy prospects for the remainder of the season.
5 - Now’s a good time to trade for Taylor Hall (98% rostered on Yahoo)
After a hot start to the season in Buffalo, Taylor Hall has just one point over his last five games. The slump in production is not from a lack of trying, however, as the former Hart Trophy winner has fired 20 pucks on net during this five-game stretch. Additionally, his season xGF% is 67.80%, the third-highest of any Sabres player.
Hall has been bumped down to the Sabres’ second line, which may concern the manager in your league who has him. It’s worth sending over some offers to see if you can swing a trade for the talented winger. Hall has a solid track record of being a good offensive producer, and he’s still playing on a power play that features players like Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin.
6 - David Pastrnak (99% rostered on Yahoo) is close to returning
Fantasy managers who have been patiently stashing David Pastrnak won’t have to wait much longer.
Pastrnak: "I feel great. ... I feel ready. I feel 100 percent."
He said he's pretty sure he's ready to return tomorrow vs. WSH.
— Amalie Benjamin (@AmalieBenjamin) January 29, 2021
Pastrnak will likely make his season debut on Saturday against the Washington Capitals. The 24-year-old missed Boston’s first seven games after undergoing hip surgery in the offseason, but he’ll immediately rejoin the Bruins’ first line and top power-play unit upon return. It may take some adjustment time, but Pastrtnak will almost instantly return to being a top-10 player.
His return is potentially bad news for Nick Ritchie, who has been filling in on Boston’s PP1 in his absence. Given his early-season success and role as the big man in front of the net, it wouldn’t be shocking if it’s actually David Krejci who gets demoted. Krejci has historically held a role on the top power-play fixture, but Ritchie has done an excellent job playing to his identity and head coach Bruce Cassidy may want to continue parking him by the net.
7 - Enjoy Tyler Motte’s (30% rostered on Yahoo) offensive production while you can
Tyler Motte has surprisingly been one of Vancouver’s top offensive producers. He has five goals, no assists and continues to stuff the hits and blocked shots categories. Looking at his track record, however, it seems unlikely that he’ll continue scoring at this pace.
Over his last 108 regular-season games, Motte has registered just 13 goals and 24 points. Playing in the Canucks’ bottom-six and seeing no time on the power play, it is highly unlikely he maintains this type of offensive output. His current shooting percentage of 23.8 far exceeds his career number of 9.5. There’s nothing wrong with adding Motte if you’re looking for hits and blocked shots but don’t count on him to continue this scoring pace.
8 - Nicklas Backstrom (88% rostered on Yahoo) is going to wind up being a huge draft steal
The Capitals continue to roll along despite missing many crucial parts of their team due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols, and they have the trusted and reliable Nicklas Backstrom to thank for that.
The veteran center has four goals and 10 points through the team’s first eight games and he’s done it largely without trusted running mate Alexander Ovechkin. Sure, a sizeable portion of his numbers have come on the man advantage (six power-play points), but since joining Washington in 2007-08, the Capitals have had the league’s best power play at 22.1 percent. Strong power-play numbers and point totals are nothing new for Backstrom and everything considered, there’s no reason to believe the point production will drastically decrease.
9 - Carter Verhaeghe (10% rostered on Yahoo) excelling in opportunity with Panthers
Buried on a loaded Tampa Bay Lightning squad, Carter Verhaeghe, a 2013 third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, didn’t see much opportunity in the NHL. Last year in his rookie campaign, he saw just 9:22 of average ice time across 52 games played, minutes that often came in a bottom-six role. But one look at Verhaeghe’s game will tell you his skill set doesn’t really fit the mould of a checking line forward.
Standing 6-foot-2 with a slight 180-pound build, Verhaeghe is a shoot-first type of player. In 2018-19, he scored 34 goals and 82 points with the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. At just 25 years old and with limited NHL experience, it’s hard to gauge exactly how high Verhaeghe’s peak is. Playing on Florida’s top line and averaging a few ticks over 19:00 of ice time, the former Niagara Ice Dog is a great add with long-term upside.
10 - Sharks’ top offensive players have been largely disappointing
If a rising tide lifts all boats, then the opposite must be true about a receding undercurrent. The Sharks currently occupy last place in the West Division and the lack of production from some of their top performers is a key factor.
Aside from Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, no Sharks player has panned out thus far for fantasy managers. Brent Burns, Evander Kane, Timo Meier and Erik Karlsson have all offered largely disappointing returns. Couture’s plus-minus of zero is currently tied for the team lead and none of the aforementioned players have an xGF% above 50 percent. Over the last four games, Burns, Kane, Meier and Karlsson have combined for a measly seven points. Fantasy managers will have to remain patient as the trade market for any of these players likely won’t be lively.
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