By Janet Eagleson, RotoWire Senior Hockey Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports
Let’s look at who caught my eye this week.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Columbus (5 percent Yahoo owned) – Bjorkstrand’s game is pretty typical for a young player with little more than a season’s worth of games under his belt. It turns on and off a little like a light switch. At the moment, Bjorkstrand’s game is burning brightly and Saturday morning, he was third overall on the Yahoo Player Rater over the last seven days. Yep – behind only Nikita Kucherov and Dustin Byfuglien. Wow. Bjorkstrand has five points (two goals, three assists), 20 shots and a plus-4 rating in his last four games and should NOT be benched in 95 percent of Yahoo leagues. Use him, but be ready to drop him when the lights go out. Remember – he delivered just a single point in his previous 13 games. Speculate!
Christian Fischer, RW, Arizona (5 percent) – Fischer is a coach’s dream. He does everything asked with speed and grit. And while his offensive ceiling is limited, Fischer is always in the right place at the right time and has a pretty good release. Since last Saturday, Fischer has five assists, including two on the power play, in five games. The desert dawgs are playing out the string, which doesn’t sound great. But their young guys are working to win a gig next season. You might as well take advantage of the intensity and production.
Thomas Greiss, G, NY Islanders (26 percent) – Hear me out. I know Greiss has been as porous as a spaghetti strainer this season, but his shutout Friday over Carolina was sweet. And it should earn him the Isles’ next start Monday against the Wild. A start is a start and maybe it can be the beginning of something better for the last 25 games.
Ondrej Kase, LW/RW, Anaheim (7 percent) – There’s a lot to like in Kase’s game. He’s the Energizer Bunny on a line with Nick Ritchie and Adam Henrique, and together they have been the Quacks’ best trio the last couple weeks. Kase has nine points, including five goals, and 24 shots in his last seven games. He has 31 points in 44 games overall – that’s close to a 60-point pace over a full NHL season. With production like that, Kase should be rostered in close to 93 percent of leagues, not available in them. Go find him.
Tobias Rieder, LW/RW, Arizona (1 percent) – Rieder has just 19 points in 57 games, and at 25 he is who he is. But every once in a while, he can ring up some offense, courtesy of his energetic game and quick release. Rieder has five points (two goals, three assists) in his last four games. Like Fischer above, he’s playing for one of two things – a job next season or a trade this one. Either way, Rieder may be a good bet over the next 25 games.
Nick Ritchie, LW, Anaheim (4 percent) – Ritchie has suffered from failure to launch syndrome since he arrived in the NHL. Now, that’s often the case with big boys. But it’s still disappointing. I’ve held him in a keeper league since his draft year, but I’m growing frustrated. But maybe there’s a glimmer of hope. The pride of Orangeville has seemed to really click with linemates Ondrej Kase and Adam Henrique, so much so that the trio was the Ducks’ most productive the last two weeks. And Ritchie is showing that side of his game that made him a 10th overall pick. That wicked power move Thursday night that went top shelf backhand was a masterpiece. Fingers crossed this is finally the breakout for this power forward.
Casey Nelson, D, Buffalo (0 percent) – Nelson has been a revelation since his callup a month ago. The undrafted 25-year-old became just the second rookie in team history to notch his first NHL goal while shorthanded. And now he has five points (one goal, four assists) in his last seven games. Nelson has climbed the pairings in the city of fires by playing simple, smart hockey. And in just 14 games, he has become the Sabres’ best presence in his own zone. I’m not sure if that’s because the rest are incredibly awful or if he’s really this good. But he’s contributing. And he could be doing that on your squad.
Jaccob Slavin, D, Carolina (11 percent) – Slavin was supposed to be Shea Weber lite, especially after his impressive 34-point, plus-23 performance last year. But this season has been a big step back. Still, talent like Slavin’s doesn’t just dry up, so maybe his four points (goal, three assists) and plus-6 rating in his last five games are a glimmer of Shea. I’m buying.
Don’t forget about Kovalchuk
The last week has been a blur. NHL games. Winter Olympics. No sleep.
The time difference is killing me, but Saturday morning, I was reminded how much I miss watching Ilya Kovalchuk. His two goals just 33 seconds apart broke the U.S. team’s back.
Kovalchuk was the NHL’s most prolific goal scorer in the years he played. And he’s kept up the sniping for SKA St. Petersburg. He finds seams. That release. Shudder.
The Olympics – or should I say the NHL’s stance prohibiting its players from participating – kept Kovalchuk in the KHL this year. But this summer, his one-year deal with SKA will be done. And so will New Jersey’s rights over him.
Yep – he’s coming back.
Kovalchuk walked away from his massive deal with the Devils in 2013. We all thought he was crazy to give up guaranteed money to play at home. But maybe he felt like he’d sold his soul to the devil.
(Sorry, Dan Pennucci. I know you’re turning in your grave at that dig.)
Once he turns 35 in April, he’ll be free from the Devils’ clutches. And based on his excellence for the red team that used to be called Russia, Kovalchuk will make a difference for some NHL team in 2018-19.
I’m putting Kovalchuk’s name in my phone for 2018-19 drafts. Sure, it will be a challenge for him to get back up to game speed.
But he’ll still be more than 10 years younger than Jaromir Jagr, who managed 66 points at age 44 and 46 at 45 in the last two seasons.
Kovalchuk could be a 30-goal guy next year. Or at least 25. And it won’t be with the Devils.
Even if they are a much improved squad.