Fantasy Hockey: Things Are Starting to Roll On

When I mentioned last week the big four – Colorado, Vegas, the NY Islanders and Tampa Bay – were 5-9-1, they’ve since gone 9-4-1, and that’s with a long list of key players who are unavailable due to injury. As the first month draws to a close, we are reminded that this is a marathon and not a sprint and that we have not yet played even 10 percent of the season.

Some storylines and narratives of notes as we finish October:

The Hurricanes and Panthers have been popular dark horse picks over the past couple of seasons, and entering Friday’s games are a combined 15-0-0. At what point do the dark horses become the favorites?

The Sabres and Red Wings are a combined 9-3-3 and if the playoffs started today would finish second and third in the Atlantic Division. How long can they keep this up?

The Flames finished their five-game road trip with a perfect record. Do we all agree they’re the third-best team in the Pacific behind the Knights and Oilers?

Goalies

Frederik Andersen, Carolina

In retrospect, Andersen ended up following one of the most common scripts for ex-Leafs – finding success somewhere else. A 33-save shutout against the Bruins pushed Andersen and the Canes to a 6-0-0 record with only eight goals (!) allowed and Antti Raanta kept the streak alive with a 6-3 win in his season debut. What was originally believed to be a possible 1A-1B situation now sees Andersen as a workhorse No. 1 who could finish the season as a top-five fantasy goalie, and he has been arguably the best value pick of the season so far. For those who picked Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck early… I told you goaltending was voodoo.

Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight, Florida

Equally impressive has been the Panthers, who are also unbeaten at 8-0-0. The weird thing about this is we didn’t expect both goalies to be this good. This is a good problem to have, but it also means that fantasy managers that gambled on Bobrovsky or Knight to be the starting goalie may now be looking at a timeshare. Bobrovsky has started six games to Knight’s two, but when the streak is broken and winning gets harder, the rotation will be subject to change.

Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton

With Mike Smith potentially returning on Saturday, Koskinen’s little miracle run where he went 3-1-0 with a .926 Sv% will be coming to a close sooner than later. In the past, Koskinen often needed strong goal support to win games, but his performance so far this season has opened the door to potentially more playing time even when Smith comes back.

If Koskinen can keep playing as well as he has, he will be a very popular for spot starts and should be available in most leagues for the rest of the season. Leagues that feature managers who hoard goalies may consider stashing Koskinen. With the kind of goal support he gets, he should at least get close to 20 wins.

Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski, Buffalo

Anderson is now five wins away from 300 in his career and what he and the Sabres are doing is pretty incredible. They’ve put the Ewing Theory to the ultimate test and they’re now 5-1-1 without Jack Eichel and after trading Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen. They’re getting goal support from the unlikeliest of sources, including Zemgus Girgensons, the seven-year veteran who has scored more than 10 goals only twice in his career, and Kyle Okposo, the 14-year veteran who has already equalled last y

The part that’s most surprising is that their underly Corsi% and Fenwick% numbers, according to naturalstattrick.com, 13th and 12th in the league, respectively, which suggests their strong play is no fluke. There is certainly still a lot of doubt about how long Anderson and Tokarski can keep this up, but Anderson is definitely playing himself into fantasy relevance. He is rostered in 27 percent of Yahoo leagues and worth a speculative stash if starting goalies are scarce. I don’t know how long Anderson’s long play will last, but he’s defied expectations so far.

Other goalies we’re keeping an eye on: Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, Islanders; Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso, Blues; James Reimer, Sharks; Martin Jones, Flyers; Cam Talbot, Wild

Rookies

Dawson Mercer, C, New Jersey

Jack Hughes’ absence has opened the door for Mercer, who is averaging 15 minutes over the past two games with two points and 11 faceoff wins. The Devils lineup is pretty fluid because they have a lot of players who can move up and down the lineup and play different roles, but Mercer has almost been exclusively used as a top-six center, taking the second-most draws in the offensive zone (20) behind Nico Hischier (34). Mercer has the fifth-best P/GP among rookies (min. 5 GP) and could be in the Calder race if his role continues to expand.

Lucas Raymond, LW, Detroit

The Swedish sniper scored half his points in one game with a hat trick and a helper and currently leads all rookies in scoring. Part of Raymond’s success is due to opportunity; even though he averages 15:50 TOI/GP, sixth among Detroit’s forwards, he features prominently on the top power-play unit and the top line. In other words, he’s playing pretty sheltered minutes with good linemates, but that’s probably the right way to bring rookies along into the NHL. Raymond is rostered in nearly 50 percent of Yahoo leagues – and climbing – and certainly could lead the Wings in scoring.

Jonathan Dahlen, C/LW, San Jose

Dahlen is another talented Swedish rookie who is getting a ton of quality opportunities. The former captain and leading scorer for Timra in the Swedish League with 71 points in 45 games won the first-line job out of camp and hasn’t looked back. While William Eklund has drawn in and out of the lineup, Dahlen has remained with Logan Couture and Timo Meier. The Sharks’ pace seems unsustainable, but Dahlen’s production and minutes haven’t fluctuated very much. He’s worth a stash in deep leagues just in case he continues his scoring pace even when the Sharks start losing games. With five points and 20 shots on goal, which ranks second behind only Timo Meier, Dahlen can be a serviceable depth forward in fantasy.

Bowen Byram, D, Colorado

The Avs defensive pairs have been juggled all season and it’s subject to more changes when Devon Toews returns, but the league was put on notice once Jared Bednar paired Byram and Cale Makar with a lot more regularity. The two offensive dynamos have played 65:25 together at 5-on-5, according to naturalstattrick.com, with a 54.24 5v5 CF% and 64.56 5v5 xGF%, which ranked 18th and seventh in the league, respectively, among pairs who have played over 60 minutes. Makar and Byram could be even much better than their already solid possession stats already suggest; on talent alone, they might have the most offensive upside of any pairing in the modern era.

More importantly, Byram’s minutes has increased as a result of playing with Makar more often, playing 16:33 in the season opener to 26:07 and 23:19 in his two most recent games, during which he also notched an assist and six shots on goal. Rostered in 44 percent of Yahoo leagues, Byram’s reputation preceded him, but given the massive increase in usage recently, he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Other rookies we’re keeping an eye on: Drew O’Connor, LW, Penguins; Tanner Jeannot, LW/RW. Predators; Trevor Zegras, C/LW, and Jamie Drysdale, D, Ducks; Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Red Wings

Notables

Mathieu Joseph, C/RW, Tampa Bay

With Nikita Kucherov out long-term, somebody in the Lightning’s system had to step out. So far, that player has been Joseph, who averaged 10:14 during the first four games but is now averaging 16:47 over the past four games, which not-so-coincidentally allowed him to score his first three points of the season. The Lightning have “struggled” so far with a 4-3-1 record and Jon Cooper’s lineup is constantly being tweaked, but Joseph seems to have solidified himself in the top-six and last played on a line with Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat.

Short on depth and with Ross Colton and Taylor Raddysh not making much of an impression, Joseph could be the breakout player the Lightning sorely need after losing so much depth over the summer. Joseph is rostered in only one percent of Yahoo leagues and that number will surely climb as he continues to play a top-six role and the Lightning continue to get back on track.

Matt Duchene, C/RW, and Ryan Johansen, C, Nashville

It was a curious decision to stack their two most overpriced and underperforming players on one line, but it’s worked out quite wonderfully so far. Duchene has five points and 24 shots this season, looking more alive than he ever did in Nashville, while Johansen’s six points and 68 faceoff wins indicates he’s serious about being one of the league’s premier centers again.

The Preds aren’t built to score a lot of goals, but it’s very encouraging that they can pair Duchene and Johansen together to form a top line, and both of them have played so well individually that they can be trusted to play on separate lines again, though Duchene remains a winger with Mikael Granlund at center. Johansen (10%) and Duchene (11%) have seen increased attention over the past week or so and may have returned to fantasy relevance. They’re worth keeping an eye on and certainly useful players again in roto leagues even if they’re not scoring.

Elias Lindholm, C/RW and Andrew Mangiapane, LW/RW, Calgary

Lindholm’s fantasy value is obvious, having dual-position eligibility and being arguably the Flames’ best player over the past few seasons. Mangiapane, who is rostered in only 61 percent of Yahoo league is a more interesting case, but he has also made a huge impact over the past little while. He’s scored seven goals in seven games and plays a relentless, aggressive style that seems tailor-made for the Flames. Lindholm has been a mainstay as the No. 1 center between Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, and that line will likely stay intact all season.

Mangiapane has been moved around quite a bit and Darryl Sutter isn’t really the type to label his lines, but just know that Mangiapane is seventh with 14:43 TOI/GP among Flames forwards, just behind Sean Monahan’s 14:53, who is definitely not better than Mangiapane and should be falling even more out of favour with just one assist and nine shots in seven games.

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