This past week was a strange one in the NHL.
Veteran forward Mikko Koivu announced he was retiring despite still playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pittsburgh Penguins brought in Ron Hextall and, unexpectedly, former Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke to fill the void left by ex-general manager Jim Rutherford and the Vegas Golden Knights canceled post-game media availability on Tuesday due to COVID-19 protocols, despite playing the Anaheim Ducks that night.
The action on the ice, while extremely entertaining, wasn’t nearly as bizarre. Here are my fantasy hockey takeaways from this past week.
1 - Montreal Canadiens offense is starting to dry up
Prior to the Montreal Canadiens’ matchup against the Ottawa Senators last Thursday, the team’s offense was on an absolute tear. The Habs led the NHL in goals-per-game (4.40) and had scored four goals or more in five of their last six outings, thanks largely to the efforts of its leading scorers, Tyler Toffoli (13 points), Jeff Petry (13 points) and Nick Suzuki (11 points). Four games later, that trio has combined for just two points and the club hasn’t eclipsed two goals in any contest.
Historic averages for many of the team’s top stars, however, suggest that this cold spell could continue for a little longer. Toffoli’s 18.0% shooting percentage is much higher than his career average of 10.6%, a stat that indicates he’s due for a little bit of puck-luck regression. His recent struggles (zero points in his last four games) means the sell-high window on Toffoli in fantasy hockey has passed. Petry’s 16.2% shooting percentage is higher than his career number (6.0%) and Josh Anderson’s 23.1% seems inflated, although having played in just three full NHL campaigns, it’s a little harder to figure out exactly where his percentage should lie. Anderson and Petry remain strong holds in fantasy hockey because of their category coverage.
2 - LW/RW Patrik Laine (98% rostered on Yahoo) is a great trade target
Anybody who even remotely follows the NHL heard about Patrik Laine’s benching on Monday. The Finnish superstar was glued to the bench for the final 26 minutes and 17 seconds of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ game against the Carolina Hurricanes. To some, the benching was quite jarring considering it was just Laine’s fourth game with his new club, although I figured something like this was bound to happen.
The benching was reportedly due to an altercation between Laine and an assistant coach, but given the 22-year-old’s sometimes lackadaisical and disengaged style, it should’ve been assumed that it was only a matter of time before he rubbed head coach John Tortorella the wrong way. It’s important to remember, however, that the NHL is a business, and Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen gave up a substantial package to acquire the former second-overall pick. The biggest knock on Columbus prior to making this trade was its ability to score goals and in five games since joining the team, Laine has three goals and four points. Regardless of the rest of his game, Laine’s best skill set is the hardest to replace: Goal scoring. If the Laine fantasy manager in your league is feeling a little uneasy, send them an offer.
3 - C/RW Jack Roslovic (38% rostered on Yahoo) deserves to be added
A former first-round pick that has finally been given top-line minutes has nine points in his last six games. Does that sound appealing to you? If it does, then you should scurry over to your waiver wire and grab Jack Roslovic.
The Columbus, Ohio native has been excellent for his hometown team since being traded. He’s contributed at an elite level offensively while also being sound in his own zone. The 25th overall pick of the 2015 NHL draft never got a chance to succeed in a top-six role with the Winnipeg Jets due to a centre log-jam created by Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, and Paul Stastny during his tenure with the team. Shining with his new squad, Roslovic makes for a great addition in fantasy hockey.
4 - G Jake Oettinger (20% rostered on Yahoo) could seize the Dallas Stars’ crease
Anton Khudobin (89% rostered on Yahoo) hasn’t looked like the netminder who backstopped the Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2020. The 34-year-old owns a pedestrian .902 save percentage, a -1.068% save percentage above expected, according to Money Puck, and was actually made a healthy scratch on Sunday for oversleeping practice. Outplaying the veteran thus far has been 2017 first-round pick Jake Oettinger, who’s recorded an impressive .919 save percentage and a 0.077% save percentage above expected.
Oettinger’s two latest efforts resulted in a pair of 2-1 overtime losses to the Chicago Blackhawks, but the 22-year-old posted a combined .938 save percentage in the contests. His pedigree, strong showing through five starts, and Khudobin’s struggles this season makes him worthy of an add.
5 - LW/RW Nikolaj Ehlers (90% rostered on Yahoo) is the truth
Nikolaj Ehlers has been the Jets’ best forward this season, and I don’t know if it’s particularly close. His five-on-five goals for percentage (GF%) is an absurdly solid 82.35%, his individual Corsi for (iCF) is an outstanding 59 and he’s generated a superb 39 scoring chances for (SCF), according to Natural Stat Trick. He leads the Jets in all three categories this season.
The 2014 ninth-overall pick is on pace for a career year, and at just 24-years-old, it's entirely possible that Ehlers has developed and taken his game to another level. His 19.2% shooting percentage is likely to revert closer to his career number of 12.3%, but he’s young enough to continue raising his shooting percentage baseline. He’s simply an elite blend of speed and shot who has been dominant in the North Division.
6 - C/LW Chandler Stephenson (11% rostered on Yahoo) having success on Vegas Golden Knights’ first line
Chandler Stephenson is far from a polished player, but he’s a hard worker with one strength that is difficult to teach: Speed. The 26-year-old has used his best trait to keep up with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on the Vegas Golden Knights’ top line and has produced three goals and four points over his last three games.
The opportunity he’s been given to play with these spectacular linemates is enough to warrant an add in fantasy hockey leagues. While his 33.3% shooting percentage is bound to regress, his track record as a depth player doesn’t really give us a proper sample to suggest how proficient he is as a shooter at the NHL level. Regardless, he’s likely to find the scoresheet more often than not considering who he’s saddled with in Vegas.
7 - LW/RW Rickard Rakell (24% rostered on Yahoo) is Mr. Unlucky
Rickard Rakell is due. Over the last 14 days, the Anaheim Ducks forward is tied for the seventh-most shots in the league with 25, yet unlike everyone else who has equal or more shots, Rakell has zero goals. The 27-year-old has just one marker on the season as a whole, but he’s been a noticeable offensive threat for the Ducks and I’d have to imagine the twine ticklers are bound to come.
His 2.0% shooting percentage is unsustainably low and it’s fair to believe a correction is on the horizon. Contributing to the hits department with 23 body checks this season, Rakell is someone who can make an impact in several categories. With the Ducks scheduled to play four games next week, he’s worth an add if you can spare the roster spot.
8 - LW/RW Viktor Arvidsson (63% rostered on Yahoo) can be dropped
The Nashville Predators are a mess offensively. Their difficulty scoring goals is the main reason why they’ve dropped five of their last seven games. The recent week-to-week upper-body injury to Ryan Johansen has made a bleak situation even bleaker, and I don’t see the appeal in stashing Viktor Arvidsson much longer.
The 27-year-old has no points in his last four games and just two points in his last nine outings. Playing on the second powerplay unit, I’m not sure there’s much fantasy appeal with Arvidsson who has never been a major contributor to the hits or blocked shot categories, either.
9 - Trade D Darnell Nurse (92% rostered on Yahoo)
Full disclosure: I love the way Darnell Nurse plays. Despite being on a below-average defense core with the Edmonton Oilers, Nurse is a reliable two-way presence who probably doesn’t get the league-wide recognition he deserves. During the 2020-21 NHL season, Nurse has been a fantasy hockey dynamo, but the goal-scoring production likely won’t hold up much longer.
Incredibly, Nurse’s six goals this season have already topped his total from last year (5). His 14.3% shooting percentage is ridiculous when you consider his career number is just 4.3% and that he’s never topped 6% in any campaign. I definitely think it’s worth seeing what the interest in your leaguemates is with Nurse, as you may be able to receive a nice package in return. Only trade the 26-year-old if you get a truly outstanding offer, however, as he is an excellent contributor to blocked shots and hits.
10 - Injury to LW Artemi Panarin (100% rostered on Yahoo) opens up opportunity for LW Alexis Lafreniere (42% rostered on Yahoo)
Artemi Panarin was shaken up during the New York Rangers’ loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday and is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Sliding up in the lineup to replace him at even strength and on the powerplay is rookie Alexis Lafreniere.
Lafreniere has had an underwhelming rookie campaign, notching just one goal and no assists through his first 12 NHL games. Panarin’s absence does create an enticing, fantasy-friendly opportunity for the 19-year-old, and even if it’s just a short-term injury, the immediate bump in ice-time could be enough to get the 2020 first-overall pick going. If he’s available in your fantasy league, he’s certainly not a bad speculative add if you have the roster space.
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