By Jason Chen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
If you didn't get what you wanted for Christmas, there's still time to make up for it in fantasy. This will be the last week of the regular season before the calendar flips to 2023 and the halfway mark quickly approaches. Shame on you if you've already given up on the season because there's still plenty of time left.
The three-day holiday break allowed some players to get some much-needed rest, but for other teams, there was a slew of injury updates to digest. Among them was news regarding cases of COVID for the Blue Jackets, revealing that the illness Elvis Merzlikins was dealing with since Dec. 13 was COVID and that Patrik Laine had entered COVID protocol. It was also revealed that Torey Krug would be out for six weeks and that the Devils had placed two key veteran defenders, Ryan Graves and John Marino, on injured reserve.
Here are this week's trade targets to take advantage of the new developments.
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, CGY (98% rostered)
Is he turning it around? Though his four-game point streak was snapped against the Oilers, it's worth noting Huberdeau has scored 12 points in 14 games in December after scoring 12 points in the first 19 games of the season. His performance continues to be underwhelming, but his passing has been much sharper and, surprisingly, he's developed some good chemistry with Nazem Kadri and Milan Lucic, neither of whom seem like natural fits due to their lack of elite scoring ability. (In Lucic's case, it's no scoring ability at all.)
Yet, according to moneypuck.com, their line has generated a 52.8 xGoals% and 2.46 expected goals per 60 minutes, higher than when Huberdeau played with Tyler Toffoli and Elias Lindholm (2.1), Andrew Mangiapane (1.9) or Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman (1.68). If this is a turning point in Huberdeau's season, it's a good time to buy low.
Erik Gustafsson, D, WSH (40% rostered)
Congrats if you had the quick trigger, as Gustafsson paid immediate dividends with two points in a 4-0 win against the Rangers, one of which came on the power play. With John Carlson out indefinitely after taking a puck to the head, Gustafsson stepped in as the primary power-play quarterback, playing 3:22 with the man advantage.
Dmitry Orlov still played the most minutes, but his more well-rounded game meant he was going to be deployed in all situations. That means Gustafsson will be the team's specialist going forward, and any power play that features Alex Ovechkin is bound to rack up the goals. Gustafsson's fantasy value has surged and it will inevitably fall back down when Carlson returns, but who knows when that may be. Gustafsson is available in the majority of leagues and worth trading for if Carlson misses the next few months.
Justin Faulk, D, STL (86% rostered)
In the same vein as Gustafsson, look for Faulk to get the majority of the power-play time with Krug sidelined. Faulk led all Blues defensemen with 4:15 TOI on the power play Tuesday against the Leafs, trailed closely by Colton Parayko with 3:16. I wouldn't be concerned about Parayko threatening Faulk's role on the power play; the Blues lean on their top unit a bit more, and Faulk's versatility and offensive game are far better than Parayko's. Faulk has been surprisingly valuable in fantasy this season and his increased usage on the power play should give him a chance to pile up more points, making him an ideal trade target at a pretty volatile position.
Jeremy Swayman, G, BOS (68% rostered)
Linus Ullmark has been excellent all season, but Swayman's strong play recently (2-0-1 with six goals allowed in his past three starts) has suddenly sparked talk of going back to the previous timeshare. Having two good goalies is great for the Bruins, but Ullmark and Swayman have an inverse relationship when it comes to fantasy value. Only one of them can start, and while Ullmark is still the starter at the moment, don't be surprised if Swayman starts to get more playing time. His early-season struggles seem to be behind him now, and managers who have rostered Ullmark might want to consider grabbing both to capture all of the Bruins' upside as the league's best team.
Stuart Skinner, G, EDM (66% rostered)
On the heels of an amazing 46-save performance in the Battle of Alberta, Skinner continues to solidify his role as the Oilers' starter. He's started three straight games and five of their past six while Jack Campbell continues to struggle. The Oilers are a very unbalanced team and Skinner will have his off nights as a young goalie, but with a winning record (11-9-1) and a decent save percentage (.916), he should be valuable in most leagues, especially with the workload he's going to get moving forward as Edmonton's No. 1.
Taylor Hall, LW, BOS (69% rostered)
For the better part of his career, watching Hall try to live up to his potential has been like driving a child in the backseat on a long road trip — "Are we there yet?!" Aside from his one MVP season with the Devils, Hall has never lived up to lofty expectations, and despite scoring 27 points in 34 games this season, he's once again been passed on the depth chart by Jake DeBrusk. It's pretty telling that the Bruins have opted to use the versatile but offensively challenged Pavel Zacha in the top six on David Krejci and David Pastrnak's line, dropping Hall down to the third line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic.
Though Hall's production puts him on pace for another 60-point season, at 31 years old and already a streaky scorer, his current usage really caps his ceiling. He's playing just 16:07 per game, seventh among Bruins forwards, and almost never plays on the top PP unit. Sure, his shooting rate has gone up, but so has the rest of the league, and he failed to register a shot in two of his past four games. He's just too boom-or-bust to be a reliable fantasy option and there are plenty of second-line forwards who are available.
Aaron Ekblad, D, FLA (81% rostered)
Ekblad's upside is certainly enticing, but that was when the Panthers' offense was humming. He's expected to return soon after getting injured on Dec. 23 against the Isles, avoiding another scare for a player with an already scary injury history but, really, what's the upside?
The Panthers have struggled all season, and there doesn't seem to be a swift turnaround in sight. They've lost three in a row and six of their past eight and recently alternated wins and losses against the Devils and Kraken. When healthy, Ekblad is a shot-generating machine, but with most of Florida's forwards other than Matthew Tkachuk struggling and a power play that ranks 19th, those shots are like empty calories because they're not leading to goals. With a minus-14 rating through 24 games and already fewer blocks and hits than most defensemen, Ekblad's offense hasn't been good enough to overcome those shortcomings. Ekblad still has a ton of name recognition, however, so he should be able to fetch another quality player.
Vitek Vanecek, G, NJD (78% rostered)
Mackenzie Blackwood has finally returned and it certainly complicates things. Unless you like the headache of keeping track and managing an unpredictable goalie rotation, maybe rostering Vanecek isn't such a good idea going forward. Vanecek was the presumptive No. 1, but over the course of three games we saw Vanecek get pulled for Blackwood, Blackwood start and win against the Panthers, and then Blackwood get pulled for Vanecek.
Tack on the fact that Graves and Marino, two of the Devils' most steady defensemen, will miss time, as well as their current spiral of seven losses in their past eight games, and it's starting to look like a hellish situation. The Devils are probably going to make the playoffs, but it's going to be really tough to match their early-season pace. It might be time to swap Vanecek for a more stable goaltending situation — Cam Talbot, maybe? — because it certainly feels like Vanecek's fantasy value this season had already peaked.