Kyle Connor

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What fantasy hockey players should be grateful for

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Ah, Thanksgiving. A time when families come together to overeat, try to ignore the more problematic elements of the holiday’s roots, watch lopsided football games, and get into arguments.

Not great, honestly, but kudos to my family specifically for at least adding pierogies to the mix.

With the American version of the holiday upon us (it’s in October in Canada … weird!), it seems wise to share gratitude for the players who are powering our fantasy hockey teams to greatness, or at least to help us avoid total mockery at the water cooler.*

Going for seconds, thirds

So far, 2017-18 has been The Year of The Top Lines. It can be seen mostly blatantly in noting that Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are battling for the top scoring spot in the NHL, while Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz are also in the top 10.

Much like the satisfaction of eating homemade sides instead of canned vegetables, the real winners have been the less-obvious members of lines who have been incredible values, and some of whom might deliver for a full season.

Schenn is an obvious example, with his 30 points in 22 games (not to mention 20 PIM and +19 rating) making him a blistering steal. His Yahoo pre-season ranking was 85th, and he likely went lower depending upon your given draft.

Sean Couturier might be the most delirious example so far, though. His yahoo ranking was 262, yet he’s ranked 18th by the same standards, as it’s clear that he’s taken the bull by the horns when it comes to getting an increased offensive role with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek on his wings. Vladislav Namestnikov has been glorious, and it sure seems likely that’ll he remain with Stamkos and Kucherov as long as he’s healthy.

Micheal Ferland might spell his name in a funny way, but you’ll make fun of him less often if he’s on your team and manages to stay with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan over the long haul.

On that note, there are still some things to sort out. Will Kyle Connor be the guy that gets to play with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele more often than not? Can the Stars get a consistent third player (aside: we need a third [blank] to go with “second banana”) to dunk in opportunities from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, at least with Alex Radulov seemingly not being the right fit?

[Rotoworld: Breaking down the first quarter]

Really, the questions about duos makes you appreciate stable trios that much more, especially if you have one or both of them on your teams. You don’t see reasonable answers to the glorious combo of the Dany Heatley – Jason Spezza – Daniel Alfredsson very often in the salary cap era, after all.

Hopefully most of those top lines can at least maintain some of this ridiculous energy, as the dog days of the season will probably cause at least some regression. Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin the holiday spirit.

Trading goods

I can’t really go too long without thanking GM David Poile and others for spicing up the season with some trades. Don’t scoff at this being mentioned in fantasy, as trades can make the process more exciting *and* create new gems.

[The Rotoworld Hockey Podcast]

In six games with the Nashville Predators, Kyle Turris has five points, but I’m most thankful – and intrigued – to see gains from Kevin Fiala (six points in his past five games) and Craig Smith (six in his past six). Fiala and Smith will probably be more worthy of adds in deeper leagues, but it’s a situation to watch, preferably with popcorn.

Turris could also boost guys like P.K. Subban and Roman Josi in a delightful domino effect, so again, a nod of gratitude to Poile.

Big saves

Quite a few goalies are saving their teams’ bacon (or honey-baked ham, to fit the theme?), with Corey Crawford, John Gibson, and Mike Smith coming to mind, in particular. Imagine where the Anaheim Ducks would be without Gibson?

Also: thanks to Braden Holtby, who’s navigating the Capitals’ struggles to remain the new Henrik Lundqvist as far as reliable fantasy hockey star goalies go.

Avoiding turkeys

Finally, all but one owner in each league can be happy to avoid Brent Burns, an awesome, caveman-looking scoring sensation who’s been on a puzzling scoring slump. Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, even beyond getting a piece of those red-hot lines.

(And hey, maybe you’ll be thankful when you trade for Burns at a discount rate, only to see him bounce back?)

* – For those who grumble about this being a lame gimmick for a fantasy hockey column, allow me to respond with this hex: I hope your Crazy Uncle shares extra ridiculous, patently offensive theories this time around.

And, if *you* are in the crazy uncle role, I hope that a know-it-all nephew totally schools you, to the point that even like-minded family members are giggling at your stammering responses.

Yeah, that’s right. I went there. Maybe all the gravy is making me edgy.

Enjoy the holiday, hockey fans.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Mr. 300: Kessel’s milestone goal leads Penguins over Jets

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Phil Kessel‘s 300th career goal at 1:07 of overtime lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

Kessel, who also scored the overtime winner against Edmonton on Tuesday, became the 18th American-born player to reach 300 career goals and the second active behind Minnesota’s Zach Parise.

Kessel stripped Patrik Laine of the puck at his own blue line and went the other way on a breakaway. Kessel, with nine points in his last seven games, snapped a wrist shot between the pads of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck for the winner.

Conor Sheary scored his fifth for the Penguins, who won for the fifth time in six games. Pittsburgh has won seven of nine since losing the first two games of the season.

Read more: Penguins defense is hurting heading into scary stretch

Pittsburgh also won its 17th straight home game against the Jets dating back to March 24, 2007. Overall, Pittsburgh won 17 of the last 20 meetings against the Jets, who last won in Pittsburgh, Dec. 27, 2006, when they were the Atlanta Thrashers.

Matt Murray won his seventh straight since allowing 11 goals on 65 shots in his first two appearances. Murray, who stopped 30 shots, helped Pittsburgh earn points in all eight starts this season.

Josh Morrissey scored his second for the Jets, who had won four of their previous five after being outscored 13-5 in the first two games of the season against Toronto and Calgary.

Hellebuyck, who made 34 saves, saw his four-game win streak end. He was seeking a personal best five-game streak and the team record for the longest win streak by a goaltender to begin the season.

Sheary opened the scoring 1:25 into the game when he re-directed Jake Guentzel‘s pass between Hellebuyck’s pads.

Morrissey tied it later in the period when his shot from the point caught the stick of Penguins’ D Kris Letang and went past Murray’s glove hand.

Murray kept the game tied entering the third period, first with a sharp blocker save on Nikolaj Ehlers before back-to-back stops on Tyler Myers and Laine. He stopped Myers on a breakaway and Laine during a two-on-one with Ehlers.

Laine tried again with a wrist shot 30 seconds into the third period, but Murray made the save and a follow-up pad stop on Kyle Connor.

 

With Perreault out four weeks, Jets call on prospect Kyle Connor

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Kyle Connor has been a scorer just about everywhere he has played — the USHL, the University of Michigan, and the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

He’s only had a brief taste of life in the NHL, playing 20 games for the Winnipeg Jets last season, scoring two goals and five points.

The 2015 first-round pick hasn’t yet experienced the same success at the NHL level, although he’s about to get another opportunity with the Jets after getting recalled on Monday. The move comes after Winnipeg placed Mathieu Perreault on injured reserve. He’s expected to miss up to four weeks.

Perreault has yet to play a full 82-game schedule with the Jets because of injuries, but he’s been an important player when available, with consistent production and strong possession numbers. That said, the 20-year-old Connor is a promising prospect with the potential for significant upside, especially considering the role he should find himself in.

Per NHL.com on Monday, Connor skated on the wing with Bryan Little and sophomore scorer Patrik Laine. That, it would appear, is Winnipeg’s second line, which gives them a difficult top-six group of forwards — the top line consisting of the red-hot Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler — for the opposition to face.

“Speed. That’s the big piece that he can add to that line,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “Patrik’s such a great shooter. Bryan’s a really quick player. What Perreault did well was he got in and he got on it. He was quick enough to get in there to create some offensive zone time and allow those guys to do the things they do well and Kyle should be able to add that.”

The Jets have won three in a row, with Connor Hellebuyck giving them a trio of impressive performances in net. They host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, although according to Sara Orlesky of TSN, Steve Mason is expected to get the start.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Sabres demote Alex Nylander; Kyle Connor can’t make Jets cut

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Teams need to get their rosters ready for the 2017-18 season, which means some key prospects will need to go to junior or the AHL.

Let’s address some of the bigger names that don’t qualify as players on waivers or worse.

Alex Nylander and Sean Malone were sent down to the AHL on Tuesday.

Nylander, 19, did fine in the AHL in 2016-17, but he didn’t exactly dominate. He managed a modest 10 goals and 28 points in 65 games. That points total ranked him seventh on the Rochester Americans last season. Simply put, it doesn’t seem like he’s on the same accelerated pace as his brother William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Looking to make the leap: Alex Nylander

And that’s OK. The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington points out that Nylander was injured during training camp, robbing him of a full opportunity to make an impression:

Nylander, in particular, lost out at a chance to make the club out of camp with the injury. Last year’s No. 1 pick looked strong at summer development camp but never got into competition for one of the open slots on the wing.

Opinion: in the long run, the Sabres and Nylander may be better off with this slow-and-steady approach.

***

The bigger surprise might be that Kyle Connor was unable to make the Winnipeg Jets.

Looking to make the leap: Kyle Connor

Connor, 20, believed that he really made some progress late last season, progress he thought might carry over into NHL work this coming season. Connor believed that a demotion to the AHL would do him good, as he told NHL.com.

“You have to experience it,” Connor said back in August. “Once I moved down [to Manitoba], it was a bit upsetting, of course, and it took a couple of games more than I wanted to adjust. But once I did, I worked with the staff really well and the stuff they wanted me to implement into my game. I thought that made a huge difference, and you could see it toward the end of my season.”

Connor played in 20 games with Winnipeg last season, so they already burned a year off of his entry-level contract.

On one hand, the Jets have some serious firepower at the top of their order. If the belief is that he wouldn’t have much use unless placed in a prominent role, then that would make some sense.

Still, injuries happen, and the Jets could certainly use more pop down their order. The young forward has to feel pretty disappointed.

Connor and Nylander rank among the bigger surprises (or partial surprises), but there were other notable players who couldn’t make the cut on Tuesday. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, demoted Timothy Liljegren.

On the other hand, Nolan Patrick and others did make the leap, in some cases earlier than expected. Add Samuel Girard of the Nashville Predators to that group:

Welcome Drew Stafford to the trade rumor mill

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Another name to add to the pile as we gear up for next Wednesday’s trade deadline:

Drew Stafford.

Stafford, the 31-year-old winger that’s spent the two-and-a-half seasons in Winnipeg, has reportedly been the subject of trade calls, per ESPN.

Stafford’s had an injury-plagued campaign, limited to just 39 games due to upper- and lower-body injuries, yet still managed to rack up 12 points while averaging just over 13 minutes per night.

It’s easy to see why teams are making calls.

Stafford has history as a productive goalscoring winger, finding the back of the net 21 times last season (with a career-high of 31 back in ’10-11). He’s got enough ability to play up and down the lineup and, what’s more, he’s about as pure a rental as they come — Stafford’s a pending UFA, in the last of a two-year deal that pays $4.35 million annually.

What’s more, the Jets are one of those “are they buyers or are they sellers?” teams.

Winnipeg is only four points back of Calgary for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, but would need to leap two teams — the Flames and the Kings — to get there.

The Jets have also played 63 games, to Calgary’s 61 and Los Angeles’ 60.

In the end, Stafford’s contractual situation and the team’s glut of forwards could see him move along. In addition to all the youngsters Winnipeg already has up front, the likes of ’15 first-rounders Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic are still looking to make the leap.