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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.

Looks like Nathan MacKinnon is going from star to superstar

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Look, it’s not like Nathan MacKinnon has ever really been a “bad” player.

The Nova Scotia-born speed demon carried two 20+ goal seasons and three 50+ point campaigns into 2017-18, which in the tough-to-score NHL, is nothing to sneeze at. This is especially true since the Colorado Avalanche have frequently asked him to do a lot; Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire notes that he’s faced some of the toughest assignments of any centers in recent years.

Still, there was growing concern that the 22-year-old might not make that extra step from “star” to “superstar.” That’s especially true if his shooting skill really was an issue, as it seemed to be in three straight seasons where he shot under 10 percent (and considering his 8.4 career average).

Well, through the first quarter of this season, it seems like MacKinnon is “finally” making that next step, and making us feel silly for worrying too much about a guy who’s still just 22.

(Heck, he’s not even an old 22. MacKinnon’s birthday came on Sept. 1.)

Much like the Avalanche as a whole, MacKinnon’s gone from discouraging in 2016-17 to encouraging so far, and he’s probably the biggest reason to feel happy in Colorado … beyond the Matt Duchene headache being resolved, and depending upon your lifestyle, certain perks.

Wednesday was the latest reminder that the Avalanche aren’t mere pushovers, and that MacKinnon is making that leap we’ve been waiting for to join the best-of-the-best.

The tremendously fast, increasingly versatile center collected assists on every Avalanche goal as they beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Wednesday, improving Colorado’s record to 11-8-1. This actually makes for quite the logjam at “last” in the Central, with four teams at 23 points, and the Avs hold at least a game in hand on the Blackhawks, Stars, and Wild. They’re not far from being a wild card team, either.

Considering the fact that the Avalanche were one of the worst teams of the salary cap era last season with an almost unthinkable 46 points, and MacKinnon languished with 16 goals, this should put a big smile on GM Joe Sakic’s face.

But, again, it’s something fans of the sport as a whole should appreciate.

With tonight’s three assists, MacKinnon now has 25 points in 20 games. This places MacKinnon in a tie for 12th in the NHL in scoring with a pretty illustrious group: John Tavares, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele.

To me, the number that’s maybe most heartening is MacKinnon’s 13.2 shooting percentage (seven goals on 53 shots on goal through 20 games).

It will be interesting to follow this specific trend over the long haul of the season, as he’s firing the puck just a little bit less often; he averages 3.08 SOG for his career according to Hockey Reference, while his current average is 2.65 this season.

That’s not a massive drop, but it’s actually quite noticeable, and you wonder if MacKinnon is being a little more selective with his shot. Again, it’s a small sample size, so we’ll see if that changes. But if MacKinnon either improves his shooting skill or simply finds a way to inch closer to the 24 goals he scored as a rookie while using his speed and smarts to be a difference-maker in every phase of the game, this could be quite the transformation.

The Avalanche probably weren’t going to complain about “the old” MacKinnon, but they should be delighted if he ends up being a truly complete star, and one who can flirt with 20-goal, 70-point seasons.

And you know what? Fans of exciting hockey should be excited about this development, too. Even if he’s using his scary speed and skill to your own team’s dismay from time to time.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Top 5 moments from Auston Matthews’ first 100 NHL games

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

–The Dallas Stars have been hit hard by injuries lately. On Monday, they announced that Marc Methot and Martin Hanzal would both miss some time. Also, Kari Lehtonen is away from the team after he and his wife welcomed a baby boy into the world. (Wrongsideoftheredline.com)

Jay Bouwmeester, who has been out since the third day of training camp, is expected to return to St. Louis’ lineup tonight. “It’s been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp. I’m excited and hopefully and I’ll just jump in and not interfere with what’s going on here.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

–Sabres coach Phil Housley is trying to find solutions to help his team get back on track. Right now that includes mixing up the lines. Jack Eichel finds himself with Zegmus Girgensons and Jason Pominville, which seems like a bit of a demotion. (Buffalohockeybeat)

–Anton Rodin’s time with the Vancouver Canucks has officially come to an end, as he’s been placed on waivers with the purpose of terminating his contract. “Anton asked to be released from his contract,” said Jim Benning. “We value the skill and depth he adds to our team but ultimately it was important to respect Anton’s request to move on.” (Vancourier.com)

–Yes, the Edmonton Oilers are struggling this season. Some people want to blame Connor McDavid for that, but according to NHLNumbers.com, GM Peter Chiarelli should be the one taking the heat. (NHLNumbers.com)

–The swap Mike Cammalleri-for-Jussi Jokinen swap between the Kings and Oilers was nothing more than a weak attempt for both teams to try to get back on track. Don’t expect the move to help either side. (Fanragsports.com)

–Hall-of-famers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were honored prior to the game between the Ducks and Panthers on Sunday night. “It was just a perfect way to end a great week and a half,” Kariya said. “Just the most memorable time, certainly in my life and both of our lives. To spend it with Teemu and his family, it was icing on the cake. I’ll always remember the ovation.” (OC Register)

–Like all of us, Jets winger Patrik Laine is impressed by Selanne’s 76-goal rookie record he set in 1993. Laine can’t imagine anyone will ever touch that one. “Thirty-six, that was hard,” Laine said of his own rookie total. “So imagine if I had to score 40 more on top of the 36 I scored. I would say it’s pretty hard.” (NHL.com)

–Jets prospect Jack Roslovic is ripping it up in the AHL, but Winnipeg shouldn’t recall him yet. He needs more time to grow in the minors. (Jetsnation.ca)

–Preds forward Craig Smith had been doing all the right things on paper last season, he just couldn’t buy a goal for long stretches. Now, Smith’s hard work has paid off, as he’s finally starting to produce with a little more regularity. (Ontheforecheck.com)

–The pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy has worked out well for Boston because there’s a terrific teacher and a willing student. What does Chara like best about his defense partner? “That he’s quickly able to adapt to our system and our game. We saw it in the playoffs [last season]. He stepped in and gave us a contribution right away. He didn’t seem to be nervous, or caught in a situation where he’d be distracted.” (ESPN.com)

–Filmmaker Damon Kwame Mason believes Willie O’Ree (first black player to play in the NHL) and Herb Carnegie (Jean Beliveau said that he was one of the best players to never play in the NHL) should both be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. (Colorofhockey.com)

–Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the top prospect available for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. How we he help every one of the struggling teams in the NHL? The Hockey News breaks it down for you. (The Hockey News)

–Canadiens goaltender Antti Niemi is already on his third team this season. Since he’s been on the move a lot, he’s decided to go with the plain white goalie mask. He should embrace the simple mask. (Puckjunk.com)

–How can the NHL spice up some of the stale rivalries in the league? Scottywazz.com believes that handing out a trophy could help. (Scottywazz.com)

Auston Matthews suited up in his 100th NHL game, so The Score breaks down the top 5 moments from his young career. To no ones surprise, the top moment came in his first game. (The Score)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Flyers’ Radko Gudas disagrees with 10-game suspension

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Radko Gudas is just like you and I in the sense that he also expected a big suspension for slashing Mathieu Perreault of the Winnipeg Jets in the back of the neck. He was a right as the NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday that he will sit for 10 games and be docked $408,536.60.

While the Philadelphia Flyers defenseman knew a suspension was coming, he didn’t think it would be as many as 10 games.

“I was surprised. I did not expect that, no,” Gudas said on Monday via Flyers TV.

All of Gudas’ previous encounters with the DoPS involved bad hits, usually to an opponents’ head. This was the first time he’ll sit due to bad stick work.

[Radko Gudas suspended 10 games]

“Before, I never used my stick in any way like that,” he said. “It was unfortunate.”

Despite the ugliness of the slash, Perreault was fine and hasn’t missed any games for the Winnipeg Jets. He was well-aware of Gudas’ rap sheet and while he said the defenseman apologized, he was weary at the thought it wasn’t intentional.

[Perreault bemoans ‘stupid’ slash]

“He apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose,” Perreault said last week. “It wasn’t an accident. He’s been known for doing stuff like that, so I certainly don’t appreciate it. I’m sure the league will take care of it.”

Gudas won’t be able to return to the Flyers’ lineup until Dec. 12 and it doesn’t look like he’s going to appeal. It will be interesting to see what happens the next time he runs afoul of the NHL rulebook given this latest suspension.

“I don’t agree with it, but I accept their decision,” Gudas said. “There’s not much else I can say.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: MacKinnon the hero; Lundqvist gives up zero

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Players of the night:

Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes:

Teravainen picked up two goals and an assist in Carolina’s 4-2 win over the New York Islanders, while Aho had a goal and two helpers. It was a positive weekend for the ‘Canes as they were able to pick up victories over Buffalo and New York on Saturday and Sunday.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights:

The Golden Knights, who are currently second in the Pacific Division, took down the division-leading Kings, 4-2, thanks to a pair of goals from Karlsson in the first period.

Just a hunch, but Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is probably going to want this one back:

Highlights of the night: 

The Hurricanes may have come up with the victory, but it was Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy that scored the most impressive goal of the game, as he split two players before beating Cam Ward.

Nathan MacKinnon was up to his old tricks, as he helped the Avs come back to beat the Red Wings. MacKinnon registered the primary assist on Carl Soderberg‘s game-tying goal with under a minute remaining in regulation. He also added this incredible goal in overtime:

Who knew that Ducks defenseman Josh Manson had these kind of moves?

Factoids of the Night:

King Henrik is moving up the all-time list:

Hey, shutouts are never easy, so the fact that King Henrik has 63 of them is pretty impressive. He had to make a key save on Mike Hoffman in the first period:

Ducks goalie John Gibson faced a lot of rubber. He turned away 50 of 52 shots in a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers.

Suspensions of the Night: 

Sunday was a big night for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, as they handed out two suspensions.

The first one was given to Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas for his slash to the back of Jets forward Mathieu Perreault’s head. Gudas will sit for 10 games. He’ll also forfeit over $408,000 in salary. 

Predators forward Austin Watson was also disciplined for boarding Avalanche rookie Dominic Toninato. Watson, who isn’t a repeat offender, was suspended for two games. 

Hall of Fame Tribute of the Night: 

The Ducks players wore Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne’s jerseys during the pre-game warmup. As you probably remember, both players entered the Hockey Hall of Fame last week.

I prefer the white “Kariya” jersey, but that’s just me.

Scores:

Hurricanes 4, Islanders 2

Avalanche 4, Red Wings 3 (OT)

Rangers 3, Senators 0

Golden Knights 4, Kings 2

Ducks 3, Panthers 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.