NHL Fantasy Hockey: Under-drafted players who could help your team

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Welcome to the first adds/drops column of the 2019-20 NHL season. Every Monday, we’re going to recommend players that you might want to consider letting go of or putting on your fantasy hockey team in standard Yahoo leagues.

Given that we’re still in the preseason though, we’re going to do something a little different. This week, we’ve highlighted some players taken in less than 60% of Yahoo drafts who I think have a good chance of becoming meaningful producers this season.  Not all of these players are ones who should be added right away, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on.

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Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks (LW/RW, Drafted: 56%) – In a summer where many RFAs were fighting to redefine the market, Labanc wasted little time in agreeing to a one-year, $1 million contract. It’s an awfully low price after scoring 17 goals and 56 points in 82 games, but it signals a willingness to bet on himself. If he comes up big this season, he’ll be due for a massive raise, especially given that he’ll have arbitration rights. He won’t lack for motivation and at the age of 23, he should be able to continue to trend upwards.

Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils (C, Drafted: 24%) – Not all first overall picks are created equal. Hischier was the top pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, but he didn’t come with the fanfare of Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews before him and the Devils’ latest first overall pick, Jack Hughes, is already looking like a bigger piece of the franchise’s future. All the same, Hischier does have untapped potential going into his third NHL campaign and with the Devils’ offense looking much deeper than it has in recent years, he should have more to work with too.

Nikita Gusev, New Jersey Devils (LW, Drafted: 20%) – Gusev is one of the most interesting X-Factors going into the 2019-20 campaign. If you looked at his KHL statistics alone, you’d be wondering if he was a potential superstar.  He had 17 goals and 82 points in 62 games with St. Petersburg SKA last season. To put that in perspective, Artemi Panarin had 62 points in 54 games with St. Petersburgh in his last season before his 77-point rookie showing with Chicago.  That said, KHL success doesn’t always translate directly into the NHL. Just ask Vadim Shipachyov or Ilya Kovalchuk. They were both stars with St. Petersburgh too, but Shipachyov’s NHL stint ended up including a goal in just three games while Kovalchuk was at best a mixed bag in his NHL comeback attempt. Still, there is certainly potential here and it seems like Gusev will get a chance to prove himself, likely as a mainstay on the Devils’ second line. Plus, for what it’s worth, he’s looked good so far in the preseason with two goals and four points in three games.

Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning (D, Drafted: 16%) – There’s no question that Shattenkirk’s tenure with the Rangers was a major disappointment and his stock has understandably tanked as a result. He’s still just 30-years-old though, so a comeback isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. He’s getting a fresh start with Tampa Bay and has plenty of motivation after being bought out over the summer. “This is obviously an important year for me to show everyone I’m back to my old self and prove that I can be a player in this League again,” Shattenkirk said via NHL.com.

Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins (G, Drafted: 13%) – If you’re not happy with your goaltending situation, you might want to take a long look at Halak. Obviously he’s not the starter in Boston and that’s not expected to change, but he’s likely to get far more work than your typical backup. He made 37 starts last season and that helped keep Tuukka Rask fresh for the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bruins use Halak regularly again this season and he should often be solid when he is used.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs (RW, Drafted: 10%) – This is more of a short-term pickup and even then, Kapanen is someone you want to keep an eye on during training camp rather than grab right away. He’s likely to spend most of the season as a third liner, but Zach Hyman will miss about a month of the regular season with a knee injury so that’s created a top-six opening that Kapanen is a favorite to fill. He’s been getting a chance alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner so far.

James Neal, Edmonton Oilers (LW/RW, Drafted: 8%) – Calgary signed Neal to a five-year, $28.75 million contract over in the summer of 2018 and that ended up being a disaster. How bad was it? So bad that swapping Neal for Milan Lucic and his albatross contract actually made sense to Calgary. Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games while averaging a career-low 14:57 minutes last season, but Edmonton will give him every opportunity to bounce back. The Oilers are desperate for secondary scoring to complement McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Neal might be able to fit in better than he did with the Flames. He’s far from a safe bet, but there are far worse gambles out there.

Corey Perry, Dallas Stars (RW, Drafted: 5%) – Perry can’t seem to catch a break. After being bought out by Anaheim over the summer, his comeback attempt has already been delayed due to a broken foot. That said, there is still reason to pay attention to him. What I really want to know is how he’s going to do with a healthy knee – something he hasn’t had in years.  Keep in mind that after he suffered a torn meniscus during a preseason game in 2018 and needed surgery as a result, it was decided to take that opportunity to also repair a MCL injury that he had been dealing with for years. Because he missed a large chunk of 2018-19 and played in a limited role when he did return, it’s still not clear how he’d perform if he were fully healthy.  Perhaps we’ll get the answer to that in Dallas…provided he doesn’t suffer any other setbacks.

Ryan Dzingel, Carolina Hurricanes (LW/RW, Drafted: 4%) – Dzingel took a big step forward last season with 26 goals and 56 points in 78 games, but he was passed over in the early rush of UFA contracts. That worked to the Hurricanes’ advantage though as they were able to scoop him up to an affordable two-year, $6.75 million contract. The Hurricanes are a pretty interesting team this season and Dzingel is well positioned to play a significant top-six role there. Keep an eye on him during training camp and the early part of the season because it will be interesting to see who his linemates are. They might end up being Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter, which would obviously be a pretty promising situation for Dzingel.

Alexander Nylander, Chicago Blackhawks (LW/RW, Drafted: <2%) – Nylander was taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, but through three seasons as part of the Sabres’ organization, he only appeared in 19 NHL games.  Chicago acquired him over the summer and there’s potentially a huge opportunity for him with the Blackhawks. There’s an opening on the top line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews that Nylander has been auditioning for. If he gets it, then he’ll definitely be worth taking a chance on in standard leagues.

Typically I’ll also be recommending players to drop in this column.  I’ll hold off on doing that this week because it’s too early to write anyone off.  I will say that there are some very obvious risky players who are being taken relatively early in fantasy drafts.  Mikko Rantanen (Avg. Draft Position: 24.2), Patrik Laine (42.3), Brayden Point (46.8), Dustin Byfuglien (56.2), Matthew Tkachuk (60.1), and Kyle Connor (115.7) all haven’t participated in training camp yet.  They’re out with the exception of Byfuglien, who isn’t with the team for personal reasons and is reportedly considering retirement.

Odds are their absence isn’t news to you, but it’s still worth repeating that missing training camp can hurt a player’s production during the regular season and the more time they miss, the bigger the impact will be even after they do return.  Drafting any of those players at this time is a big gamble and if you haven’t had your draft yet, then you’ll want to seriously consider avoiding them despite how good they can be under normal circumstances.  That of course changes if any of their situations are resolved in the next few days.

If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your drafts, check out the all-new Rotoworld NHL Draft Guide. Now mobile-optimized with a new look and feel, it’s never been easier to take our award-winning advice with you to your drafts for that extra competitive edge! Click here to learn more!

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The Buzzer: Elvis, Ovechkin, and others who rocked

Elvis Ovechkin three stars pht buzzer
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Three Stars beyond Elvis and Ovechkin

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago blowing out Toronto will lead to some hand-wringing, no doubt. Yet, as much as that was on a tough night for Frederik Andersen, give the Blackhawks some credit. Toews topped all in that game with an outstanding four-point performance (two goals and two assists).

Saturday continued what’s been one heck of a month for Toews. The Blackhawks captained pushed his January total to 15 points (5G, 10A). Toews reached that total in just eight games, scoring at least one point in seven contests.

Scratch that. Toews has been on fire for a while now. He started off ice-cold with only two points in 11 October games. Toews took off after that, and has generated an impressive 41 points in his past 28 contests.

Underrated rookie Dominik Kubalik contributed to Chicago’s win, too, with three points (2G, 1A).

2. Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers

Sheahan scoffs at Toews’ slow start. The journeyman forward failed to score a point in 12 October games, and managed one in 11 November contests. Sheahan went and matched his December points total (four in 14 GP) in one contest on Saturday.

That’s right, he generated four points, scoring an empty-netter plus three assists. Connor McDavid dominated in his own right with two goals, but Sheahan helped the Oilers rout the Coyotes. Josh Archibald generated three points (1G, 2A) as well.

This just in: the Oilers have a lot of “that guy’s still around?” forwards. It’s honestly cool to see some of them have such a strong day, and maybe take a bit of the pressure off McDavid here and there.

3. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s as though Atkinson never missed any time. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first game in almost one month on Thursday, Atkinson generated three points (2G, 1A) on Saturday. This gives Atkinson seven points (4G, 3A) in his past four contests.

Others give Atkinson a run for his money, even beyond the next section. Jason Zucker (1G, 2A) and James van Riemsdyk (1G, 2A) both contributed to their respective teams’ blowouts. Atkinson’s extra goal gives him the edge.

OK, now let’s consider Elvis and Ovechkin

Saturday featured enough strong performances that it feels better to give these two a mention. After all, they already received their own posts. Yes, these two probably rank as the “real” third and fourth stars of Saturday, or higher, depending upon your personal taste.

Highlight of the Night

Marc-Andre Fleury is suffering through a tough season, big-picture wise. “The Flower” keeps adding to his resume of breathtaking saves, though:

Comic relief

Jamie Benn provides us with a reason to laugh. At least those of us who aren’t immediately transported to our own memories of hilarious blunders.

That video summarizes the Stars’ night succinctly, as the Wild beat them 7-0.

Factoids

  • Ovechkin nabbed consecutive hat tricks to push his career goals total to 692. He passed Mario Lemieux (11th all-time, 690) and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time (692). Mark Messier sits just two goals away at eighth with 694. Ovechkin also generated consecutive hat tricks for the third time in his career. In doing so, Ovechkin joined Joe Malone (four times) and Wayne Gretzky (three) as the only players to generate consecutive hat tricks three or more times, according to NHL PR. Again, this post delves deeper into Ovechkin’s latest accomplishments.
  • Ovechkin’s teammate John Carlson reached 60 points. Carlson managed the feat in just 49 games, getting to 60 faster than any Capitals defenseman; Mike Green held the previous mark with 60 by game 57. Opinion: Green deserved better treatment from hockey folks during his peak years.
  • Merzlikins authored the 18th instance of a rookie goalie getting a shutout of at least 41 saves, via NHL PR.
  • Cale Makar scored his 11th goal, setting a new record for goals by a rookie Avalanche defenseman.
  • Dominik Kubalik reached 20 goals in his 47th game. NHL PR points out that Kubalik ranks among sixth Blackhawks to reach 20 goals in 50 games or less.

Scores

WSH 6 – NYI 4
COL 5 – STL 3
EDM 7 – ARI 3
OTT 5 – CGY 2
CHI 6 – TOR 2
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (SO)
FLA 4 – DET 1
PHI 4 – LAK 1
CBJ 5 – NJD 0
NSH 2 – BUF 1
MIN 7 – DAL 0
VAN 4 – SJS 1

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.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

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.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

————

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.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.