NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Haula highlight this week’s best adds

Welcome to the first Adds/Drops column of the 2019-20 NHL season that actually features me recommending players for you to add/drop in fantasy leagues. The first two columns were preseason previews, but now that the games count, every Monday I’m going to be recommending 10 players who you might want to consider adding and five who you might want to part ways with.

As always, whether you should add/drop any of these players will depend entirely on your situation. You’ll want to evaluate your team needs and what your options are, but this column can help highlight who to look at if you want to make a change.

Players Worth Adding

Trevor Moore, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Moore got his first taste of the NHL last season, scoring two goals and eight points in 25 games. That might not sound impressive, but keep in mind he was only averaging 9:06 minutes per game. This season he’s playing a significantly bigger role and has capitalized on that early on with two goals and three points in three games. He’s not one of the Leafs’ main offensive threats, but he does highlight their depth and is worth taking a chance on.

Oscar Klefbom, Oilers – D: Klefbom typically does decently offensively, but not quite enough to make him worth much consideration in standard leagues. I’m encouraged by how much the Oilers are leaning on him early on though. He averaged 25:27 minutes over his first two contests and is on the top power-play. He’s registered three assists, including two on the power-play, over those first two games. Obviously he’s not going to keep up that pace, but if you’re hurting for defensive help then he might chip in often enough to be a good fill-in.

Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers – RW: The Rangers have an impressive top line duo in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, which has already gotten off to a stunning start. Buchnevich is a significantly less exciting player, but his presence on that line does make him noteworthy.  So far he has two assists in two games while averaging 17:27 minutes, up from his career-high of 15:10 minutes in 2018-19. As long as he’s with Panarin and Zibanejad, Buchnevich will likely be worth owning in most standard leagues.

[Ready for the season? Get the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: When people were talking about rookies going into this season, the focus was often on Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. So far though, Moore and Olofsson are tied for the scoring title. Moore was mentioned above, but Olofsson has even more potential in 2019-20. Olofsson averaged 18:20 minutes per game over his first two contests of 2019-20, which is a crazy amount for a rookie forward to get early on. To put that in perspective, Hughes has averaged 14:48 minutes and Kakko has averaged 14:43 so far. Among other things, Olofsson is playing on the top power-play unit and has scored twice as a result. In short, he’s a great rookie to gamble on.

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Kassian isn’t someone you’re going to want to pick up long-term. He’s been around for a while now and though he does combine grit and skill, he leans far more towards the prior than the latter. The reason why he’s worthy of being on standard fantasy league teams right now is because he’s playing on the second line with Leon Draisaitl. Kassian has a goal and two assists in two games and all of those points have involved Draisaitl. If that line breaks up, then Kassian’s fantasy value could very well plummet, so this is a situation you’ll want to monitor closely.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had just seven goals and 19 points in 63 games last season with Calgary, but the trade to Edmonton should do him a lot of good.  It’s a fresh opportunity and a role he’s more familiar with. With the Flames, Neal fell into a supporting role, averaging 14:57 minutes while he’s averaged 16:50 minutes in two contests with Edmonton. Neal has already scored two goals with the Oilers, which already matches his goal total for the entirety of October 2018.

Sammy Blais, Blues – LW/RW: Blais is one of the players I highlighted during my preseason preview because of how well he had been doing in the exhibition games. He’s carried that momentum into the regular season with two goals and three points in his first two games. Like Moore, Blais’ playing time was very limited in 2018-19, but he’s playing a bigger role this season and is capitalizing on that.

Neal Pionk, Jets – D: Over the summer, Winnipeg lost defensemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot and to add to all that, Dustin Byfuglien isn’t playing because he’s considering retirement. That’s a huge hole in their defense, but they did add one notable defenseman over the summer in Pionk. He came over in the Trouba trade and the Jets have been leaning on him hard, giving him an average of 24:42 minutes over three games, which has contributed to him scoring a goal and an assist. He had a modest (at least by fantasy standards) 26 points in 2018-19, but his expanded role with the Jets coupled with his natural development make him an interesting defenseman this season.

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

Erik Haula, Hurricanes – C/LW: Haula broke out in 2017-18 with 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games, but was limited to just 15 contests last season due to injury. It seems many have soured on him in the meantime given that he’s only owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been showing what he can do when healthy. Now with the Hurricanes, he’s scored a goal in each of their first three games while averaging 18:08 minutes.

Alex Galchenyuk, Penguins – C/LW: Galchenyuk had just 19 goals and 41 points in 72 games last season, but he didn’t have much to play off offensively in Arizona. Now that he’s with Pittsburgh, it’s a very different situation. Galchenyuk has seen ice time on the second line with the likes of Evgeni Malkin and if he continues to play with either Malkin or Sidney Crosby, he should improve on those 2018-19 numbers.  So far he has two assists in two games.

Players You May Want To Drop

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Nyquist is actually off to an okay start with a goal in two games, but I’m discouraged that he’s averaged just 14:13 minutes so far. After the summer the Blue Jackets had, their offensive group isn’t particularly scary, but the plausible silver lining there for Nyquist was that he might be getting a significant role. So far that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I wonder if he will really have much fantasy value.

Eric Staal, Wild – C: Staal has no points, one shot, and a minus-five rating in two games, but as is the case with Nyquist, my bigger concern has been his playing time. He has averaged just 13:02 minutes so far, which is a huge dive from his 18:08 minutes in 2018-19. To put this in perspective, he logged 15:23 minutes or over in 75 of 81 games last season and never got under 13:44 minute in a single contest.  So in other words, each of his first two games of 2019-20 have been lower than any of his games in 2018-19. If Staal’s not going to get top minutes anymore then obviously his value will drop accordingly.  For what it’s worth though, Bruce Boudreau did offer something of a defense.

Read into that as you will, but at the very least you’ll want to monitor this situation closely if you have Staal.

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils – G: Taking Blackwood was a risk to begin with. He doesn’t have much NHL experience and he’ll be competing with Cory Schneider, so it was always a long shot that he would be a favorable option. So far though he’s been particularly rough, posting a 6.58 GAA and .800 save percentage in two games. Obviously it’s still early and he can bounce back, but in a lot of cases, there should be better options available on the free agent market.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blue Jackets – C: Dubois had 27 goals and 61 points in 82 games last season, but he was commonly paired with Panarin. Now that Panarin is in New York, Dubois has lost a valuable linemate and the Blue Jackets didn’t place him with anyone who plays even close to that level. It’s still early of course, but so far Dubois has been limited to no points and one shot in two games. Given how deep centers are to begin with, if you’re going to hold on to a player who is eligible for no other position, you really want them to bring a lot to the table, so even a mild decline on his part would be a significant problem for fantasy owners.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello did well when he was with the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals and 37 points in 46 games, but it helped that he was averaging 20:01 minutes. Now with Minnesota, he’s gotten just 14:45 minutes per game so far and hasn’t recorded a point. Of course, the points will come eventually, but if the Wild intend to playing him in more of a supporting role, then it’s unlikely that he’ll be as significant an offensive producer as he has been in the past. Keep in mind that when he recorded between 53-61 points in each of three seasons from 2015-16 through 2017-18, he was logging well over 18 minutes per contest.

If you’re looking for more fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld has got you covered, including Michael Finewax’s “The Week Ahead” column.

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The Buzzer: Pageau, Panarin stay hot; Blues sign Brouwer

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Three Stars

1. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. The Rangers may not be where they want in the standings right now, but Panarin has been everything they could have possibly expected him to be and more. He extended his point streak to 12 games on Wednesday night with a two-goal effort in the Ranges’ 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals. Panarin has recorded at least one point in 16 of his 19 games this season and has at least two points in seven games during his current streak, including three in a row. Read all about the Rangers’ big win right here.

2. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators. Don’t look now but the Senators are just a single point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings and have played in one less game. The biggest reason for the Senators’ recent surge has been a goal-scoring binge from Pageau that has seen him score 10 goals in the month of November, tops in the league. His goal on Wednesday to open the scoring in the Senators’ 2-1 overtime win against Montreal was his 13th of the season and 10th of the month. He is on track for a career year offensively. The timing could not be better for him personally as he is in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. It will also increase his trade value for the Senators if they look to continue their rebuild by dealing him before the trade deadline.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. Goaltending (mostly from Anders Nilsson) is the other big reason for the Senators’ recent improvement, and on Wednesday it was Anderson doing his best to steal two points by stopping 35 of the 36 shots he faced against the Canadiens. It was probably Anderson’s best performance of the season.

Blues add some forward depth

The defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues made a roster move on Wednesday by signing veteran forward Troy Brouwer to a one-year contract. He spent the 2018-19 season playing for the Florida Panthers, scoring 12 goals and adding nine assists in 75 games. That move comes on the same day the team announced that forward Sammy Blais will be sidelined for 10 weeks after he was injured in the Blues’ win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. The Blues are already playing without Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen, and recently traded Robby Fabbri to the Detroit Red Wings.

Highlight of the Night

Brady Tkachuk was the overtime hero for the Senators, finishing a great breakaway and taking advantage of a miscommunication by the Canadiens.

Factoids

  • Henrik Lundqvist earned his 454th career win, moving him into a tie with Curtis Joseph for fourth place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]
  • Panarin’s 12-game point streak is the Rangers’ longest since Scott Gomez during the 2007-08 season. [Rangers Stats & Info]
  • Pageau just needs more three more goals in November to tie the Senators’ franchise record for most goals in a month. Ottawa has five more games this month.  [NHL PR]
  • John Carlson added another assist to his total for the season, giving him 36 points on the season. Entering play on Wednesday he and Bobby Orr were the only defensemen in NHL history that needed only 23 games to hit the 35-point mark. [NHL PR]
  • Nick Suzuki scored the only goal for Montreal, giving him six on the season. That is second among the NHL’s rookies this season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Ottawa Senators 2, Montreal Canadiens 1 (OT)
New York Rangers 4, Washington Capitals 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panarin, Lundqvist help Rangers take down Capitals

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If the Rangers are going to contend for a postseason position, their top players have to perform.

On Wednesday Night Hockey, Artemi Panarin and Henrik Lundqvist led the Rangers to a surprising 4-1 victory against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.

Panarin extended his individual point streak to 12 games and is living up to the high-priced contract he signed this past summer. The Russian winger has 11 goals and 14 assists through 19 games in his first season on Broadway.

Lundqvist picked up his first win since a vintage performance against the Carolina Hurricanes in early November when he made 47 saves.

Rangers power play has the right ingredients

Any time you add a deadly scorer via free agency, your power play unit should improve. The Rangers have multiple weapons and a player to fill each critical role. For years they were missing a puck-moving defenseman, a net front presence and a big shot from the outside, but Jeff Gorton and his staff have assembled a roster that should excel when skating up a man.

Panarin notched two power-play goals on Wednesday from the left circle but is not the only threat when the Rangers are on the man-advantage. Chris Kreider is a quick power forward that can create havoc in front of the goaltender and Adam Fox has been able to quarterback the play from the point. Mika Zibanejad has been sidelined a few weeks with an upper-body injury, but also boasts a big right-handed shot when in the lineup.

Offseason changes looming in Washington?

The Capitals have been one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference for quite some time, but this might be their final hoorah with the band together.

Forward Nicklas Backstrom — who missed his first game of the season with an upper-body injury – and goaltender Braden Holtby are unrestricted free agents this upcoming summer and have been key pieces in recent years.

Backstrom has long been Alex Ovechkin’s underappreciated sidekick and Holtby is constantly having to prove himself with Ilya Samsonov waiting for his chance to become a starting goalie.

Washington is off to a tremendous start and a November slip up against the Rangers is not going to damage their postseason plans. But, this could be the final season the Capitals get another crack at the Stanley Cup with their core from the past decade intact.

Climbing up the record books

Lundqvist earned his 454th NHL victory and tied Curtis Joseph for 5th place on the NHL all-time wins list. He also surpassed Grant Fuhr to take sole possession of 10th place on the NHL’s all-time appearance list.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

After year away, soldier surprises son during Rangers-Capitals

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It is often forgotten that sporting events serve as a form of entertainment. But on Wednesday Night Hockey, the Madison Square Garden crowd was reminded that life exists outside of the hockey bubble.

During the Rangers-Capitals game, a Staff Sergeant returned in surprising fashion. He had been deployed overseas for the past year and his son thought he was participating in a contest in which he won a Blueshirts jersey.

Instead of the sweater, Luke got to see his father and the emotional embrace delighted the crowd.

Underachieving Maple Leafs needed this change

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It was probably overdue.

It probably should have happened over the summer in the wake of another postseason disappointment, and before the 2019-20 season was allowed to turn into the bitter disappointment it has been.

But when the Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock on Wednesday, replacing him with Sheldon Keefe, they finally made the biggest change they needed to allow the organization to take the next step in its development the city — and NHL as a whole — has been waiting for it to take.

[Related: Maple Leafs fire Babcock, name Keefe head coach]

This isn’t to say that Babcock is a bad coach (he is probably not), or that he will not find a new team in the coming months or years and find success (he might).

But it was becoming increasingly clear that he was the wrong coach for this particular team and roster, and that it was never going to get where it should be without some kind of a drastic change.

When Babcock joined the Maple Leafs for the start of the 2015-16 season it was at a time when they were at one of their lowest points in franchise history. There had been just one playoff appearance in 10 years, the NHL roster was completely devoid of talent, and they didn’t yet know who their long-term impact players would be. Babcock’s hiring was one of the cornerstones of the rebuild, and by signing him to a massive 8-year, $50 million contract it was a clear sign the Maple Leafs were willing to flex their financial muscle and spare no expense in the areas where the league could not limit their spending.

It was also at a time when Babcock’s reputation as a coach still placed him not only among the league’s elite, but probably at the very top of the mountain.

It seemed to be the right move at the right time.

But a lot has changed in the years since.

For one, Babcock’s reputation isn’t as pristine as it once was. It has been 10 years since he has finished higher than third place in his division (2010-11 season). It has been eight years since he has advanced beyond Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (2012-13). In that time there have been 28 different coaches that have won a playoff series in the league, including two (Mike Yeo and Barry Trotz) that have won playoff series’ with multiple teams.

If you wanted, you could try and find reasons for that lack of success. His team’s in Detroit at the end were getting older and losing their core players to an inevitable decline and retirement. His first years in Toronto were taking over the aforementioned mess left behind by the previous regime, and if anything those early Maple Leafs teams may have even overachieved.

All of that is true. It is also true to say that almost any other coach with that recent resume of third-place finishes and first round exits probably wouldn’t have had the leash that Babcock had. They would have been fired two years ago.

As the talent level dramatically increased in Toronto, the expectations should have changed as well. This is no longer a young team going through a rebuild where just making the playoffs is an accomplishment. This is a team of established NHL Players — All-Star level players — that should be capable of more than what they have accomplished. Not only has that not happened, but all indications were that the team was going in the wrong direction.

Last year’s Maple Leafs team won fewer games and collected fewer points than the previous year’s team despite gaining John Tavares and Jake Muzzin and getting a breakout year from Mitch Marner.

This year’s Maple Leafs team has one of the worst records in the league at the one quarter mark and has seen the once dynamic offense turn ordinary, relying on harmless point shots from defensemen.

And that doesn’t even get into the biggest issue, which was the apparent disconnect between his style and the style of the front office and roster. The Maple Leafs are built for offense, and speed, and skill, and defending by attacking and playing with the puck. Everything that came out of Babcock was always about grinding down, and defending, and you can’t score your way to a championship.

There is not any one way to win in the NHL. Some teams win with speed and skill, others win with defense. The most important thing is to play to your strength and do what you do well. The Maple Leafs are not doing that. Talk about the makeup of their defense or the way they defend all you want, but it still comes down to whether they are playing to their strengths. You can’t take a team built around John Tavares, Marner, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander and ask it to win 2-1 every night. You are wasting them by doing that and you will fail. You have to turn them loose and let them do what they do best. Babcock never seemed able or willing to trust them to do that.

Whether or not this sparks the Maple Leafs to turn their season around and go on a championship run like Pittsburgh in 2009 and 2016, or Los Angeles in 2012, or St. Louis in 2019 remains to be seen. But Keefe has coached many of the players in Toronto before, he has coached them to play a certain way, and he has won with them.

Now he gets a chance to do it on the biggest stage.

Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. But the worst thing that happens is they fall short and underachieve, something they were already doing anyway. At least now they get to go down taking their best swings.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.