NHL Fantasy Hockey: Kovalchuk, Toffoli among this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Ilya Kovalchuk, Canadiens – LW/RW: Kovalchuk didn’t work out with the Los Angeles Kings and that eventually ended with his contract being terminated. However, he still clearly can offer something offensively in the right situation. That situation seems to exist with his new team, the Montreal Canadiens. Through four games they’ve given him an average of 19:57 minutes and he’s rewarded him with a goal and four points.

Jake DeBrusk, Bruins – LW/RW: DeBrusk is in his third NHL season and though he’s been a solid contributor right from the start, he hasn’t found that next level yet. His upside makes him interesting to watch, but if nothing else, he’s at least a good short-term grab with three goals and five points in his last three games. He wouldn’t be terrible to own even after he cools down, but you certainly shouldn’t feel obligated to keep him.

Nathan Gerbe, Blue Jackets – LW: Gerbe is a roll of the dice, but an interesting one. The 32-year-old was a regular in the NHL from 2010-11 through 2015-16, but from 2016-17 through 2018-19 he played in all of two NHL games. During that time he had a stint in the Swiss league and spent time with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. He’s been putting in the time though in hopes of getting another shot. In 2018-19 he had 32 points in 41 AHL games and then he had 25 points in 30 AHL games this season. That led to him getting a call up on Dec. 22nd and he’s stuck with the Blue Jackets since. He’s been a regular contributor since then with three goals and six points in 10 contests while averaging 14:32 minutes. That offensive production has been spread out with him not being held off the scoresheet in back-to-back games yet. There’s enough to like here to give him a chance if you’re hurting for a left winger, though he’s definitely a high-risk pickup given that he might not even stay in the NHL.

Vincent Trocheck, Panthers – C: Trocheck is on a four-game point streak and has two goals and 12 points in his last 12 games. He’s worth grabbing while he’s hot, especially given that this might develop into a strong second half overall for him. Trocheck isn’t that far removed from his amazing 2017-18 campaign when he scored 31 goals and 75 points in 82 games and while he won’t come close to those totals this season, he’s still capable of being an asset in fantasy leagues.

Esa Lindell, Stars – D: Lindell is one of those players who is more valuable to his team than he is to fantasy owners. He contributes offensively, but not to the extent that he’s more than a borderline option in standard leagues. Lately he’s been far more than that though. He has eight assists in his last six games. He’ll cool down and at that point you’ll want to look at your other options, but for now he’s a solid gamble.

Derek Ryan, Flames – C: Ryan is on a hot streak right now with two goals and five points in six contests. He’s not worth owning outside of his hot streak, in part because of his center-only eligibility, but on the plus side this season is shaping up to be a step forward for him. He has eight goals and 24 points in 47 games, putting him well on his way to topping his career-high of 38 points, which he set in 2017-18 and matched in 2018-19.

Matt Martin, Islanders – LW: If you’re ever hurting in the hits category, Martin is the answer. He won’t do much else, but with 141 hits in 31 contests, he’s one of the best sources of hits in the league. If you are going to pick him up, now is a particularly good time because of the Islanders’ packed schedule. They’ll play against Detroit on Tuesday, the Rangers on Thursday, Washington on Saturday, Carolina on Sunday, and the Rangers again on Tuesday, Jan. 21st before they finally get a breather for the All-Star break. The end result is that you should get plenty of hits out of Martin in a short span of time and after that you can replace him with a player who will help you in more categories.

Tyler Toffoli, Kings – LW/RW: Toffoli got off to a slow start this season with six goals and 13 points in 30 games, but he’s heated up with six goals and 14 points in his last 16 contests. He’s been something of an inconsistent player in his career with him never matching his highs of 31 goals and 58 points set back in 2015-16. His more recent success does give some reason for cautious optimism in the second half of the campaign though.

Nico Hischier, Devils – C: Hischier has been at the top of his game lately with six goals and 10 points in his last nine contests. It’s been interesting because this jump started after the Hall trade. At least in part, this is probably a hot streak from Hischier and he’ll fizzle out, but there’s also a chance that he’s taking the lead a bit more in the post-Hall Devils.

Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – LW/RW: I mentioned Kubalik last week too, but because he’s still only owned in 15% of Yahoo leagues, he’s worth bringing up again. The rookie forward has been outstanding lately with eight goals and 13 points in 11 contests. A contributing factor to his recent success has been him playing on a line with Jonathan Toews. As long as that continues to be the case, he should be a significant fantasy asset.

Players You May Want To Drop

Nick Schmaltz, Coyotes – C/LW/RW: Schmaltz has had a couple amazing stretches this season with his most recent coming from Dec. 17-Jan. 4. Over the nine games he played during that span, he scored a goal and 12 points. The problem is that he’s also been inconsistent this season. From Nov. 9-Dec. 6, he had just six points in 15 games. So you have to wonder if we’re in the start of another prolonged cold streak given that he’s now gone four straight games without a point.

Clayton Keller, Coyotes – LW/RW: It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Schmaltz’s regular linemate is also struggling. For Keller though, he’s been cold for significantly longer. Keller has just two goals and three points in nine contests. He’s something of a frustrating player because his rookie season was so good, but he took a significant step back as a sophomore and while his third campaign is shaping out to be better, he’s still falling shy of his promise. He’s 21-years-old so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him breakout in the future, but for now he’s very much a mixed bag.

Mikko Koskinen, Oilers – G: Koskinen endured a rough stretch from Dec. 21-31 where he allowed at least three goals in four straight games. After that slump, Mike Smith started in four consecutive games and took full advantage of the opportunity, posting a 3-0-1 record, 2.49 GAA, and .926 save percentage in that span. Koskinen finally got another shot on Saturday, but allowed four goals on 33 shots in a 4-3 loss to Calgary. There will be other chances for Koskinen, but he’s pretty mediocre anyways so you should always be examining your other options.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair has already set a new career-high this season with 21 goals in 44 games, but that’s largely due to an incredible stretch from Dec. 4-21 where he scored 11 goals in nine contests and was enjoying an unsustainable 36.7 shooting percentage. Since then he hasn’t scored another goal and because his value is so heavily dependent on goals, that’s a big problem. To be fair, he’s been a pretty intriguing player for a long time now and he’s enjoying a bigger role with the Ottawa Senators than he’s ever had, so there are reasons to hope for him to have a strong second half. However, given his streaky nature, it’s not unreasonable to regard him as a situational pickup who has fallen out of favor for now, but may be worth scooping back up later.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: With nine goals and 27 points in 44 games and just eligibility as a center, Cirelli isn’t a particularly good option in fantasy leagues. He has enjoyed some great stretches though, which makes him worth keeping an eye on. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. He’s gone six straight games without a point immediately following a far more pleasant stretch of two goals and five points in four contests.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

    kris letang
    Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.