Gustav Nyquist

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.

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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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Blue Jackets look to Swedish players for scoring punch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to Sweden to help fill the scoring void left by departed star forward Artemi Panarin.

More specifically, the Blue Jackets are relying on a quartet of Swedes – two of them rookies who haven’t played in North America before – for some scoring punch as they open the season Friday night against Toronto at Nationwide Arena.

Twenty-year-old Emil Bemstrom and 26-year-old Jakob Lilja played together on the same Swedish elite league team last year, and both made the Blue Jackets’ opening night roster out of coach John Tortorella’s notoriously rigorous training camp.

Bemstrom, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2017 draft, was a scoring machine in Sweden. Lilja was signed as a free agent and impressed the Blue Jackets in the prospects tournament in Michigan. Both could end up skating together on the fourth line on either side of veteran Riley Nash.

”It’s a really different game,” Lilja said. ”Smaller ice, so like if you lose the puck in the wrong places it’s creating scoring chances right away. The players are really skilled, so you don’t want to lose the puck to them. Overall, it’s like a high-speed game. Even at the pro level in Sweden it’s really defensive. So just better players and smaller ice, so everything goes a little bit faster.”

The other two members of the Swedish coalition will be expected to bear more of the burden as the Blue Jackets try to return to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Center Alexander Wennberg, 25, will try to fulfill the great promise he showed three seasons ago when he put up 59 points for Columbus and seemed poised to break out. Veteran Gustav Nyquist is a solid top-six forward who was signed as a free agent after registering 60 points last season with Detroit and San Jose. The two are slated to skate together on the second line.

Rookie Alexandre Texier is expected to take Panarin’s place on the top line with center Pierre-Luc Dubois and winger Cam Atkinson . Team veterans including captain Nick Foligno, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson all will have to step it up to compensate for the loss of Panarin’s team-leading 87 points a season ago.

No worries about the blue line, though.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones continue to make up one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, and there is some good depth behind them.

Joonas Korpisalo will be given a chance to be the everyday goalie after the free-agent departure of Vezina Trophy-winning stopper Sergei Bobrovsky, who is now with Florida. Rookie Elvis Merlikins also will see time in the net.

Last season was filled with drama surrounding the pending departures of Panarin and Bobrovsky. Tortorella said none of that is hanging in the air anymore.

”I think as the season begins here and all the questions start coming our way, I think there’s an inner camaraderie about the definition of guys wanting to be here,” he said. ”I think that’s really important, to have a team that’s going to try to be competitive in this league and stay competitive, is people wanting to be here. We have that. I think they’re rallying around that. This will grow as the season goes on.”

Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene among many on the move in NHL

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The St. Louis Blues will look a lot like the team that won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup when the puck drops for the NHL’s season-opening game against the 2018 champion Washington Capitals.

Ryan O'Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, knows the season won’t be quite the same even if many of his teammates are still together.

”It’s going to be very different,” O’Reilly said.

St. Louis held onto much of its roster during a quiet offseason, hoping it will be enough to compete for another title. The Blues will raise their championship banner during a pregame ceremony Wednesday night.

But the Blues made one major move last week, acquiring offensive-minded defenseman Justin Faulk from Carolina for Joel Edmundson and a prospect. The team then signed the 27-year-old Faulk to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension, banking on him being a key part of its future.

Here’s a look at some of the other major moves in the offseason on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office:

BYE, BLUE JACKETS

Columbus lost a trio of stars in free agency, the only unrestricted free agents to sign seven-year contracts with other teams.

Dynamic forward Artemi Panarin received an $81.5 million deal from the New York Rangers. Two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky took his talents to the Florida Panthers for $70 million after Roberto Luongo retired. And two-time All-Star center Matt Duchene signed a $56 million deal with the Nashville Predators.

Columbus has a lot of cap space, perhaps planning to make a splash next summer, because it didn’t spend a lot of money chasing success with free agents. The Blue Jackets did add 30-year-old winger Gustav Nyquist with a $22 million, four-year contract after he had a career-high 60-point season.

SAVVY STARS

The Dallas Stars have built a Cup-caliber team and know now is the time to spend in free agency. They added a pair of veterans motivated to prove they can still play after spending their entire careers with one team.

The Stars lured three-time All-Star forward Joe Pavelski away from the San Jose Sharks with a three-year deal worth $21 million. They made a much smaller investment in 34-year-old winger Corey Perry, whose contract was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks. Perry’s $1.5 million, one-year contract could be quite a bargain if he can provide more scoring depth for Dallas.

TAKING A FLYER

Minnesota missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years and made an aggressive move to pay 32-year-old Mats Zuccarello $30 million over five years even though he has only one 20-goal season and that was three years ago. Vancouver gave 29-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers a $30 million, five-year deal after he had consecutive seasons with 30 points for the first time since his first two years in the league. The Canucks are trying to avoid the first five-year playoff drought in franchise history.

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Shortly after Florida’s season ended, the Panthers hired three-time Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville to take perhaps the top leader in the league off the market.

Three former Edmonton coaches Todd McLellan (Ottawa), Dallas Eakins (Anaheim) and Ralph Krueger (Buffalo) are getting another shot to lead teams.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are hoping former Adams Award winner Dave Tippett can get the most out of Connor McDavid‘s supporting cast and guide them into the playoffs for the just the second time in 14 years. Alain Vigneault, another former NHL Coach of the Year, landed a job in Philadelphia.

The rebuilding Ottawa Senators are taking a chance on former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant D.J. Smith, giving him his first opportunity to be a head coach in the NHL.

UPSTAIRS

The Detroit Red Wings brought Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman back to be their general manager. The former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager replaced Ken Holland, who later left to lead the Oilers’ front office. The Wild are giving two-time Stanley Cup winner Bill Guerin his first opportunity to run an NHL front office after he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win two Cups as assistant general manager.

Blue Jackets can be much better people think

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The 2019-20 NHL regular season has not even started and already the Columbus Blue Jackets are being almost completely written off.

This is a development they are very well aware of, and one they are not responding kindly to.

Coach John Tortorella is “pissed” about it. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen thinks it’s a slap in the face to the core of the team. Cam Atkinson is ready to prove everybody wrong.

The doubters are not without their reasons, and for much of the offseason I was right there with them. How could you not be?

The Blue Jackets were the last team to get in the Eastern Conference playoff field last spring and were hit harder by free agency than any other team in the league, losing franchise players Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, as well as trade deadline acquisitions Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. That is a ton of talent and production to walk out the door, and with Gustav Nyquist (a very good player!) being the only significant outside addition to the team, it’s easy to have lowered expectations.

But Kekalainen made a fairly strong point in support of his core earlier this month when he said this to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline:

“I’m a little aggravated by the doubters, to be honest with you,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said, “because it shows disrespect to our core group that’s brought us all the success we’ve had in the last three years.

“(Three) teams have more regular-season wins than we do (142) in the last three years, and we had 108 points the season before (Artemi) Panarin arrived here. I’m a little bit upset about all that, and I’m getting fed up talking about it.”

Obviously a general manager is going to go to bat for their team and believe in the roster at the start of the season. But he’s also not wrong here. Only Tampa, Washington, and Boston have more regular season wins than the Blue Jackets since start of the 2016-17 season, and only two of the players that left this offseason (Panarin and Bobrovsky) played a significant role in compiling that record. Out of those two, one of them (Panarin) was not even there in the year they won the most games and compiled the most points during that stretch.

But let’s focus on replacing those two since they are the most important.

The wrench in all of this is that Bobrovsky was there for all three seasons and was probably the most important part of that success, especially during the 2016-17 season (the pre-Panarin year) when he won his second Vezina Trophy. That is a difficult thing to replace, and the Blue Jackets are going to open the year relying on two completely unproven starters in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Obviously their success or failure as NHL goalies will play a massive role in what the Blue Jackets can do this season. But I’m not ready to totally eliminate the possibility of Merzlikins being good.

The thing is, they don’t need to totally replace Bobrovsky for the Blue Jackets to have a chance. They just need to be decent. The Blue Jackets were one of the better defensive teams in the league last season and were among the top-seven in suppressing shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances during 5-on-5 play (via Natural Stat Trick). Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are an elite defense pairing, and when paired together can help lock down a significant chunk of every game.

That will help any goalie. As long as the Blue Jackets can maintain that defensively they won’t need a superhero in net.

And while the departure of Panarin, and to a lesser extent Duchene, leaves a big hole at forward the cupboard is not completely bare. Nyquist won’t replace Panarin’s offense or game-breaking ability, but he is a legitimate top-six forward. Atkinson has been a top-10 goal-scorer for about four years, and they have an exciting prospect in Alexandre Texier ready to make the jump to the NHL.

Then there is third-year center Pierre-Luc Dubois, an already dominant two-way player that seems to be on the verge of a breakout season (read about that here).

It’s not that Blue Jackets won’t miss the players that are leaving — they obviously will — but they still have enough high-end talent (and capable depth) that the season isn’t going to be a lost cause before it even begins. A lot will depend on the goalies, but they have enough around them to support them and keep them competitive.

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.

Healthy Erik Karlsson key to Sharks’ success this season

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Erik Karlsson arrived in San Jose during training camp a year ago as the potential difference-maker who could push the Sharks over the top and make them champions for the first time in franchise history.

An adjustment period and then a groin injury that sidelined him for much of the second half of the season and slowed him for the playoffs limited Karlsson’s impact in his first year with the Sharks.

But after getting an eight-year, $92 million contract in the offseason, Karlsson is now a centerpiece for a Sharks team undergoing an adjustment after losing captain Joe Pavelski to Dallas in free agency.

”It’s a big difference,” Karlsson said. ”Last year was a big change for myself individually and this team as well with me coming in as late as I did. I think this year is totally different. We’re all familiar with each other, we know what to expect. It will be easier to get into the swing of things.”

When Karlsson got into the swing of things last season he was one of the best players in the game. During a stretch from December to January, Karlsson showed he still has the ability to be the best defenseman in the NHL. He had points in 15 straight games that he played and had 25 points total in that span.

Karlsson then got hurt Jan. 16 in Arizona. He returned to take part in All-Star weekend in San Jose but had to wait two more weeks to play a real game. He got hurt again Feb. 26 in Boston and didn’t play again until the regular-season finale.

While Karlsson still wasn’t at full speed when he returned, he managed to make a major impact in the playoffs. He had 14 assists in 19 games and also scored two goals, including the overtime winner in Game 3 of the Western Conference final against St. Louis. The Sharks then lost the next three games with Karlsson hurt for parts of Games 4 and 5 and not even making the trip to St. Louis for the final game of the season.

”He’s one of the most dominant players in the world when he’s healthy and playing his game,” coach Peter DeBoer said. ”We saw that during stretches last year when he was healthy. It makes everybody better, the team better. I’m excited, knock on wood, to have a full season with him healthy and ready to go.”

Here’s a look at the Sharks’ season:

WHO’S HERE: D Dalton Proud, F Jonny Brodzinski, assistant coach Bob Boughner.

WHO’S NOT: Pavelski, F Joonas Donskoi, F Gustav Nyquist, D Justin Braun, D Joakim Ryan, F Micheal Haley.

KEY PLAYERS: Martin Jones is coming off the worst season of his career, allowing 2.53 goals per game and ranking 52nd out of 56 goalies with at least 20 starts with an .896 save percentage a year ago. Better play in the net will go a long way toward San Jose’s success this season. Forwards Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier emerged with career-best seasons with each reaching the 30-goal mark for the first time in their careers. With Pavelski and his 38 goals gone, those two will be counted on to do even more offensively this season.

OUTLOOK: The Sharks have one of the most potent defenses led by former Norris Trophy winners Karlsson and Brent Burns. They need shutdown defenseman Marc Edouard-Vlasic to bounce back from a down year after allowing their most goals in a season in 22 years. GM Doug Wilson also didn’t do much to replace the production of Pavelski, Donskoi and Nyquist up front, hoping at least a few of a group of untested players featuring Brodzinski, Dylan Gambrell, Sasha Chmelevski and Alex True can fill that scoring void.

PREDICTION: The Sharks finished second in the Pacific Division with 101 points and then made the run to conference final against eventual champion St. Louis. With Karlsson and Burns leading the defense and a strong core of veteran forwards featuring new captain Logan Couture, 40-year-old Joe Thornton, 30-goal scorer Evander Kane, Hertl and Meier, the Sharks have all the ingredients for another deep run.