Andre Burakovsky

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Wednesday Night Hockey: Avs getting plenty of depth scoring this season

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you think of the Colorado Avalanche, the first names that come to mind are probably Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, or Gabriel Landeskog. The trio produces an incredible amount of offense and they’re arguably the best line in the entire NHL.

Last season, MacKinnon (99 points), Rantanen (87 points) and Landeskog (75 points) were first, second and third in team scoring. Former Avs defender Tyson Barrie was fourth with 59 points, but no other forward on the team had collected more than 49 points (Carl Soderberg).

So yes, most teams would kill to have a top line like Colorado’s, but there’s no doubt that they also needed to add some depth scoring during summer. On top of that need, they also lost Rantanen and Landeskog for an extended period of time already this season.

What did general manager Joe Sakic do? He traded Tyson Barrie away, but Cale Makar has replaced his production in a big way by scoring 28 points in his first 29 games. That’s a step up offensively right there. In exchange for Barrie, the Avs were able to land Nazem Kadri, who is an important forward on this team at both ends of the ice. He also signed Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky to free-agent contracts.

How has that worked out so far?

Pretty well.

Kadri has 10 goals and 10 assists through 27 games, but again, he’s so valuable at both ends of the ice that he instantly makes the Avs a better team. He’s tough to play against and he’s capable of playing in both offensive and defensive situations. He’s sidelined with a lower-body injury now, but he should be back soon enough. It’s not surprising to see him do well with his new team.

On the flip side, Donskoi and Burakovsky’s offensive output this year has been downright shocking. Donskoi trails only MacKinnon and Makar for the team lead in scoring, as he has 13 goals and 27 points in only 30 games. He’s just 10 points away from matching his career high, which he set with San Jose last season. Whether or not he can stay on this pace remains to be seen, but the Avs will be a tough out if they keep getting that kind of production from him.

As for Burakovsky, he became available because the Washington Capitals were in a bit of a cap crunch during the summer. The 24-year-old posted a career-high 38 points back in 2015-16, but he failed to build on that season over the last three years with the Capitals.

Colorado paid a second-round pick, a third-round pick and Scott Kosmachuk (he’s moved on to the German League this year) for the former first-rounder, so they gave up quite a bit of draft compensation to roll the dice on this player. That trade has panned out pretty well so far though.

Burakovsky is up to 12 goals and 23 points in 27 games, which puts him fourth on the team in scoring as of right now.

Let’s also give honorable mentions to Matt Calvert, J.T. Compher and Matt Nieto, who have also helped on the offensive side of things this year.

Of course, the Avs are going to go as far as MacKinnon and the rest of their stars take them, but getting help is always an added bonus. Also, only the Columbus Blue Jackets have more cap space than the Avs right now, so there’s a chance they could improve their roster with a deal before the trade deadline.

Colorado upset Calgary in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year before being bounced by the San Jose Sharks in the second. Expectations will be much higher this time around.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Chris Cuthbert will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

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.

Surging Vrana might be capable of even bigger things for Capitals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From Alex Ovechkin for Washington to Artemi Panarin for New York, you’ll see plenty of firepower during Wednesday Night Hockey’s bout between the Capitals and Rangers. Even with Nicklas Backstrom sidelined for the game, I’m here to argue that you still might not see enough of one potential rising star: Jakub Vrana.

When you give Vrana’s 2019-20 stats a quick glance, they’re already impressive.

Not only does Vrana already have 10 goals scored in 23 games, but all 10 of them have come at even-strength, tying him for third in the NHL in that category alongside players like Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vrana’s former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky. His eight assists rounds out his numbers to 18 points in 23 games; over an 82-game pace, Vrana would author a 37-goal, 66-point season.

While he’s been riding some hot puck luck since 2018-19 with a 15.1 shooting percentage, the overwhelming message one gets from diving deeper into Vrana’s stats is that the Capitals should strongly consider finding more ways to get him on the ice.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Despite Vrana’s 18 points in 23 games, he’s only averaging 14:15 TOI per game, which is a career-high and slight uptick from last season’s average of 14:02. Beyond getting some bounces, Vrana’s breakthrough in simple counting stats can probably be chalked up to an increasingly itchy trigger finger. After peaking with 1.96 shots on goal per game last season, Vrana’s getting almost one extra puck on net per evening, averaging 2.78 SOG per game (64 SOG in 23 GP).

It’s unclear if you can derive that from playing a more confident game, getting decent reps with a tremendous playmaker like Evgeny Kuznetsov, or if perhaps someone in the Capitals organization gave Vrana a directive to shoot more. Either way, it’s working out quite nicely, as he’s a significant part of the Capitals’ early work as the NHL’s most dangerous offense at even-strength.

Again, though, I must ask for more.

Just about every number seems to point a neon flashing arrow at “More Vrana.” His heat map at Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz is, well, almost off the charts:

Wow.

Admittedly, it would be tough for Vrana to crack the Capitals’ top power play unit, and he’s getting some reps on the second unit (1:35 per game), but his all-around game makes me wonder if more PK work would be warranted.

It’s not as though Vrana is getting totally buried in the Capitals’ lineup, yet with Washington in a strong position (few teams enjoy the luxury of “Can we win the division again?” being one of their burning questions in November), I’d be tempted to see if Vrana would thrive in an even larger role.

And, hey, if all of that is boring … the skill is pretty obvious, too. Not everyone can pull off a Datsyukian shootout move, right?

Just saying.

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Stromes 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

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Washington took Burakovsky with the 23rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but he never had much of a role with the Capitals. Burakovsky averaged 12:45 minutes over 328 career games with the Capitals and his best output was 38 points in 2015-16. Now with the Colorado Avalanche, he’s been given 15:11 minutes per game and has taken full advantage of the opportunity. He’s scored eight goals and 16 points in 20 games this season. Despite that strong start, he’s owned in just 23% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re interested, the odds are in favor of him being available in your league.

Tyler Ennis, Senators – LW/RW: Early in Ennis’ career, he was a solid top-six forward, but his role declined substantially over the last couple years, to the point where the Maple Leafs gave him just 9:56 minutes per contest over 51 games last season. He’s been given a chance to rebound with the Senators though and so far he’s done alright with it. He got off to a pretty slow start with just two goals and three points in 12 games, but has settled in with three goals and six points in his last eight contests. His long-term value is still in question, but he’s worth the risk while he’s hot. 

Andrew Copp, Jets – C/LW: Like Ennis, Copp is a player who is hot now and thus worthy of short-term consideration, but also with the potential of having some staying power. First off, he has two goals and five points in his last six games, so clearly things have been working out for him lately. He’s never recorded more than 28 points in a single season, but he’s still relatively young at the age of 25, and he’s getting a far bigger role this season. He’s averaging 16:52 minutes, up from just 12:10 minutes in 2018-19. If he continues to get that kind of ice time, then there’s a fair chance that he’ll average out to be a solid secondary scorer.

Vladislav Namestnikov, Senators – LW/RW: Namestnikov began the season with the Rangers, but they traded him to the Ottawa on Oct. 7th in exchange for Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick. He only averaged 13:30 minutes in two games with the Rangers prior to the trade, but he’s managed to carve out a sizable role for him with the Senators. He’s averaging 17:27 minutes per game since the trade and that’s led to him contributing six goals and 12 points in 18 games. His eligibility on both wings provides owners with some critical flexibility, making him a solid fallback option if you need injury relief.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman had 22 goals and 36 points in 78 games last season, which isn’t too exciting by fantasy league standards, but his contributions tended to come in waves. That hot-and-cold nature makes him a potentially decent short-term pickup if you get the timing right and right now might be such an occasion. He’s on a three-game point streak heading into Tuesday’s action.

Dylan Strome, Blackhawks – C: Strome looked great after being acquired by Chicago last season, scoring 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games. He’s been somewhat hot-and-cold so far this season, but lately everything has been clicking for him. He has a goal and nine points in his last six contests. Unfortunately he only has center eligibility and that’s a rather deep position, but at the least he’s worthy of consideration while he’s hot.

Ryan Strome, Rangers – C/RW: While you’re at it, you may want to consider Dylan’s older brother, Ryan. The elder Strome has certainly has had some low points in his career already, but he seems to have finally put it all together this season. He has six goals and 18 points in 18 games while averaging 19:09 minutes. If he’s still available in your league, you should grab him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have gotten off to an unreal start to the season, but the rest of the Oilers’ offense has been lacking. Kassian has been something of an unlikely exception to that. The 28-year-old has never reached the 30-point milestone, but he already has seven goals and 15 points in 22 contests. A big part of his success has been getting to play alongside McDavid and Draisaitl. Just one of Kassian’s 15 points didn’t involve Draisaitl or McDavid.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: The biggest knock on Danault is that he only has center eligibility, but he’s been good enough that he’s worthy of consideration in spite of that. He has six goals and 15 points in 20 games while averaging 18:23 minutes per contest. He set a career-high last season with 53 points and it’s not unreasonable to believe that he will top that this time around.

Charlie Coyle, Bruins – C/RW: Coyle had 18 goals and 56 points in 82 games in 2016-17, but he hasn’t come close to that since. I’m not confident that this will be a bounce back season for him, but if you’re looking for a short-term pick up, then Coyle is pretty hot right now. He’s on a four-game point streak with two goals and five points over that span.

Players You May Want To Drop

Jonathan Drouin, Canadiens – C/LW: Drouin hit the ground running this season with three goals and eight points in his first eight games and 12 points in his first 13 contests. He was limited to three assists in six contests from Nov. 2-15 though and now he’s out with an upper-body injury. It’s not clear how long he’ll be sidelined for, but he was moved to the injured reserve list. Between the injury and his hot streak being over, it might be time to move on.

Tyson Barrie, Maple Leafs – D: This is a tough one. Barrie had 57 points in 2017-18 and 69 points in 2018-19, but he’s done very little offensively with the Maple Leafs. Through 22 games, he has no goals and six assists. The big X-Factor here is what might happen with Toronto’s coaching situation. There are certainly Leafs fans calling for Mike Babcock to be fired given the team’s shaky start, but is that actually going to happen? If it does, the new bench boss could make substantial changes that might lead to Barrie bouncing back. Those are some big ‘ifs’ though and in the meantime, he’s not much help.

James Neal, Oilers – LW/RW: Neal had an incredible nine goals in his first eight games this season, but his offensive contributions have dried up. He’s scored three goals and five points in his last 14 games and has only found the back of the net once in his last eight contests. It wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually got hot again, but that might not happen for a while and in the meantime he doesn’t have much value to fantasy owners.

Matt Niskanen, Flyers – D: Niskanen is another player who got off to a great start with a new team.  The defenseman had two goals and five points in nine contests and eight points in 14 games to start the campaign. He’s fizzled out though with an assist over his last six contests. Niskanen does chip in offensively, but not enough to make him worth owning long-term in standard fantasy leagues.

Nick Schmaltz, Coyotes – C/LW/RW: Schmaltz had 21 goals and 52 points in 78 games in 2017-18, but he was limited to 40 contests last season. So far this season he’s stood out with four goals and 16 points in 21 games, but those numbers are skewed by a stretch from Oct. 10-Nov. 5 where he scored four goals and 14 points in 13 games. Over his last six games, he’s been limited to two assists. I’m also a little worried about his role with the Coyotes. He’s averaging 15:48 minutes, which is down from 18:14 minutes in 2017-18 when he had those 52 points and 17:50 minutes last season.

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.

Avs hold breath about MacKinnon after blowing out Predators

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The Colorado Avalanche boast one of the best lines in the NHL, but right now, all three of those forwards are banged up.

Nathan MacKinnon‘s injury tarnished the Avs’ 9-4 blowout of the Nashville Predators on Thursday, and adds to a troubling trio of injuries, as the team was already dealing without Mikko Rantanen (week-to-week) and Gabriel Landeskog (out indefinitely).

While the Avalanche figure to be without Rantanen and Landeskog for some time, the hope is that MacKinnon’s upper-body injury won’t be major. The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark reports that Colorado head coach Jared Bednar said MacKinnon was held out from the remainder of Thursday’s lopsided game for precautionary reasons. Could that mean that this won’t be major for MacKinnon? The Avs certainly have to hope so.

Clark also reports that defenseman Nikita Zadorov‘s status is unknown after suffering an upper-body injury of his own.

The Avalanche made big, bold investments in surrounding that super-line with other talent, and many of those players shined bright against the Predators.

MacKinnon actually had a tremendous game even though it was truncated, as the speedy center scored one goal and three assists for four points. He fired 10 SOG on Thursday, and seemed driven to score against the defending Central Division champs:

Key offseason addition Joonas Donskoi managed a hat trick, while both Andre Burakovsky and Cale Makar enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights.

Remarkably, the Predators were actually up 3-2 at the 4:55 mark of the second period, and then Colorado erupted with a ludicrous six goals in eight minutes:

As important as Landeskog and especially Rantanen is to that top line, MacKinnon is the biggest star on the Avs, and one of the NHL’s brightest overall. Colorado is better positioned to withstand another loss in 2019-20 than the Avs were in 2018-19, but the prospect of missing all three first-liners is daunting.

The Avalanche have to be crossing their fingers that further MacKinnon updates end up being as prominent as that “precautionary” word was.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

NHL injury roundup: Landeskog out indefinitely; Zibanejad out for Rangers

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The Colorado Avalanche’s forward depth is about to be put to the test.

Already playing without Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche announced on Tuesday that another key part of their feared top-line is going to be sidelined indefinitely. Gabriel Landeskog will not play in Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers and will be out “indefinitely” according to the team as he recovers from an undisclosed lower-body injury. 

He played 20 minutes in the Avalanche’s 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, recording four shots on goal and finishing as a minus-2.

For the past two years the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog has been one of the most dominant lines in the league and has at times single-handedly carried the Avalanche. Since the start of the 2017-18 season they have played more than 1,600 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together as a trio, outscoring teams by a 97-61 margin during those minutes and completely dictating the pace of the game.

In recent years being without two of them would have probably been enough to sink the Avalanche’s chances due to their lack of depth, but thanks to the offseason additions of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky they actually have some solid secondary scoring options and are not quite as dependent on their big three.

They also still have MacKinnon — their best player — and he should still be able to make an impact, even without his two regular wingers.

The Avalanche entered the season as one of the top favorites in the Western Conference and have been one of the league’s best teams.

Landeskog’s injury is not the only significant one around the NHL on Tuesday.

Mika Zibanejad will not play for Rangers on Tuesday

Offense has been a struggle for the New York Rangers so far this season and this is not going to help things.

They are expected to be without No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He played just six minutes against the Boston Bruins in the Rangers’ most recent game and is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

He is the Rangers’ top point-producer this season with 11 points in nine games, though he has cooled off considerably after a fast start in the team’s first two games.

The team has recalled Filip Chytil from the American Hockey League and he is expected to play alongside Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich.

On the other side of that game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said forwards Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli are both game-time decisions but that he does not expect either issue to be long-term (via Lightning analyst Caley Chelios).

Sidney Crosby will play for Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a little bit of a scare on Saturday night when captain Sidney Crosby was hit in the side of the face by a slap shot, briefly leaving the game before returning.

Crosby is expected to play for the Penguins on Tuesday night against the Flyers but may wear a protective shield over his jaw. He skated with it in practice but is unsure if he wants to wear it during the game due to limited vision. The Penguins are finally starting to get healthy and could get defenseman Brian Dumoulin and winger Alex Galchenyuk back in the lineup for Tuesday against the Flyers.

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.