Before we close the book and put it away this year, let’s take another look at the fantasy landscape of the league now that the clubs are more or less set. But as you study the end of this chapter, spend some time with the less popular kids. Sure, Taylor Hall will score more goals in Boston with David Krejci, former winger Anthony Mantha is already having an excellent start with the Capitals, and Leafs Nation expects a lot – too much – from young Foligno, who wears No. 71 in Toronto, but we all know that.
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What about the lesser-known figures who could end up elsewhere, the players who could benefit from the arrival of a new teammate at another club, or those who stay and have to make the most of a season without a contract? Sometimes these shadow horses offer the best value at the end of the season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some other guys that can help your fantasy club in both competitive hockey and head-to-head playoffs.
Boston Bruins: As mentioned above, ignore Hall and his attempt to find a new scorer in Boston – the former Hart Trophy winner is booked in nearly 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Instead, set your sights on the Bruins’ third baseman on the second line, right-hander Craig Smith. Smith had a goal and an assist in Hall’s debut, extending his point streak to five games (three goals, five assists) and averaging 4.5 points per game. Experienced managers know that the veteran scorer tends to be hot/cold with some volatility. Smith is available in over 75% of ESPN.com leagues and should be used now. This renewed second line with a center in Krejci looks legitimate.
Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo has a couple of forwards that deserve fantasy attention as we close out the 2020-21 year. As Taylor Hall tries to be productive in Boston and Jack Eichel (painful disc) looks ahead to 2021-22, it’s up to the Jeff Skinner/Sam Reinhart/Victor Olofsson trio to come out of the basement with (some of) the Sabres’ points. While Reinhart and Olofsson are seen in most ESPN.com leagues, the same cannot be said for Skinner. Before you roll your eyes at the idea of contracting a below average winger, consider that he has scored two goals and provided two assists in four games since taking over the leadership role from Hall. Casey Mittelstadt, meanwhile, has five goals and two assists in his last eight games. That’s five more than the only goal scored in the middle of the second line at that point. Maybe, just maybe, the 2017 eight-combination pick – who apparently loves playing for interim coach Don Granato – finally understands.
Colorado Avalanche: As a result, Devan Dubnyk has become an incredibly important piece in the Avalanche’s cup. The former Sharks goalkeeper, who was initially brought in as a substitute, was immediately brought forward after No.1 Philip Grubauer tested positive for KOVID-19. Grubauer is expected to be out for at least two weeks. I’d expect at least three. That means Dubnyk will start most of Colorado’s final 13 games after Wednesday’s win over the Blues. Unless he stumbles badly and forces the club to resort to Jonas Johansson more often than they would like. Johansson has been solid since joining the Avs from Buffalo, but he is still very inexperienced. Dubnyk is going to lose. And despite playing for one of the league’s elite clubs, the veteran only appears in 13% of ESPN.com leagues. Almost any fantasy manager with keeper issues should at least be considered.
Dallas Stars A relatively quiet trade front – Explaining the waiving of defenseman Sami Vatanen, who had a small plus – Stars stick with what they have, do with what they can. Unfortunately, that now means that neither Alexander Radulov (ongoing surgery) nor Ben Bishop (knee), the veteran striker and goalkeeper, are suspended for the year. So Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Roop Hinz (if healthy) and Jason Robertson will make the most of the Stars’ 15 remaining games. While the top three are usually up, Robertson is not. The 21-year-old rookie has averaged nearly a point per game since early March – 10 goals, 13 assists in 24 games – and is quickly adding to his resume. He’s a real asset across the fantasy spectrum. Oh, and look out for the healthy debut of Tyler Seguin – it could be quick and useful.
Florida Panthers: According to Panthers reporter David Dwork, Nikita Gusev will make his Florida debut on the first line with center Alexander Barkov. There are worse positions to be in. Gusev scored 44 points in 66 games in his first NHL stint with the Devils before stumbling this season. After spending too many nights in the press box, the 28-year-old – a former successful producer in the CHL – is currently on the exemption list and will likely resume his pro career on this continent. Playing alongside Barkov should help. At the very least, Gusev will be an attractive free agent for Daily Fantasy in the near future. Watch him make it from Thursday in Tampa. Additional note: Former Glory Boy Sam Bennett – also worth a look – will play his first game for the Panthers on Saturday.
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New Jersey Devils: With Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and a few veteran defenders, there are still a few kids left to wear a New Jersey uniform in 2020-21. Up front, Jack Hughes and Nico Hisher were busy flanking the wings of their twenties. Hischier is the most interesting member of the young team, after winger Jesper Bratt. The 21-year-old scored in two consecutive games before being injured in late February. Frustrated by being absent for weeks at a time, he’s probably motivated to make up for lost time in an atmosphere of nonchalant competition caused by zero expectations. The Devils have 15 games left on their schedule, including five against Philadelphia. The Flyers are averaging 4.06 goals per game, but no team has been more generous – even close – to its opponents in the past month than the Flyers. There are still goals to be scored for the Devils in this late season month.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins don’t seem to be in a hurry to get Evgeni Malkin back in the game, which is reasonable. Asked about the timetable for Center’s return, general manager Ron Hextall suggested a return before the end of the regular season. So not next week. That means Pittsburgh rookie Jeff Carter will remain in the middle of the second line at least until late April. Competing with Jason Zucker at even strength and possibly Sidney Crosby at greater strength, Carter will score at his new club. If the 36-year-old’s numbers have dropped in recent years, his supporting cast in Los Angeles is at least partially responsible. Primarily available in ESPN.com leagues, a former 30+ goal scorer in a few seasons can serve as a late secret weapon in deeper leagues.
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