Kevin Brown: Fellas, we're about two-thirds of the way through the NHL season so I think it's fair to call this time of year the "stretch run". In this week's Roundtable I would like to discuss the players you think will play integral roles in determining fantasy championships, with special attention paid to those who would have seemed unlikely candidates to make a difference earlier in the season. Go!
Ryan Dadoun: I think there's two ways of looking at that. You can highlight players that are having the best fantasy seasons for obvious reasons or you can focus on the guys that have exceeded expectations the most because of the favorable production to early season cost ratio. That being said, I think Jakub Voracek is a prime example of a player that falls a little bit into both camps. He certainly didn't come out of nowhere this season, but he has found another level and has been one of the league's top contributors as a result.
I realize he's slowed down a bit lately, but you're still talking about a guy with 19 goals, 61 points, and 55 penalty minutes in 58 games that was typically selected in the middle of the eighth round in standard leagues. If you've had him all season then he's been a big boost to your squad.
Michael Finewax: I think these types of players will be more apparent after the March 2nd trade deadline as certain players on bad teams (hello Toronto!) will be reinvigorated by getting into a playoff race.
That being said, I like the Kings for the rest of the regular season. Anze Kopitar has been a major disappointment this season. He has led the Kings in points in each of the last seven seasons, but that is not the case at this time as he currently trails Jeff Carter by two points. Kopitar has 43 points with a minus-four rating and has had only one hot streak all season when he had two goals and 13 assists in eight games between December 18th and January 3rd. Outside of that, he has only 10 goals and 18 assists in 46 games, which is very unKopitar-like. I think he will surprise many and turn it around because if he doesn't, the Kings are will have trouble making the playoffs after winning the Cup last season.
Corey Abbott: I talked about them last week on Waiver Wired, but they are worth mentioning here again. I like Ottawa rookies Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman for the rest of the season. The Senators won't get back into the playoff hunt, but they will play teams tough and they are expected to lean on their younger players. Stone has already seen his ice time increase dramatically and Hoffman could be next. Both of them skate in Ottawa's top-six forward group and they have been lighting up the scoresheet since the calender turned to 2015. Stone's 36 points rank him third among first-year skaters in scoring and Hoffman, who has 20 goals, is right behind him with 34.
They are barely owned in Yahoo leagues despite their success and definitely fit the criteria of players you would not have been looking at earlier in the season. Fantasy owners shouldn't just be looking at teams vying for playoff spots because the squads playing spoiler roles can be just as dangerous.
Kevin Brown: The Ottawa duo are exactly the kind of players I had in mind with this question since they’re barely on the radar of most fantasy players. We see players like this get hot over the final month of the season every year and it often serves to push teams to fantasy championships. I love the idea of scouring the rosters of the non-contenders and with this in mind, I could definitely see Sam Gagner providing value down the stretch. It’s nearly certain that Antoine Vermette will be traded prior to the NHL’s coming deadline, but Gagner figures to be the last man standing on a Coyotes club that has already lost Martin Hanzal for the remainder of the year and Mikkel Boedker for an extended period of time. After a slow start to his first campaign in the desert, Gagner quietly notched 16 points in 24 games through December and January and despite a slow month of February, could make for a decent addition the rest of the way.
Michael Finewax: If that is the type of player you are looking for, then I suggest poolies look at Adam Larsson of the Devils. He had been regarded as a bust since being drafted fourth overall in 2011 but the defenseman has finally come into his own since the Devils canned Peter DeBoer as coach and allowed Scott Stevens to coach up Larsson. Larsson has only two goals and 16 points in 41 games this season, but has been on fire of late with a goal and 11 assists in his last 19 games, including four assists in his last two contests.
He was very highly regarded in his draft year and got a lot of consideration to go number one overall so a lot of poolies gave up on him, but defensemen take a lot longer to make their mark in the NHL and Larsson is still only 22.
Kevin Brown: Yes, Larsson is exactly the kind of guy I’m referring to. There are no obvious road blocks in New Jersey, especially since offensive blueliner Eric Gelinas can’t stay out of his coach’s doghouse, whether that was DeBoer or the new braintrust that includes Stevens and Adam Oates. Another unheralded player I think could make a difference in deep leagues is the Stars’ Erik Cole. The veteran winger has been skating on the top line alongside Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn thanks to a vacancy created by Tyler Seguin’s injury and he has proven he still has the ability to finish a play if set up by his linemates. In the five games Dallas has played without its leading scorer, Cole has registered two goals, two assists and 12 shots on goal while averaging over two minutes of power play ice time per contest. The fantasy world hasn’t caught on yet since he’s still owned in just 7 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Ryan Dadoun: Similar to Larsson, who really benefited from a recent coaching change, Nail Yakupov is one of the players in Edmonton that has gotten a boost since Dallas Eakins' exit. He's got four goals and five assists in 11 games this month and the Oilers as a whole have been playing half-decent hockey lately. A lot of owners have long since soured on Yakupov, but those that have been willing to take another chance on him have certainly benefited recently.
Corey Abbott: Playing alongside John Tavares has transformed several players into excellent fantasy contributors and Josh Bailey has been fitting in nicely on the Islanders’ top line for a while now. The fantasy world was quick to embrace Anders Lee, and for good reason, but Bailey is still readily available in the majority of Yahoo leagues (owned in just 8%) even though he's been playing with Tavares longer. He has registered 17 points in his last 20 contests and he has 30 in 48 appearances this season. Bailey will also probably be the player who stays on the top line when Kyle Okposo is able to return from injury.
Michael Finewax: I agree that Bailey is a nice pickup. He was brought into the league at too young an age and I thought the Islanders ruined him by rushing him, but he is finally coming into his own.
I'm kind of surprised that Colin Wilson is still not owned in a majority of Yahoo pools (only 49 percent).Wilsonhas 19 goals, 39 points and is a plus-24 this season. He gets some power play time as he is eighth in ice time on the Predators and has chipped in with three goals and six points with the man-advantage. He's been seeing plenty of action of late with Mike Ribeiro and James Neal and although coaches tend to switch up the lines on a whim, that's not too shabby a duo to play with.
Ryan Dadoun: With regards to Colin Wilson not being owned in a majority of leagues, I think the problem is that he had so far to climb. I mentioned him in a Waiver Wired report back on December 28th and at the time he was only owned in 4% of Yahoo leagues, so he has seen a big jump in the last month and a half and will likely continue to see his ownership percentage climb in the weeks to come.
Can I throw out a team worth keeping an eye on? The Anaheim Ducks. Their recent struggles led to coach Bruce Boudreau splitting up Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and that seems to have paid off as Anaheim has won back-to-back games. I remain very skeptical about the chances of Getzlaf and Perry staying separated in the long-term, but then again there really isn't much of a long-term anymore when discussing this season. But the point is, splitting them up completing changes the Ducks' dynamic form a fantasy perspective. Suddenly Emerson Etem is in the enviable position of playing alongside Ryan Kesler and Perry while Kyle Palmieri has moved from the third line to top line with Getzlaf. If you're looking for the bargain bin player that could tip the scales in your favor in the final weeks of the season; look at Etem, look at Palmieri, and pay attention to what Boudreau does next.
Corey Abbott: It seems like the Nashville Predators as a whole still have some climbing to do. How else can you explain the meager ownership numbers of Craig Smith (31%) and Mike Fisher (29%)? I understand that Fisher missed a sizable chunk of the beginning of the season because of an Achilles injury, but he's been productive since his returned as Nashville's second-line center. He's averaged 0.71 points per game this season. Fisher also contributes in hits and faceoffs. I've been pushing him in Waiver Wired for weeks.
Smith has been a versatile producer as well, while shuffling between the first and second lines of the Predators. He had 52 points a year ago and he has an outside chance of reaching that mark again this campaign.
Kevin Brown: The idea that poolies have a large-market bias, whether is conscious or not, is one that I’ve been pushing for some time in my weekly Fantasy Nuggets piece since I always seem to find value with players located in Nashville, Phoenix and Florida, to name just three. I also like Ryan’s suggestion that Anaheim players who get a shot at playing alongside Getzlaf and/or Perry stand a great chance of making some real noise the rest of the way, although if I were looking at the Ducks’ secondary options I would be focusing on Patrick Maroon more than any of the guys you offered.
An interesting goaltender that hasn’t been mentioned here yet is Andrew Hammond of the Senators, who has stepped into the number one gig due to injuries suffered by Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson. I won’t pretend that Ottawa is a powerhouse of any sorts, but a chance at regular playing time has seen lesser goalies put forth a solid couple of weeks and have led many a team to a fantasy title along the way.