With all NHL teams firmly back in action, the playoff picture has become increasingly important to monitor.
The division that has really caught my attention over the past seven days is the West Division. Entering the season, I expected the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues to be locked into the top three seeds while the rest of the teams jockeyed for fourth. Based on point percentages, the Blues are currently sixth while the Minnesota Wild and the shockingly competitive Los Angeles Kings have joined Vegas and Colorado. It’s worth noting the Blues have dealt with a number of injuries, but with just 56 games on the schedule, the team doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to figure things out. It’s the play of the Wild, however, that has turned me into a believer.
With that, here are my 10 fantasy hockey takeaways from the week that was.
1 - Wild’s second line is tearing it up
No, you likely can’t add Kirill Kaprizov (66% rostered on Yahoo) in your fantasy hockey league, but his linemates, Mats Zuccarello (29%) and Victor Rask (2%), are readily available in most.
The trio has been lighting it up for the Minnesota Wild in the aftermath of the team's COVID-19 outbreak. In the five games the team has played since returning to action, the unit has combined for 20 points. It’s worth noting that the line has been extremely effective despite recording just 22 shots during this stretch. Don't be concerned about the low shot volume, however, as the impact these three players make on a nightly basis is impossible to ignore.
Kaprizov is already a star, and he’s elevating the game of Zuccarello and Rask. If you can scoop up any member of this line, you should. The Wild play four games next week.
2 - LW Chris Kreider (56% rostered on Yahoo) could see PP production spike with Artemi Panarin out
When Artemi Panarin is in the New York Rangers lineup, the team’s power-play objective is simple: get the puck to No. 10 and let him create. Panarin’s seven power-play points still lead the club and demonstrate just how important he is. With the three-time 30-goal scorer out of the lineup, the Rangers made some alterations to the power play by focusing on working the puck towards the net. It paid off in New York's 4-3 loss to Philadelphia Wednesday night.
Both of Chris Kreider’s man-advantage markers were the result of his net-front presence. New York’s power play has been a source of concern this season as it currently ranks 26th in the NHL with a 14.9 percent success rate. Against Philadelphia, the special teams unit went 2-for-5, showing some improvement. Kreider is available in 44% of Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues, which seems like too many. He has been a solid provider of hits, shots, goals and he’s likely due to see an increase in assists as he has just one helper on the year. He’s a priority add if he’s available in your league.
3 - RW Drake Batherson (15% rostered on Yahoo), LW Tim Stutzle (22%) finding footing on Sens’ third line
Earlier in the season, the Ottawa Senators elected to ice a youthful first line that featured Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Drake Batherson. After some mixed results, head coach D.J. Smith shuffled the forward groupings. While Tkachuk and Norris remained on the top unit, Batherson was demoted to third-line duties with Derek Stepan and Tim Stutzle. Over the last four games, the shakeup has helped both Stutzle and Batherson offensively. The two youngsters have combined for 10 points during this stretch with Batherson currently riding a four-game goal streak.
A major factor to their success has been the line’s deployment. Since Feb. 18, Batherson has an 81.82 offensive zone start percentage and Stutzle is sitting at 72.73 percent, according to Natural Stat Trick. Batherson, no longer pitted against the opposing team’s top trio, has benefitted from being placed in an offense-first situation. The Sens play four games this upcoming week, making both players solid additions in your fantasy hockey league.
4 - Sell high on RW Dustin Brown (68% rostered on Yahoo)
Los Angeles Kings alternate captain Dustin Brown was an afterthought to most in fantasy hockey drafts. Those who have since added the veteran forward have been rewarded as the 36-year-old, much like his team, has been a pleasant surprise. Brown has recorded 11 goals and 17 points this year, but he’s done it at a rate that isn’t sustainable.
The Ithaca, New York, native owns a robust 28.9 shooting percentage, a number that doesn’t even remotely resemble his career shooting percentage of 9.9. His all-strengths ixG this season is 5.03, which is much lower than his total of 11 markers. Over the past three seasons, Brown has outperformed his ixG by just three goals per year, which is another indicator that his current pace will be hard to maintain.
5 - G Kaapo Kahkonen (40% rostered on Yahoo) is for real
I promise this blog isn’t a paid advertisement by the Minnesota Wild.
Kaapo Kahkonen has been stellar for his team and he’s still available in 60 percent of Yahoo fantasy hockey leagues. In his five starts during the month of February, the Finnish netminder owns an impressive .934 save percentage and a 4-1 record. His save percentage above expected is 0.114, according to MoneyPuck, a solid mark which places him ahead of goalies like Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington.
Teammate Cam Talbot is back after missing time due to COVID-19 protocol, but Kahkonen will continue to see a solid number of starts. The Wild have one of the best defensive units in the NHL, which will only help Kahkonen moving forward. Everything is in place for the 24-year-old to continue his excellent play.
6 - Only a matter of time before Devils’ second line really takes off
This past week, the New Jersey Devils welcomed back Nico Hischier (28% rostered on Yahoo) by naming him the club’s 12th captain. It’s been a fairly quiet return to the lineup for the 22-year-old, but that should’ve been expected as he just finished rehabbing from a broken fibula. In his last outing, Hischier logged 18:40 of ice time, put four shots on net and potted a goal against the Buffalo Sabres. With four games under his belt, Hischier seems to be getting closer to 100 percent, which is why fantasy hockey managers should be proactive and add the Swiss sensation.
If you play in deeper leagues, his linemates — Pavel Zacha (10%) and Jesper Bratt (2%) — aren’t bad pickups. As noted by Yahoo Sports’ Scott Pianowski, Zacha is a high first-round pick who may be finally figuring it out in the NHL. The 23-year-old is currently on an eight-game point streak and has posted three goals and seven assists during this stretch. Bratt has six points in his last seven games with just a 4.0 shooting percentage this season, a mark much lower than his career number of 12.0 percent. New Jersey plays six games in the next nine days.
7 - The C Jack Eichel (99% rostered on Yahoo) saga has a plot twist
Last week I wrote about how fantasy managers should try to buy low on Jack Eichel in their fantasy hockey leagues. Since then, a lot has happened to the Sabres captain and the whole hockey world is waiting to see what comes next.
Earlier this week, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet described Eichel as “restless” after the Sabres missed the playoffs last year despite the 2015 second overall pick taking a massive step forward in his development. On Thursday night, Eichel was a last-minute scratch due to a lower-body injury. The injury even caught head coach Ralph Krueger off guard. With the latest news, it’s probably best for fantasy managers to stand down from trading for Eichel until more details are released. Buffalo has been a mess this season, and the news only seems to be getting worse.
8 - LW Nick Ritchie (36% rostered on Yahoo) continues to find the scoresheet
Nick Ritchie has been extremely consistent, as the Boston Bruins winger has recorded seven goals and 14 points in 17 games this season. He’s been a major contributor on the man advantage as his nine power-play points are tied with Patrice Bergeron for the most on the team, while his 24 hits are third among all Boston forwards.
Fantasy managers shouldn’t worry that the 2014 10th overall pick is just a product of an elite Bruins power play, as his 5-on-5 numbers have been excellent this year. His 15 high-danger scoring chances for at 5-on-5 are first on the team and his 5-on-5 individual expected goals for (ixG) mark of 2.87 is second on the squad. The power forward has elevated his game this year and should be rostered in a higher number of fantasy hockey leagues.
9 - C Dylan Larkin (74% rostered on Yahoo) is a nice buy-low target
Dylan Larkin has been a shooting machine for the Detroit Red Wings this season, but despite firing 37 shots on goal across 12 games this month, the team’s captain has zero markers to show for it. His goal-scoring drought has plummeted his shooting percentage to 5.6, which is noticeably lower than his career number of 9.2 percent. All of this suggests that Larkin is a nice player to target in your fantasy hockey league.
Aside from high shot volumes and a potential goal-scoring correction, Larkin is also an elite faceoff man. His 205 draws won this season are the seventh most of any player in the NHL. If your team can afford the inevitable plus-minus hit that comes with acquiring any Red Wings player, send over an offer for Larkin.
10 - G Cal Petersen (26% rostered on Yahoo) has been excellent
Calvin Petersen appears to be the heir to the throne between the pipes for the Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Quick hasn’t been consistent this season, which has opened the door for Petersen. The 2013 fifth-round pick owns a sparkling .931 SV% and an equally impressive 0.737 save percentage above expected, which is the sixth-best mark of any netminder.
Available in more than 70 percent of Yahoo leagues, Petersen is a great waiver wire target if you’ve struggled between the pipes in fantasy.
More from Yahoo Sports: