Fantasy Hockey waiver wire still offers plenty of help at crucial time

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/5367/" data-ylk="slk:Mika Zibanejad">Mika Zibanejad</a> is positioned to succeed in a top offensive role with the Rangers. (Getty Images)
Mika Zibanejad is positioned to succeed in a top offensive role with the Rangers. (Getty Images)

By Neil Parker, RotoWire Hockey Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports

Two weeks left in the season, and the NHL schedule is packed with games.

Being aggressive at this stage of the year can make a huge difference, and with plenty of playoff teams being cautious with injured players and eliminated clubs often turning to youngsters, there’s sneaky upside on the waiver wire.

It’s also the time of year when injured players are ruled out for the remainder of the season, so keeping an eye on depth-chart promotions is important. Keeping tabs on starting goaltenders is also as critical as ever because there are often unexpected timeshares for various reasons.

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Here’s the schedule for the next scoring period, March 26-April 1:

Four games: Coyotes, Bruins, Hurricanes, Avalanche, Red Wings, Panthers, Predators, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Sharks, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Golden Knights, Capitals

All other teams play three games.

Remember to keep an eye on who is cut in your leagues because potential upgrades come in all forms. Also, note the players previously covered in this space listed below this week’s recommendations.

(Yahoo ownership rates as of March 22.)

FORWARDS

Mika Zibanejad, NYR (44 percent): Scorching hot, Zibanejad has recorded six goals, three assists and 22 shots through his past five games. The Swede has flashed tremendous upside since entering the league, and he’s positioned to succeed in a top offensive role. The Rangers have nothing to play for at this stage of the season, so their recent stretch of high-scoring games could easily continue.

Ryan Donato, BOS (6 percent): With two goals, two assists and two power-play points through the first two games of his career, Donato has put the league and fantasy owners on notice. Where he fits into the lineup once the Bruins are at full health is still up in the air, but for the time being, the 21-year-old forward is a potential add in all settings. He collected 47 goals and 36 assists through 65 games with Harvard the past two seasons, after all.

Nino Niederreiter, MIN (31 percent): While recording two goals and four assists through his past eight games is nothing to write home about, Niederreiter is closing in on his fourth consecutive 20-goal campaign and still has room for offensive improvement. His 2.77 points per 60 minutes paced the Wild last season, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see an uptick to this year’s 2.14 mark.

Boone Jenner, CLM (21 percent): Positive offensive regression was a long time coming for Jenner after he posted a 6.8 shooting percentage from the beginning of last season through the first 60 contests of this year. He’s now collected five goals and three assists through his past six outings, and the offensive outbreak aligns with his assignment next to Alexander Wennberg and Thomas Vanek. It’s important to note that Jenner also tilts the scales in the peripheral categories.

Ty Rattie, EDM (1 percent): With nothing left to prove outside the NHL, Rattie has landed a cushy gig on the No. 1 line with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The 26-year-old winger has collected two goals and an assist through three games atop the depth chart, and as long as he remains with his current linemates, Rattie’s in position to succeed and worth a look in most settings.

Sam Bennett, CGY (6 percent): It’s rare to see someone with a six-game point drought land in this space, but Bennett’s promotion to the No. 1 line alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau warrants attention. His 10-hit outing against the Ducks on Wednesday provided some category help, and with Monahan and Gaudreau combining for 4.55 goals per 60 minutes, there’s offensive upside for Bennett moving forward.

Oskar Lindblom, PHI (1 percent): After a 47-point showing in the SHL last season, Lindblom recorded a respectable 34 points — 16 goals — through 54 games in the AHL before being permanently promoted to Philly. The 21-year-old winger is now skating on an encouraging line with Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek, and the Swede has marked the scoresheet in two of his past three games.

Andreas Johnsson, TOR (1 percent): While definitely more of a deep-league candidate, Johnsson logged a season-high 15:40 of ice time (2:04 with the man advantage) against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The Maple Leafs could continue to give him a legitimate chance to prove himself over the final weeks of the season, and the 23-year-old winger piled up 26 goals and 28 assists through 54 AHL games before being promoted to the highest level last week.

DEFENSE

Nikita Zadorov, COL (31 percent): While the offensive numbers don’t jump off the page, Zadorov has rounded into a solid cross-category contributor over the past month. He’s collected a respectable five points with 32 PIM, 46 hits and an incredible plus-18 rating through 12 contests. In settings including those peripheral statistics, the 22-year-old Russian can clearly provide a nice boost. Just keep in mind that he’s unlikely to help much in the goal or assist columns.

Vince Dunn, STL (2 percent): After exploding for four points during Sunday’s game against Chicago, the rookie has now collected two goals and 13 assists through his past 27 contests. Dunn has started 61.6 percent of his five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone this season, and he’s averaged 2:35 of power-play time per game during the noted 27-game stretch. His game-to-game inconsistency is likely to continue, but Dunn’s increased role should enable him to provide serviceable offensive numbers for deep settings.

Ryan Pulock, NYI (7 percent): The 2013 first-round selection has quietly been a serviceable fantasy asset for most of the season because of his high shot volume and consistent contributions in the hit and blocked-shot columns. Additionally, Pulock has been particularly valuable of late with a four-game point streak consisting of a goal, five assists and 12 shots while averaging 2:10 of power-play time per contest.

Neal Pionk, NYR (3 percent): With 10 helpers through his past 10 games, the 22-year-old blue-liner is worth a look in most settings. Pionk quarterbacked the No. 1 power-play unit last time out, and he’s proven to be a strong offensive contributor at the lower levels. While it wouldn’t be shocking if his scoring numbers faded down the stretch, his current role and form shouldn’t be ignored in deeper settings.

Dylan DeMelo, SAN (1 percent): Despite averaging just 15:35 of ice time through his past nine games, DeMelo has recorded 10 assists. His offensive track record in the minor leagues suggests there’s some sustainability in his recent scoring surge, but it’ll be difficult. Still, the 24-year-old defenseman can endure some negative regression and continue to provide serviceable numbers in deep settings.

GOALIES

Kari Lehtonen, DAL (30 percent): Back in the driver’s seat with Ben Bishop (knee) likely out until April, the Stars’ playoff hopes rest on Lehtonen’s shoulders. With four of Dallas’ next five games at home, Lehtonen should be in a favorable position to post respectable numbers for the immediate future. Dallas is 24-10-3 at home, and even with his recent struggles, Lehtonen’s .912 save percentage and 2.52 GAA for the campaign aren’t crippling marks in this season’s goalie pool.

Philipp Grubauer, WAS (35 percent): Braden Holtby has won consecutive starts, and Grubauer surrendered five goals in a losing effort last time out, so the timeshare in the Washington crease is likely to remain a little unpredictable. However, considering the Capitals are atop the Metropolitan Division, Grubauer is a solid option in most matchups. He should start a few more games through the end of the season, too.

Curtis McElhinney, TOR (22 percent): The Toronto backup has been impressive all season with a .935 save percentage and 2.09 GAA, and keeping Frederik Andersen healthy and in top form entering the playoffs will be a priority for the Maple Leafs. McElhinney should receive an extra start or two over the next two weeks, and there are plenty of favorable matchups on the upcoming schedule.

Malcolm Subban, VGK (22 percent): With Marc-Andre Fleury out for the immediate future with an undisclosed injury, Subban projects to start at least the next two games against San Jose and Colorado. The Golden Knights continue to win, so with his workload likely to increase through the end of the season, Subban is a strong add in most settings.

Players to consider from past columns: Matt Duchene, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nick Bjugstad, Kevin Fiala, Kyle Connor, Sam Reinhart, Derek Stepan, Tom Wilson, Zach Parise, Travis Konecny, Max Domi, Alexander Wennberg, Riley Nash, Craig Smith, Charlie Coyle, Timo Meier, Kevin Hayes, Sami Vatanen, Matt Niskanen, Brandon Montour, Alexander Edler, Casey DeSmith, Juuse Saros, Alexandar Georgiev.

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