Evan Berofsky, RotoWire Hockey Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports
We’re coming down to the final stretch of the regular season. And that means it’s time to pay close attention to your fantasy prospects. Every move counts, whether you’re involved in a head-to-head playoff run or crunching numbers to gain/not lose category points in rotisserie formats.
Your league’s trade deadline may have passed long ago, but that doesn’t mean you’re done making transactions. This is the time of year when titles are clinched, so it’s important to stay active and grab the players who will put you over the top – or at least prevent others from getting them first. Even if you occupy a lower place in the standings, you should still operate as normal, since the pickup you make or the player you start/sit may end up messing with the contenders.
While a few of the following targets may only prove helpful in one category, most should be able to contribute in multiple areas. And the good news is all are available in at least 50 percent of Yahoo leagues:
Nick Bjugstad, F, Florida
Having been drafted 19th overall in 2010, it was believed Bjugstad would eventually become a top-level center. Unfortunately, injuries hindered his development and the resulting scoring totals proved underwhelming – although he led the Panthers in 2013-14 with a “whopping” 38 points. However, this year is different. The Minnesotan has appeared in all 69 contests and looks like a natural alongside Aleksander Barkov since joining forces in December. Bjugstad also operates as the pivot on the Panthers’ second power-play unit, where he’s notched six assists. Adding a top-six forward boasting a 42-point stat line usually helps, especially one from a team with the most remaining games (13) on its schedule.
Christopher Gibson, G, NY Islanders
The Isles’ demise this season can mainly be attributed to their horrendous defense. Not only do they sit last in the league in GAA (3.54), but they come in 0.25 goals behind Ottawa’s 30th-ranked defense (translation: that’s bad). So, naturally, I’m recommending one of their goaltenders. But here’s the thing: Jaroslav Halak (3.28 GAA, .906 save percentage) is well past his due date and Thomas Greiss (3.84 GAA, .891 SV%) hasn’t impressed. Gibson’s small sample size (a 50-save win and two overtime defeats before being shellacked by Washington) has earned him additional starts. And the Islanders’ offense is often potent enough to counteract the mess at the other end and earn a few Ws, so the 25-year old minor-league journeyman could end up benefiting in that department.
Tomas Hertl, F, San Jose
Beyond an impressive debut as a 19-year old (15 goals and 10 assists in only 35 contests), Hertl hasn’t lived up to his pedigree. He peaked in 2015-16 with 46 points in 81 outings, but that’s mildly notable for someone who was selected as a first-round pick. Fast forward to this season, and Hertl has found new life on the left side of Logan Couture to the tune of four goals and three assists in his last three games. The Czech may not be a physical producer, but he’s proved himself a key contributor on both special-teams units – including a career-high 11 power-play points. Get him now.
Brandon Montour, D, Anaheim
Due to a couple early blue-line injuries, Montour secured a prominent role and enjoyed a quick start to the season (seven points in his first 10 outings). And thanks to the exodus of Sami Vatanen (see below), the Brantford native has been able to maintain a decent pace. Since being promoted to the top pairing last month, Montour has seen his average ice time increase by over three minutes. The young gun also features on the point with Cam Fowler for Anaheim’s top power play, where he’s racked up 12 points – including goals in two of his last three.
Sam Reinhart, F, Buffalo
The Sabres may have booked their April tee times months ago, but some of their skaters have at least shown some life. One of them would be Reinhart, who — like Bjugstad — has succeeded after switching from center to wing. His first two campaigns – at 42 and 47 points, respectively – could best be described as decent, but not outstanding. And while Buffalo has once again sunk to the bottom of the Eastern standings, Reinhart and his compatriots are showing their fans how exciting the future can be. Since settling in to his new role, the second pick from 2014 has looked outstanding by netting 29 points in his last 27 with 10 of those coming on the man advantage.
Sami Vatanen, D, New Jersey
Prospects are positive in Jersey, and that’s mainly due to a solid back end. Will Butcher may have stolen the early headlines, but Vatanen has swooped in from the West Coast and claimed #1 blue-line honors. The Finn went scoreless in his first eight after arriving from Anaheim but has tallied 27 points in his last 40 contests. And over the last month, Vatanen ranks seventh among fantasy defensemen in standard Yahoo! scoring. So why is his ownership still relatively low? While premier D options aren’t plentiful, many may be turned off by the lingering stigma surrounding the Devils thanks to a historically anemic attack. But now in the ATH (After Taylor Hall) Era, it’s once again safe to select skaters from the Garden State.
Mika Zibanejad, F, NY Rangers
Zibanejad may have endured his share of injuries over the years, but he’s now healthy and is leading a retooled Rangers forward corps. In fact, the Swede has gone off for seven goals, four assists, 29 shots on goal, and a plus-8 over his last eight appearances while seeing almost two-and-a-half minutes of power-play ice time. Even with the Blueshirts playing for next season, Zibanejad will continue his first-line duties and serve as an example for the many new faces up front.
(Also to consider: Charlie Coyle, F, Minnesota; Alexandar Georgiev, G, NY Rangers; Nate Schmidt, D, Vegas; Alexander Wennberg, F, Columbus; Justin Williams, F, Carolina; Tom Wilson, F, Washington; Nikita Zadorov, D, Colorado).