20 Fantasy Thoughts: Still loads of fantasy potential on Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Every Sunday during the regular season, we’ll share 20 Fantasy Thoughts from our writers at DobberHockey. These thoughts are curated from the past week’s “Daily Ramblings”.

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1. It’s hard to envision a team boasting the depth at centre to help out Montreal in a trade, but the Canadiens have scoring potential on the wing to shed. Max Pacioretty is a perennial 30-goal threat. Alex Galchenyuk has hit that mark as well. Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Paul Byron have all scored 20-plus goals in a season. Artturi Lehkonen scored 18 as a 21-year-old rookie and has, perhaps, the most lethal shot on the team. Nikita Scherbak is a 22-year-old who has 25 points in 20 AHL games this year.

That’s four lines worth of wingers who could potentially boast enough offence to be fantasy relevant. That entire list has underachieved, perhaps in part because of their lack of talent up the middle, but it also speaks to an overabundance of talent on the wings that could be leveraged if the right trade came up.

The point is that while this seems like a lost season for just about everyone on the Canadiens roster, there is untapped potential here. Maybe a trade shakes things loose for Galchenyuk or Pacioretty. Maybe if one of those two (or other veterans) get moved, we see Lehkonen flourish in a larger role. Perhaps they finally give Gallagher the minutes that reflect his talent as one of the top offensive producers on the team. For what it’s worth, I maintain that Pacioretty has got the potential to get hot enough to hit the 30-goal plateau once again.

2. Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche has never stood out offensively in his career, never reaching the magic 40-point mark that seems to mean universal ownership for a defenceman in fantasy leagues. But this is at least worth pointing out: he has 17 points in 32 games since the start of November when the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line was put together.

Maybe I should have acquired Johnson when someone offered him to me in mid-December for a player that I eventually had to drop. But at the time I couldn’t have forecasted Tyson Barrie’s injury just before Christmas. Here’s another stat for you: since Barrie’s injury, Johnson has seven points over his last 10 games (all even strength). In addition, EJ’s ice time is up nearly two minutes per game in January, some of which is power-play time. So, with Barrie possibly returning next week, Johnson could be back to his old role next week, which isn’t as fantasy friendly.

3. Do you want to know who the fantasy MVP is? According to Yahoo, it’s Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is owned in 45 per cent of the top 500 Yahoo public league teams. No one else is owned in more than 25 per cent of this collection of teams, so this is a remarkable number.

Unfortunately, with the Lightning’s recent three-game losing streak, Vasilevskiy has been sputtering. Going back to the last five games (two weeks), the netminder has posted a horrific 4.64 goals-against-average and .850 save percentage. He’s been fantasy’s most valuable goalie up to that point, so you’re obviously best to be patient unless you can acquire a proven stud in return. But this slide has to be at least somewhat concerning. The Bolts’ next two games are back-to-backs on Monday and Tuesday, so expect to see Louis Domingue for one of those games. Vasilevskiy is second in the NHL in minutes played, so it might be time for a little rest.

4. Islander Ryan Pulock’s line ended up as a goal, four assists with a plus-3 and four shots on goal on Saturday. He has the offensive upside to be a fantasy contributor, but getting onto the NHL team prior to this season has been a challenge. Now that he’s on the team, ice time has been a challenge, as he has averaged just 16 minutes and change. But his situation has improved recently with the injuries to Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan. He’s also been receiving second-unit power-play time, for what it’s worth.

5. By almost any objective measure, Vegas’ Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith are one of the top lines in the league. Marchessault, or JAM, was a favourite of Dobber’s for years, and when he finally got a chance with the Panthers, exploded for 30 goals. He’ll push, or surpass, 30 goals and 70 points this year. JAM has fit in well with his linemates and it shows both in his actual goals and expected goals. As long as he doesn’t get buried with lesser talent – which I can’t imagine happening – he’ll likely threaten 30 goals every year.

6. Kevin Shattenkirk’s loss to injury is a big blow for the Rangers and his fantasy owners. He hadn’t been superlative this year but it’s hard to find a waiver-wire replacement for a defenceman on pace for nine goals, 40 points, and 160-plus shots on goal. The assumption is that Ryan McDonagh will assume top PP duties for now and that this should open up a role for Tony DeAngelo, who was called up on Friday.

I understand that people will want Brady Skjei on the top PP unit, and he may at times, but Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault loves his veterans. Anyone who follows their lineup decisions on a day-to-day basis knows this. I’m just not sure AV turns the keys of the power play over to Skjei. It’s not to say he won’t earn some more ice time, I would just expect McDonagh to eat most of the prime man-advantage minutes.

7. It’s pretty clear that the Blues’ Carter Hutton is clawing away the starting gig from an inconsistent Jake Allen. I was able to snag Hutton in most of my leagues and don’t plan on dumping him until there is indication that he is getting less than a 50 per cent share in St. Louis. He has been too good to ignore.

That said, there is still reason for skepticism. Not skepticism in terms of “don’t pick him up”, but rather skepticism in terms of “don’t expect 30 starts the rest of the way”. I have referenced Hutton’s poor career numbers heading into the season on many occasions. His career save percentage is now at .914. Now that he is getting a starter’s workload, he’ll be under higher scrutiny, expectations, wear and tear. We’ll see how he handles all of that.

Any slippage is going to offer an opportunity for Allen to jump back into the driver’s seat. He carried St. Louis on a strong second half run when Mike Yeo took over last season. Plus, Allen has the big contract, which is always good for earning a few more chances.

8. The Sabres’ Kyle Okposo continues to trend upward. He has seven points in the last four games and 11 points in 10 games since Christmas. Five of those 11 points have come on the power play. Obviously, Okposo isn’t going to be a point-per-game guy the rest of the way but if the power play gets rolling, he could amass 30 in the final 36, which would have relevance in every league. No guarantees on that front but they should be better than they were in the first half.

9. Shea Theodore of the Golden Knights has been better since his lineup slot became permanent but we’re talking a 0.5-point-per-game pace. That’s good for a defenceman but is right on the borderline where you might not want to own him outside of hot streaks. He remains widely available, so if you could sell high on a guy like Nick Leddy, Charlie McAvoy or Will Butcher (to name a few), you’d have a replacement who would offer the same production, or close to it.

10. If you operate under the expectation that Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford may return, I would use this opportunity to try and buy low. Crawford is sixth in save percentage among goalies with at least 10 starts on the year at .929 and has consistently been one of the best. Among goalies with 50 starts over the past five years, he is tied for second at .922. I am loath to invest in goalies with injury concerns but there’s enough upside here that this could be worth it.

What would I move for Crawford? Not a healthy solution in goal but could you offer a solution at another position as a gambit to add another starter? That’s the approach I would try to take.

11. Tough break for Blue Jackets’ Sonny Milano (torn oblique, out 4-6 weeks), a young player who has done well in a limited role. Milano has only been skating 10:50 per game but has been effective in those minutes. He has scored 1.93 points-per-60 at 5-on-5, the bulk of that production coming from goals. Some of that is because of a goosed shooting percentage up at 22 per cent but these are still flashes of brilliance that portend to later success.

It will be interesting to see where Milano fits in when he returns. While he has been firmly buried in the bottom-six, John Tortorella has been adamant about finding offensive minutes for Milano, including consistent use on the second power play unit. Milano might need some AHL time upon returning and perhaps the Blue Jackets will have found other sources of secondary offence. That could just mean Milano continues to fly under the radar heading into next season.

All this said, Milano is behind Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand in terms of young Blue Jacket players waiting to break out.

12. Pens’ Matt Murray is out indefinitely following the passing of his father. Presumably, he will be back after the All-Star break but no one really knows in this unfortunate circumstance.

This does mean Tristan Jarry remains an appealing option for the coming weeks, and likely beyond. Jarry has flat out been better than Murray. In a tight battle for a playoff spot in the Metro, the Penguins may be forced to ride the hot hand. It’s something they have done before. And, of course, Murray has also dealt with many injuries, which only ramps up the utility of Jarry that much more.

13. Boston’s Torey Krug hasn’t been as prolific as you may have hoped but he is still on pace for 13 goals and 49 points despite having missed four games and having failed to get much out of his many power-play minutes. I’d look for Krug to crank it up a bit in the second half if his PP production kicks up.

It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out between Krug and Charlie McAvoy going forward. The situation is reminiscent of Gostisbehere/Provorov in Philadelphia. It’s clear that McAvoy is the better defenceman overall but Krug is entrenched as their power-play quarterback. He also has the fat contract that will earn him a longer leash. If Krug isn’t skating on the top PP unit, his minutes would likely dip below 20 per game. A salary of $5 million annually is a lot to pay for a D-man skating less than 20 minutes a night. McAvoy might have to wait until 2020-21 when Krug’s contract has run out before he gets those top unit PP minutes. Without those, McAvoy’s potential is capped around 40 points (his current pace has him hitting 45).

14. Nashville’s Juuse Saros is just eight per cent owned in Yahoo leagues, but as one of the league’s strongest backups with major upside, he needs to be owned in more leagues than that. Fantasy owners might be staying away because Saros had been demoted to the AHL while Pekka Rinne was starting for long stretches. However, recent trends show Saros starting about once every third game for the Predators, so you may be able to squeeze about one start per week out of him.

15. In terms of pure offensive upside, Anthony Beauvillier of the Islanders offers more than Andrew Ladd, although I wonder if he’s perfectly suited for a skilled line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. They do need some kind of puck retriever on that line. In any case, with those guys rolling, there’s some use to be had out of Beauvillier as a short-term option, as well as in daily fantasy.

16. We should probably discuss the fact that Josh Manson leads the Ducks in points among defenceman, despite the team boasting Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour. I like Manson’s game as a stay-at-home type who has a little more offensive spunk than you’d expect, but this is entirely out of left field. Manson’s 22 points already constitute a career high and he’s managed it without a single power-play point. This speaks to how ragtag the Ducks have been through the first half of the season.

I feel confident suggesting that Manson’s pace will slow in the second half. It would be at the extremes of performance if Manson hung on for a 40-point season. In fact, I’d bet against him eclipsing 35. Regardless, it’s an impressive showing.

Still, Manson’s play is making me completely reconsider my plans for him in my salary-cap league. Generally speaking, only the absolute best defencemen warrant keeping in this league once they get into the $3-million (or more) range. Manson’s new deal worth $4.1 million annually kicks in this summer, which has me expecting to have to trade him for a small return or drop him for nothing. But Manson is a beast in the peripheral categories. If he can consistently provide 30 points, he’ll be worth keeping around. It’s a good problem to have.

17. Jonathan Bernier has now won eight consecutive games, just one fewer than his team’s present winning streak. During his personal run, the Avalanche netminder has a 1.47 goals-against-average and .958 save percentage. I know the general rule is that a starter isn’t supposed to lose his job because of an injury but this recent run could mean that Bernier factors into the Colorado goaltending equation more even when Semyon Varlamov returns. I know Colorado has faith in Varlamov, given the fact that they didn’t protect Calvin Pickard during the expansion draft, but he has not posted a goals-against-average below 2.80 or a save percentage above .915 over the last three seasons.

18. Vancouver Canucks sensation Brock Boeser played 41 games last year, 49 the year prior and 57 before that. He’s now racked up 42 this season. So, should we be worried that he only has three points in his last eight? Not yet. He’s going to slow down in the second half. That almost always happens with rookies coming out of college, but it’s too soon right now.

19. Curious as to the logic behind the Blackhawks giving Alex DeBrincat 11 minutes of ice time every game of late. After his surge earlier on, I’d be giving him Patrick Kane minutes game in and game out, and I wouldn’t deviate from that even if he was pointless in 10 games and a minus-5. That’s how much leash I’d give him. You have another potential Kane here, why rein him in?

20. Goalies are indeed hard to project and they can go from crap value to top value within weeks other than the top six or seven regulars. So, best advice I have on that is to put your faith in the contract. Sometimes it doesn’t work – Ilya Bryzgalov the main example. But usually it does because coaches will play the hell out of the bigger money guy and the guy signed long term, even if he sucks. That’s why Aaron Dell can’t take over for Martin Jones, why Cam Ward won’t take down Scott Darling and why Cam Talbot (later Antti Raanta) couldn’t take down Henrik Lundqvist. That is also why Anders Nilsson didn’t take out Talbot that first year when Nilsson’s record was way better by early January. Smartest thing you can do is play the contract.

While I’m on the subject, the two backup goalies with the best chance of becoming a starter next year are David Rittich and Aaron Dell. And wouldn’t you know it? Both have expiring contracts.

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