20 Fantasy Thoughts: Streaky James Neal a classic sell-high candidate

Edmonton Oilers' James Neal (18) celebrates a goal during third period NHL action against the Los Angeles Kings, in Edmonton, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Jason Franson/CP)

It’s become a Sunday staple at Sportsnet. On a weekly basis, I’ll submit my 20 Fantasy Thoughts curated from the latest happenings in the NHL world. From injuries to demotions to trades and everything in between, if there’s a fantasy impact, you’ll know about it. The goal is to provide you with the proper insight, analysis and opinion needed to help build the strongest fantasy roster possible.

Memo to all currently disgruntled fantasy owners out there: take another sip of that pumpkin spice latte and breathe. If you’re happy with your offence but find yourself wanting way more in the crease, you’re not alone.

There’s plenty to be thankful for this time of year in the NHL world, but goaltending is not one of them. So far this season, it’s the shooters that are feasting. This is my yearly reminder that it’s way too early to jump to conclusions and make brash decisions.

For now, just enjoy the offensive ride:

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1. Yes, to an extent, I do think that James Neal’s hot start with the Oilers is the real deal. And by that, I mean a return to career norms. As evident early on (5 PPP), a lot of his production will come via the power play where he’ll get plenty of exposure to the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Be mindful that Neal is notorious for being streaky. Just have a peak at his time in Vegas for proof. Realistically, the 32-year-old should be viewed as a classic sell-high candidate. Deal away.

2. If you asked me to pick a side, I’m a bigger believer in what Anthony Mantha is doing in Detroit to start the year. In 67 contests last season, the 26-year-old potted 25 goals and added 23 assists for 48 points. Prorate that to a full 82-game slate and I’d say he’s pretty much a shoo-in for at least a 30/30 season barring anything unforeseen, of course. I’m high on the Mantha/Larkin/Bertuzzi line in general. Lots of value to be had here.

3. Back up the brinks truck for Patrik Laine. Can you believe that he’s already almost one-quarter of the way to last year’s point total (50)? He’s just six games in. With a brand-new bridge contract in tow, the Finnish sniper looks like a new man so far this season. The Laine-Scheifele-Wheeler trio has looked tremendous.

4. Staying with Winnipeg, it doesn’t sound like Dustin Byfuglien will make his decision to either return or retire anytime soon. Drop him.

5. I love me some contract years. Unsurprisingly, given their financial stakes, Nashville’s Mikael Granlund and Roman Josi as well as Florida’s Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov are off to solid starts. Keep tabs on upcoming free agents.

6. Take a flier on Corey Perry. At this juncture in his career, the former Duck-turned-Star shouldn’t be a permanent fixture on your fantasy roster. Depending on whom he’s playing with, the 34-year-old is a perfect plug-and-play option.

7. Still searching for an Evgeni Malkin replacement? Internal options in Pittsburgh are bleak but if you’re desperate, try Jared McCann out. Personally, I’d hit the waiver wire – Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Drouin and Cody Glass could all fit the bill.

8. Speaking of rookies, my dark-horse Calder candidate Victor Olofsson is off to a blazing start in Buffalo, especially with the man-advantage. As long as the top-flight minutes continue, the 24-year-old late bloomer deserves a spot on your roster. Get him!

9. To a lesser extent, keep a keen eye on Hawks freshman Alex Nylander. He had a great training camp and also scored in Chicago’s regular-season opener. That said, he went from the first line to the press box on Saturday night in no-time. Monitor that situation.

10. Be patient when it comes to ownership of this year’s first- and second-overall picks – Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Just go watch a clip of the latter’s first NHL goal on Saturday afternoon versus Edmonton for assurances. Remember that it’s a long season and the numbers will come. They’ll find their way.

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11. Meantime in Hollywood, it appears Ilya Kovalchuk has discovered the fountain of youth. Honestly, what year are we in? In Todd McLellan’s revamped run-and-gun offence, the 36-year-old has two goals and six points in four games to kick things off. Ride the hot hand.

12. In search of blue-line help? There are plenty of affordable options out there right now: Kevin Shattenkirk, Jake Gardiner, Jaccob Slavin, Neil Pionk and Filip Hronek all have my vote of approval.

13. From a fantasy perspective, I like what I see so far from Ivan Provorov under Alain Vigneault in Philadelphia. The 22-year-old could be primed for an offensive breakout, extracting some serious value from that six-year, $40.5 extension he recently inked.

Tough news for Shayne Gostisbehere enthusiasts. Have an eye.

14. Carolina winning five of six to start the season isn’t the surprising part, it’s more so how those Bunch of Jerks are doing it. How about this? The Canes have potted 23 goals; 12 different players have scored. Weirdly enough, Sebastian Aho has just once. It’s early.

15. Washington’s blue-chip goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov is quickly becoming a prolific streamer candidate. After beating out Pheonix Copley for the backup job, the 2015 first rounder has outplayed Braden Holtby so far. In two starts – both wins – Samsonov has surrendered just two goals, posting a .961 save-percentage. Not a bad start to a career.

16. If needed, traditionally, I like to acquire a star netminder in October. You’ll get tremendous value, especially from impatient and irritated fantasy owners. Capitalize on frustration.

There are numerous goaltending situations league-wide to keep your eye on right now.

In Edmonton, the Oilers have stayed consistent with their timeshare plan for Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. I’d give the edge right now to the latter.

Down the road in Calgary, David Rittich has carried the load thus far, but don’t sleep on Cam Talbot.

Meanwhile in Chicago, Robin Lehner looked good in his Blackhawks debut Saturday night. That battle with Cory Crawford for playing time could go on all season long.

17. This inauspicious start for San Jose is intriguing on many fantasy fronts, especially in net. Martin Jones has struggled and that’s probably an understatement. In three outings, the 29-year-old has notched a putrid 4.55 goals-against to go along with a heinous .854 save-percentage.

Utter speculation on my part but I feel like the door is wide open for Aaron Dell to steal that starting job.

18. Over in Glendale, Darcy Kuemper’s steady start should put the heat on Antti Raanta. Assuming health is fully intact for both, I’d wager this becomes more of a timeshare situation. I expect the Coyotes to finally take another step in the right direction this season.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

19. Here’s some useful information that definitely could come in handy with respect to the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool.

Oct. 14-20 features 51 games:

Monday: 7 Games

Tuesday: 7 Games

Wednesday: 6 Games

Thursday: 9 Games

Friday: 6 Games

Saturday: 11 Games

Sunday: 5 Games

20. Ten teams will play a week-high four times (ANA, BUF, CGY, COL, DAL, EDM, MIN, MTL, VAN & WSH). San Jose is the team to stay away from – they have just one game.

Take advantage of the schedule:

Anaheim Ducks

Mon (@BOS), Wed (BUF), Fri (CAR), Sun (CGY)

Waiver Looks: Ryan Getzlaf (27%), Ondrej Kase (14%)

SN Fantasy Pool: John Gibson (3), Rickard Rakell (2), Ryan Getzlaf (2)

Edmonton Oilers

Mon (@CHI), Wed (PHI), Fri (DET), Sun (@WPG)

Waiver Looks: Mikko Koskinen (18%), Zack Kassian (17%)

SN Fantasy Pool: Connor McDavid (4), Mikko Koskinen (3), James Neal (1)

Washington Capitals

Mon (COL), Wed (TOR), Fri (NYR), Sun (@CHI)

Waiver Looks: Jakub Vrana (20%), Ilya Samsonov (12%)

SN Fantasy Pool: Braden Holtby (4), Alex Ovechkin (3), Jakub Vrana (1)

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