20 Fantasy Thoughts: Canadiens’ Slafkovsky starting to hit his stride

The Montreal Canadiens cruised to a 5-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Juraj Slafkovsky appears to be gaining more and more confidence.  

The Montreal Canadiens forward and former first-overall pick was already labeled a bust by many and even written off by some after a challenging rookie season. That’s inevitably going to happen when you’re that highly touted and only manage 10 points in 39 games in your first introduction to the NHL.  

This season, though, it’s a bit of a different story. Slafkovsky still isn’t lighting up the scoreboard by any means, but you can see consistent progress and strides. He’s up to 23 points and has really picked it up over the past month or so, scoring 16 points in 22 games. More recently, Slafkovsky has notched four goals in his past three games and four power-play points in his last six.  

Slafkovsky is still a long-term project and will probably pay more dividends to your fantasy squad later than sooner, but he’s making a case that he could be streamed in one-year leagues right now.   

There are always a few things I look for before adding a young player that is starting to pick it up. Are they getting good deployment, and can they hold onto that spot? Slafkovsky has settled in nicely with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki and has been playing on PP1. Those spots appear to be his for the foreseeable future. Next, does the coach trust them? Well, Slafkovsky is playing over four minutes more per night than he did as a rookie and has played below 17 minutes just once in well over a month. Finally, are they engaged in the game? Both Slafkovsky’s shot and hit volume are improving, as he’s totaled 10 shots in the past three games and 11 hits in his last six contests.   

If you’re expecting someone to make a massive impact on your roster, don’t add Slafkovsky. But if you are looking for someone that could provide short-term value in a deep league, Slafkovsky is definitely worth a pickup in the right situation. That’s a lot more than you could say about him a year ago.  

Slafkovsky has come a long way. 

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1. Raise your hand if you had MacKenzie Weegar leading the NHL in goals by a defenceman in mid-February? Weegar notched a hat trick Saturday to give him 15 goals on the season. He was probably more of an afterthought in the trade that brought Jonathan Huberdeau to Calgary, but Weegar has easily been the more valuable fantasy commodity this season.  

2. If you stashed Artturi Lehkonen during his injury, this is what you’ve been waiting for. Lehkonen has been bumped up to the top line with Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, as well as getting a shot on the top power play. This means Jonathan Drouin drops down, but he does remain on PP1, so he could be a hold for now. The Avs’ top six has been shuffled around all year, making it tough to count on streamers for more than a week or so. Maybe Lehkonen will finally lock that spot down.  

3. With Ivan Prosvetov being placed on waivers last week, Justus Annunen should get a shot at Colorado Avalanche backup duties. Alexandar Georgiev can’t continue on this pace and be fresh for the playoffs, so one would think Annunen should get a handful of games the rest of the way. Given how good the Avs are, if nothing else, Annunen should be a decent streaming option when he gets the call.

4. It’s hard to believe given how dominant Igor Shesterkin has been over the past few years that he’s now sporting a save percentage below .900. He’s still been decent for wins, but there’s no way you’re happy with Shesterkin considering he was on average the 15th overall pick in drafts. Many passed on an elite skater to grab Shesterkin and it’s just another cautionary tale of taking a goalie early.  

Perhaps more concerning is Jonathan Quick starting two games this week that weren’t in a back-to-back scenario. I don’t think Quick is a real long-term threat to Shesterkin’s value, but I could see him stealing an extra start here and there going forward. Quick has been excellent this year. 

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5. Jesse Puljujarvi signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, but I’d temper my expectations. Puljujarvi has never really had much fantasy value and he struggles to finish, so even if he gets a shot with someone like Evgeni Malkin, I’m not getting my hopes up. I know he’s a former top-five pick, though he’s had multiple runs with Connor McDavid and didn’t produce much. It’s hard to find a better spot than that.  

6. A small thing, but Nick Bonino having his contract terminated was interesting. I doubt he was on more than a handful of fantasy rosters, but he leads all forwards in blocked shots this season by a mile and he’s actually ahead of a number of high-profile defencemen in that category. Add in the fact that he wins faceoffs and if he ever put up a few more points, he could be an option in deep, multi-cat formats.  

7. There’s been lots of talk about John Tavares slowing down this season, though he’s probably a good buy-low candidate the rest of the way if that ship hasn’t already sailed in your league. I think at least some of his production issues were related to William Nylander going into a funk and the power play slowing down. Both of those issues are quickly improving, however. Tavares already has six points in four games now, including three power-play goals.  

8. Tristan Jarry is your new shutout leader in the NHL this season with six after blanking the Winnipeg Jets this week. If you have shutouts as a category in your league, Jarry has provided plenty of value to offset his drop in win totals, especially considering the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t as strong as they once were. Jarry still has a .916 save percentage on the season and remains a fine option when healthy.  

9. Things continue to look up if you have Alex Ovechkin. The Washington Capitals forward now has 15 points in his past 14 games. He also has 17 shots in his past four outings. Ovechkin’s trade value has never been higher if you want to go that route as we approach deadlines in a number of leagues. Or, if you don’t find the right deal, holding onto him doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as it once was.

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10. Finally, a little more substance to Evan Bouchard’s game Saturday night. He still has just two points in eight games, but Bouchard at least recorded five shots against the Los Angeles Kings. Prior to Saturday, Bouchard recorded one shot or less in six of seven outings. In that big game against Vegas earlier this week, Bouchard played more than 25 minutes and couldn’t even pick up one shot on goal. That’s concerning. There’s been far too many games recently where Bouchard has played big minutes but has had very little to show for it in the stat column. Thankfully, if you’re rostering Bouchard, there isn’t really a real threat on the Edmonton Oilers defence corps to bump him off the top power-play unit.  

11. Things aren’t going great for Warren Foegele, either. After five pointless games, he’s been bumped off the second line in favour of Corey Perry. Foegele was pretty consistent in that spot for about a month, so it’s unfortunate he didn’t get more of a run. If he doesn’t get moved back up there in the next game or two, I think Foegele is droppable. 

12. The NHL announced this week they’ve audited the hits statistics of every game this season and made some adjustments. There were a lot more hits handed out overall, which in theory could impact a number of past fantasy matchups. Even if they aren’t updated in your respective league, I’d say this is good news overall for fantasy hockey going forward.  

There’s been many times where I’ve considered adding a player on Sunday to try and win the hits category but have been hesitant to burn a move because of the randomness of how the stat is tabulated. I’ve literally watched games where one of my players delivered a hit on the forecheck let’s say, and it wasn’t counted. If hits are going to be tallied more accurately going forward, I think it’s going to add even more value to those players that hit more frequently.   

13. The player Patrick Roy may benefit the most is Mathew Barzal. The New York Islanders forward has played over 23 minutes in five of the seven games since Roy took over and has nine points. Roy is really leaning on him.  

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14. It can’t be overstated how good Petr Mrazek has played this season in a really tough situation. He’s had a .920 save percentage or better in seven of his past nine starts, which includes games against Dallas, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton. Mrazek is also doing all of this with almost no goal support. The Chicago Blackhawks have actually been shutout in three of Mrazek’s past five outings. It’s getting to the point where you could argue Mrazek is worthy of a full-time roster spot.

15. Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s just the players getting used to playing together, but Elias Pettersson has recorded just a single shot on goal in three games since Elias Lindholm joined the Vancouver Canucks. I’m sure that will change, though it’s important to remember there is a learning curve when a new player joins a very good team, even if that player is a high-end talent. Subtle things like where a player likes to go in the offensive zone or how they see the ice takes time to pick up on. Pettersson’s offensive production hasn’t really been suffering, so hopefully the shot volume gets back up to speed soon.  

16. The Winnipeg Jets are suddenly trying to get out of a slump. Before Saturday’s win, they were losers of five straight, having only scored four goals over that stretch, but it’s the goals allowed that are more intriguing from a fantasy perspective. After their crazy long run of only giving up three goals or less, Winnipeg allowed four goals three times during that losing streak. It doesn’t appear to be so daunting anymore to start a skater against the Jets. 

17. Horrible luck for Mikhail Sergachev. After being out since December, Sergachev went down this week in his first game back with an awful leg injury, and it seems unlikely he’ll be back during the fantasy season. Sergachev seemed on the cusp of overtaking Victor Hedman this season for top power-play time before being hit by injuries, but now Hedman is putting together a great rebound year. I’d say Sergachev will very much be a wild card next year in drafts.

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18. Is there a better line in hockey right now than Ivan Barbashev, Nicolas Roy and Jonathan Marchessault? They’ve combined for 36 points in their past eight games. I’ll be very curious to see what Vegas does with its lines when Eichel returns because it would be hard to break this group up. Roy remains widely available with C/RW eligibility.  

19. Only Arizona, New Jersey and Los Angeles play four times next week, so I might look at Jack McBain as an option for you as a streamer if he fits your league categories. McBain is great for faceoffs and hits, but suddenly finds himself on the Coyotes top line with Clayton Keller. If he could increase his offence a bit, he could be a decent short-term option.

You could also look at David Rittich, who is still widely available and appears to be wrestling the job away from Cam Talbot. He’s likely to get at least a couple of starts next week and possibly even as many as three. 

The Jets are one team that plays just twice, so I might look at moving on from Cole Perfetti if you’re in a one-year league. Perfetti has one point in 10 games and as mentioned, Winnipeg is struggling to score.  

20. Similar to Matthew Knies in Toronto, Luke Hughes is hitting a rookie wall. He’s managed just three points in 12 games and his shot volume is very low. That’s always a risk of taking a rookie in one-year leagues, as they will inevitably slow down at some point and have some cold stretches.

I also think with 31 points in 51 games, this makes Brock Faber the frontrunner for the Calder with all the big minutes he’s played. Connor Bedard would have to finish on an absolute tear when he returns from injury, which is entirely possible, to make this a two-player race.  

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