20 Fantasy Thoughts: Erik Karlsson turning back the clock with torrid start

Every once in a while, you see a stat that makes you do a double take.

That’s what happened to me the other day when I saw the Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t scored a power-play goal this season. Not one. We’re nine games into a year that started with so much promise for Columbus, but it’s quickly becoming a nightmare. All the excitement of signing Johnny Gaudreau this summer is quickly becoming a distant memory, as the Blue Jackets look completely out of sorts.

Gaudreau, himself, has been fine, but it hasn’t gone nearly as well for others. Elvis Merzlikins has an .863 save percentage after a strong season in 2021-22, Patrik Laine has already missed significant time with an injury, and no other skater besides Gaudreau has more than five points.

As talented as Gaudreau is, the Blue Jackets are quickly finding out that it takes more than one player to turn a mediocre team around.

1. Erik Karlsson is sure starting to look like his old self. He’s up to 11 points in 11 games and punctuated that with a three-point night to go along with seven shots against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. He followed that up with two more goals Saturday.

The San Jose Sharks defender is passing the eye test, too. Karlsson is skating and moving very well, proving that on the overtime winner against Toronto, where he raced in on a breakaway for a beautiful goal.

We’ve seen glimpses of the old Karlsson before only to be disappointed. Last season, Karlsson started off with six points in his first five games, before injuries took over. This year is starting to feel different, though. Maybe it’s because Brent Burns is gone and Karlsson is now the number one defenseman. Or maybe his injury woes are finally behind him.

There is, of course, the realistic possibility that we could all be fooled once again if Karlsson’s body can’t hold up, but for now, just enjoy the production and the treat of a former superstar regaining his form.

2. All the hype around the Edmonton Oilers crease this summer revolved around Jack Campbell’s arrival, but Stuart Skinner is doing a pretty good job of working his way into the conversation. Skinner stopped 88 of the first 92 shots he faced this year and earned a high-profile start Saturday in the Battle of Alberta, where he was stellar in the victory. Skinner is an interesting consideration for a number of reasons, as Campbell has never played 50 games in a season before and had a few durability issues in Toronto. Not to mention Campbell isn’t the most consistent goaltender out there. Even in a worst-case scenario for Skinner, he’s likely to get 35 games or so on a really strong team. If Jake Oettinger’s injury forces him to miss significant time, Skinner could be a nice fill in.

As far as Campbell is concerned, there’s no need to overreact for the time being if you’re rostering him, though it is a little troubling that he didn’t get an important start this early in the season. His .888 save percentage certainly had something to do with it. Campbell needs to start making some saves.

3. After some interesting line combinations to start the season, Vegas is starting to load up its top line with Jack Eichel, Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson. It’s Stephenson who’s benefitting the most here, picking up points in five straight games. He’s a great add to consider if you need forward help, as he’s available in almost 50% of Yahoo leagues and has C/RW eligibility. As long as Stephenson is attached to Eichel and Stone, don’t hesitate to take advantage.

4. Eight points for Mika Zibanejad in his first four games, and then he had no points in his next four. Just another reminder of how quickly things can turn in fantasy hockey.

5. Sam Reinhart is off to a slow start and is feeling the impact of a Florida Panthers lineup that no longer includes the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Mason Marchment, and Anthony Duclair. Adding Matthew Tkachuk was great, but Florida is probably a lot easier to defend right now with all those names missing. In fact, the Panthers rank 14th in goals for this year, compared to last year’s first-place finish, where they scored almost a goal more per game than they are averaging in 2022-23.

6. Sticking with the Panthers, Sergei Bobrovsky has allowed three goals in every start but one this season. If there was ever an opportunity for Spencer Knight to grab the net, it’s now.

7. Very quietly, Cole Perfetti has six points in his past six games. He’s only 20% rostered and is looking more and more comfortable as an everyday NHLer each night. The Winnipeg Jets themselves have scored 13 goals in their past three outings, as their top six is starting to click. I’d take a long look at Perfetti if I was trying to replace an injured forward.

8. Brock Nelson is another name you might want to consider if you need help up front. The New York Islanders forward is averaging a point a game, though his numbers are not what you might think. Nelson has three goals and six assists, after scoring 37 times compared to just 22 helpers a year ago. If Nelson becomes a more balanced scorer this year, he might be able to exceed 60 points.

9. The return of Cam Talbot is on the horizon, which is going to put a dent in Anton Forsberg’s value. Forsberg’s been great once again, turning in quality start after quality start, but I imagine the Ottawa Senators won’t want to overtax him. Talbot should get an opportunity to split time, with the chance for both goalies to grab the job.

10. Calen Addison is up to seven points on the season and five of those have come with the man advantage. There was some debate in the preseason as to whether he could fend off Jared Spurgeon for the number one power play job, but it’s safe to say Addison has now locked up the role.

11. Dominik Kubalik is really taking advantage of Jakub Vrana and Tyler Bertuzzi being out of the Detroit Red Wings lineup. Kubalik enjoyed a stretch recently of four straight multi-point games and posted another assist Saturday night. He’s never really been more than a streaky scorer, so hopefully, you can capitalize on Kubalik’s output while it lasts.

12. I must admit, I was much more concerned about Nazem Kadri acclimating himself to the Calgary Flames than Jonathan Huberdeau. Kadri was going to get second-line duties and play with a less talented unit than he did in Colorado and Huberdeau was headed for the top group with Elias Lindholm. Kadri, though, hasn’t missed a beat with nine points in seven games, while those rostering Huberdeau likely anticipated a better start. It’s probably time to stop doubting Kadri.

13. Jared McCann just finished a run where he had goals in four straight games, posting six total points and 15 shots during that stretch. The interesting thing about McCann is that his ice time for those four contests was 10:37, 12:40, 14:06, and 17:40. Talk about making the most of your opportunities.

14. Is this the year Casey Mittelstadt finally becomes fantasy relevant? He’s doing his darndest to make sure that’s the case. Four of his six points have come on the power play and Mittelstadt isn’t relinquishing his top-six role.

15. Martin Necas is up to 11 points and it sure feels like his production has staying power this season. The Carolina Hurricanes forward is coming off a very disappointing year, where there were a number of occasions where he struggled to put much of anything up on the stat sheet. That’s why 2022-23 feels so different, because Necas has at least two shots in every game but one so far. He’s a lot more noticeable night in and night out.

16. If you’re looking for a buy-low candidate, I would give Jeremy Swayman a chance. Swayman is coming off a very good outing and as good as Linus Ullmark has looked this season, you’d have to think he’s going to struggle for a few games or so at some point. There’s a good chance Swayman gets back in a better rotation for a Boston Bruins team that looks almost unstoppable right now.

17. With two more goals Saturday night, Cole Caufield is scoring at a 64-goal pace. Now he won’t keep that up for the whole season, but it’s starting to feel like 45 or so is a realistic possibility. He scored at a near 50-goal pace when Martin St. Louis took over last year and while he might not finish with that many in 2022-23, it seems inevitable that Caufield will be a 50-goal scorer one day.

18. An important two goals for Jordan Kyrou on Saturday. The St. Louis Blues forward had started the campaign with just a single point in six games and Kyrou doesn’t offer much outside of offense. Kyrou had just six hits last season, so he’s challenging to roster in multi-cat leagues unless he’s clicking along at a 60-70 point pace.

19. Hopefully you weren’t deterred from drafting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins because he started the year down in the lineup. This is often the strategy for the Oilers, before they realize they don’t have enough offensively skilled forwards to play with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Nugent-Hopkins has quickly found his way back into the top six and notched 11 points in nine games.

20. Only two goals for Auston Matthews in nine games now. It’s easy to say he’s getting tons of shots and the dam will eventually burst, but something seems off when you watch him play. Matthews doesn’t appear to be as explosive and generating as many quality chances as he did a season ago. I’m sure he’ll be fine and finish with another solid campaign, though it seems like another 55-60 goal output is fading further and further away with each passing day.