20 Fantasy Thoughts: Jack Eichel is back and powering the best line in hockey

Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) and center Brett Howden (21) celebrate the team's 6-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

I’m sure some will disagree with me here, but you’d be hard-pressed to call anyone other than Jack Eichel, Mark Stone and Chandler Stephenson the best line in hockey right now.

The trio combined for nine points against the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the week and the Vegas Golden Knights are clicking at almost four goals per game. Eichel seems to be fully back from his neck injury and he’s really been able to boost Stephenson’s value immensely. Stephenson was no slouch last season topping 60 points, but this year he’s averaging a point a game and may end up being one of the biggest fantasy steals.

Eichel hasn’t really been fantasy relevant since the 2019-20 season because of injuries. Now, he’s on a great team, maximizing his talents, and helping elevate teammates around him. If you’ve kept him through the past couple of difficult seasons, it was worth the wait.

As good as it is to see Erik Karlsson return to form, it’s equally exciting to see Eichel becoming an elite fantasy option once again.

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1. There’s a lot to like about Kirby Dach right now. He’s up to 11 points in his past 7 games, only 33% rostered, and has C/RW eligibility. Dach has found a home on the Montreal Canadiens’ top line and is really clicking with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. Don’t hesitate to add him if you need forward help.

2. Aaron Ekblad returned from injury Saturday, which isn’t ideal for Brandon Montour’s value. Some were holding out hope that Montour wouldn’t be impacted too much and while he wasn’t removed from the first power play unit, his overall ice time was way down. Montour played 22:21 on Saturday, more than four minutes less than his season average of 26:31. Ekblad will continue eating up minutes, so expect Montour’s volume stats to begin to fall.

3. Credit where credit is due, as Tyson Barrie is playing well with eight points in his past seven games. I think many expected this to be a breakout season for Evan Bouchard, but Barrie is clinging to his first power play spot right now and has been the more valuable player early on. He’s posted more than twice as many points as Bouchard. It’s possible Bouchard eventually overtakes him and starts to produce offense more regularly, but if you’re rostering him currently, you’re probably starting to get impatient.

4. Tim Stutzle is putting his slow start well into the rear-view mirror. The Ottawa Senators forward took a while to find his footing this season, but he’s now notched four goals, seven points, and 18 shots in his past five games. He’s been a physical presence as well, averaging over two hits per game this year, punctuating that with a five-hit performance Saturday. I don’t think many people drafted Stutzle for his hits, but it’s certainly been a nice bonus.

5. There’s been so much talk this week about top goalies not playing well, that we should probably highlight someone who unexpectedly is. Martin Jones would typically be near the bottom of many people’s lists of viable options in the crease, but shockingly, the veteran is enjoying a renaissance on the Seattle Kraken. Jones is 7-4-1 on the season, winning four of his past five starts and allowing just five goals over that span. I’m not sure how long this is going to last, but considering how much better the Kraken appear to be this season, there’s at least some hope he can sustain it for a significant stretch.

6. Don’t jump on the Karel Vejmelka train just yet. He’d been great over his past three starts prior to Saturday, going 3-0-0 with a .968 save percentage, before having a rough outing against the New Jersey Devils. The Arizona Coyotes also don’t have an ideal schedule upcoming. They play the New York Rangers and Golden Knights next, and only have one game next week. There should be more effective options out there at the moment.

7. When everyone turned their clocks back an hour last weekend, Jamie Benn may have set his back a few years. Benn hasn’t been able to even hit 40 points in two of the past three seasons, but suddenly he looks closer to the player that won an Art Ross Trophy in 2015. The Dallas Stars forward has six goals in his past four games and 10 points in his past five. That’s probably unsustainable, but try and capitalize on it while you can. Benn is currently available in almost half of leagues.

8. I think it’s safe to drop Michael Bunting now. He’s been getting moved off the Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner line constantly and he only has one point in his past 10 games. Sheldon Keefe’s lines don’t seem to be set in stone right now, so it’s tough to roster a Bunting or an Alex Kerfoot unless you know they’re going to be in the top six consistently.

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9. Normally reliable and steady in the hits and blocks department, Josh Morrissey has suddenly become a pillar of offense with 14 points in 13 games. Can’t say I saw that coming.

10. Joonas Korpisalo has now made three starts in a row for the Columbus Blue Jackets. I’m not sure I’d be racing to pick him up, as I think this is more notable where Elvis Merzlikins is concerned. It’s been a tough year to say the least for Merzlikins and if he’s starting to lose out on starts now, he’s not really worth rostering. Might be better to use the roster spot for streaming options when there’s a good matchup.

11. The Blue Jackets are also dealing with a myriad of injuries, most notably with Zach Werenski being lost for the season. This could open the door for Jake Bean, who picked up a pair of assists Saturday, to get more opportunities. It’s hard to get excited about anyone on Columbus at the moment, but if you’re planning to take a chance on Bean, it’s a good time to do it with the Blue Jackets playing four times next week.

12. Jonathan Toews is exceeding expectations and now has points in 10 of 14 games this season. He’s only 22% rostered and is certainly worth a look if your forwards need a boost, especially in leagues that count face-off wins. The interesting thing about Toews is that there’s also a good chance he gets traded near the deadline to a contender, which should boost his value right around fantasy hockey playoff time.

13. Everything seems to be going well for the New Jersey Devils right now. That includes Miles Wood, who has eight points in his past seven games to go along with 23 penalty minutes. Finding a player that provides a blend of offense and PIM is rare, so take advantage of it while you can.

14. You’d think going from the Colorado Avalanche to the Seattle Kraken would hurt a player’s value, but that isn’t happening with Andre Burakovsky. He’s off to a great start on the top line and is actually on pace for 71 points, which is 10 more than he posted last year with the Avalanche. That’s going to be tough for Burakovsky to keep up all year, but any fears that his value was going to diminish with the Kraken in 2022-23 appear to be unfounded.

15. Is there a more versatile fantasy option than Scott Laughton right now? Over his past three games, the Philadelphia Flyers forward is averaging over four shots, nearly five hits, and almost 12 faceoff wins per game. Laughton is widely available in the majority of leagues.

16. I think the bloom is off the rose as far as Eric Comrie is concerned. After a strong road trip through Alberta early in the season, Comrie is down to an .885 save percentage and has given up at least three goals in every start but one this year. He’s probably not worth rostering anymore, but could be added for spot starts if the Buffalo Sabres have a friendly schedule for a game or two.

17. Something small I noticed the other night was the Tampa Bay Lightning moving Victor Hedman to the second power play. Mikhail Sergachev took his spot briefly, but I can’t see the Lightning sticking with this for long. Tampa’s power play has been mediocre at 17th overall, so perhaps they were just looking for a spark.

18. Someone who is on Tampa’s top power play unit is Brandon Hagel, and he’s also been making the most of his time on the first line with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. Hagel is up to 11 points in his past nine games and is a trendy waiver wire add right now. I was somewhat concerned Tampa was going to load up that top line and add Steven Stamkos to the group regularly, but they appear to be going with a more balanced approach. That’s great news if you picked up Hagel.

19. Add Andrew Mangiapane’s name to the list of disappointing Calgary Flames so far. After a 35-goal campaign a year ago, Mangiapane has managed to find the back of the net just twice in 2022-23. The challenging part with Mangiapane is that he doesn’t provide much category coverage outside of offence, as he’s barely averaging two shots a game at the moment. Mangiapane will be tough to roster if he doesn’t get on a scoring streak.

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20. Pyotr Kochetkov is an interesting waiver add to consider. Frederik Andersen is sidelined with an injury and Antti Raanta has a long history of ailments as well, so there’s an opportunity for Kochetkov to get some starts on a great team. Given the injury prone two netminders, I mentioned Kochetkov in the preseason as someone who could potentially be the next Ville Husso and now the door is at least opened a crack for that to potentially happen. With both Raanta and Andersen pending UFAs this summer, at the very least, Kochetkov figures to make an impact in the Carolina crease next year.

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