20 Fantasy Thoughts: Canadiens’ Matheson proving to be the real deal

Montreal Canadiens Mike Matheson skates prior to a preseason NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in Montreal, Monday, September 26, 2022. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Joseph Woll was all queued up in my draft, ready to be taken in the 15th round until someone snagged him two picks before me. Devastating. I’m still not over it.

I thought Woll would sneak through my league’s draft and not get selected, but maybe I did too good a job singing his praises this summer as a bargain goalie. As someone who goes with a Zero-G strategy in net, Woll seemed like a great bet to steal a lot of playing time and provide great numbers while doing so. He had the two things you need going for you if you want to come from obscurity and be an impact goalie in fantasy, a really strong team in front of you that’s going to win a lot and a somewhat unproven starter just above that you that has a realistic chance to faulter.

Woll’s situation reminded me a lot of Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell from the Edmonton Oilers last season, with Woll playing the role of Skinner and Ilya Samsonov playing Campbell. Sure enough, Samsonov struggled out of the gate and Woll has made the most of his shot so far, posting a 3-1-0 record with an incredible .961 save percentage.

For every Woll, though, there are a handful of other bargain goalies that although they seem to be in a great spot heading into a season, simply don’t pan out. Devon Levi, Akira Schmid and Pyotr Kochetkov all seemed promising, but they have provided little value thus far.

Anytime you draft a Zero G candidate it’s a gamble, but if you hit on someone like Woll it’s a game-changer. No risk, no reward.

1. It’s been a disappointing start to the season, to say the least for Dawson Mercer. The New Jersey Devils forward hasn’t picked up a point yet and failed to record a shot in four of his past five games. To make matters worse, Mercer has been bumped from the top six in favour of Ondrej Palat. Mercer posted 20 points during a 12-game point streak a year ago, showing signs that he could be headed for a breakout campaign in 2023-24. So far, it’s been just the opposite and Mercer is likely a drop candidate at this point.

2. After scoring 19 times and averaging more than a hit per game last season, Morgan Frost has already been a healthy scratch six times this year. Frost was an under-the-radar pick in deep leagues that counted hits, though an influx of Philadelphia Flyers forwards has pushed him to the side. It’s also another reminder about the perils of drafting a player coached by John Tortorella.

3. Conversely, Travis Sanheim is a must-roster on the Flyers right now. He has eight points in eight games and is playing a whopping 26:12 per game while providing great blocks coverage and holding down a spot on power play one. Sanheim’s best season saw him top out at 35 points, so I’m not sure this is going to last, but ride the wave while you can.

4. Only two goals so far for Andrei Kuzmenko after coming off a season where he nearly hit 40. There were definitely regression concerns about Kuzmenko due to his whopping 27.3 shooting percentage in 2022-23 and right now those fears are being realized. The one way I thought Kuzmenko could avoid a major regression is upping his shot volume. He scored 39 times last season on only 143 shots, so if he could get that up to over 200 shots this year let’s say, that could counteract some of the drop in shooting percentage. So far, Kuzmenko has had five games this season with one shot or less. That’s nowhere near enough for someone playing with Elias Pettersson and who’s on the top power play.

5. After a very slow start to the season, Pavel Zacha now has points in three straight games. Zacha assumed the role of the Boston Bruins top centre after Patrice Bergeron retired, so it was reasonable to think he could have built on the 57 points he notched a year ago. He’s still getting big minutes and the Bruins pushing Brad Marchand up to the top group to play with Zacha and David Pastrnak seems to have helped. Zacha could also be feeling a bit of pressure from Matthew Poitras, who has taken over the second-line centre role and doesn’t appear to be going back to junior anytime soon. Poitras has four points in his past four games to go along with 10 shots, while getting time on the second power-play unit. I’d put him on my watch list.

6. The Anaheim Ducks are planning to deploy some load management with Leo Carlsson this season. It’s a disappointing bit of news if you were hoping for a big year from the electric rookie. For instance, Carlsson played against Dallas and Arizona last week, but was held out on Sunday against Boston. Whether it’s to minimize injury risk or to ease him into the NHL, it’s going to be tough to roster Carlsson if you can’t rely on him night in and night out.

7. Don’t look now, but Frank Vatrano already has eight goals and is doing it all for category coverage, posting solid numbers in shots, blocks, hits and PIM. Vatrano has also been a high-volume shooter with 20-goal capability, though he appears to be taking his game to a different level this season. My only question with Vatrano is what happens when Alex Killorn gets healthy? You’d think he’d be in the top six, but I have a hard time believing the Ducks would demote Vatrano given how well he’s playing.

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8. Pyotr Kochetkov was put into a tough spot in his first callup. Kochetkov was thrown into a blowout against the Seattle Kraken and then got his first start versus the high-powered Colorado Avalanche, and neither turned out well. The Carolina Hurricanes have already been dealing with a bunch of injuries and uncharacteristically have allowed at least five goals in four games so far. Add in the uncertainty of playing time for Kochetkov and he just doesn’t appear to have the value that some thought he might in 2023-24.

9. You might want to act fast if you’re eyeing Ryan Johansen. He has four goals in his past four games now and four power-play points over that span. Johansen is particularly valuable in leagues that count faceoff wins and he’s in the perfect spot, playing with Mikko Rantanen at even strength and locked in on power play one. I don’t think he’s going to stay 29% rostered for long.

10. Another centre worth a look at the moment is Casey Mittelstadt. The Buffalo Sabres forward is taking advantage of some line juggling and finds himself in the middle of Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch. Mittelstadt already has three multi-point games this season and is picking up where he left in 2022-23, when he finished last year’s campaign with 17 points in his final 11 contests.

11. Tyler Bertuzzi is stuck on three points this season and now he’s been moved off the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Even though he’s landed with John Tavares and William Nylander, which isn’t a bad spot, it’s probably not what you expected when you drafted him. Bertuzzi was a trendy pick and had 60-point potential playing with Marner and Matthews, but now his outlook is a bit uncertain. He’s down to under 50% rostered and might be an interesting buy-low candidate if he finds his game on the second line or gets pushed back up to the top group.

12. We don’t often see a two defencemen power play anymore, but the Detroit Red Wings are utilizing it very effectively. Shayne Gostisbehere is the one taking advantage, scoring six of his nine points this season on the power play. Moritz Seider also has five points on the man advantage, proving there’s plenty of offense to go around for both defensemen. The Nashville Predators are also going this route and the Florida Panthers had success with this strategy last year, so this could be the start of a bit of a trend.

13. It’s probably time to drop Blake Wheeler now. He hasn’t picked up a point yet and he’s out of the New York Rangers top six. I just don’t think there’s value there if he’s not playing with Mika Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin.

14. Barrett Hayton is another player who hasn’t found the scoresheet yet this season. It’s a bit puzzling because Hayton had pretty good success last year playing with Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz and he’s once again playing with that duo. Hayton’s deployment is still fine, but how long before Logan Cooley takes his spot if he doesn’t start producing?

15. It sounds like Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour are going to start practicing this weekend with a return aimed for American Thanksgiving. That means you’re likely looking at stashing them for another month or so, give or take. It can be tough stashing players for that long, especially if your IR is full, but both could be difference makers if you can hold on a little longer.

16. Only Vegas, Arizona, Dallas and Philadelphia play four times next week. I’d take a look at Scott Laughton as a streaming option if you’re in a multi-cat league, as he’s recorded at least four shots in four of his games and has picked up five points. Laughton is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife that can help you in a lot of areas. On the other end of the schedule spectrum, I wonder if you’ll start to see some Oilers hitting the waiver wire in your league after slow starts. Edmonton plays just twice next week and those are usually the weeks where people cut bait if they’re running out of patience with a player. You know the Oilers will start clicking at some point and McDavid should be back soon, so there might be some good buy-low opportunities.

17. Shane Pinto’s suspension means the door remains ajar for Ridly Greig for the time being. Greig took advantage of Pinto and Josh Norris not being available to start the season and has seven points in eight games. He could’ve been bumped all the way down to the fourth line when Pinto returned, but now still sits on the third line playing here and there with Vladimir Tarasenko. That’s not the worst spot to be in.

18. Joey Daccord made three consecutive starts this week and posted an impressive 42 saves in the second outing. I’d keep an eye on Daccord to see if he can steal the job away from Philipp Grubauer. It’s no secret that Grubauer has struggled with consistency, so stranger things have happened.

19. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise to start the season has been that of Noah Dobson. We all knew Dobson was very good, but between some inconsistency and the New York Islanders style of play, it seemed like his ceiling was a low one. This season, though, Dobson looks like a different player, playing over 24 minutes a night and averaging a point per game. His shot volume has also reached another level, as Dobson is on pace for nearly 250 this season after hitting 200 only once prior in his career. I’d say Dobson could comfortably reach 60-65 points if this keeps up.

20. Mike Matheson sure seems like the real deal, for fantasy hockey purposes at least. The Montreal Canadiens defender turned some heads last year, recording a career-high 34 points in just 48 games, but he’s found another gear this year. He’s scoring at a near 60-point pace, while averaging nearly three blocks and three shots per game. Even if Matheson’s point totals start to fall off, it seems realistic he could still at least be a 50-point player, which makes him great for multi-cat or points leagues. That’s great value for someone who isn’t even 50% rostered right now. What intrigues me most about Matheson is his power play production. Five of his six points so far have come with the man advantage and with a healthy Cole Caufield this season, there is reason to believe that the Canadiens unit can be much better. Montreal ranks 12th in the league on the power play at the moment after finishing 29th in 2022-23. I think most people figured Matheson could be an effective fantasy option this season, but I doubt many thought he would be this good.

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