Week 7 preview: Important line changes in New York, Colorado
We are back to regularly scheduled NHL action this week following the downtime around Thanksgiving. Every team is in action at least once between Monday and Wednesday to start off the fantasy week.
Monday’s slate is six games and arguably highlighted by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche going head-to-head in Denver. Tuesday features 10 games, including a huge test for the Edmonton Oilers with the Vegas Golden Knights in town. Wednesday is down to just three games.
The New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals, Lightning, Florida Panthers and Golden Knights all play twice in this Monday to Wednesday window.
A prime example of why we monitor line changes and injuries with a magnifying glass is unfolding with the Avalanche at the moment. A quick timeline refresher: On Nov. 9, Artturi Lehkonen, who had been playing a lot of shifts with Nathan MacKinnon, was injured. The Avs played with the lines for one game against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 11, then found a combination that worked (drawn from past seasons) on Nov. 13 against the Seattle Kraken: MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Valeri Nichushkin.
Prior to that watershed Nov. 13 game for Nichushkin, he had posted a grand total of 16.6 fantasy points across 13 games (two goals and six assists). But since that game when the trio was reunited, Nichushkin has posted 26.6 fantasy points across seven games (seven goals and four assists). While we’ve still been given no official prognosis for Lehkonen’s return, his crash into the boards looked like a recovery measured in months, not weeks. That should give Nichushkin plenty of leeway to enjoy his time on the top line before the Avs think about mixing it up again.
Of course, his rostership in fantasy leagues has been rising quickly, leaving Nichushkin only available in about 27% of ESPN leagues now. But maybe you can capitalize on another player earning his chops on his team’s top line.
Jake Neighbours has slowly pushed his way up the depth chart with scoring during the course of the past five games for the Blues, beginning the stretch with 10:14 of average ice time and finishing it with two goals in 17:32. He spent the whole game Sunday on a line with Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich, and stayed with them on the power play. The goals brought Neighbours to five (plus and assist) in five games. Neighbours might even be considered similar to Nichushkin in that he balances both skill and a physical edge that makes him a great complement to skill-first forwards (Thomas and Buchnevich have been credited with 11 total hits between them).
Neighbours remains on free-agent piles across the fantasy landscape, as he is available in 99% of leagues as of Monday morning. That said, his two-goal outburst on Sunday likely changes that figure by Monday evening.
Who else has increased their value of late?
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Logan Cooley, C, Arizona Coyotes: Since Barrett Hayton was injured, Travis Boyd got first crack at his spot on the top line with Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, but Cooley was there for the past two games. The rookie didn’t make much noise from the position, with only an assist in games against the Blues and Knights. But this is it; this is the spot we need Cooley to secure to have a breakout rookie campaign. If he’s going to earn a fantasy roster spot, it’s going to be soon or it’s not going to be at all this season.
Vincent Trocheck, C, New York Rangers: Taking full advantage of the role in the top six created by an injury to Filip Chytil, Trocheck has 12 of his 16 points this season in the nine games since Chytil was hurt. Chytil was spotted skating again over the weekend, but there is no timeline for his return. The Rangers will have to decide which one of them gets to play with Artemi Panarin, and the one who does is going to have some fantasy value. Trocheck has 24.5 fantasy points in the nine games since Chytil was injured, but posted only 14.1 fantasy points in his 10 games prior. For his part, Chytil only had 11.1 fantasy points in 10 games before getting hurt.
Ondrej Palat, W, New Jersey Devils: How nice it was to see Nico Hischier back on the ice on Sunday. Palat sure was grateful, earning a goal and assist while spending the game with Hischier and Jesper Bratt. The Devils are still short a body in the top six and it’s unclear if Palat has bought himself additional time thanks to six points in his past six games. The injured top-six forward, Timo Meier, has played more with Jack Hughes when healthy, so maybe this promotion for Palat can stick for a bit.
Mike Hoffman, W, San Jose Sharks: What a split for Hoffman, who looks like two different players divided by Nov. 13. In the 10 games prior to that date, he posted a solitary assist and only took 12 shots on goal, totaling 7.6 fantasy points. In the six games since then, Hoffman has tallied another 12 shots and a solitary assist, but this time with six goals totaling 16.5 fantasy points. Hoffman rounds out the Sharks top line at the moment with William Eklund and Tomas Hertl.
Alex Nylander, W, Pittsburgh Penguins: Injuries to Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell have Drew O’Connor and Alex Nylander making separate cases for top-six work. Both have been on the Penguins top heavy forward attack for the past three games. While Rust’s injury doesn’t look as long term, Rakell will be out for a while. So there is a chance another forward can start collecting some fantasy value here. Nylander was even getting looks on the power play against Toronto on Saturday.
Vladimir Tarasenko, W, Ottawa Senators: With the way Drake Batherson is holding down a spot on the top power-play unit, Tarasenko may not have a clear path to fantasy relevance this season unless injury clears the way for him. Even a line change that looked very much targeted at waking up Tarasenko for the past two games (putting him with Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris) resulted in zero points and a minus-3 rating.
Jordan Kyrou, W, St. Louis Blues: Doubling back to Neighbours’ little burst of energy of late; Yes, that means someone has to give up some key ice time. And it has been Kyrou, who wasn’t on the top power-play unit and dipped to only 13:51 in ice time against Chicago on Sunday.
Boone Jenner, C, Columbus Blue Jackets(23.89% available): He’s not available everywhere, but the Blue Jackets top center should be locked into lineups as the team takes on the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins aren’t a good matchup, but the second game against the Habs should be a feast, as they’ve allowed the most fantasy points to opposing forwards per game this season.
Dylan Strome, C, Washington Capitals (51.11% available): He’s still skating with Alex Ovechkin and still on the top power-play unit, even if the scoring pace has slowed down a bit. Take advantage of the two games to start the week, including one against the Sharks.
Darcy Kuemper, G, Washington Capitals (82.41% available): There doesn’t look like a lot of good places to go for goaltender help off the wire to start the week. Kuemper does have a tasty potential matchup on Monday against the Sharks. But don’t accidentally leave him in against the Kings, who have kept opposition goaltenders to an average fantasy score below zero this season.