Good times are here, now that the regular season has begun. This week, I’ll take a look at the early returns from some of the Eastern Conference squads that have caught my eye.
The Bruins won their opening game, but dropped their next one 4-0 against Colorado. One weird statistic from that game that I noticed, was that even without Patrice Bergeron in the lineup, all nine of the Bruins forwards who took at least one face-off, had winning records. The Avs Nathan MacKinnon, who I own in a league that counts face-off wins, was particularly bad, going one for 10 at the dot. Good thing I also have Ryan O’Reilly and David Krejci.
With Bergeron and David Backes unavailable, Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork have been given an opportunity to prove that they belong and they haven’t disappointed. In two games, DeBrusk has a goal and assist and Bjork has an assist. Both are getting some respectable time on the power play as well with DeBrusk logging 5:03 minutes and Bjork receiving 4:47 minutes over two contests.
Although Ryan Spooner has no points in two games, he is being put in a position to succeed. He has logged the most power play time on ice on the Bruins, averaging 5:38 minutes per game, compared with 10:43 minutes per game at even strength. He’s also played 88 percent of his even strength ice time with Brad Marchand. It’s only a matter of time before Spooner hits the scoresheet in a big way.
The Sabres haven’t registered a W in three contests. One Buffalo player who has fantasy owners happy is Evander Kane. He’s a guy I targeted in one of my limited keepers in large part because he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. It’s not a stretch to think that this guy might be motivated by a big pay day and with four goals and six points in three games, he’s well on his way. Kane leads the NHL in shots on goal with 26 and is playing exclusively with Jack Eichel. That’s a winning combination.
Montreal cast off, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu has found a decent landing spot in Buffalo. Beaulieu is averaging the second most time on ice (20:48), second only to Rasmus Ristolainen including 2:13 minutes per game on the power play.
Two games, two wins. Well done by the rebuilding Red Wings. One player that I had written off is getting a chance to play with some pretty good players; Martin Frk is playing more than 90 percent of his even strength ice time with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Frk was a 2nd round pick from way back in 2012, but found himself in the ECHL as recent as the 2014-15 season. Last year, he scored 27 goals and 50 points in 65 AHL games and added 15 points in 16 AHL playoff contests. This season, Frk has three points in two games and he has a legitimate shot at sticking with the big club in part thanks to the absence of Andreas Athanasiou.
Hands up, who thought that after two games, the Devils would be undefeated? Now, before you get too excited, they’ve played Colorado and Buffalo, so we’ll see if this is a team that will compete for a playoff spot when they play clubs that were expected to make the post season.
I’ve been touting a comeback season from goaltender Cory Schneider and if New Jersey was going to make any noise this season, they would need their all world goalie to return to form. He’s sporting a 0.955 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average, along with a 2-0-0 record to kick off the 2017-18 campaign. No doubt he’s the real deal even on this team. He’ll continue to put up decent fantasy numbers, although the wins won’t continue to accumulate at this pace.
The biggest surprise is that a smallish 19-year-old rookie forward from Sweden is leading the team in scoring with five points in those two contests. Jesper Bratt made the team with a fantastic effort all the way through training camp and he’s carried that momentum into the regular season. He’s excelling on special teams with two of his five points coming shorthanded and one on the power play. Of course, he’s not going to score on 100 percent of his shots, but he has played his way to a major role on this team.
I’m not as bullish on rookie defenseman Will Butcher to continue his scoring ways. He opened the season with a three-point debut, but all three came via the power play and he only received 12:45 minutes of game time. His ice time increased to 15:46 in his second contest and he finished a plus-2 on the day, but with no points. Right now, Butcher is a bottom-pairing, power-play specialist who has to compete with Damon Severson for those prime minutes. If Severson doesn’t outright win that match, he’ll take enough away from Butcher to minimize his fantasy impact this season.
This was a team I thought was primed for a return to the playoffs. I backed that up by taking goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in one of my non-keeper leagues. While I like the 2-1-0 record, I am not thrilled with the 3.67 goals-against average and 0.900 save percentage. I think he’ll improve those numbers as the team plays a better defensive game. The Lightning are all in with Vasilevskiy, so I’m going to put my faith that he can get the job done.
In the Dobberhockey 2017-18 Fantasy Guide, I hyped the next two guys as sleepers for this season. Both are making an impact early this year. Brayden Point leads the team in scoring with seven points in three contests. He’s had multi-point efforts in each of his first three matches and his ice time has increased to where he logged 21:43 minutes while netting the game winning goal in overtime in Monday night’s game against Washington. Last season’s 40 points in 68 games were great, but some people questioned his role when Steven Stamkos and to a lesser extent, Tyler Johnson returned from injury. No one should question that Point will find a way to get his name on the score sheet, and often.
Vladislav Namestnikov was the other sleeper who is looking sharp so far this year. He has three points in as many games, but more importantly is receiving top power play minutes and that is one talented group he is playing with in Tampa. Namestnikov is also playing on a line with Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov which can’t hurt in the old points department.
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Thanks for reading.