As with any fantasy season every roster always seems to find one or two players you drafted not meeting expectations over the first quarter which starts to cause panic trends. As the season progresses into the second quarter some of these players though not all thankfully rekindle their scoring touch and go forth to produce fantasy dividends for you the owner. There are certainly some prominent names in this campaign who fall into this territory but should no longer be of concern to you as far as where they stand. Let’s take a look at some players you may stake claim to.
Bryan Little/Nikolaj Ehlers/Patrik Laine
To start off I am grouping these three together because this is an actual line combination therefore any and all performance of each is directly correlated to the others. Let’s start with Little who was abysmal in the first half producing two goals and six assists over the course of the first 19 games. A man with a points-per-game pace of 0.75 over the past five seasons this was not cutting it in the slightest. Some might call him the setup man, which he indeed is on this line, but Little has also potted 20-plus goals in three of the prior four seasons to 2017-18 so he needs to pull his weight there also. Regardless Little was not seeing his feeds finished in the first month of the season either where Laine had only four goals in October before the calendar turned to November and he remembered the name on the back of his jersey. While Ehlers was better in October with seven total goals, three came in one game so over the course of that time it was feast or famine territory all around.
As time progressed in November all three seemingly came on line and are back to normal operation. Over the past 30 days Little has four goals and eight assists in 15 games played, right in line with his career points/60. In the same timeframe Ehlers has six goals and seven assists and Laine has six goals and eight assists. It is safe to say that all is well now in Manitoba’s top six. Rocking an 18-8-5 record currently, the Jets are well on their way towards taking the crown for Canada’s best team behind their immense offensive depth and breakout goaltending.
The fact that Gallagher is the leading goal scorer for the Canadiens with 13 markers so far speaks to his underappreciation. The feisty diminutive forward is on pace for 34 goals and 260 shots but is receiving little support around him offensively leading to the all too well documented struggles of the Canadiens. Coming off a down 2016-17 Gallagher did not start this campaign on fire either but lately he’s been a more consistent option despite being currently mired in his first three game pointless streak since November 9th-14th. He’s arguably the Canadiens forward of most worth from a fantasy standpoint for some time now and to be playing with third line talent at even strength and receiving second power play deployment (which is ridiculous), Gallagher is really getting the job done.
Gallagher is flashing the abilities reminiscent of his 2014-15 campaign that saw him pot 24 goals and put the puck on net 254 times. His overall shooting percentage is high for his career currently at 13.3% but his five-on-five percentage is modest at 6.72% suggesting that his 30-plus goal pace is entirely sustainable. With a 53.72 CF% and a healthy points/60 of 2.4 there’s real value in the little guy for your fantasy squad as a primary depth option. Injuries of past are seemingly behind him so one can just hope for sustained health and we should see solid production all around by season’s end.
Now that he is 30 I think we’ve officially reached the point where Crosby’s abilities will be called into question once per year during a cold spell only for him to turn it on over the course of a few games and return to PPG pace. Such was the case this year where Crosby only had six goals and ten assists through November 18th. Many were calling for his head and proclaiming this may be the beginning of the decline…fools. Then came November 22nd through December 2nd where in six games played he put up six goals, seven assists with 20 shots and seven power play points. That little outburst now puts him on pace for an 80-point season, 270 shots and a ridiculous 38 power-play points. Also heads up to Crosby entering real multi-cat gold territory as he is also on pace for 82 PIM.
Worrying about Crosby is a senseless exercise at this point. Still very much in his prime, point per game territory should be the expectation for conservatively the next 3 to 4 seasons barring injuries. Crosby is sitting on an abysmal 3.92% even strength shooting and he’s far too talented a goal scorer for that to not regress towards the mean. Crosby has chugged along at eight percent or higher since 2010-11 so serious regression towards the mean forecasts a goal scoring bonanza for Pittsburgh's captain. After an uncharacteristically slow start Crosby has once again regained his elite form so deploy as always though you should’ve never stopped.
Had Zuccarello not done well in hockey he would’ve had a great alternative route in life as an extra in The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit. Seriously he could’ve been a leading role the dude looks the part way too much. Nonetheless the Norwegian Hobbit is known to us as one of the go to guys on the Rangers offensively and lately he has really upped his game to the level he has come to be known for. White hot currently with 14 points in his last 15 games played Zuccarello is back to being the straw that stirs the drink for the Rangers offense. A quintessential lock at this point on power play unit one never fear his linemates changing up at even strength as he seems to make it work with anyone he is deployed with over the course of his tenure in Manhattan.
Zuccarello is quietly on pace for a career 65-point year if you’re not aware. As always, these points are assist heavy but no qualms with owning a 20-goal scoring asset either that could easily provide 20-plus power play points. Zuccarello’s five-on-five shooting percentage is also low in comparison to past season’s currently at 7.87% suggesting his goal scoring pace could rise with statistical correction. The Rangers have made a turnaround on the season somewhat since their abysmal start although the last couple games have been an embarrassment. Behind a seemingly revitalized Henrik Lundqvist thanks to technique change and an offense being led by Zuccarello, expect the Norwegian to continue being a consistent source of offense. See if you can perhaps snag him for a reasonable price from another owner not completely sold on the Rangers.
As much as Crosby’s abilities were being called into question this year, Burns was in his own realm completely being further into his thirties. Through November 20th Burns had zero goals and seven assists leading many of his owners to contemplate jumping off the ledge. An absolutely abysmal start that more than likely led to some cheap acquisitions of the stud defender that are now making said acquirers look like geniuses. Since November 22nd Burns has posted four goals and seven assists in 10 games played and looks every bit of the dominant player on the ice we’ve become accustomed to. This on top of the 40 shots on net in said time frame leads us to one sure thing, Burns is back people. Burns CF% is the highest it’s been since 2013-14 now sitting at 55.51. 50 speaks to game control, 55 and up speaks to dominance routinely when you are deployed on ice. In the absence of his consistent partner Paul Martin this season Burns has seen a carousel of accompaniments at his side in 2017-18 which surely plays a large role in his treacherous first quarter.
Something has clicked though in the second quarter despite the carousel of partners and owners aren’t going to question what is working as Burns is back on track as one of the most valuable fantasy assets in the game. Though a 70-plus point season is more than likely a pipe dream he can still easily attain the 55-60 -point territory barring no significant cold spells with 300 plus shots and over 115 hits. If you are not completely sold on Burns turnaround look to the fact his all-around shooting percentage is currently 3.3% compared to the 8.1% average over the past four seasons. His PDO is also significantly lower than the season prior currently sitting at 946. Fact of the matter is Burns gave all his owners a serious scare in the first quarter but has righted the ship quickly since late November. Now Erik Karlsson owners are hoping for something similar.
To go in a little different direction to end this piece I wanted to cover Aho from a perspective of keeping the faith. Now in the past 10 games Aho has returned to Siberia and is colder than cold with two goals and one assist in that span. The Hurricanes as a whole are an entirely frustrating squad, I really thought they’d fair better in the Scott Darling era alongside their promising young defense. Aho in particular is mind boggling because the ten games prior to the ten I just mentioned was a completely different story. From November 2nd through the 22nd, Aho netted five goals and eight assists and was easily one of your most important assets. These kinds of hot and cold spells are frustrating to say the least when all we want as fantasy managers is consistency.
Nonetheless Aho is but 20 years of age and growing pains are going to be part of owning him, but this kid has oodles of offensive upside and last year’s impressive 24-goal rookie campaign should not be viewed as fluky. Even with the up and down nature of his season, he is still on pace for a higher point output this year closer to 60-point territory with 200-plus shots. More hot runs like the one he put out in November with higher capitalization on his primary power play deployment and he’ll cross the 60-point threshold for the first time in his career. His PDO is higher than the prior season at 998 and also sports an impressive 54.42 CF% telling us his line is dangerous out there more often than not. Keep the faith with this young gun as he’d make you pay if you deal him away.