All fantasy owners need help in the short term AND the long term. The Looking Ahead feature identifies one player to plug into lineups in the short term, a second to invest in for the long term, a third to bench for the coming week, and a fourth who will struggle to meet expectations for some time. All players discussed are selected based on their upcoming schedule.
Stats updated through Wednesday, December 11th
The Immediate Fix (Grab this guy and use him for the next several days)
Oliver Bjorkstrand, W, Columbus Blue Jackets (Available in 89 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Although John Tortorella changes his lineup around more than anyone in the league – at least now that Dallas Stars line blender Jim Montgomery’s been fired – Bjorkstrand has been a power play staple this season, and has consistently been playing in the top-6. That’s led to him averaging 16:55/game this season, two full minutes more than his career average and 4:35 more/game than what he saw last year when he scored 23 goals.
Bjorkstrand is a lot like his teammate Cam Atkinson – more on him below! – in that he’s a volume shooter with a very strong wrist shot, but his line mates and special teams are crucial to finding any success. This season, Bjorkstrand has 100 shots in just 30 games and while that’s only worked out to seven goals so far, he’s also shooting 3.1 percent less than his career average.
Over the past five games, Bjorkstrand has only picked up one goal – he also had one called back – but has fired 31 shots on goal in those five games (6.2/game!) and is currently playing on the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Sonny Milano. Given that Bjorkstrand is available in so many leagues on Yahoo and the Blue Jackets’ great upcoming schedule, he’s a great fill-in the rest of this month.
The Building Block (Buy now, sit back and enjoy the production)
Ryan Johansen, C, Nashville Predators (Available in 62 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Although he’s the center on a dominant top line – one of the ten best lines in the league at 5v5 in terms of xGF/60 (min. 60m) – Ryan Johansen is consistently under-owned in fantasy hockey because he almost never shoots the puck; in the 309 games Johansen played in Columbus this was actually a bit over-stated as he averaged 2.3 shots/game, but since coming to Nashville he’s played almost the same amount of games (312 in Preds’ colours) and has just 563 shots, or 1.8/game.
That won’t change anytime soon, as Johansen has just 47 shots in 29 games this season, but he’s still cemented on the top power play and top line at even strength which means points. Johansen is currently on pace for 50 this year – which he’s accomplished while mostly playing with only one of Filip Forsberg or Viktor Arvidsson for most of the year – and he’s never been below that mark outside of the lockout year and his first two years in the league. There’s nothing sexy about rostering RyJo, but he should be owned in any league outside of extremely shallow leagues.
The Odd Man Out (His short-term value is cause for concern)
Cam Atkinson, W, Columbus Blue Jackets (Owned in 63 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Given the Blue Jackets’ very enticing schedule the rest of this month, it’s not a great idea to drop Cam Atkinson right now, but the rest of the season will look similar to what the first 30 games have looked like – not great! So far this season, Atkinson has scored 7G-11A (seven of those points coming on the power play which he currently isn’t even on) and while his shot rate remains elite at over 3/game, his role on the Jackets has diminished quite a bit all the way down to third-line minutes.
Atkinson’s most common line mates the past two seasons were Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin, which helps explain how Atkinson put up 40 goals and 28 assists in 80 games last season; his most common this season are Dubois, followed by Nick Foligno and rookie Alexandre Texier. Over the past ten games, Atkinson has barely touched the ice at 5v5 with Dubois, and as mentioned hasn’t been on the power play at all (although that’s more recent). The loss of Panarin is a big one, as Panarin was a part of 40 of Atkinson’s 69 total points last year (57%) and no one on Columbus can replace that.
The advice for Atkinson over the next few weeks will be to hang on to him and let the Blue Jackets’ soft schedule maybe get him some extra points and drive his price tag up a bit for trade talks. Cam is also currently on a hot streak with 3G-1A in his past five which can only help elevate his price tag, but realistically he’s nowhere near the asset he was last season.
The Anchors (They’ll do nothing but disappoint even over the long haul)
Vincent Trocheck, C, Florida Panthers (Owned in 55 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – After putting up 75 points in 82 games in the 2017-18 season, Trocheck was a hot commodity come draft time last season, but unfortunately got a neck injury and ended up playing only 55 games (putting up 10G-24A in that time). The appeal for Trocheck heading into last season was his multi-cat dominance, as he topped 30 goals, 40 assists, 280 shots, and 145 hits that year; unfortunately he couldn’t replicate that in 2018-19 thanks to the aforementioned neck injury, but the expectation for this season was that he would bounce back on a playoff-bound Florida team with a new fantasy-friendly coach at the helm.
None of that has happened. The Panthers have 35 points in 30 games and are on the outside of a playoff spot, the Panthers have only one line of viable fantasy plays, and Trocheck has been a major disappointment to the tune of 4G-10A in 23 games. A large part of Trocheck’s value slipping was Florida’s acquisition of Mike Hoffman, who took over Trocheck’s PP1 role – Hoffman has amassed 45(!) PP points over the past season and a half to Trocheck’s 15 – which has led to decreased ice time for Trocheck, from the peak of 21:22/game in 2017-18 all the way to 17:13/game this year.
Even the peripheral categories that helped make Trocheck a great fantasy own have dropped off, as he has only 26 hits in 23 games this year and is only getting 2.47 shots on goal/game. He can safely be dropped to waivers in shallow leagues or points-only, and shopped around to someone who thinks they’re getting a steal.
Love ‘Em (These squads are sure to pay dividends in the coming days)
Columbus – This period takes us up to Christmas, which means the maximum number of games between the 13th and 25th is six, as there are no games between the 24th and 26th. Columbus is one of the teams that maxes at six, and because they’ll get the opportunity to face the laughably-bad Devils, Red Wings and Senators, they’re a very appealing team. Their remaining games come against the Caps, Kings and Islanders.
Colorado – With a forward group that’s now fully healthy (with apologies to Colin Wilson), the Avalanche – who haven’t scored fewer than three goals in a game since November 21st, ten games ago – have a fairly soft schedule and are one of the most potent goal-scoring teams in the league. Colorado gets the opportunity to play the Blackhawks twice as well as the Devils, along with games against Carolina, Vegas and St. Louis.
Vancouver – The Canucks play two games on the road (San Jose and Vegas) before leading into the holiday break with four straight home games, and although their scoring’s been inconsistent this season, they still have the second-highest goals per game in the Western Conference at 3.35; they’ve also been a much better home team, with 54 goals in 14 games to 47 goals in 17 awa\y games. Their opponents will be the Sharks, Knights, Habs, Knights again, Penguins and Oilers.
Leave ‘Em (These squads will leave fantasy owners sorely disappointed in the short term)
San Jose – It remains to be seen what effect the firing of Pete DeBoer will have on the Sharks, but they definitely can’t be counted on over the next two weeks as their schedule is very light – only four games; the sliver of light for Sharks owners is that all four games come at home, but that includes a back-to-back. Their opponents are all stingy defensively, which won’t help: Arizona, St. Louis, Vegas and Vancouver.
Detroit – The good news for Detroit is that Anthony Mantha has resumed skating and could return soon-ish (ahead of schedule), which should hopefully put a stop to their woeful scoring – the Red Wings have been shut out twice and scored a combined nine goals in the eight games Mantha missed. The bad news for Detroit is that even with Mantha in the lineup, the Wings still only scored one or none in seven of the 24 games he played, and more than four goals only once. Detroit has five games this period, road games against Montreal and Toronto, and home against the Kings, Jackets and Coyotes.
Washington – Five games this period is still plenty of time for the Caps’ studs (John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin et. al) to perform fantasy Christmas miracles, but the Caps’ matchups will be tough: road games against Tampa, Columbus, Boston and New Jersey, and a home game against Tampa. The home game against Tampa is the second-half of a back-to-back that involves travel, never a good thing.