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 25th

The Immediate Fix (Grab this guy and use him for the next several days)

Jordan Eberle, W, New York Islanders (Available in 86 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – After getting reunited with his regular linemates Anders Lee and Mat Barzal three games ago, Eberle’s fantasy value jumped up dramatically – he picked up five assists in those three games and averaged the most ice time he’d seen in a three-game stretch since the first two weeks of the season (18:45).

Those five assists brought him up to 3G-14A on the year, which isn’t incredible by any stretch, but it’s crucial to recognize how important playing with Barzal is for Eberle: 12 of the 37 regular-season points Eberle picked up last year were with Barzal, as well as six of nine playoff points; the scoring rate with the two on the ice over the last three seasons is 3.25GF/60 (5v5, 1386 minutes) vs. 2.66GF/60 for Eberle without Barzal (1061 minutes).

Given the uptick in ice time and getting to play with the best centre on the Island, Eberle’s stock should be pretty high right now (especially in points-only leagues). Add in the Islanders’ cushy schedule (see below) and he’s a strong add through the next few weeks. Remember to monitor the line combos though!

 

The Building Block (Buy now, sit back and enjoy the production)

Alex Killorn, W, Tampa Bay Lightning (Available in 59 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Playing top power play minutes on a unit as dominant as Tampa Bay’s (second in the league in PP percentage) is a great opportunity for Killorn – and that’s translated to six PPG and five PPA in 33 games. Even more important though is Killorn’s ice time and opportunity on the Lightning, as the big-bodied winger is skating second-line, even-strength minutes with Steven Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli, a big change from third-line minutes with Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph last season.

Because of the increased role, Killorn is playing the most ice time he’s seen in his career at 18:14/game, a full minute and a half above his career average and a full four minutes/game above what he played last year when he put up 40 points. Killorn should be able to smash all his previous totals, currently on a 67-point pace (26G-41A) if he plays the remaining 47 games. That shouldn’t be an issue for Killorn, as over his eight-year career he’s only missed more than two games twice – which includes his rookie season.

Killorn’s peripherals aren’t great, as he averages a touch over one hit per game and a touch over two shots on goal per game, and adds almost nothing in the blocked shots and PIM categories. In leagues that value PP points though, he’s a must-add.

 

The Odd Man Out (His short-term value is cause for concern)

Jakub Vrana, W, Washington Capitals (Owned in 70 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – Vrana is having an incredible start to the year – 31 points in 38 games and on pace for just under 40 goals – but his value has taken a real hit over the past few weeks ever since Nicklas Backstrom returned from injury. Vrana’s seen a drastic drop in ice time, has been punted off the first power play unit, and although he’s playing with all-star caliber players in Evgeni Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie at 5v5, Vrana was actually much more productive with Oshie and Lars Eller.

With three assists in the past five games, Vrana has still been productive, but he’s taken only 11 shots on goal in those games (2.2/game) which is a drop from the 3/game he was averaging in the rest of the season. Vrana has an incredible shot quality, and his career shooting percentage of 12.6 is representative of his true shooting talent, but losing 0.8 shots/game will hurt over the course of the year.

Most importantly, Vrana’s skated 9:35, 14:21, 15:08, 18:22 and 13:30 in those five games. 9:35 represents the low mark of his season and the average of those five games is the lowest for any five-game stretch since he was playing third-line minutes in early October. He hasn’t scored a goal since December 6th (eight games ago) which also coincides with when Backstrom made his return. Vrana should be shelved for the time being or shopped if possible in non-keeper leagues, but he could probably also be purchased at his lowest possible value in keeper leagues.

 

The Anchors (They’ll do nothing but disappoint even over the long haul)

James Neal, W, Edmonton Oilers (Owned in 58 percent of Yahoo! Leagues) – After putting up 11 goals in October (14 games played), Neal has slowed right down with only five goals scored since November hit (26 games). A large part of the slow-down can be attributed to shooting percentage evening out – Neal is still at 18 percent shooting on the season which is 6.1 percent higher than his career average and 13% better than what he accomplished last season in Calgary – but like most players in Edmonton, the biggest variable is “time played with Connor McDavid”.

After playing PP1 for the bulk of the year (with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), Neal has lost his spot to Alex Chiasson and is relegated to the second unit with something called a “Gaetan Haas” (among other low-lights). That’s a big drop, as the GF/60 rate for Neal plummets when he’s not playing with McDavid: from 2.48GF/60 at EV to just 1.55GF/60, and 12.27GF/60 to 10.23GF/60 when on the power play.

In the 14 games of the season when Neal was hotter than hot, he played less than 16 minutes just three times (21 percent) vs. playing less than 16 minutes in 12 of the next 26 games (46 percent). Neal’s also taken one shot or less in 11 of those 26 games vs. just twice in the first 14 games, so as his ice time diminishes his value drops dramatically in all categories.

In peripheral leagues, Neal is averaging a little over one hit/game and next to nothing in the blocked shots and PIM categories. He’s also rarely shooting – 2.22/game in an Oilers jersey compared to the 3.15/game he averaged in Nashville. He’s also a nightmare in leagues that track plus/minus, at an astounding -21 which is seventh-worst in the league. He should be dropped immediately, and don’t look back.

 

Love ‘Em (These squads are sure to pay dividends in the coming days)

Tampa Bay – Not only are the Lightning second in PP% and scoring the third-most goals/game – attractive traits no matter how the schedule looks – but the Tampa Bay also gets the benefit of playing seven games between the 27th and Jan. 8th. The highlights of those games are matches against Detroit, Buffalo and Ottawa, but Tampa also plays Montreal twice, Carolina, and Vancouver.

Florida – The other Florida team also has a great schedule, with the Panthers also playing Detroit, Buffalo and Ottawa during this period. The Cats’ other games come against the banged-up Blue Jackets and Penguins, as well as playing Montreal and Arizona. Florida’s scored 20 goals in their past five games mostly thanks to revamped lines and the Noel Acciari coming-out party, but their scoring should continue given the weak competition.

NY Islanders – Usually Eastern Conference teams get featured in the Love ‘Em section thanks to the incredibly-poor defensive teams in the conference (Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit being the main standouts), but the Islanders are actually playing three games against the Western Conference during this stretch; NYI will face the Blackhawks and Wild on the road as well as the Avalanche at home, and none of those teams are staunch defensively. The Islanders’ other four games come against Washington, Toronto, and the Devils (twice!) which is pretty inviting.

 

Leave ‘Em (These squads will leave fantasy owners sorely disappointed in the short term)

Ottawa – Although the Senators get to play the Devils as a late Christmas gift, the rest of their schedule this stretch is no prize at all: only five total games including the game vs. New Jersey, with the four remaining games coming against Pittsburgh and Washington on the road, and Florida and Tampa at home. Ottawa’s studs are still fantasy viable, but don’t count on them to win weeks.

Dallas – The Stars are sixth-worst in goals per game thanks to a dismal PP (they’re ninth-worst in EV goals/game), and their schedule does them no favours as they only play five games this period. They have one fantastic matchup (Detroit at home) but that’ll about do it, with the remaining games coming against Colorado, Nashville, Los Angeles and Arizona.

Minnesota – Losing Jason Zucker to a leg injury for the next few weeks won’t help the Wild much – he’s their second-highest point-scorer (tied with Ryan Suter) – and with Mikko Koivu still banged-up, the Wild don’t have much scoring outside of their top line. They’ll face the Avs (ninth-stingiest in terms of GA/game), Islanders (fifth-stingiest), Leafs (21st), and Flames (14th) twice which means a short schedule with only one good matchup.

 

December 27 to January 2

Best Bets

CGY 4.51 – Away EDM – Home VAN CHI NYR

TBL 4.3525 – Away BUF MTL- Home MTL DET

FLA 4.3525 – Away CBJ OTT- Home DET MTL

BOS 4.2 – Away BUF NJD – Home BUF CBJ

PIT 4.1575 – Away NSH – Home NSH OTT SJS

Steer Clear

NSH 2.845 – Away PIT DAL – Home PIT

DET 2.855 – Away FLA TBL – Home SJS

OTT 2.955 – Away PIT – Home NJD FLA

DAL 3.05 – Away ARI – Home COL NSH

VAN 3.05 – Away CGY – Home LAK CHI

December 28 to January 3

Best Bets

TBL 4.3525 – Away BUF MTL – Home MTL DET

FLA 4.3525 – Away CBJ OTT – Home DET MTL

DAL 4.2575 – Away ARI – Home COL NSH DET

ARI 4.1 – Away VGK – Home DAL STL ANH

DET 3.9 – Away FLA TBL DAL- Home SJS

Steer Clear

NSH 1.9 – Away PIT DAL – Home

LAK 2.1425 – Away VAN – Home PHI

EDM 2.1475 – Away BUF – Home NYR

MIN 2.1525 – Away – Home NYI TOR

N.Y. Islanders 2.8075 – Away MIN WSH – Home NJD

December 29 to January 4

Best Bets

TBL 4.3425 – Away BUF MTL OTT- Home DET

BOS 4.31 – Away NJD – Home BUF CBJ EDM

ARI 4.2 – Away – Home DAL STL ANH PHI

FLA 4.19 – Away CBJ OTT BUF- Home MTL

CBJ 4.1575 – Away BOS – Home CHI FLA SJS

Steer Clear

NSH 1.9 – Away DAL LAK- Home

WSH 2 – Away CAR – Home NYI

LAK 2.0475 – Away – Home PHI NSH

CAR 2.1 – Away – Home MTL WSH

TOR 2.8075 – Away MIN WPG – Home NYI

December 30 to January 5

Best Bets

PIT 4.305 – Away MTL – Home OTT SJS FLA

TBL 4.085 – Away BUF MTL OTT CAR- Home

FLA 3.9425 – Away CBJ OTT BUF PIT- Home

SJS 3.8 – Away DET PIT CBJ WSH- Home

CHI 3.25 – Away CGY VAN – Home DET

Steer Clear

VAN 2.2575 – Away – Home CHI NYR

LAK 2.0475 – Away – Home PHI NSH

PHI 2.755 – Away LAK VGK ARI – Home

DAL 2.205 – Away – Home NSH DET

NSH 2.8025 – Away DAL LAK ANH- Home

December 31 to January 6

Best Bets

TBL 4.085 – Away BUF MTL OTT CAR – Home

EDM 4.0475 – Away BUF BOS TOR- Home NYR

TOR 3.9625 – Away MIN WPG – Home NYI EDM

N.Y. Islanders 4.0525 – Away WSH TOR – Home NJD COL

WPG 3.9525 – Away COL MIN MTL- Home TOR

Steer Clear

OTT 1.995 – Away – Home FLA TBL

DAL 2.205 – Away – Home NSH DET

VAN 2.2575 – Away – Home CHI NYR

PHI 2.755 – Away LAK VGK ARI – Home

NSH 2.8025 – Away DAL LAK ANH – Home

January 1 to January 7

Best Bets

TBL 4.2475 – Away MTL OTT CAR – Home VAN

N.Y. Islanders 4.1 – Away TOR NJD- Home NJD COL

PIT 4.0475 – Away MTL VGK- Home SJS FLA

FLA 4.0425 – Away OTT BUF PIT – Home ARI

MTL 3.98 – Away DET- Home TBL PIT WPG

Steer Clear

LAK 2.0475 – Away – Home NSH CBJ

MIN 2.0475 – Away – Home WPG CGY

BUF 2.205 – Away – Home EDM FLA

DAL 2.205 – Away – Home NSH DET

PHI 2.85 – Away VGK ARI CAR- Home

January 2 to January 8

Best Bets

TBL 4.2475 – Away MTL OTT CAR – Home VAN

WSH 4.1575 – Away CAR PHI- Home SJS OTT

TOR 4.105 – Away WPG – Home NYI EDM WPG

N.Y. Islanders 4.1 – Away TOR NJD – Home NJD COL

PIT 4.0475 – Away MTL VGK – Home SJS FLA

Steer Clear

MIN 2.0475 – Away – Home WPG CGY

DAL 2.0625 – Away LAK- Home DET

BUF 2.205 – Away – Home EDM FLA

NSH 2.755 – Away LAK ANH – Home BOS

OTT 2.8975 – Away WSH – Home FLA TBL