Everyone looks at forwards as the main part of fantasy hockey, and it's hard not to when we track scoring the most, and forwards do most of the scoring. As a result, the top end forwards are always the first guys off the draft board, and it can be harder to plan a strategy around stacking or punting forwards like you can with defencemen and goalies. If your team is in contention to this point in the year, your top tier forwards are likely serving you well, so it will be the depth around them that you would be looking to upgrade at the deadline.
Kevin Labanc (LW/RW) – San Jose Sharks
Cap Hit: $1,000,000 expiring in the summer of 2020
As far as rentals go in fantasy hockey, Labanc has the stars aligning for what could be one of the best buys of your fantasy hockey season. After signing a very cheap "prove-it" deal, the general consensus was that he was going to be one of the best bargains this season. That hasn't come to pass thus far, as Labanc has struggled to build on his successful 56-point campaign last season. This year, he is on pace for a pedestrian 43-points, and is a putrid -20. However, there are signs of life, as Labanc has seen his ice time grow in the wake of injuries to key players, and in that time, he is shooting more which is leading to him racking up more points. He has eight points in 11 games since Logan Couture was hurt, and three points in four games since Tomas Hertl's injury.
Pavel Buchnevich (RW) – New York Rangers
Cap Hit: $3,250,000 expiring in the summer of 2021
The young Ranger winger has bounced around the lineup all season, but after a slow second quarter in which his ice time was inexplicably cut, he's back on the 50-point pace he has met or exceeded in each of the last three previous quarters. He hit his breakout threshold thirty games ago, and in the last quarter of this season, should see his ice time increase as players such as Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast, and/or Ryan Strome are sold at the deadline, freeing up more offensive minutes. He's scoring at a point per game pace since the all-star break, with two and a half shots per game in that span.
Jared McCann (C/LW) – Pittsburgh Penguins
Cap Hit: $1,250,000 expiring in the summer of 2020
Earlier in the season when Sidney Crosby was missing games, Jared McCann was centring his own line, but it was hurting his production. Now, with the centres healthy, but Jake Guentzel out, he has been stapled to the wing where he is able to focus a little more on offence. At a cost to your cap of just over $1 million, he provides shots, hits, and the ability to put up points in bunches on Crosby or Malkin's wing.
Since the Penguins added Jason Zucker on Monday night, we only have a game to work with for the new line combinations. In that game, we saw Zucker stapled to Crosby's wing, while Patrick Hornqvist and Dominik Simon rotated as the other winger. McCann spent the game with Malkin, which is as good of a consolation prize as you could possibly ask for. However, the Penguins lost the game, and were not solid defensively, so those line combos may go in the blender again.
Alex Debrincat – Chicago Blackhawks
Cap Hit: $778,333 expiring in the summer of 2020, with a three-year extension at $6,400,000.
After his breakout last season, big things were expected this year. However, Debrincat has struggled to find the same consistency as he had before, and some of his on-ice shooting percentages have dropped. The Blackhawks as a whole are shooting a couple percentage points lower with Debrincat on the ice than they were last year, but bigger than that, his personal shooting percentage is down a full 10%. Last season it was high, but this season it's about 5% below where it should be, and 6.5% below his career average. Had Debrincat been scoring at that rate, he would have an additional 10 goals on top of his current total. This is likely as low as you are going to be able to buy one of the best players to own in cap leagues for this season. His extension is also very reasonable for the next three years taking him right into his prime.
Joonas Donskoi – Colorado Avalanche
Cap Hit: $3,900,000 expiring in the summer of 2023
With news coming out that Nazem Kadri is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, the big three for the Colorado Avalanche will likely be split up across the top two lines. As a result, Donskoi should get a deployment boost like he did earlier in the season playing with MacKinnon when Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog were out. With that deployment, Donskoi scored at about a 60-point pace, which is drastically different than his three points in 14 games since mid-December. Keep an eye on the line combos, as Donskoi's value may only fly under the radar for another few days before others start to pick up on the possibility of a renascence in the last quarter of the season. As a bonus, only the New Jersey Devils have less games remaining than the Avalanche, so the extra man games could provide an additional boost. In the first game with Kadri out, Donskoi was playing with Landeskog, while also slotting in with a plum spot on the top powerplay.
If you have questions, comments, or article requests, you can find me on Twitter @alexdmaclean.
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