Part two of our Trending Up series looks at eight players from Eastern teams building fantasy value.
Throughout the year every player experiences plenty of ups and downs. This can sometimes lead to fluctuations in player value. In deeper pools this can create opportunities to buy low and sell high while bolstering your roster over the long haul. Meanwhile, in shallower leagues streaks and slumps can determine whether or not a player is owned or on the waiver wire. Knowing which player to add and when will help you maximize the overall output of your final roster spots. After all, everyone is struggling in some fashion on the injury front which makes your management of the wire even more important.
After covering players in the first half of the Eastern Conference that are trending up last week, this week the focus shifts to the final eight teams from the New York Islanders to Washington.
Nicklas Backstrom (Washington)
Usually one of the top point-producers in the league, Backstrom is often overshadowed on his team by Alexander Ovechkin and does not have the name value of others at his level. While Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid have dominated the headlines, Backstrom now finds himself on par with the league’s two poster boys thanks to a recent hot streak of 13 points in seven games.
With that said, Backstrom is currently producing above where he should be as he has benefited from the Capitals going nutty in recent weeks. Both his personal shooting percentage and overall five-on-five shooting percentage are very high and due for a drop. While this does indicate Backstrom is unlikely to stick at the level of Crosby and McDavid, he is always scooped up later in fall drafts making him a great value pick. In fact, even with his recent run he would be much cheaper to acquire relative to the league’s bigger names.
Brett Connolly (Washington)
After what seems like a few decades Connolly is finally showing life at the NHL level. Since the beginning of January he has been excellent despite rarely seeing more than 12 minutes in ice time in a given night. Furthermore, he is not a factor on the power play making his run even more incredible.
Obviously, his limited role means his elevated play is unsustainable. It is virtually impossible to have stretches of more than a point a game without playing a more important role and in Washington there is no room for Connolly to climb the depth chart for the time being. Most importantly though is the fact he is on his way to establishing himself as a quality depth player who can chip in some extra points. His point total along with his PIM, hits and shots make him an interesting option in deep multi-category leagues.
Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay)
Seven points in his last seven outings is enough to show Johnson is back on track after yet another slow start. Considering he usually shares the ice with high-end scorer Nikita Kucherov it was only a matter of time before Johnson got rolling. His ice time has also trended up with five of his last six games being above his season average of 18:44.
However, at the moment he is out with an injury and has missed the last two games. It remains to be seen if he can immediately get back to his productive ways upon his return. While the best time to buy low was when he was slumping, the injury might open another window to make a quick deal if you feel like gambling a bit. Right now he is on pace to finish with 49 points but should be able to get you a few extra points given how well he has bounced back.
Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh)
When Connor Sheary went to the sidelines Kunitz was the benefactor as he was bumped to the wing spot next to Sidney Crosby. Not surprisingly he has responded very well to the promotion and is on a run of six points over his last seven. However, he is still on pace for just 40 points which along with his age will cause him to get overlooked. This can lead to you landing a capable depth winger for free. Kunitz should remain a solid alternative as long as Sheary is out.
While the offense is nice, multi-category land is where Kunitz thrives. He has historically been a great hitter and was absolutely deadly when he also stuffed the offensive categories. He has clearly taken a hit across the board due to his declining ice time in recent years but during his recent strong run he added 13 shots and 21 hits while logging an average of 16:29.
Anders Lee (New York Islanders)
Lee has been among the top producers in the NHL since January 14 with 16 points in 13 games. Historically the Islanders have been a real revolving door when it comes to assigning wingers for star center John Tavares but Lee has been a fixture on the left side for much of the campaign and has rewarded fantasy owners accordingly. In addition to being on pace for career-highs in goals (31) and points (52), Lee also averages well over two shots per game and close to two hits per game making him a strong multi-category player as well.
The only area of concern looking at his numbers is his shooting percentage which sits at 16.5 percent. Of course, the bigger concern is a shuffling of lines at some point which would crush Lee’s fantasy appeal but given the success he has had this year it makes sense to try to keep him there even when an inevitable slump happens.
Morgan Rielly (Toronto)
To the surprise of many, Rielly has not been getting much power-play time with the Leaf and as a result he is on pace for a mere 33 points, well below most people’s expectations. The 22-year-old blueliner averages over 22 minutes per game which makes it possible for him to heat up from time to time, including this past week when he had a run of four points over three games. The streak is encouraging but without a more prominent role on the power play it will not continue for long. The conditions are simply not ideal to maximize his output. Until that changes he carries more name value than he produces in your league making him more useful in a trade.
Ryan Strome (New York Islanders)
Strome appears to be enjoying life with new coach Doug Weight and is currently playing his best hockey of the year with eight points in his last seven. Most importantly, in all seven game his ice time was above his season average of 14:43 and he has been deployed heavily on the power play. Considering his season total is just 22 points it is possible he still sits on your waiver wire. If you need some immediate punch you might as well give Strome a shot.
However, in keeper leagues Strome is a trickier case. He is no doubt highly-talented and capable of putting up a lot of points. The issue is the prolonged bad play that has accompanied his strong play and cannot be ignored. Ideally, you can wait for him to cool down before making an offer if you choose to go that route but make sure you do not overpay. Strome is far from a proven commodity.
Nikita Zaitsev (Toronto)
Unlike Rielly, Zaitsev has been getting big power-play minutes of late and has rewarded fantasy owners with eight points in his last 10, including three with the man-advantage. Considering he also averages over 22 minutes and plays for a high-scoring team he should remain a strong fantasy option on the blueline. With that said, be careful not to invest too heavily based on the current situation as there is always the threat of Rielly, the more talented defender, reclaiming his spot on the top unit at some point. This is a classic case of opportunity deciding which player ultimately succeeds in fantasy land.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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