Looking at some of the most interesting line combinations in the Eastern Conference.
Early in the season everything is magnified and shortsighted conclusions are drawn which can prove costly in time. One reason for this is the anticipation for the start of the new campaign. Obviously fantasy hockey managers are extremely passionate and are excited to get back in the flow. Another reason is the small sample size of games to date – a streak or slump in January is less impactful on the season numbers to date than the same thing happening in October. As a result hasty decisions are made which in the end will prove to be incorrect once more games are played and most players fall back to more regular production.
With that said, the early-season developments are nonetheless important to track. While nothing is conclusive after just a couple games, trends to begin to emerge which can have an impact on a player’s actual performance over the long haul. Often times this happens as a result of line combinations as coaches want to develop chemistry as soon as possible. As a result, some players will be in a better position than expected while others face an uphill battle for the time being.
Today we will look at some line combinations of interest throughout the Eastern Conference. Each team will be covered in rapid fire fashion outlining various combinations along with players impacted.
Despite averaging just 15 minutes per game Pastrnak has been hot out of the gate with five points in two games. He is not assured to keep this spot once lines are adjusted following Patrice Bergeron’s return but the production helps his case a lot. A more likely outcome is Backes being bumped down to the second line, perhaps to play on the wing.
Heinen is the surprise here as he secured a spot on the second line after a great camp. He has yet to pick up a point which could bump him down when Bergeron is back. The alternative is for Backes to take Spooner’s spot while the latter returns to his third-line role from a year ago.
Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo
With injuries to Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, Carlo has been given a pretty significant role. Through two games he has averaged 20 minutes in ice time along with extended shorthanded minutes. Given his massive frame and rugged style he has some multi-category potential as long as he can maintain this role. Unfortunately, McQuaid and Miller will eventually return so Carlo is more likely to be a short-term fix, although he is still just 19 so he has a ton of long-term value in keeper leagues.
The Sabres have been hit hard by injuries to key players but it is nonetheless disappointing to see Ennis line up with two players having virtually no track record putting up points at the NHL level. Even after some line shuffling before the team’s last game Ennis was placd with Nic Deslauriers and Derek Grant, once again putting Ennis in a position to underachieve. Until this changes he is going to be relying far too much on the power play for production.
With the arrivals of potential stars Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen there were a lot of questions as to how Lee Stempniak would fit in with his new club. Although he has only averaged 16 minutes per game he has been placed on a line with Skinner and Rask, the Hurricanes’ top two scorers from last year, and has already put up three points. Most of us discarded the possibility of Stempniak continuing where he left off last year but if he can sustain the chemistry on this line he could surprise us again with an impressive total.
Seth Jones – Zach Werenski
An injury to Ryan Murray, Jones’ most frequent defense partner last year, helped Werenski secure a spot on the Blue Jackets’ top pair. So far the rookie blueliner has been excellent with two points in two games along with nine shots, an average ice time of just under 22 minutes and a spot on the top power-play unit. This high level of play will ensure he continues to get chances to shine instead of eventually settling into a more sheltered role. If he shows he can handle the minutes he could turn out to be one of the best rookies this year.
Athanasiou has not picked up a point yet but getting the assignment on the top line is very encouraging. Looking back to last year his 14 points in 37 games was an impressive feat considering he averaged just nine minutes in ice time. More utilization plus better linemates should lead to an improvement in his points-per-game ratio.
Helm benefits the most from being in this trio and started the year hot with two points in two games. In the past he has shown he can put up decent points for stretches and can be very good in multi-category leagues. But as always you have to be careful with injuries with Helm. Make sure your scouting of players on your waiver wire is up to date in case he goes down.
Justin Abdelkader – Luke Glendening – Drew Miller
The past two years Abdelkader has become a solid fantasy option using his size and grit on lines with smaller, more skilled players. This year he has been the odd man out and has fallen onto a line with Glendening and Miller at even strength. He is still getting looks on the power play but until he gets back into the top-six at even strength his offense will suffer considerably.
Marchessault has benefited from a long-term injury suffered by Jonathan Huberdeau and has taken full advantage of his opportunity with four points in his first two outings. Additionally, he is averaging well over 18 minutes in ice time and well over two minutes on the power play. He should be safe to put up solid numbers until Huberdeau returns. After that look for the newcomer to shift into more of a depth-scoring role unless there are other injuries on the roster.
Lehkonen won a spot on the second line after a strong camp and has been generating a ton of scoring chances. In his second game he scored his first NHL goal but it came after a demotion to the fourth line following some line shuffling. Keep an eye on this as his spot in the top-six is not firmly established. There is a lot of upside here – both short-term and long-term – but this year could be filled with ups and downs.
Beaulieu’s skating ability has been an asset next to Weber which could pay dividends in fantasy land. The added ice time will help Beaulieu get more points in addition to further padding his peripheral categories. The bigger story is Andrei Markov who may finally see a drop in ice time to help preserve him over the full schedule. He still plays a key role on the power play and should still log over 20 minutes per contest so at most he will be a handful of points short of last year’s total.
So far the coveted wing spot opposite Hall has gone to Parenteau, who was recently claimed on waivers by New Jersey and has a pair of points already this season. If he can keep this spot all year he will easily match last year’s 41 points. Devante Smith-Pelly has also been tried with Hall but he has not been able to produce any points. In all likelihood he will remain a fantasy tease who ultimately fails to impress.
New York Islanders
Chimer was the surprise winner to line up next to Tavares and the early results were not good. In the Islanders’ most recent game Josh Bailey was tried there but Tavares ultimately scored his first point between Cal Clutterbuck and Nikolay Kulemin. Even more concerning is Ryan Strome who is averaging just 13 minutes and has lined up with a number of mediocre linemates. In three games he has just one goal and is minus-four.
New York Rangers
There was concern over Buchnevich’s viability in fantasy leagues this year after the Rangers signed so many forwards prior to training camp. So far he has seen time on Zibanejad’s line as the team has opted to spread out the scoring over three lines. He might not produce big numbers but he should be able to help those who have been patient with him in keeper leagues.
Holden has quietly logged a lot of minutes over the past couple years. This trend has continued after he was all but written off as a depth defenseman as he has been paired with both Staal and Ryan McDonagh. Through three games he has averaged over 22 minutes and has two points along with his usual contributions in hits and blocks. Keep an eye on him as he could be a useful multi-category defenseman if he continues to be deployed this frequently.
Smith has been the one to fill the void in the top-six left by the injury to Clarke MacArthur. So far he has two points in three games along with excellent peripheral contributions just like last year when he received the same promotion to cover for injuries. You should not expect a repeat of the career-high 25 goals he posted last season but will once again surprise as a multi-category beast if he can keep his spot on a scoring line.
This year Raffl has been back in a familiar spot flanking Giroux but this might only be a short-term arrangement. Brayden Schenn, who had a career year while playing often with Giroux, is wrapping up a suspension and will be back soon. This will take away Raffl’s value in deep multi-category leagues where he can be a useful depth option when he is on the top line.
Prior to being overpaid by the Flyers MacDonald was a solid all-around defenseman who had some multi-category value due to his blocked shots. Last year he only played 28 games with the Flyers but this year he is back as a regular and has averaged just under 20 minutes. He should be a solid option for blocks again and might even chip in some secondary scoring while being paired with Gostisbehere.
Wilson has been put in a favorable spot but has failed to deliver with no points through three games. Time is running out and there will be opportunities for other forwards to step up. In last night’s game Malkin moved to a line with Conor Sheary and Chris Kunitz which gives an indication of who is next in line to get an opportunity.
The good news is Drouin has been lining up next to Steven Stamkos at even strength and has averaged over 18 minutes per game thus far. However, two of his points have come on the power play where he is a member of the second unit. The added responsibility along with Drouin showing he can produce with different linemates is a very encouraging sign.
While Auston Matthews has received the majority of the hype there are plenty of reasons to like Marner, one of the Leafs’ other rookies with big upside. Through two games he notched his first NHL goal and also has 10 shots on goal while averaging over 16 minutes per game. It is a good sign that he is being showcased with good players instead of being sheltered in a depth role.
Many were skeptical of Kuznetsov’s likelihood of repeating last year’s 77-point effort while playing on the second line. Well, this year he is on the top line with Ovechkin. Kuznetsov does not have any points yet but if the Capitals are serious about this line combination it will start to pay dividends soon. Meanwhile, Nicklas Backstrom has been demoted to the second line but has two points to his name already.
It goes without saying that being on the team’s third line is not going to put Williams in a position to challenge last year’s 52-point total. However, the ice time is still up and he is still being used on the power play so there is room for some production. Look for him to fall back closer to the 40-point range which is where he was while in Los Angeles.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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