Ramblings: Justin Schultz is a Must-Have (Dec 17)

by steve laidlaw on December 17, 2016

Kuznetsov stays hot, what to expect from Derek Ryan, Daley hurt, Schultz a must-add and more.

The injuries are piling up for the Penguins again. They’ve lost Kris Letang for a few weeks and now Trevor Daley did not finish last night’s game. No update on his exact situation.

The Ian ColeJustin Schultz pairing took the heavy minutes with Daley and Letang out as Schultz skated over 27 minutes, while Cole played over 21. The Penguins went back to a four-forward look on the top power play unit, with Schultz the lone defenseman. They were blanked by the Kings but if you weren’t already on the red hot Schultz you have to be now.

Schultz isn’t available in too many Fantrax leagues but he’s still on the waiver wire in about half of all ESPN and Yahoo leagues.


Evgeny Kuznetsov is bringing the heat!!! His scoring streak has now reached six games. He has eight assists in that span. I’ve been preaching for weeks that he would turn it around. Here we are. He could score at a point-per-game pace the rest of the way.

Andre Burakovsky was scratched for the second straight game. Expect him back in the lineup soon but he’s been buried for the past few weeks so do not expect him to be productive.

Jakub Vrana has three points in the last four games but skated just 8:32 last night. He could be headed for a demotion as the Caps appear set to recall Zach Sanford. I read a while back that Barry Trotz was expecting him to be shuttled between the NHL and AHL all season.


Derek Ryan has 10 points in his last eight games and is working his way into a top-line gig. He is averaging just 13 minutes per game but has been up above 14 minutes in the past three games, including a season high 17:05 last night.

With exposure to Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask, plus some big power play usage, Ryan is in a great spot. He’s filling the role we thought Lee Stempniak would when he started the season off hot. I’d look for Ryan to produce at a Stempniak-esque 50-point pace the rest of the way. With 50 games left, that would mean about 30 points.


Good news, it appears that Logan Couture is fine after the crosscheck to the head from Mike Hoffman earlier this week. He skated 19 minutes last night.

Timo Meier made his NHL debut and scored a goal on his first career shot. We’ve seen a ton of instant impact from players making their debut but it hasn’t always lasted. Meier skated just 10 minutes, with no power play time. He’s a great keeper league option but I wouldn’t go in on him in one-year leagues just yet.

Meier got into the lineup replacing Joel Ward who was a healthy scratch.


By the way, Hoffman was suspended two games for his crosscheck. Meanwhile, Cody Eakin was suspended four games for his hit on Henrik Lundqvist.


Andrew Shaw was unavailable for the Canadiens due to a concussion. Since it’s a concussion, we can’t establish a timeline for him. Mind you, Shaw isn’t that fantasy relevant.

The Canadiens rolled out an interesting look for their top power play unit:



I can’t see them continuing to not use either Max Pacioretty or Alexander Radulov on the top PP unit but it could be a big win for Petry who has two goals in the past three games.


JF Berube made his first start of the season, stopping 34 of 37 in an overtime loss in Buffalo. Berube is good enough to be a regular backup. The Islanders really need to figure out a way to get him more action.


Andrew Berkshire asks if Leon Draisaitl can maintain his 35-goal pace:

Where Draisaitl is blowing everyone else out of the water so far though, is on the power play. With the man advantage, Draisaitl is the Oilers’ biggest scoring threat, producing the most inner slot chances and scoring chances overall – Milan Lucic is the only other player close to him.

The Oilers’ power play has surged in recent weeks and now ranks as a top-10 unit, in terms of efficiency. This is a shocking turnaround after running what amounted to a clogged toilet over the first month of the season. There is enough talent for the Oilers to continue to produce at a high level, although as Berkshire notes, Draisaitl won’t continue to score on a third of all his shots with the man-advantage.

I expect some kind of slow down from Draisaitl’s torrid pace but he is making me believe that he is a 60-point guy.


A couple of changes in the Yahoo player database earlier this week with Viktor Arvidsson, Mikko Rantanen, Anthony Mantha and Marian Gaborik all gaining dual wing eligibility. This will help you find a way to keep them in your lineup for an extended period.


And now for the weekly Q+A section:

It depends on what exactly the stat categories you track are. If you include Hits and Blocked Shots, then Ekblad falls far behind as he simply does not block a lot of shots. Less than one block per game from a big-minute defenseman? That’s not ideal. I was in negotiations for Ekblad last season before realizing how seldom he blocks shots and had to cut off talks immediately.

Ekblad hasn’t hit as much as Doughty although he is cranking it to another level now that he is being asked to play a larger role. I’d put them on par in that category now. It will be interesting to see if this hitting continues from Ekblad because it’s worth noting how poorly he has performed without Brian Campbell. He is losing the possession battle on a nightly basis, is taking more penalties than ever and has a plus/minus in the tank.

It’s strange but in multi-category leagues it can be of some benefit to have defensemen who lose the possession battle. Kris Russell is a stud in leagues that count blocked shots. Ekblad, still isn’t skating enough penalty kill time to pile up the blocked shots but his declining possession metrics may be helping to boost his PIM and Hit numbers. It is also tanking his plus/minus although some of that has to do with luck.

Ekblad’s PDO is a ghastly 943 so we shouldn’t expect him to remain a minus-15. I mostly ignore plus/minus when assessing player value anyhow because it fluctuates so much. I find it much more reliable to focus on more consistent stats like shots, which is an area that Ekblad is flourishing.

He ranks second among NHL defensemen with 105 SOG this season and is on pace for a whopping 274 SOG. Can he maintain this pace? Perhaps not but with Doughty shooting merely ~2.0 SOG per game, this is an area where Ekblad gets a leg up.

We also assume that after seasons of 39 and 36 points, Ekblad has another gear and is ready to join Doughty in the 40-50 range. Even if Ekblad doesn’t quite get to that level this season, in a dynasty we should be forecasting that he will at some point. Plus, it’s not like Doughty is some mega scoring star. Most of his fantasy seasons have been underwhelming.

Considering Ekblad’s shooting binge this season, I would take him in standard leagues over Doughty. Those are leagues scoring goals, assists, plus/minus, power-play points, PIM and SOG. If your league scores blocked shots then I start leaning towards Doughty. It’s only one category but having a defenseman who can’t even block a shot per game, in a league that scores blocks is a liability.


Ondrej Palat is certainly disposable. You can’t be attached to middling forwards. None of the listed options are particularly exciting but I would suggest that you are looking at this problem the wrong way. To hell with picking the “sexiest” name. Find the guy who you will actually be able to use in your lineup. Look at the upcoming schedule and see where the gaps are and find a player who fits the positional openings on the night that you have them.

The Devils are the only team in the league with five games between tonight and Christmas. Is there a Devil player you could scoop and get five games out of?


I am leaning slightly towards Rasmus Ristolainen because of Buffalo’s lethal power play. I expect both Buffalo and Arizona to be miserable but Arizona is miserable because they can’t score at all.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a stud and if you asked me this question before the season, he would have been my answer but because of Arizona’s miserable offense and because he is shooting the puck much less this season, I have to steer towards Ristolainen.

It’s also worth mentioning that OEL doesn’t block many shots. The blocks bonus in this league isn’t much but the fact that Ristolainen doubles OEL’s output is significant. With ~50 games remaining, you can expect Ristolainen to put up 10 more fantasy points than OEL just because of blocked shots, not to mention whatever scoring bonus there is for all the PPP he will pile up.

If goals are worth more than assists, as they often are in these leagues, then my answer changes because I would expect OEL to score double the goals as Ristolainen but if there’s no difference between a goal and an assist, Ristolainen will score more.


I could see why one might feel that way but no, Kopitar is still the man.


At this juncture, I am not sure that Cory Schneider is an upgrade for you in goal. Freddie Andersen is having the sort of fantasy season that I thought Schneider might and both Robin Lehner and Mike Smith have done well in losing situations.

I support the idea of trying to upgrade in goal, but I would be hunting a goalie on a winning team, not adding another loser to your squad. You need that wins dimension that Schneider doesn’t appear able to provide.


Not great. As discussed yesterday, Nino Niederreiter may need to land elsewhere to open up a top-line gig.

The hope for Mikael Granlund was that he would develop into Minnesota’s version of Nicklas Backstrom. An elite playmaker who can elevate his teammates to superb levels. Granlund is a good playmaker but he is not elite. He also isn’t much of a shooter. While he has seven goals on 14.3% shooting, he is a mere 8.5% career shooter. We should expect some regression.

Granlund is headed towards a career season but he probably tops out at 50 points. That he hasn’t emerged as a more dynamic playmaker (particularly on the power play) suggests that he is better served as a secondary offensive option. In the right scenario he could go for more points but I would treat him like a 50-point guy at best.


Panarin is probably the best option in the group but I’d take the Hall/Kopitar side because Hall is capable of scoring at Panarin’s level when healthy. Meanwhile Kopitar is simply a better option that Toews who is overrated in fantasy.


Appreciating that Pavelski is the best player right now, I desperately want Laine on my team in a keeper format.


Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.