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Fantasy Hockey: Players to Know (Week of April 2)

Jason Chen looks at some names you need to know after another busy week of fantasy hockey.
Sean Durzi

Goalies

Semyon Varlamov, Islanders

No Sorokin, no problem. With a 27-save shutout against the Rangers on Friday, Varlamov has now won three straight games and shut them out four straight times at MSG, becoming the first goalie since Hall of Famer Alec Connell in 1926. It’s just Varlamov’s ninth win of the season in 24 starts, but public models still rate Varlamov as well above average – the big problem with him has been the lack of goal support, which is out of his control. His three straight wins has been aided by a 12-goal outburst by the Isles, mostly thanks to Brock Nelson’s line. With this kind of goal support, Varlamov is a valuable fantasy goalie.

Logan Thompson, Knights

Robin Lehner should be the No. 1 again, right? Not so fast. Granted, the competition wasn’t tough with two straight games against the Kraken, but Thompson has won four straight games and six of his last eight. The Knights will likely name Lehner the starter again once he’s ready – probably as soon as Sunday’s matinee against the Canucks – but I wouldn’t be so quick to ditch the Thompson bandwagon. Lehner’s looked shaky for most of the season, not to mention he’s an injury risk; if he’s healthy enough to dress as the backup for two straight games, why didn’t the Knights at least give him a start against the lowly Kraken in the midst of a tight playoff race if Lehner’s supposed to be the guy? I don’t imagine the leash for Lehner will be very long, though he’ll certainly get the benefit of the doubt due to seniority. In other words, even if Lehner draws Sunday’s start, I wouldn’t be so quick to dump Thompson, who at least figures to be the 1B backup with Laurent Brossoit still injured.

Rookies

Sean Durzi, D, Kings

With rumblings that Drew Doughty may miss the rest of the season, Durzi – rostered in just nine percent of Yahoo leagues – is now a must-have for fantasy managers looking for high-quality defensemen playing big minutes. Durzi played over 28 minutes in a shootout win against Calgary, and though he didn’t register a point for the third straight game, did manage to record nine (!) blocked shots. He does it all for the Kings on a team whose right-side defense has been decimated by injuries and forced Rob Blake to strike a deal for Troy Stecher at the deadline. Make no mistake, neither Jordan Spence, who’s still a little green compared to Durzi, nor Stecher, who has battled injuries and is currently a depth defenseman at this point, is a danger to take Durzi’s job.

Notables

Barrett Hayton, C/LW, Coyotes

Clayton Keller’s leg injury will force him to miss the rest of the season, which means the Coyotes will have to find a different way to stack their top line. In steps Barrett Hayton, who had centered the second line behind Nick Schmaltz but gets a bump up the depth chart with Schmaltz moving to the wing. The Coyotes resemble more of an AHL squad these days, currently carrying seven (!) players on entry-level deals, but that just means Hayton’s experience gives him the edge for playing time even though he’s only 21 years old. Drafted as a two-way center with limited offensive upside in a top-six role, Hayton’s a name to keep an eye on in fantasy leagues simply due to his high usage; the Coyotes rank second-last in GF/GP and they will be even worse without their top playmaker.

Evan Rodrigues, C/RW, Penguins

Jason Zucker just can’t catch a break. He played just 5:33 against the Wild on Thursday, the second time he’s been injured in his first game back from injury. His return prompted the Pens to re-unite Bryan Rust with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, who had been playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin, and also bumped Rodrigues down to the third line. Now that Zucker is expected to miss time again, look for Rodrigues to move back up the lineup; the expectation is that Rust will return to Malkin’s line opposite Rickard Rakell, while Rodrigues gets the assignment on the top line. Rodrigues has been feast or famine in fantasy this season – he hasn’t scored a goal since March 11 – but remains a high-volume shooter and should once again be an asset in most standard fantasy leagues. He’s widely available and rostered in only 26 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Andrew Copp, C/LW/RW, Rangers

So, a really weird thing is happening with the Rangers. In aggregate, based on naturalstattrick.com’s models, the Rangers have been at the bottom of the league all season in CF% at 5-on-5 and heading into Saturday’s games rank 29th overall. They routinely get outshot and out-chanced, and it’s a big reason why Igor Shesterkin is making a very, very strong case to win both the Vezina and the Hart. But since the trade deadline when the Rangers added the versatile Andrew Copp from the Jets and the underappreciated checking winger Tyler Motte from the Canucks, they’ve ranked third in 5v5 CF% at 58.19 percent, trailing only the Panthers and Bruins. Copp, in particular, has been phenomenal; despite a 3-0 loss to the Isles on Friday, he was a perfect 12-0 in shots attempts vs. against sharing the ice with Artemi Panarin. Motte and Copp, who were teammates for two seasons with the Michigan Wolverines (and also an apt title for buddy cop flick), have both seen their possession metrics jump way up even though they play on separate lines and fill very different roles.

You wouldn’t think Copp and Panarin to be natural fits with each other, but it does seem like Gerard Gallant has stumbled on something here. Their skill levels don’t really match up, and their individual playing styles are like oil and water, but somehow, they’ve made it work. Even Ryan Strome must be looking at this with bewilderment because even with his higher playmaking skill, he didn’t put up advanced metrics quite like this. The past few Stanley Cup winners have always ranked fairly high in Corsi… the Copp and Motte acquisitions came late and nearly flew under the radar, but they might end up being the best deadline deals this season. 

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