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Fantasy Hockey: Players to Know (Week of March 19)

Jason Chen looks at some notable names in fantasy hockey this week, including a couple of young goaltenders, a pair of underrated rookies and a big opportunity for an Ottawa Senators blueliner.
Rem Pitlick

Goalies

Erik Källgren, Maple Leafs

With two straight wins, Källgren’s the name on everyone’s lips in Toronto. We now know that Källgren can play – the question now is how long he can keep this up. Källgren was relatively unknown before taking over the starter’s net, and his improbable rise is reminiscent of another goalie who managed to shut out his opponent in his NHL debut – Garrett Sparks during the 2015-16 season. Sparks ended up having a pretty good run and started three of the Leafs’ final five games, but the end result wasn’t good; the Leafs finished last in the Atlantic and Sparks was later re-signed and then subsequently traded to Vegas where he was waived soon afterward.

Källgren’s path has been similar, being pressed into action due to injuries and a lack of better options, and he comes with a bit of pedigree, having backstopped the Växjö Lakers to the Swedish League championship. When the Leafs feel Jack Campbell and Petr Mrázek are ready to start again, they were undoubtedly by their preferred first options, but for now their return to form does not seem imminent. Källgren’s worth rostering in the interim in basically all leagues, and even if he falters a little bit, there’s always a chance the Leafs’ high-powered offense can bail him out.

Laurent Brossoit, Golden Knights

With speculation abound that Robin Lehner’s injury could cost him the rest of the regular season, and knowing that acquiring another goalie – say, Marc-André Fleury, perhaps? – would be very difficult considering their cap situation, all eyes will be on Brossoit to stop the bleeding. Since the calendar flipped to 2022, the Knights’ paltry .448 P% ranks 22nd in the league and they sit fourth in a tight Pacific Division race and just one point ahead of the Stars. It’s a precarious hold on the final wild-card spot and they’re inching closer and closer to realizing that the Knights may miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Both Lehner and Brossoit have been unreliable for fantasy managers all season. When they can’t score, especially on the power play, and don’t get goaltending to bail them out when they give up quality scoring chances, it’s just a recipe for disaster. Brossoit’s career has often been highlighted by some extreme ups and downs; in eight NHL seasons, he has finished with a save percentage of .918 or higher four times and .895 or lower four times. It’s been a down year for him with four losses in his past five, and even in his lone win needed five goals of support to win. Holding out for a turnaround doesn’t seem like a sound strategy for fantasy owners, and cutting bait at this point seems more prudent.

Rookies

Rem Pitlick, C/LW/RW, Canadiens

Pitlick is curiously rostered in just one percent of Yahoo leagues even though he’s been their best center under Martin St. Louis, and in eight games in March has scored two goals and eight points. It’s a great return for a waiver wire pickup, and there’s no coincidence Pitlick is having a career season getting more ice time than he’s ever had. He’s played over 21 minutes in two of his past three games, and with triple-position eligibility and quality ice time, he offers some scoring, faceoff wins and maximum flexibility on fantasy rosters. However, it’s also important to note that Pitlick has been extraordinarily lucky with his 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage at 13.08 percent, according to naturalstatrick.com, and despite getting crushed in nearly all possession metrics scored nearly seven goals more than expected with the Wild and six more than expected with the Habs. Perhaps a regression may come, but Pitlick’s getting more opportunities than he ever has, and ultimately that’s what matters most.

Sean Durzi, D, Kings

With their entire right-side defense – Drew Doughty, Sean Walker and Matt Roy – on injured reserve, the Kings are playing three rookies instead, which includes Durzi, Jordan Spence and Austin Strand. Both Durzi and Spence put up point-per-game seasons in the OHL and QMJHL, respectively, but Durzi has more experience and is the preferred option on the power play. That’s led Durzi to average a team-high 21:32 TOI/GP in March with five assists and 18 shots in nine games, with three of those helpers coming with the man advantage. Long-term, Spence may challenge Durzi for more ice time, but at the moment it seems unlikely he’ll leapfrog Durzi unless his 5-on-5 play improves or goes on a really hot streak. Defense is usually a difficult to position in deep leagues, so fantasy managers may want to consider picking up Durzi. Even as a streaming option, Durzi presents some upside in case Doughty, who is skating at practice but has no return date set, misses even more time than expected.

Notables

Erik Brännström, D, Senators

He hasn’t lived up to his lofty expectations yet, but with Thomas Chabot out for the season, this is Brännström big chance to carve out a big role. He played nearly 28 minutes against Columbus after Chabot was forced to leave due to his injury, and against Philadelphia played 22:44, registering a power-play assist and trailed only Artem Zub in total ice time. It’s a pretty talented first unit, too, with Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris and Tim Stützle, and note that it’s odd for a defenseman of Brännström’s talent to have scored just two goals in 94 career games. He’s either really bad at shooting the puck or experiencing some terrible luck with his career 1.6 S%; over the past three seasons, only four defensemen have scored fewer goals than Brännström with a minimum of 100 shots on net: Kris Russell (0 in 111 games), Matt Irwin (0 in 73), Dylan DeMelo (1 in 167) and Ilya Lyubushkin (1 in 151). Hopefully, with a bigger role and increased minutes, Brännström can separate himself from that ignominious group because he’s far more gifted than all of them. Brännström is rostered in less than one percent of Yahoo leagues and might be worth a flyer. 

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