What a ridiculous start to the season.
The first month is always chaotic; young players are eager to play games that count, teams that had deep playoff runs are coming off short summers and there’s a feeling-out period with teams getting used to their new systems. That leads to a higher-than-normal number of upsets, and also a number of higher-scoring games.
Here’s your fantasy hockey round-up as we enter Saturday’s busy slate with four teams making their first appearance of the season: Bruins (vs. Stars), Flames (at Oilers), Sharks (vs. Jets) and Blues (at Avalanche).
Braden Holtby, Stars: Fantasy managers who had quick triggers and picked up Holtby were riding high until he was forced to leave the game eight minutes into the third period, at which point panic set in as they furiously checked to see if Jake Oettinger was available. Holtby had been playing very well up to that point, leaving the game tied 2-2- after making 23 saves before Anton Khudobin stepped in and won the game in overtime. (The fantasy baseball equivalent of getting a strong start from your starting pitcher only to have a no-name middle reliever get the win instead).
But fear not – Holtby had left the game due to dehydration, and after a strong preseason and a solid performance in the season opener, it looks like has might have the edge for the No. 1 job right now even though Khudobin got the win. The Stars have a back-to-back this weekend so we will likely get a chance to see each of them get a start. Holtby is rostered in only 25 percent of Yahoo leagues and Khudobin is rostered in 34 percent – both numbers shoulder be higher.
Petr Mrazek, Maple Leafs: Talk about awful luck, and it hasn’t even been a full week. Mrazek was the second goalie to leave after two periods upon suffering a groin injury, and he did not return to the bench in the third against the Sens. His status for Saturday is unknown, but note that third-string Michael Hutchinson was not at practice the following day. Hutchinson had cleared waivers on Oct. 6 and if Mrazek’s injury forces him to miss more time, it’ll be Jack Campbell’s net with Hutchinson backing him up.
Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers: Neither Georgiev nor Igor Shesterkin had strong pre-seasons, and just because the Rangers gave Shesterkin a four-year extension doesn’t mean they have to start him. Alas, starting Georgiev in the season opener did not work out, though the Caps simply outplayed them and it wouldn’t have mattered who was in net. Shesterkin also lost in his first start, but only allowed three goals to Georgiev’s five, and that means he’s likely back in front in the race for the starting job. It’ll be a competitive race yet Georgiev is rostered in just eight percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jeremy Swayman, Bruins: Perhaps not so surprising, but Swayman will start the Bruins’ season opener after Linus Ullmark’s horrendous preseason: 3.90 GAA, .839 Sv% and 10 goals allowed on 62 shots. The same logic applies to the Rangers as it does here – just because you have a lucrative contract doesn’t mean you get to start. Swayman’s coming off an excellent rookie season and fantasy managers who opted for Swayman’s sample size rather than Ullmark’s 117 games of solid work – it was Buffalo, after all – are hoping Swayman runs away with the job. It’s a long season and anything could happen, but Swayman is undoubtedly ahead in the race. The Stars are a tough opponent, but they tend to be a low-scoring team and may not have Jason Robertson in the lineup, and might be an easier opponent than the Flyers, whom they play next on the road.
Carter Hart, Flyers: Sorry, folks, but Hart didn’t look that much better in Friday’s shootout loss to the Canucks than he did last season. He was caught leaning the wrong way on Vasily Podkolzin’s first NHL goal, allowed another two because he had lost the puck in his skates and then made zero stops in the shootout. Despite a good preseason, Hart’s performance was pretty concerning, though admittedly it is still very early and the first of four consecutive home games to start the Flyers’ season. Do we even dare think about a Martin Jones – rostered in four percent of Yahoo leagues – redemption tour right now?
Vladimir Tkachev, LW, Kings: Tkachev just qualifies as a rookie because he turned 26 after September 15, but he’s really a five-year KHL veteran and former scoring leader for powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg. He finished with two power-play assists in a rout of the Knights in the season opener, but no one’s getting excited quite yet; getting on the scoresheet is easy when you play on the power play with Anze Kopitar (5 points) and Drew Doughty (4 points, and probably texting Team Canada brass about it), and in an 8-2 thrashing, his line with Gabe Vilardi and Arthur Kaliyev ended up being the only line that lost the Corsi battle, according to naturalstattrick.com.
Mason McTavish, C, Ducks: McTavish scored two points in his debut but one stat jumped out: 14:40 TOI, fifth among Ducks forwards and ahead of Trevor Zegras (13:22), whom many have picked to win the Calder. Some of it is because of game flow – McTavish kills penalties, Zegras doesn’t – but it’s just a good mental note that maybe Zegras won’t get as many minutes as we think and McTavish might end being more effective due to his more physical style. McTavish should also get winger eligibility soon; he was drafted as a center but he’s not quite ready for that yet in the NHL and he doesn’t take draws.
Moritz Seider, D, Red Wings: There’s a good chance Seider leads all rookies in ice time this season. He played 20:21 in his NHL debut, including a team-leading 5:26 on the power play, and finished with two assists and three hits. His usage makes him potentially a really good defenseman in roto leagues, which can be hard to find because they have to be good in other non-traditional categories, and it’s easy to jump on him now since he’s only rostered in 19 percent of Yahoo leagues. Seider’s already really good and he’s not backing down from anyone either; he showed that in the opener when he boldly took the puck away from Victor Hedman after a whistle and nearly sent Mikhail Sergachev tumbling with a shove. The Lightning-Red Wing rivalry is very underrated.
Alexandre Carrier, D, Predators: There was a time when the entire Preds’ top-four were must-own fantasy defensemen. That list has now been whittled down to just Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, but Carrier is making yet another strong case to be the third member after a strong finish last season and strong season opener. He finished third in minutes (22:13) trailing only Josi (24:59) and Ekholm (23:35), and finished with an assist and a minor penalty. The 25-year-old seems like a late bloomer, but the Preds have always done a very good job developing defensemen and the breakout season we’re looking for from Dante Fabbro (12:21, with no PP TOI) might happen after Carrier’s.
Other rookies we’re keeping an eye on: Bowen Byram, Avalanche; Hendrix Lapierre, Capitals; Lucas Raymond, Red Wings; Jamie Drysdale, Ducks; Cole Sillinger, Blue Jackets; Alex Barre-Boulet, Kraken; Cole Perfetti, Jets; Shane Pinto, Senators; and Anton Lundell, Panthers.
Jeff Carter, C/RW, Penguins: This is vintage Jeff Carter right now, the goal-scoring power center who helped the Kings win two Stanley Cups. Mike Sullivan is leaning on Carter and Jake Guentzel a lot; they’re the only two Pens forwards who are averaging over 21 minutes per game with Bryan Rust a distant third at 17 minutes. Through two games, Carter has three points, nine shots and 29 faceoff wins, and with both center and right wing eligibility in Yahoo leagues, he’s worth rostering as the No. 1 center while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain out.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Jackets came out swinging in an emotional tribute night to Matiss Kivlenieks, and when Patrik Laine shows up like he just stepped off the set of The Fifth Element, you just know there’s going to be a ton of good energy. Elvis Merzlikins’ quest to win the Vezina to honour his late friend is off to a good start, and while the Jackets are still missing that elusive No. 1 center, they’re a pretty solid team with good goaltending and enough playmaking wingers to provide a decent offense. Laine finished with two assists, Oliver Bjorkstrand had four points and continues to be criminally underrated and Max Domi may be fantasy-relevant again after a three-point night.
Seattle Kraken: Despite the loss, it was a pretty impressive debut. Any team would have trouble against the Knights in Vegas, and the Kraken lost by just one goal. Jared McCann is off to a wonderful start, becoming a No. 1 center on what has been a very competitive team so far, yet he is just rostered in a little over one-third of Yahoo leagues.
Instead, it’s been the defense and goaltending that has been a little more suspect. Dave Hakstol’s Flyers were never particularly good on defense, though he never had much to work with (Shayne Gostisbehere led them in scoring and Radko Gudas played the second-most games), and I’m not sure his current roster is built to play strong defense anyway. Philipp Grubauer hasn’t looked very sharp, either, with seven goals allowed and a .883 Sv% so far. Grubauer and Juuse Saros, who lost the Preds’ season opener to the Kraken, were two of the highest-rated goalies going into the fantasy season even though both play for teams that could potentially be mediocre. Neither have really lived up to expectations so far.
Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone left Thursday’s game against the Kings and needed help going down the tunnel into the locker room, and now there are rumblings that Max Pacioretty is also hurt. This is a huge blow as the Knights will basically be without their top line, and that’s already with Alex Tuch, Nicolas Roy and William Carrier already unavailable, and winning the Pacific Division title may not be so easy. Look for them to lean on William Karlsson’s line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, which has basically stayed intact since the franchise’s inception, and increased appearances from Evgenii Dadonov, Nolan Patrick and top prospect Peyton Krebs. Given how weak defenses are in the division, there’s plenty of short-term value among the three players depending on how long Stone and Pacioretty are out for.