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Fantasy Hockey Watch: Players to Know (Week of Feb. 12)

Jason Chen looks at a handful of players to take note of in fantasy hockey, including some big-name struggling goaltenders and a couple of fascinating rookies.
Cole Caufield

Goalies

Jack Campbell, Maple Leafs

You kind of have to wonder, right? Campbell allowed five goals in Thursday’s loss to the Flames in a showdown between the two best Canadian teams, and there was no doubt which one was better. After going 12-4-1 with a 1.64 GAA and .946 Sv% in the first two months of the season, Campbell’s stats have gotten worse in each subsequent month. Since the calendar flipped, Campbell has a .883 Sv% and 3.45 GAA, and has been rather lucky with a 6-2-1 record thanks to some really good goal support.

Campbell’s overall numbers this season remain excellent – 21-7-3, .921 Sv%, 2.39 GAA – but with Petr Mrazek pushing for more playing time, it might be time for the Leafs to simply give Campbell a break. His 33 appearances this season are already a career high and it’s the most action he’s seen in three seasons. The Leafs are still a really good team and it seems more like a regression than a case of the yips for Campbell, so he retains his value in most fantasy leagues, albeit as a top-15 instead of a top-5.

Jordan Binnington, Blues

Ville Husso’s expected start Saturday against Chicago could be huge. The Blues elected to go with Binnington following an extended break but he ended up allowing five goals against New Jersey, the fourth (!) time he’s allowed at least five goals in his past five games. By just about every metric and even through the eye test alone, Husso has been the far better goalie. He seems quicker, makes better reads and a couple times has made some key desperation saves.

The Blues are fourth in a tough Central Division, and seeding will be important because a wild-card berth could mean a first-round date with either Vegas (oof) or Colorado (big oof). The Blues should really be looking to start Husso going forward, and Craig Berube has already refused to play favorites this season, breaking away from his rotation and starting Husso in consecutive games in mid-January. I think he may do that again.

Jake Oettinger, Stars

The Stars started Oettinger for the fourth straight game Wednesday against the Jets, once again squeezing by with a one-goal win, their seventh victory in nine games. The stats are near identical when compared to Braden Holtby (.910 vs .913 in save percentage, 2.58 vs. 2.76 in GAA) but, ironically, Oettinger has the edge in wins (14 vs. 9, and goal support is one reason) even though Holtby is considered the better goalie in both hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com’s GSAA models.

Under Rick Bowness, if you play well, you get to play again. Holtby’s last start was a 5-0 loss, and with the prospect of potentially facing the Avs in his next start in a home-and-home series on Feb. 13 and Feb. 15, it’s going to be a tough challenge to get back on track. The Stars’ playoff hopes right now is basically a coin flip; according to moneypuck.com’s model, their playoff odds are 44.4 percent entering Saturday’s games. Holtby’s $2 million deal expires this summer, there were already no takers for Anton Khudobin earlier this season and it’s painfully obvious that it will be Oettinger’s net sooner than later. Oettinger is rostered in just 48 percent of Yahoo leagues and that number will surely climb once the Stars figure out how to get rid of one or both of their veteran netminders.

Rookies

Cole Caufield, RW, Canadiens

Caufield scored his first goal since Nov. 24 in Martin St-Louis’ debut behind the bench. There are a few obvious similarities between the two; both are undersized wingers with a knack for scoring goals coming out of the NCAA, though St-Louis faced more resistance in his path to the NHL as an undrafted free agent. If there’s anybody who can figure out to best way to deploy smart wingers with quick hands, it’s arguably the Hall of Famer. He is, after all, Caufield’s idol.

Their playing styles are different, but if St-Louis can deliver on what he promises – a little more passion for a moribund team – it might provide a little spark. Of course, they won’t win many more games, but at least they can make them much more competitive than the 7-1 loss to New Jersey that doomed Dominique Ducharme. Caufield remains rostered 22 percent of Yahoo leagues, and he’s become an intriguing name to keep an eye on (again) in case the Habs offense wakes up. They still definitely posses some quality players such as Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli.

Joe Snively, LW, Capitals

Undersized and overlooked, Snively spent four years at Yale before signing with the Caps and he’s spent the better part of three seasons in the AHL prior to his callup. He’s a scorer through and through, having been a point-per-game player at nearly every level, even though he might’ve taken a few years to get there. That’s not saying he’ll be a top-six winger in the NHL, but he’s certainly playing that role pretty well in Alex Ovechkin’s absence. He scored two goals and an assist against the lowly Habs on Thursday and his ice time will remain limited, but he might’ve earned a few more games with his recent performance.

Trey Fix-Wolansky, RW, Blue Jackets

Fix-Wolansky won’t be relevant at all for fantasy purposes, but the former seventh-round pick in 2018 deserves some praise for scoring a goal in his debut and then assisting on another in his second game despite playing fourth-line minutes. It’s a tremendous achievement for the former Edmonton Oil Kings captain who has suffered through significant injuries over the past few seasons.

Notables

Hyman-McDavid-Puljujärvi, Oilers

Jay Woodcroft’s debut behind the Oilers bench was a successful one, a 3-1 defeat of the Islanders, but the most interesting development was not Mike Smith’s winning performance, which was his first since Oct 26; it was Woodcroft put this line back together. According to moneypuck.com, when McDavid plays with Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujärvi, their 59.6 xGoals % (min. 200 TOI) ranks fifth in the league, slightly ahead of the Avs’ top line with Nathan MacKinnon and the Pens’ with Sidney Crosby. The trio share a 58.13 5v5 CF%, according to naturalstattrick.com, compared to Kane-McDavid-Yamamoto’s 48.04 5v5 CF% and similar to a McDavid-Draisaitl pairing’s 58.72 5v5 CF%.

Dave Tippett had mixed up his lines in his final games as their coach, playing Evander Kane with both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, shifting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back and forth between wing and center, and moving Puljujärvi down the lineup. Obviously, nothing worked for him, but it’s interesting that Woodcroft defaulted to what has been – analytically-speaking – the Oilers’ the best line so far this season. They were responsible for two of their three goals against the Isles, and finished with a 57.14 5v5 CF%. We shall have to see if the improvement under Woodcroft will be continuous, but suddenly, Puljujärvi is a desirable fantasy asset again, and Mike Smith looks like an attractive pick-up off waivers even though it will always feel like holding onto a ticking bomb. 

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