Mike Smith, Oilers
This time, it’s different. We’ve said that to ourselves a million times in fantasy hockey, but I swear, this time it’s true! In one of the quickest turnarounds after a coaching change, the Oilers are 4-0 under Jay Woodcroft and have allowed only six goals. There was never any doubt the Oilers had a lot of scoring talent, but when they can dominate puck possession and be somewhat competent in their own zone, they can win a lot of games. Their improved play makes Smith fantasy-relevant again, who has helped win three of those four games. Smith is rostered in only 55 percent of Yahoo leagues and needs to be snatched up immediately with the improved Oilers because he should get a lot of wins.
Ville Husso, Blues
A loss to the Habs was surprising (and a little embarrassing), but it also had all the makings of a trap game for the Blues. They were heavily favored and had easily dispatched Ottawa and Chicago easily, allowing just 36 shots against combined (!). The Habs, meanwhile, looked improved under Martin St-Louis and needed a win to avoid a double-digit losing streak. There’s no need to panic because Husso had little chance on Cole Caufield’s overtime winner, but the fear is that Craig Berube second-guesses himself and starts Jordan Binnington again; we’ve seen enough, and Binnington has just been incapable of being a reliable starter this season. Husso is rostered in only 69 percent of Yahoo leagues, just one percent more than Binnington, who should be dropped in most standard leagues. Rostering both goalies would be a conservative and perhaps unnecessary move if roster spots are sparse.
Jake Oettinger, Stars
Oettinger got the start against Chicago, his second straight start and 20th of the season, one shy of tying Braden Holtby. There’s little doubt that Oettinger is the future and also the most reliable of their three goalies, and following a 34-save shutout win, he clearly should be their starter. Holtby’s been just okay overall just by looking at his numbers, but his role has diminished with only one appearance in their past seven games, and he has not won a game since Jan. 25. Oettinger is now up to 57 percent rostered as of Friday night, an increase of 10 percent from Thursday and should be a popular pick with games against Arizona and Buffalo coming up.
Marc-André Fleury, Blackhawks
Maybe Fleury can’t handle the workload like he used to, but he’s still occasionally brilliant and stopped all 29 shots on Friday against the Stars before losing in a 12-round shootout. It might be a good time for fantasy managers in the hunt for a playoff spot or a championship to see if they can get Fleury for a relatively low price because a team desperate for good goaltending – ahem, Vegas – could make a play for him, and if he doesn’t have to bail out a poor Hawks defense, he could be a top-tier fantasy goalie.
The prospect of moving Fleury is very real, and what do the rebuilding Hawks have to lose since they basically got him for free? If Robin Lehner’s injury will force him to miss multiple weeks, it could create enough cap room to fit Fleury once Lehner is placed on LTIR. The Caps could be another destination; they’ve been looking for some veteran goalie depth for two seasons after signing Henrik Lundqvist didn’t work out.
Dawson Mercer, C, Devils
Last season, the Devils found a little magic playing Jack Hughes between Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen, and they were supposed to build on that this season. Things didn’t go according to plan and all three were split up at some point, but Hughes and Sharangovich seems to have found chemistry again, but this time with Mercer on the right wing. The 18th overall pick in 2020 has gone under the radar because he’s acclimated himself so well in the league, and after getting moved up to the top line, ended up scoring three points in a 6-3 loss against the Lightning with Hughes and Sharangovich also finding the score sheet. If Mercer stays in that spot, he could be a sneaky source of points, and it shouldn’t be long before Yahoo also gives him RW position eligibility, making him a flexible, short-term option for fantasy managers looking for a possible hot streak and some points.
Martin Fehérváry, D, Capitals
The 22-year-old Slovak has likewise flown under the radar, and I thought he deserves a longer mention as the second-best rookie defenseman behind Moritz Seider, with apologies to Jamie Drysdale and Alexandre Carrier. On a team pretty thin on defensive depth, Fehérváry has been a reliable gem; he’s third in TOI/GP among Caps defensemen and skates alongside John Carlson on the top pairing. The plus-19 rating is impressive but his nine points definitely aren’t, so he’s not very fantasy relevant this season. Next season, however, he might be a name to watch and he has some power play upside, having played that role on the Slovak junior national teams.
Cole Caufield, RW, Canadiens
Nothing much to add to Goal Caufield, other than vainly giving myself a chance to say, “I told you so,” and to point out the glitch in The Matrix. Jokes aside, Caufield now has four goals in his past four games; goal scorers tend to score in bunches, and he’s been scorching since Martin St-Louis took over. At just 26 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues, he offers plenty of upside.
Chandler Stephenson, C/LW, Golden Knights
It was very interesting to see Stephenson get moved up to Mark Stone’s spot on the top line with Jack Eichel and Max Pacioretty. They evidently didn’t like what they saw from Evgenii Dadonov, who was dropped to the third line with Nicolas Roy and Mattias Janmark, and their top line has always played best when they emphasized speed. Stephenson has that in spades, and with his new-found offense added to his already-solid two-way game, he’s stylistically closer to Stone than anyone else on the roster despite being left-handed. If all goes well, Stephenson has once again pushed himself onto the top line, and could perhaps even earn RW eligibility giving fantasy managers maximum flexibility.
Nick Paul, C/LW, Senators
The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Pierre Dorion hopes this upcoming deadline would be the last time the Sens would-be sellers, and one empathizes. They weren’t supposed to be this bad this season, but injuries to their top-three projected centers – Josh Norris, Colin White and Shane Pinto – have forced them to play Paul and Tim Stützle at center even though the Sens probably envisioned them as left wingers in the long term. With a healthy lineup next season, plus the addition of Jake Sanderson, the Sens should be trending upward, and teams that are improving should be looking to buy, not sell.
For the rest of the season, however, Paul is in an enviable position centering Brady Tkachuk and veteran Connor Brown. Paul scored just six points in his first 28 games, but since Jan. 1 has scored nine points in 18 games and improved his shots per game from 2.0 to 2.6. He can be a physical player and wins quite a few faceoffs, and with his dual-position eligibility could be a sneaky addition for managers in roto leagues.