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Fantasy Hockey Watch: Players to Know (Week of March 5)

Jason Chen looks at some notable names in the fantasy hockey world from the past week, including a couple of stout rookies and a New York Rangers forward finding his form.
Dawson Mercer

Jason Chen looks at some notable names in the fantasy hockey world from the past week, including a couple of stout rookies and a New York Rangers forward finding his form.

Goalies

Alex Stalock, Sharks

With news that James Reimer will be out week-to-week and with Adin Hill still on injured reserve, the Sharks have no choice but to turn to Stalock and prospect Zach Sawchenko in net. If it hasn’t been made clear already, the Sharks are – or at least, they should be – headed toward a full rebuild, though it will be very difficult with an aging roster heavy on expensive, long-term contracts.

The list of absentees is far too long for the Sharks to even think about competing, sitting 10 points out of the final wild-card spot. For Stalock, who last played on Aug. 7, 2020 in the playoffs for the Wild and recently acquired from the Oilers for future considerations, this is a chance for the 34-year-old vet to get some reps after appearing in just five games for AHL Bakersfield, posting a 3-1-0 record but an alarming .862 Sv% and 3.81 GAA.

Carter Hutton, Maple Leafs

Kyle Dubas intends to shore up his blue line, as he should, but it also hints that he’s probably not going to add more goalies to his roster. Hutton was acquired from the Coyotes as insurance with both Jack Campbell and Petr Mrázek performing below expectations, and goaltending has easily been the worst part of their recent stretch. The Leafs can outscore any team in the league, but you wonder if Hutton – or Michael Hutchinson or Joseph Woll, who have also dressed for the Leafs this season – will make an appearance just to relieve some pressure off their tandem. Hutton is Leafs property but has remained with AHL Tucson for the time being, so it doesn’t look like his Leafs is imminent. Still, keep an eye on him just in case he gets a couple starts.

Cayden Primeau, Canadiens

Hamburglar 2.0 lasted just three starts, but it was once again worth watching with a .920 Sv% and 2.40 GAA. Andrew Hammond has been placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, and that’s necessitated a call-up for Primeau, a prospect whose future value has vacillated violently between “might be a bust” to “still very promising.” He was assigned to AHL Laval to get some more playing time and get his confidence back up, but his seven starts have been a mixed bag; he allowed two goals or less in three games but also allowed four goals in three games. Perhaps Primeau will fare better under Martin St. Louis and a much-improved Habs squad, but it’s a dicey play until Primeau can string together good performances.

Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kähkönen, Wild

This might be a brewing problem for the Wild, whose tandem has suddenly fallen apart. Since Feb. 1, the Wild have allowed a league-high 51 goals, three more than the Sabres and five more than the Leafs’ own troubled tandem. Talbot has allowed at least four goals in five straight starts and Kähkönen, who had filled in so admirably when Talbot was injured previously in the season, has also allowed at least four goals in three of his past five starts.

A very good offense has saved them, but a thin defense with Matt Dumba still on injured reserve doesn’t paint a comforting picture. They’ve been forced to play depth defenseman Jon Merrill and Calen Addison, a top-notch prospect but whose 5-on-5 play still leaves a lot to be desired. Internally, the No. 3 options aren’t that great, either; prospect Hunter Jones has no NHL experience while veteran journeyman Zane McIntyre has only eight games of experience and last played on Feb. 4, 2017. The Wild have to keep rolling with Talbot and Kähkönen and hope one or both of them get back on track, and fantasy managers who have been burned by their poor performances lately would be wise to leave them on the bench until things get straightened out.

Vitek Vanecek, Capitals

Vanecek has long maintained that he can be a starter, and with Ilya Samsonov, he’s going to get his chance. The Czech netminder had been unable to usurp Samsonov for the starting job for most of the season, but he stopped 16 of 17 shots in relief against the Leafs and in his first start since Jan. 28 made 36 saves for a shutout win against the Canes. Overall, his .920 Sv% and 2.26 GAA dwarfs Samsonov’s .901 Sv% and 2.93 GAA, and the Caps desperately need to pick it up even though they’re still relatively safe from losing their playoff spot. Vanecek is rostered in just 59 percent of Yahoo leagues and deserves to be rostered immediately.

Rookies

Dawson Mercer, C/RW, Devils

The analytics don’t look particularly good. Per naturalstattrick.com, the line of Mercer on the right wing with Yegor Sharangovich on the left and Jack Hughes on the middle has produced a middling 45.30 5v5 CF% and 43.42 5v5 xGF%, and generating just 50 shot attempts per 60 minutes. However, since returning to play on Feb. 13, Hughes and his two linemates have combined for 26 points in seven games, with all three players ranking in the top five in team scoring during that span.

Good players who score consistently can have poor analytics – Mika Zibanejad always comes to mind – so it’s not particularly alarming. But it does suggest that Hughes and Co. are very good at taking advantage of the fewer scoring chances that they have. Mercer has had a very strong rookie season but still gets bumped for Jesper Bratt once in a while, but in deep leagues, Mercer’s dual-position eligibility and current scoring pace makes him a pretty attractive option.

Alex Newhook, C, Avalanche

It’s kind of frustrating that Newhook doesn’t have multiple position eligibility even tough he’s played everywhere in the lineup this season. Valeri Nichushkin’s injury has forced the Avs to mix up their lines a little; André Burakovsky and Gabriel Landeskog have swapped places to bring more balance between their top six, and that’s also opened up a spot for Newhook to move up. Even though he hasn’t registered a point, he’s averaged over 17 minutes in his past two games and put seven shots on goal. A quick, smart and gifted offensive player, Newhook can be a sneaky add in the short-term on the Avs’ vaunted offense.

Notables

Alexis Lafrenière, LW/RW, Rangers

It’s not as if Lafrenière suddenly woke up and learned how to be a top player again, it’s just that ice time has hard to get on a team with a lot of good forwards gunning for a playoff spot. An injury to Kaapo Kakko has bumped Lafreniere to the right wing opposite Chris Kreider, and Lafrenière’s responded in kind with three goals in his past five games. The comparisons to Sidney Crosby always seemed superficial; other than both players being first overall picks and Rimouski Oceanic alum, they don’t share a lot of similarities on the ice. Still, it’s starting to feel like a breakout for Lafrenière following an underwhelming rookie season. It’s worth noting that, despite the small sample size and Lafrenière’s own reluctance to shoot, his 18.1 career S% would be considered very good even among the most elite, efficient goal scorers. Fantasy managers out of the playoff race in dynasty leagues may want to think about picking up Lafrenière as a keeper for future seasons. 

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