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Who to Start and Who to Sit in Fantasy Hockey (April 11 Edition)

It's crunch time for fantasy hockey leagues, and Jason Chen gets you set for the week ahead.
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There’s nothing worse than playoff week and then being forced to bench a good player because you didn’t plan out your matchups ahead of time and ran out of roster spots. 

This could not be more important than Week 25, the second-last week of the default Yahoo fantasy season and features a combined seven (!) games on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and only six on Sunday. That means Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are jam-packed, with 14, 12 and 14 games played on those days, respectively.

At worst, at least three-quarters of the league will be in action, with the Panthers, Jets, Jackets and Habs the only four teams to miss at least two of those party days. The Panthers and Jets might be sneaky plays for managers who want to get take advantage of those quiet nights because their offense tends to be good no matter the opponent, and not being in action on busy nights also makes it easier for fantasy managers to make roster decisions.

Week 25 is also notable because we might see the NHL debuts of several high-profile draft picks (see below) who have just signed following the conclusion of the NCAA season, including the Michigan Wolverines’ three stud sophomores and the leading scorer for the national champion Denver Pioneers. Though contract considerations may preclude them from playing in a game this season (ie. teams don’t want to burn the first year of their entry-level contract), it’s expected that they will make their debuts sooner than later, just like Cole Caufield last season following his sophomore year at Wisconsin.

Legend:
P% = season points percentage
Opp. P% = opponents’ season points percentage
Diff. = difference between P% and Opp. P%
Green is good. Red is bad. All advanced stats courtesy naturalstatrick.com.

Week 25

Start

Nashville Predators

The Preds are the only team to play all four of their games in Week 25 on home ice, and though the Oilers and Blues will be tough matchups, the Sharks and Blackhawks likely won’t. Juuse Saros missed Sunday’s game due to illness, which is bad news for the Preds’ prospects of winning, but that could mean an opportunity for backup David Rittich to pick up a win or two. Scoring won’t be a problem so the usual options – Duchene, Johansen, Forsberg, Granlund, Jeannot, Josi – will still be good choices, and if Saros misses time, the onus will be on them to provide more goals than usual just in case Rittich struggles. An increased effort on providing Rittich with more goal support could make Phil Tomasino and Eeli Tolvanen sneaky plays; both of them played over 15 minutes each Sunday against the Pens, including over two minutes on the power play, and finished with a combined six shots on goal.

Sit

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets play four games and have a positive differential against their opponents but it will be a dicey play for all of their games except at home against Seattle. Their matchup against the Habs on Monday will be the second game of their back-to-back after playing the Sens on Sunday, and on Friday and Saturday play back-to-back again against two of the East’s best teams in Florida and Tampa. They’re just 2-3-1 over their past two weeks and might be without Blake Wheeler or Mark Scheifele, who was injured in Sunday’s game and did not return. However, that may in turn lead to more ice time for Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois, though they will undoubtedly face their opponents’ top defensive pairings. Without Scheifele, look for Paul Stastny to perhaps move up to the first power-play unit and see Adam Brooks with the second unit.

College Special

Owen Power, D, Sabres

Power signed on Friday and he’s considered the most NHL-ready prospect of the group and represented Canada at both the Olympics and the to-be-continued World Juniors this season. He’s literally a giant among his peers at 6-foot-6 and 213 pounds, and he’s expected to make his debut Tuesday against the Leafs. No word yet on who he’ll play with, but it’s unlikely to be Rasmus Dahlin since a) they’re both left-hand shots, and b) they would be hard to trust in their own zone considering Dahlin’s calling card is his offense and this will be Power’s first NHL game. Still, Power’s expected to make an impact right away and the initial excitement might spark their offense, and he should get at least a few looks on the second power-play unit. Power is a worthwhile gamble even in his first game for fantasy managers because his minutes and usage will likely be substantial – Don Granato has not been shy about playing his younger players – and he has the potential to contribute in multiple categories, giving him a very high floor.

Matty Beniers, C, Kraken

Like fellow Michigan teammate Power, Beniers was both an Olympian and World Juniors participant this season, and his two-way game should translate well to the pros. He kept Kraken fans waiting a couple extra days before signing on Sunday, and with back-to-back road games on Tuesday, Beniers is expected to join them on the road, hinting that his debut could come as early as Tuesday. One of the biggest weaknesses of the Kraken lineup is their lack of depth down the middle, and Beniers fills a huge void. He’s saddled with a ton of expectations being the first-ever lottery pick for the newest expansion franchise, so the question now is how Dave Hakstol will ease him into the lineup, if at all. The most obvious place to slot Beniers is behind Alex Wennberg and Yanni Gourde to protect him, which likely gives Beniers about 15-16 minutes per game as the third option along with some special teams time. While his role should be significant from the get-go, Beniers will also be unfortunately saddled with the Kraken’s unexciting middle-six wingers, potentially capping his offensive production.

Kent Johnson, C, Blue Jackets

Johnson signed on Friday but will likely be the last of the three Wolverines alum to make his NHL debut since the Jackets don’t play until Wednesday. He doesn’t get as many headlines as Beniers, but Johnson may make a bigger impact right away because he projects to be the better scorer, and today’s game is about youth and skill. Jack Roslovic and Cole Sillinger are Johnson’s only real competition for minutes at center, and the Jackets are missing one forward after playing with seven defensemen in their last game. Although there’s a good chance Johnson may not play center to begin with since taking draws in the NHL requires strength and experience, both of which Johnson are lacking at the moment, but unlike Beniers in Seattle, Johnson has some talented wingers to work with including sharpshooter Patrik Laine and veteran playmakers Jakub Voracek, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Gustav Nyquist. In terms of fantasy impact, Johnson is probably the second-best option among forwards on this list due to his offensive flair that translates well in today’s game, but the drawback is there’s no indication of where Brad Larsen may slot him into the lineup.

Bobby Brink, RW, Flyers

Brink will cap off an incredible year with his NHL debut after winning a national championship and being named a finalist for the Hobey Baker. He led the Pioneers in scoring and will inject some much-needed talent and scoring touch into a Flyers team that ranks 28th in GF/GP. Given that he’s a year old than Power, Beniers and Johnson, and led the nation in scoring with 57 points in 41 games, Brink will assuredly be given a top-six role right away. The Flyers are playing Noah Cates and Owen Tippet with Kevin Hayes, and both Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk have had subpar seasons. Wingers tend to make the transition a little easier because center is so tough to play in the NHL.

Nathan Smith, C, Coyotes

Smith was one of two players – the other being Jack McBain – whose signing rights had been acquired by the Coyotes at the trade deadline. The upside to signing with the Coyotes is getting immediate chance to crack the lineup, and they sure could use some of Smith’s offense, who finished second in scoring in the nation with 50 points in 38 games with runner-up Minnesota-Mankato. Smith might end up skating the most minutes out of the recent signees because he’s older and will likely make his debut Tuesday, but the lack of raw upside – he’s the lowest pick among those on this list – means Smith will not be fantasy-relevant unless he scores points right away and proves otherwise. 

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