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Who to Start and Who to Sit in Fantasy Hockey (Week of Feb. 14)

Jason Chen delivers your weekly dos and don'ts for the fantasy hockey week ahead, including why you should invest in Columbus, Edmonton, Buffalo, Winnipeg and more.
Patrik Laine

The fantasy world goes back to normal following a rare two-week matchup for Week 16, thanks to the All-Star Game. Week 17 runs the usual Monday to Sunday, though note that it’s Thursday that will be the busiest night with 10 games. Tuesday will feature nine games and, unusually, Sunday will have one more game than Saturday with eight.

The NHL is still playing catchup with the postponed games, and the Oilers will have a grueling schedule with two back-to-backs and play a total of five games in Week 16, with the Lightning and Devils taking most of the week off after their matchup on Tuesday.

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.

Start

Edmonton Oilers

It seems unlikely Mike Smith will get more than three starts during their five-game week. The pressure’s on in Edmonton, but they can’t keep riding Smith in both games of back-to-backs because, presumably, they’ll need him fresh and healthy for the playoffs. That means Stuart Skinner and/or Mikko Koskinen will see some action, and some of those matchups seem pretty attractive plays, including dates against the Sharks, Kings, Ducks and Jets.

It’s also interesting that interim coach Jay Woodcroft has put Connor McDavid back together with Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujärvi, which has allowed him to play Evander Kane with Leon Draisaitl and shift Ryan Nugent-Hopkins back to center. These are combos Dave Tippett had played with previously, but they looked like they had more jump in their last game and, analytically-speaking, Hyman-McDavid- Puljujärvi is probably the Oilers’ best combo. Puljujärvi is rostered in only 34 percent of Yahoo leagues, a number that has fluctuated a lot this season, but in his last game snapped a goal drought with his 11th of the season and five shots on goal.

Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets

Jeff Skinner is coming off a four-goal performance, and along with Alex Tuch and Tage Thompson, have formed a pretty good scoring line. Thompson chipped in with a goal in a 5-3 defeat of the Habs, while Tuch added three helpers and now has 14 points in 14 games. The Sabres get overlooked because they’re mediocre, and rightfully so, but they have some good pieces in their lineup. Other than a matchup against the Avs, the Sabres shouldn’t have too much trouble scoring against the Sens or Jackets. All three players should be widely available in Yahoo leagues.

The Jets are still tough to figure out, but over than a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday, Week 16’s schedule favors them with all four of their games played at home. Blake Wheeler’s offense has woken up with six points in four games, and as result so has Mark Scheifele’s; when the Jets can get both of their scoring lines going, they are a good fantasy option because Kyle Connor is one of the league’s best high-volume shooters and Cole Perfetti has filled in admirably despite his inexperience. Their problem is their lack of depth, which has been hurt by various injuries and underperformers, especially on the blue line.

Dan Vladar, G, Flames, Pavel Francouz, G, Avalanche and Anthony Stolarz, G, Ducks

Vladar, Francouz and Stolarz should all see action in Week 16 with the Flames and Avs playing back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Ducks playing theirs Wednesday and Thursday. Francouz might get the Tuesday start because the Avs are at home hosting the Stars, leaving the tougher matchup in Vegas for Darcy Kuemper. Meanwhile, John Gibson should get the start on Wednesday against the Flames – a potential showdown against Jacob Markström – leaving Stolarz to face the Oilers on Thursday and also allowing Gibson to get two days’ rest before facing the Canucks on Saturday. Francouz and Vladar are obviously the more desirable spot starts, but Stolarz has been excellent all season and it remains to be seen if the Oilers’ improvement under Woodcroft is a flash in the pan or a legitimate turnaround.

Patrik Laine, LW/RW, Blue Jackets

Laine is now rostered in nearly 80 percent of Yahoo leagues, nearly double what it was before and an increase of 10 percent from Saturday to Sunday following another goal against the Habs. That’s now seven goals in his past five games and 13 goals in 27 games on the season. Critics will point out his absurd 17.8 S%, but it’s replicable for Laine because he did the same thing in his first two seasons in the league. The Jackets may lack playmaking centers but they’ve definitely got some offensive talent on the wings, and other than faceoffs on the power play, it really doesn’t matter if it’s a center or a winger dishing Laine the puck. There’s a chance the Jackets face Vladar instead of Markström on Tuesday against the Flames, which will make Laine’s job easier; he should have no problems against the Hawks on Thursday or the Sabres on Sunday.

Jack Studnicka, C/RW, Bruins

Studnicka could be a sneaky play as he continues to try and carve out a role on the B’s. The absence of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron has moved Erik Haula’s line with Taylor Hall and David Pastrňák up the depth chart, and it has also opened a spot in the middle for Studnicka, a second-round pick in 2017 who has struggled to live up to the hype as a playmaking pivot. However, he’s fared fairly well in the two games since his callup, registered four shots and winning 54 percent (14 of 26) of his faceoffs. Studnicka at least seems to have a bit more offensive upside than Charlie Coyle, who is usually more trusted in defensive situations, and Studnicka has potentially better wingers with Jake DeBrusk and Nick Foligno. Though both have struggled this season, their past history suggests they can be more productive than Coyle’s wingers, Trent Frederic and Craig Smith.

Sit

Vegas Golden Knights

Mark Stone is arguably their best player so if he is placed on LTIR, it’s a big hit to the Knights’ lineup. Max Pacioretty has returned but he’s been curiously quiet, registering only one shot in each of his past four games despite being known as a high-volume shooter. Jack Eichel and Alec Martinez may return soon, but they will need plenty of time to get up to speed, and it’s not like Robin Lehner inspires a lot of confidence at the moment.

It’s a potentially tough schedule starting with a date against the Avs on Wednesday, and Friday’s game against the Kings will be no pushover, either, before ending the week visiting their hated rival Sharks. Perhaps some divisional matchups will shake the Knights out of their funk, but note over the past month the Knights rank 24th in GF/GP with a goal differential of minus-3 in nine games since Jan. 13. During that span, only Brett Howden has scored more than two goals, and the versatile bottom-six forward also leads the team with a plus-5 rating. All due respect to the 27th overall pick in 2016, but if Howden is your most productive player, something’s not right. 

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