Fantasy Hockey: Available Players To Be Thankful For
As the NHL season progresses, it may begin to appear that the pool of desirable free agents is diminishing on a weekly basis. However, to the keen observer there are always hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. The reasons for the constant influx of talent on the waiver wire are varied and nuanced. They include: an impatient owner releasing a valuable yet struggling skater, a depth forward being given added minutes and responsibilities due to injury, or a midseason call-up from the AHL making an immediate impact on his club. The past week has seen individuals hit the open market for all of the above reasons, which makes for a great opportunity to feast on the smorgasbord of available talent.
While watching the players you selected in the top rounds of your draft excel throughout the season is rewarding, nothing trumps the feeling of accomplishment when you beat your league mates to the acquisition of an unheralded player on the cusp of a breakout. Procuring such a free agent increases your managerial options as you can either enjoy the increased production from an unexpected source, or you can attempt to sell high on your find in order to obtain a player who meets a specific need. The good news for owners is that there are a number of players currently available in the majority of standard Yahoo! Fantasy leagues who can be difference makers for rosters in need of change, and whipped cream on the pumpkin pie for teams already performing at a high level.
[caption id="attachment_85684" align="alignright" width="300"] Tommy Wingels can help in multiple scoring categories. Photo Credit: Alena Schwarz[/caption]
Tomas Tatar LW, Detroit Red Wings (Ownership – 35 percent): One of the NHL’s Three Stars for the week of November 17-23, Tatar has been excelling in Motown this season and is due for a significant ownership bump across Fantasy leagues. The young, Slovakian forward’s hot streak has been going on for longer than just one week, as he has posted six goals and four assists in his last nine games dating back to November 5. His production to date has him on pace for a 51 point season, which would be a nice bump from his modest 39 point rookie campaign last season. Along with forwards Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader, Tatar is part of the youth movement in Detroit that is leading the charge towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings. An investment in Tatar at this juncture of the season could pay similar dividends to your Fantasy team’s quest for a league title.
Tommy Wingels RW, San Jose Sharks (Ownership – 31 percent): An unheralded cog in the dynamic San Jose offense, Wingels’ reliable production across peripheral categories makes him an invaluable multi-tool threat in Fantasy leagues. In addition to being fourth in the NHL with 84 hits, Wingels has fired a remarkable 67 shots on goal. Among the Top-25 skaters in SOG league wide, only Wingels and Columbus Blue Jackets’ forward Cam Atkinson are owned in fewer than 70 percent of leagues. This statistic shows just how rare it is to find a high volume shooter up for grabs on the waiver wire at this stage of the season. Despite his recent cold streak on the score sheet, Wingels has still managed to tally six goals and dish five assists this season. While goals and assists will fluctuate throughout the year based on factors such as strength of schedule, line assignments, and sheer luck, counting stats such as hits and shots on goal will for the most part remain a constant. Consistency is a hallmark for successful Fantasy teams, and any player who can fill multiple categories on a weekly basis is worth owning.
Ryan Strome C, New York Islanders (Ownership – 23 percent): The highly touted fifth overall draft pick from the 2011 NHL entry draft has been living up to lofty expectations in his second professional season. Providing some much needed scoring depth at center to the tune of 15 points in 21 games, Strome has alleviated the burden from C John Tavares to carry the Islanders offensively every night. The result of this improved team balance on ice has been a squad in contention for a Metropolitan Division title, and in Fantasy leagues, a wealth of valuable skaters worth owning. With a terrific plus/minus rating of plus-9, as well as a healthy dose of penalty minutes with 16, Strome is contributing in a number of enticing ways that will make him a useful addition to any Fantasy roster regardless of specific needs.
John Klingberg D, Dallas Stars (Ownership – 22 percent): One of the most exciting elements of Fantasy hockey is how a player can go from a complete unknown to a must have commodity in the space of a week. John Klingberg is exhibit A for this phenomenon. After being called up by the Stars for his first taste of NHL action on November 11, Klingberg has contributed with three goals and five assists in his last five games of action. Not only is he being given first line defensive responsibilities along with partner Alex Goligoski, but he is the lone defenseman on the Stars top power-play unit surrounded by a murderer’s row of offensive talent including Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. While the sample size may be small, the potential involved in manning the point for one of the league’s most potent offenses is too great to pass up.
Matt Beleskey LW, Anaheim Ducks (Ownership – 18 percent): Only one goal away from his career high of 11 back in 2009-10, Beleskey is benefitting greatly from his time spent as the third wheel on a line with superstar forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. The lack of name recognition may hurt with the all-star selection committee, but shouldn’t detract Fantasy owners from adding this valuable asset to their rosters. In addition to the prolific goal output, Beleskey is second on the Ducks with 62 shots on goal, and fourth on the team with 53 hits. If you also factor in his efficient plus-5 rating, Beleskey is making an impact across four categories on a weekly basis. Without any imminent threats to his playing time on the Ducks’ top line, Beleskey should maintain his value throughout the season which makes him a viable long term option for your lineup.
Michael Hutchinson G, Winnipeg Jets (Ownership – 14 percent): Currently leading the NHL in goals against average and second in save percentage, the Jets’ backup goaltender is gaining ground on Ondrej Pavelec for the team’s starting position. In four November starts, Hutchinson has four wins while only allowing as many goals over that span. These wins have not been the result of inferior opposition, as they include a shutout victory on the road against the perennial powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks. With the Jet’s incumbent Pavelec losing four of his last five starts, the starting job could be up for grabs if the team keeps winning in front of Hutchinson’s superlative play. The Jets are one of the stingiest teams league wide, giving up a miniscule 2.22 goals per game, which makes acquiring their potential starting goalie a tremendous coup for your roster.
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