This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
Nazem Kadri's career year warrants mention, and his numbers – 30 goals and 54 points – carry extra weight because the 26-year-old pivot has also spent the majority of his even-strength ice time against the opposition's best players.
However, there's also a worthwhile fantasy lesson here. It took Kadri a long time to carve out a full-time role in the NHL, as he played parts of three seasons in the AHL. Similarly, Jason Spezza and Mark Scheifele also fine-tuned their games in the minors despite being high draft picks.
There is no fixed path to becoming a fantasy relevant player, and we shouldn't ignore talent. Additionally, with 23 points – nine goals – through 28 games with AHL Bakersfield, maybe Jesse Puljujarvi will be the next star to follow in the footsteps on Spezza, Kadri, Scheifele and so many others.
Lightning (PP: 7, PK: 15) at Bruins (PP: 10, PK: 4), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Peter Budaj (27-20-3, 2.12, .917), Tuukka Rask (33-19-4, 2.33, .911)
Key Injuries:Tim Schaller (lower body), Ryan Callahan (hip), Tyler Johnson (lower body), Cedric Paquette (lower body), Steven Stamkos (knee)
After being leapfrogged in the standings by Toronto on Wednesday, the Bruins need to have a strong showing. Tampa Bay has lost three straight during a three-game homestand and allowed five goals in each outing, so the Lightning head to Boston in poor form. However, the Bruins have also lost three consecutive contests with 14 goals against. A Tampa Bay win would pull the Lightning to just three points back of Boston with a game in hand. There is a lot at stake for both clubs.
These teams also boast two of the best wingers in the league. Brad Marchand is up to 36 goals and 79 points, and Nikita Kucherov has 34 goals and 72 points. It seems fitting to highlight just how strong Victor Hedman and Torey Krug have been, too. Hedman has 15 goals and 60 points, and Krug has collected eight tallies and 48 points. However, considering the defensive lapses of these two teams of late, sacrificing offense to limit the opposition could also keep the scoring down Thursday. This might be a better real-world battle than fantasy setting.
Penguins (PP: 5, PK: 17) at Senators (PP: 22, PK: 13), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Matt Murray (28-9-3, 2.38, .924), Mike Condon (18-12-6, 2.52, .914)
Key Injuries:Chris Neil (finger), Mark Stone (lower body), Trevor Daley (knee), Jake Guentzel (concussion), Carl Hagelin (lower body), Ron Hainsey (upper body), Kris Letang (upper body), Olli Maatta (hand), Evgeni Malkin (upper body), Bryan Rust (arm)
Ottawa ended a four-game losing skid last time out but have a tall task to stop the Penguins on Thursday. Pittsburgh enters with an active 10-3-1 record, and Sidney Crosby has four multi-point showings through his past six games for seven goals, four helpers and 28 shots. Slowing down No. 87 has been difficult, and it's amazing the Penguins have been able to continuing piling on the wins considering the number of regulars out of the lineup.
Ottawa has a smoke-and-mirrors feel entering the playoffs. The roster doesn't jump off the page after Erik Karlsson (14 goals and 66 points) and Craig Anderson has also been fantastic when active. Still, the Senators generate the sixth-fewest high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (9.49) with a 24th-ranked 48.1 Corsi For percentage at five-on-five, and their plus-4 goal differential is the lowest of any team currently in the playoffs. Including Thursday's date with the Penguins, Ottawa has just three home games remaining, so building momentum entering the postseason could be troublesome.
Flames (PP: 14, PK: 14) at Predators (PP: 11, PK: 21), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Chad Johnson (18-14-1, 2.58, .912), Pekka Rinne (28-16-8, 2.51, .915)
Key Injuries:Micheal Ferland (illness), Ladislav Smid (neck), Matthew Tkachuk (suspension)
A battle between the two wild-card seeds in the Western Conference should prove to be an excellent bout. Calgary has gone 16-4-1 since Feb. 1 to solidify its playoff berth, and the Flames have scored 3.08 goals per 60 minutes during that stretch. Interesting, Nashville has scored 3.29 goals per 60 minutes during that same span, and the Preds own the sixth-best Corsi For percentage at five-on-five (51.4). The difference Thursday could be in goal, as Rinne owns a .904 save percentage and 2.79 GAA through his past 16 games, whereas Elliott boasts .932 and 2.01 marks during his latest 16 starts.
Sean Monahan has been a little inconsistent game-to-game over the past two months, but his 14 goals, 27 points and 83 shots through 29 games since mid-January is high-end production. Looking ahead, it should prove to be wise to focus on this production more than his slow start. Another slow starter that's back in form is Filip Forsberg. He's scored 26 goals with a 20.0 shooting percentage through his past 42 outings, and for the campaign, his shooting percentage is at 13.9. He posted a 13.4 mark in 2015-16, and his year stands as an example of why it's important to remain patient with proven players in their offensive primes.
Blue Jackets (PP: 8, PK: 10) at Capitals (PP: 6, PK: 8), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Sergei Bobrovsky (39-13-4, 2.04, .931), Braden Holtby (37-11-6, 2.05, .925)
Key Injuries:Oliver Bjorkstrand (undisclosed), Ryan Murray (hand)
The standings have this Metropolitan Division battle as a marquee matchup, but it's unlikely the on-ice results will agree. Washington is 29-6-2 at home, and the Blue Jackets enter on the second leg of a back-to-back set and have allowed the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (11.72) in the league. Don't overlook Nicklas Backstrom in any format Thursday. The pivot has rattled off nine goals, 30 points and 51 shots over his past 22 games, yet he remains priced below the top-tier centers in daily contests.
Devils (PP: 18, PK: 18) at Maple Leafs (PP: 2, PK: 9), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Keith Kinkaid (7-10-2, 2.76, .913), Curtis McElhinney (3-4-0, 2.70, .921)
Key Injuries:Michael Cammalleri (shoulder), Jacob Josefson (upper body), Devante Smith-Pelly (lower body), Nikita Soshnikov (undisclosed)
This is a potential trap game for the Maple Leafs after a big road win over Columbus on Wednesday. New Jersey has lost 12 of its past 14 outings while generating a league-low 7.85 high-danger scoring chances and scoring just 2.33 goals per 60 minutes. Toronto enters in excellent form with a 6-1-1 record and can control their playoff fate with another win.
Hurricanes (PP: 21, PK: 2) at Canadiens (PP: 12, PK: 19), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Eddie Lack (5-5-2, 2.73, .898), Carey Price (33-17-5, 2.26, .923)
Key Injuries:Jay McClement (lower body), Valentin Zykov (upper body), Brian Flynn (upper body), Nikita Nesterov (undisclosed)
Don't underestimate Carolina. The Hurricanes haven't lost in regulation in any of their past eight outings and sport a 5-0-3 record with an average of 3.75 goals per game while generating an impressive 14.27 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes. Montreal's center corps of Phillip Danault, Tomas Plekanec, Andrew Shaw and Michael McCarron shouldn't inspire much confidence heading into the playoffs, but at least Alex Galchenyuk is healthy and slotted into a third-line role on the wing, right?
Coyotes (PP: 27, PK: 25) at Panthers (PP: 25, PK: 1), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Mike Smith (18-22-8, 2.93, .914), James Reimer (14-14-5, 2.63, .917)
Key Injuries:Alex Burmistrov (upper body), Kevin Connauton (upper body), Shane Doan (lower body), Brad Richardson (leg), Aaron Ekblad (neck), Roberto Luongo (lower body)
With an active 3-10-1 stretch, the Panthers have ousted themselves from the playoff race and are currently nine points behind Boston. Aleksander Barkov continues to showcase his tremendous upside with 11 goals, 20 points and 47 shots through his past 21 games, though. Turning to Arizona, the Coyotes sport an active 5-3-2 run and are in danger of diminishing their lottery odds down the stretch. Additionally, Arizona has tidied up defensively recently and allowed just 11.2 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes through its past 10 games. For comparison, the Coyotes have allowed a league-high 13.1 per 60 minutes for the campaign.
Canucks (PP: 28, PK: 27) at Blues (PP: 4, PK: 6), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Ryan Miller (18-22-6, 2.78, .915), Jake Allen (28-19-3, 2.47, .912)
Key Injuries:Robby Fabbri (knee), Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body), Jori Lehtera (concussion), Paul Stastny (lower body), Joseph Cramarossa (foot), Derek Dorsett (neck), Loui Eriksson (lower body), Brendan Gaunce (undisclosed), Markus Granlund (wrist), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Jacob Markstrom (lower body), Jayson Megna (upper body), Anton Rodin (knee)
The Blues have gone 15-7 since Mike Yeo took over, but they've also generated the sixth-fewest high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (9.45) during that span. The success has come from limiting the opposition to just 9.13 high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes, and Allen boasts an incredible .942 save percentage and 1.72 GAA during that 22-game span. The Canucks own an active 4-9-3 record dating back to mid-February and are in the middle of a five-game road trip. This is a soft schedule spot for the Blues, and especially with Vancouver's 11-21-3 away record and average of just 2.26 goals per road game.
Flyers (PP: 13, PK: 22) at Wild (PP: 9, PK: 7), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Steve Mason (21-21-7, 2.77, .905), Devan Dubnyk (37-18-3, 2.17, .927)
Key Injuries:Ryan White (illness), Nick Cousins (upper body), Brandon Manning (shoulder), Michael Raffl (lower body)
The Wild snapped a five-game losing skid last time out with a home win over San Jose. Dubnyk will also look to improve his play, as the Vezina hopeful sports an .871 save percentage and 3.63 GAA over his past six outings. Philadelphia cannot string together any momentum, and the Flyers are currently eight points out of the playoff picture. Additionally, Philly is playing its second contest of a four-game road trip with Columbus and Pittsburgh still on tap. Minnesota might not run up the score, but expect the Wild to have a strong showing.
Stars (PP: 19, PK: 30) at Blackhawks (PP: 15, PK: 26), 8:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Kari Lehtonen (18-22-6, 2.89, .903), Corey Crawford (29-15-3, 2.54, .919)
Key Injuries:Artem Anisimov (lower body), Mattias Janmark (knee), Antoine Roussel (hand), Jason Spezza (back)
The Stars own the worst team save percentage (.894) in the league while surrendering the third-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (11.97) and allowing the most goals per game (3.66). Chicago is the hottest team going with a 17-3-1 record since Feb. 1. While Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews have been leading the way, Nick Schmaltz, Richard Panik, Ryan Hartman and John Hayden look the part of past supporting casts, and discrediting the Blackhawks could prove ill-advised this spring.
Oilers (PP: 3, PK: 20) at Avalanche (PP: 30, PK: 24), 9:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Laurent Brossoit (1-1-0, 2.50, .924), Jeremy Smith (1-5-0, 3.44, .890)
Key Injuries:Semyon Varlamov (groin), Nikita Zadorov (ankle), Andrew Ference (hip), Tyler Pitlick (knee)
The Oilers lost 4-3 in Anaheim on Wednesday, so this isn't an ideal spot to take on the basement-dwelling Avalanche. Still, Connor McDavid is finishing strong with seven multi-point showings over his past 17 games for eight goals and 16 assists, and he's also found the scoresheet in 14 of those 17 outings. With Colorado owning the third-worst team save percentage (.897) and having allowed the third-most goals per game (3.39), this might be a sneaky spot to target some Oilers in daily contests.
Jets (PP: 23, PK: 28) at Kings (PP: 17, PK: 3), 10:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Connor Hellebuyck (23-18-4, 2.90, .907), Jonathan Quick (5-2-1, 2.21, .922)
Key Injuries:Matt Greene (undisclosed), Nick Shore (upper body), Toby Enstrom (concussion), Shawn Matthias (shoulder), Tyler Myers (lower body), Ondrej Pavelec (knee), Paul Postma (lower body), Jacob Trouba (upper body)
The dismantling of the Kings is going to be as interesting as the building of the Jets over the coming years. These two teams are currently beside each other in the standings, but their long-term outlooks couldn't be further apart. The Kings have all but played their way out of the playoff race, whereas the Jets have won three consecutive games and have a trio of offensive cornerstones in Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. The Kings still smother opponents and allow the third-fewest high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (9.21), so this has the makings of a low-scoring battle, which likely won't be favorable to fantasy results.
Zachary Sanford, F, STL: Kudos if you're playing in a yearly league and Sanford isn't available. The 22-year-old winger brings a 6-foot-4, 191-pound frame and has been handed a top-six role and power-play time because of St. Louis' injury woes. Sanford has a goal and two helpers through four games with the Blues and has a favorable upcoming schedule. Next week, St. Louis has two games against Arizona and a date with the Avalanche.