Hutch's Hockey: A Fresh Start

Hutch's Hockey: A Fresh Start

After the holidays and a continuing run of postponements, the NHL is back in something that resembles a normal pattern. It's been a challenging couple of weeks, especially when it comes to meeting goalie game requirements. With players coming off the COVID-19 list, it's created a logjam on many of my rosters – I have a lot of trust in my instincts for the guys I picked up, but some returning players are too good to leave in a reserve spot. 

With the league back in action after roughly a week off, it's a lot like the first week of the season again. Goaltending and defense has been a little shaky so far – it'll level off again, you can bet on that. For some players who had a slow start to the season, this is a blessing. It's a chance to shake things off, get on track and play at their peak again. For others, it's more about sustaining the momentum they've built already. 

Considering that this is a bit of a reset, it's important to acknowledge the trends that develop in January. Don't let a player's performance from October blind you if his scoring pace drops off a cliff going forward. Past production only counts for so much. With that in mind, here's some players who could be helpful now. 

Noah Dobson finally appears to have it all together heading in 2022. He entered the holiday break with six points in his previous eight games, then exited the break with a pair of two-point showings. He's matched his production from last year both overall (14 points) and on the power play (five) in 20 fewer games. His ice time is up 3:59 year-over-year. Whether he can defend effectively is a moot point – he's earned his place in the lineup on power-play production alone. The Islanders' road trip through the northwestern corner of the league is off the schedule this week, so he could fly under the radar in the short term. 

Trevor Moore knows how to get some attention, as his four-point night Saturday against the Flyers shows. It was just one game for now, but playing alongside Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson seemed to serve all parties involved well. I'm not expecting this level going forward, but if Moore stays on the second line, his outlook is significantly better. He's got more upside in a top-six role than Dustin Brown (COVID-19 protocols) or Andreas Athanasiou (lower body), and the Kings have a top-heavy offense. 

Dougie Hamilton (undisclosed) went down with an injury Sunday, which gives me enough reason to take a look at Damon Severson. He's not an unfamiliar name to fantasy managers, but he was ice-cold for much of the first two months of the campaign. Since the start of December, he's logged nine of his 13 points while providing solid totals in the non-scoring categories. Severson's the next man up on the right side of the Devils' defense if Hamilton is out for a while, and the former's got plenty of momentum heading into 2022. 

Sam Bennett was handed a three-game suspension Sunday, and I think the beneficiary in this situation will be Anton Lundell. Again, this is an opportunity for a player poised to take advantage of it, as Lundell has picked up four points in three games since play resumed. The rookie center hasn't looked out of place this year with seven goals, nine assists and 52 shots on net in 28 contests. More impressively, he's added 29 blocked shots – he could be good for a boost in leagues that reward defensive metrics without hurting your roster's offense. 

There's plenty of reasons to be concerned about rostering Kraken players, but Yanni Gourde checks a lot of boxes in fantasy. He's been excellent with 19 points in 25 games overall, including two goals and a helper across his last three outings. Head coach Dave Hakstol has kept the lines fairly fluid throughout the year, but Gourde's always near the top of the heap in ice time. He's chipped in 35 hits and 11 PIM, so there's enough sandpaper here to give him a safe base level of fantasy value even if the offense goes cold for a week or two. 

I mentioned the holiday break serving as a reset, and no player may embody that mindset more than Joel Farabee. To recap his season: six points in the first three games, then just four goals in the next 18. He missed time with an upper-body injury in December, but since he's returned, he's posted three goals and a helper in four contests while filling a top-line spot. Sean Couturier's absence with an upper-body injury has moved Claude Giroux to center, setting off shock waves through the Flyers' lineup. Farabee's made the most of his opportunity lately. 

I'll forgive you if you forgot about Alex Tuch as he missed two-plus months while recovering from shoulder surgery. He got his name in the headlines as part of the return in the Jack Eichel trade in November, and now Tuch's logging first-line minutes for the Sabres. With a goal and two assists in his first three games for his hometown team, Tuch may be one of the highest-upside wingers on the Sabres' roster for the remainder of the season. He had 52 points in 74 games with the Golden Knights in 2018-19, and that was in a much less significant role than the one he's seeing now. It's fair to question the stability of the Sabres' offense, but Tuch's worth a look. 

For a player with nearly no power-play time, Alexandre Texier has piqued my interest. I'll acknowledge that there's no way he sustains his 21.2 shooting percentage for the whole season. That said, he's got 11 goals and eight assists in 30 games in a bottom-six role for the Blue Jackets. He hasn't been very explosive, and that's fine – a steady and versatile forward who won't end up in the coach's doghouse is very appealing. He doesn't have a physical edge, so he'll need to keep scoring to stay on my deeper teams for long. 

Fantasy managers trying to weather the absence of goalies should consider looking at Laurent Brossoit. He was shaky in Sunday's overtime loss to the Jets (five goals allowed on 37 shots), but Robin Lehner (lower body) hasn't returned to practice yet, as of Sunday. Brossoit plays behind a solid team, and he's a quality backup goalie. The workload is the main attraction here, but the Predators and Rangers could pose a challenge for him in the next two games should Lehner remain out. I still say he's worth the gamble. 

To say the last month has been challenging is an understatement. However, a challenge is not impossible. Managing a fantasy team is as much about riding the hot hand as it is knowing when to adjust to changing tides. It's not fun when there's 100 or so players out with COVID-19-related issues, but the NHL is a deep league. There's a lot of players in the last few weeks who have had a few moments to shine with more opportunity, and some of them will make it last. Here's to 2022, and all the new surprises it has in store. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. He serves as a beat writer for the Calgary Flames and contributes in hockey and baseball. Shawn also enjoys soccer, rooting on his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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