The imbalances of the NHL schedule are really highlighted when you have a small sample size … and Mika Zibanejad sitting on your bench. As much as Zibanejad blew the doors off in his season opener, he’s not going to help you win head-to-head leagues in the early season as much as, say, Andrew Copp, for example.
Zibanejad had a goal, three assists and seven shots as his Rangers beat Copp’s Jets 6-4 on Thursday. Copp had two shots. But, thanks to the schedule, Copp might be the better choice for the first two weeks of H2H. The Rangers play only three games (two this week, one next), so Zibanejad only provides you three games of fantasy goodness in that span. Copp, meantime, will play seven games with the Jets in that same time period and, with Bryan Little concussed, he’ll play the second-line center role between Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor.
Four extra games might be enough for Copp to provide more fantasy counting stats in a H2H format than Zibanejad – even though Z was a draft favorite around these parts. Zibanejad is miles better in the long run, but such is the schedule of fantasy hockey that Copp is a factor.
And this is the usefulness of the Forecaster in a nutshell. Use the NHL schedule to your advantage. In H2H leagues, that means potentially cycling in some free agents that have a favorable schedule. In rotisserie or points leagues with games-played limitations, that means keeping track of your deployments and maximizing the usage – especially with goaltenders, with whom its easy to fall behind the pace you’re allowed.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 7 to Oct. 13
With some teams still yet to hit the ice, this week’s Forecaster is still 100 percent based on last season’s statistics for its formulas. But that will change soon enough.
The Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets all play a week-high four contests. The Rangers only have one game, while the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vancouver Canucks only play twice.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense), which is on the left for each game, and “D” (defense), on the right, matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team’s season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents’ numbers in those categories. The “Ratings” column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I’ll try to also include players below 10 percent ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Los Angeles Kings: Should we all be writing off Jonathan Quick? It’s easy to do. The Kings were bad last season, didn’t get better in the offseason and Quick was outplayed by his backups while being plagued by injury. But maybe we are being a touch too hasty. Yes, he’s not at an ideal age, 33 going on 34 this season, and Quick has been limited for three years by lower-body injuries. His prime is behind him, but perhaps there is still something here. The team seems poised to let Quick be the No. 1 to start the season, which means his performance will dictate his workload to a certain extent. The Kings still have the pieces up front to be defensively sound. And the team now boasts a coach with a solid track record of keeping the puck out of the net. Coach Todd McLellan’s time with the Oilers is unfair to judge for defensive success, but from 2007-08 to 2014-15 — his reign behind the Sharks bench — the team had the sixth-fewest goals allowed in the NHL with Evgeni Nabokov and Antti Niemi starting the bulk of games.
Maybe he won’t return to form for the long haul, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have short-term uses in fantasy. The Kings play four games in a pair of back-to-back sets next week. That means Quick has a minimum of two starts. He’s available in 85 percent of ESPN leagues.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Patric Hornqvist and Brandon Tanev are both top-six wingers with the Penguins to begin the season and both are available in a bulk of leagues. They have different uses, however. Hornqvist is a potential boost to your power-play totals. He’s playing with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel at even strength, and the trio are then joined by Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to form the top power-play unit. Tanev is your guy for hits leagues. He finished third in the NHL last season for hits, and he’s skating with Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk at even strength. That means consistent minutes and upside for points in addition to him throwing the body.
The Penguins four-game schedule next week is the perfect time to try them out on your squad.
Tanner Pearson, W, Vancouver Canucks: I’m still more invested in the line of Elias Patterson, Brock Boeser and Michael Ferland, but firing 11 shots in a game is a notable achievement for Pearson. Playing with Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller, Pearson scored once on his 11 shots on Wednesday. Only five times last season did a player top 11 shots in a contest. If Pearson is going to get this much opportunity, he could find relevance.
Zack Kassian, W, Edmonton Oilers: Playing 17 minutes with Leon Draisaitl locked to his side was a fantastic first game of the season for Kassian. The Oilers aren’t as deep as they were last season (and that’s saying something), so important minutes on the wing could be Kassian’s all season long. He’s destined for 100 penalty minutes, so if he can chip in 40-plus points thanks to his linemates, Kassian is a great play in PIM leagues.
Cale Makar, D, and Nazem Kadri, C, Colorado Avalanche: These two join Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog on the top power-play unit for the team that has the second-most power-play goals over the past two seasons. Makar is available in 23 percent and Kadri is available in 58 percent of leagues. They both have the potential to get to universal ownership in the coming weeks, so get on board now.
Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver Canucks: While Edler and Quinn Hughes were first and second in ice time for the Canucks on Wednesday, there was one important difference: Edler played 4:40 of power-play time with the first unit, while Hughes played 3:38 with the second unit. Edler’s goal didn’t count as a power-play tally, but it was seconds after the man advantage expired, so it was still a power play for all intents and purposes.
Casey Mittelstadt, C, Buffalo Sabres: There was some good and some bad with the Sabres “second” line on Thursday. Air quotes are applicable here because both Caey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary played fewer than 10 minutes in the game. On the other hand, they combined to score two of the Sabres three goals. While we like the offensive output for fantasy, does the usage mean the Sabres are going to bench this trio when they get a lead? It’s worth watching over the coming weeks as ice time brings opportunity, and opportunity brings the fantasy relevance.
Sammy Blais, W, St. Louis Blues: Earning the second-line wing spot next to Ryan O’Reilly is going to mean decent ice time for Blais. And decent ice time for Blais makes him a sleeper target for leagues with hits. He dished out six of them on Wednesday as a reminder that he likes to bodycheck. If you prorate his hits in 32 games last season to a full schedule, he would have finished 12th in the category