The first week of the NHL season has come and gone. While a small sample size can be misleading — the New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Knights, assumed cellar dwellers, are among the three remaining undefeated teams (the St. Louis Blues are the third) and Alex Ovechkin is on pace for 164 goals — you can still learn quite a bit from a week of play. Here are some of the bigger early season trends and the underlying fantasy takeaways for each of the 31 NHL teams.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are healing. While veteran forward Patrick Eaves scored in his season debut on a top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on Wednesday, defensemen Sami Vatanen (shoulder) and Hampus Lindholm (again, shoulder) are anticipated to be back ahead of the previously-targeted return date of Nov. 1. Vatanen, in particular, is expected to quickly reassert himself as a valued fantasy commodity, bumping young Brandon Montour from Anaheim’s secondary power play.
Arizona Coyotes: Winless and struggling to start 2017-18, the Coyotes still appear a work-in-progress, as they’ve allowed 20 more shots than they’ve fired themselves in three games. Until this developing group gets its collective act together, we’re steering clear of starting the mostly blameless Antti Raanta. Bench Arizona’s No. 1 netminder for now.
Boston Bruins: Offering Riley Nash the most recent opportunity to center a top line with Brand Marchand and David Pastrnak, coach Bruce Cassidy suggested Patrice Bergeron could be sidelined for a while. “Just hasn’t responded well to treatment,” Cassidy said of his star forward’s lower-body injury. Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? In the meanwhile, continue to stash Bergeron on your IR if possible and keep a view on Nash’s grip on that top-line role. The 28-year-old registered an assist in more than 22 minutes of ice-time during Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Buffalo Sabres: Forwards Ryan O’Reilly (one assist) and Kyle Okposo (zero points) are as chilly to launch 2017-18 as Evander Kane is hot (4G, 2A). So we’ll see how that new forward trio manages together, beginning in San Jose Thursday. Sharks netminder Martin Jones has been shaky to start this campaign, which could moreover help O’Reilly and Okposo break out of their respective mini-funks.
Calgary Flames: “I didn’t feel very well,” said Jaromir Jagr after making his Flames debut versus the Wednesday night. “But I expected that. I’m glad it’s done.” Of course he didn’t feel very well; the guy is 45 years old and trying to keep up after missing all of training camp. But don’t write him off as a fantasy dud altogether. Jagr notched 16 goals and 30 assists with the Florida Panthers last season, and he collected 66 points in 79 games the previous year. A role on the right side of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan in place of Micheal Ferland — which we aren’t ruling out — along with a gig on the club’s top power play could result in numbers similar to those achieved in Florida last year.
Barry Melrose says that the 46 year old Jaromir Jagr will not score more points than his age this year.
Carolina Hurricanes: We’re only though a pair of contests, but there’s already little mystery regarding Cam Ward‘s new role with his forever club. Serving as backup to Scott Darling, the 33-year-old veteran could earn a start in one of the four upcoming contests on the road. Maybe. Barring injury to Carolina’s new No. 1, Ward is no longer much of a fantasy consideration altogether.
Chicago Blackhawks: After missing almost three full games with an upper-body injury, forward Nick Schmaltz could return for Thursday’s tilt against the Minnesota Wild. If so, the 21-year-old is pegged to replace current sub Artem Anisimov alongside sniper Patrick Kane and Ryan Hartman. Before falling hurt, Schmaltz scored two goals and contributed an assist (plus-four rating) in the season opener. Adjust your lineups accordingly.
Colorado Avalanche: Making the most of his fresh start with the Avalanche, former Edmonton Oiler Nail Yakupov leads his squad with three goals and two assists (plus-six rating) through four games. For what it’s worth, the former first-overall draft pick is also having a great time in his new digs. Unfortunately, Yakupov’s current center, Matt Duchene, is hardly rooted in Colorado for the long run. Quite the opposite. Which casts somewhat of a somber shadow on what the newly formed forward duo might have otherwise accomplished this season. For now, take Yakupov’s production day by day.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Rookie Sonny Milano has as many goals (four) through the Blue Jackets’ first three games as the rest of the lineup combined. Check out Tuesday’s OT winner over the Hurricanes. While it’s too early to recklessly pile on the 21-year-old’s bandwagon in redraft leagues, keeper owners should ensure he’s spoken for. The 16th-overall draft selection (2014) also serves as a nifty Daily Fantasy asset as long as he remains on a scoring line and power play.
Dallas Stars: Three games is too small a sample size to worry about Jamie Benn‘s slow start (one assist), right? Before you dismiss such scoring worries, consider Stars beat reporter Mike Heika proposition that the top-line winger might have to adjust his approach if he’s to stick with new linemate Alexander Radulov.
“… My read on it is you have three players on the same line who all want the puck, and one of them is going to need to learn to play more without it. I think Jamie Benn is that player, and I think he’s in transition trying to become the player who finds out that the further he is away from the play, the closer he is to it (to quote the great Brett Hull). He might have to change the way he plays if he remains on a line with [Tyler] Seguin and Radulov …”
It’s an interesting take and slightly concerning for Benn’s fantasy owners hoping for a point-per-game pace from their lad.
Detroit Red Wings: Veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall (groin) could make his season debut Thursday in Arizona. If he can stay healthy, the 36-year-old is projected to easily better last’s year’s dismal output of only 13 points in 57 games. Nearing 400 career regular season points, Kronwall might merit a thought in exceptionally deep fantasy leagues.
Edmonton Oilers: Forced to miss Wednesday’s practice, Leon Draisaitl is dealing with an eye issue. If the 21-year-old versatile forward isn’t able to suit up Saturday — the early thinking is he’ll be fine — look for Ryan Strome to take over on Connor McDavid‘s right side, with Mark Letestu moving into the third-line center role. This would serve as a huge opportunity for Strome, who has yet to dent the scoresheet with his new club.
Florida Panthers: After vacating the net for James Reimer after the opener, Robert Luongo is expected back between the pipes for Game 3 of the season against St. Louis on Thursday. While Luongo was short of impressive in his only outing, allowing four goals, Reimer was hardly outstanding in his game. So early on, the 38-year-old appears to hold the edge over the former Maple Leaf in what some — not all, but some — are labeling a tandem approach in Florida. From where we’re sitting, the starter’s gig still feels like Luongo’s to lose.
Los Angeles Kings: Defenseman Alec Martinez is getting better. After sustaining a lower-body injury in preseason practice, Martinez is back to skating. “He just went out on his own,” John Stevens said of Monday’s twirl. “Just starting to get acclimated on the ice, so he’s progressing along, feeling better, and he’s getting closer to a return to practice.” That’s promising stuff, but it still sounds like the Kings’ offensive-defenseman could be a couple of weeks away from game-readiness.
Montreal Canadiens: One week. That’s how long Alex Galchenyuk lasted on a Canadiens top-six scoring line to start the 2017-18 campaign. Dropped to the fourth line in practice Wednesday, Galchenyuk remained on the No. 1 power play ahead of Saturday’s contest against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. A productive showing versus Toronto’s relatively porous defense (thus far) could boost the 23-year-old back into a more prominent 5-on-5 role ahead of next week’s West Coast road trip. But, really, this is already shaping up to be a drama-laden season for Galchenyuk’s fantasy owners.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild’s scoring leader for 2016-17 won’t return to the lineup until after next week, at the earliest. Initially anticipated back as early as this Thursday, Mikael Granlund is now projected to miss four games because of an injured groin. Subsequent line shuffling sees Marcus Foligno join Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle on a top unit, with Mikko Koivu centering Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter on the second line. Additional reminder: Zach Parise (back) remains out until next week at minimum.
Nashville Predators: Veteran Scott Hartnell appears to be experiencing a fantasy renaissance with his old, new-again club in Nashville. A fixture in front of the opposing goal, the 35-year-old already has three goals in as many games, including two with the extra skater. “He’s one of the best guys in front of the net,” said Predators forward Filip Forsberg of the top power play skater. “You see that on the first (goal). He’s just shooting for anything and it goes in. On the second one, he’s right there battling and scoring that goal.” Hartnell is also seeing significantly more minutes than he did with Columbus this past season. Rostered in less than half of ESPN.com leagues, he sports intriguing potential in deeper leagues.
New Jersey Devils: The London Knights will probably have to make do without European import Jesper Bratt this season. Owned in only 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues, the 19-year-old is lighting it up in the bigs with his speed and skill on what can be described as a very different-looking Devils team. On a scoring line with this year’s first-overall pick Nico Hischier, the former Swedish league player has an unprecedented three goals and three assists (plus-five rating) in three games. A must-own in keeper leagues, Bratt could prove a valuable asset in redrafts, as well — assuming he sticks beyond the nine-game tryout, of course.
New York Islanders: Connor Brown of the Maple Leafs isn’t the league’s only fourth-liner who doubles as a promising fantasy commodity. Despite averaging under 13 minutes per game, Josh Ho-Sang already has three assists, including one on each of Brock Nelson‘s two goals in Wednesday’s loss to the Ducks. Also, Ho-Sang is still seeing quality minutes with the man advantage. Gutsy fantasy owners in deeper leagues might consider the gifted — if often-controversial — rookie now before he earns his way up the lineup.
New York Rangers: Teen forward Filip Chytil may not be long for North American hockey this season after all. Assigned to the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, the just-turned 18-year-old could still be headed back to the Czech Republic. But first, he’ll still get the chance to prove he belongs in the NHL, even this early on. “We want to see more of him before we come to the conclusion that he should go back to Czech – if that’s the decision,” said Rangers GM Jeff Gorton. “There’s no timetable on this. It depends on how it goes for him in Hartford. It could be a long-term thing, it might not be … We want to give him a chance. And he wants that chance.” However it shakes out, this keeper-gem might already be worth the long-term investment in some comprehensive leagues.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson‘s fantasy owners will have to remain patient a little while longer, as the Senators are wisely taking their time with his recovery. Nevertheless, GM Pierre Dorion strongly hints at the elite defenseman’s pending return: “We’re very, very hopeful that he’ll be ready next week.” That second very admittedly offers extra assurance. Recovering from foot surgery, Karlsson isn’t expected to miss a beat once back, projected to play his “usual” 25 to 30 minutes per game.
Philadelphia Flyers: Tasked with replacing Brayden Schenn on the Flyers’ top power play, veteran Valtteri Filppula finally (four games in, so really, let’s not panic) scored his first and then second goals with the man advantage in Tuesday’s loss to the Predators. Sporting fantasy value in deeper leagues that favor power play points at a premium, Filppula could furthermore benefit from skating with winger Wayne Simmonds at even strength.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Following offseason hand surgery, the healthy return of Patric Hornqvist can be characterized as a resounding success. Planted in his usual spot in front of the opposing net, the imposing forward knocked in his first goal and contributed his first assist of the season, both with the man advantage. Too often underrated as a fantasy asset, the 30-year-old versatile winger is a perennial scoring threat, particularly with the extra skater.
San Jose Sharks: Our biggest fantasy takeaway from this week’s juggling in San Jose is that Kevin Labanc remains on a top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. After scoring twice in the opener, Labanc faltered, along with just about everyone else wearing teal, in the follow-up loss to the Kings. We anticipate a better performance out of the sophomore against the visiting Sabres on Thursday. Don’t disregard this young skater as a fantasy asset, as long as he sticks on a scoring line with the Joes.
St. Louis Blues: Forward Ivan Barbashev is making an early case for himself in deep, keeper formats. Shuffled between the Blues’ top two lines Tuesday, the 21-year-old sophomore managed well enough to stick alongside Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn, even with Dmitri Jaskin (benched for sleeping through his alarm) back in the lineup. Selected 33rd overall in 2014, Barbashev scored 19 goals and 18 assists in 46 games with the Chicago Wolves this past season.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Thus far, Brayden Point is living up to preseason expectations and then some. Projected to blossom in his sophomore campaign, the 21-year-old second-line center has scored in each of his first three games, while assisting on four other goals. Amazingly, he’s still available in nearly a quarter of ESPN.com leagues, although likely not for much longer.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Highlighted by Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Devils, the otherwise exciting Maple Leafs haven’t been good enough defensively this season. As such, and despite his overall strong individual play, No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen (3.96 goals-against average and .871 save percentage) doesn’t present as the most enticing fantasy option at the present time, and not until those out front figure out how to offer better support. If you’re equipped with other fantasy options in net, use them.
Vancouver Canucks: Guess who’s expected to make his much-anticipated season debut Thursday? Rookie Brock Boeser looks like he will play, and yes, he should be on a talented, young scoring line with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi. While this is two games too late for many frustrated Canucks fans, there’s plenty of talk that the ex-NCAA player could be restricted to 50 to 60 contests altogether in his first, full NHL campaign. That isn’t to suggest the 20-year-old is worth jettisoning in deeper, keeper leagues – not at all. It is only to point out that his fantasy owners should remain patient, and the rest of us should keep a close watch on his development.
Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights appear to be leaving their lineup alone ahead of Friday’s tilt with the Red Wings, which obviously means Vadim Shipachyov remains in limbo, on the outside looking in. Assuming GM George McPhee is able to move some ‘assets’ soon, one way or another, we anticipate seeing the KHL export in NHL action before too long. Still, fantasy owners invested in Shipachyov should keep a close eye on matters.
Washington Capitals: There’s little to fault with this first impression: In his inaugural NHL game, Christian Djoos scored a goal and added an assist (plus-two rating) in an eventual 3-2 loss to the Penguins. It can’t hurt the young defenseman’s prospects of playing more often at the highest level. Recognized for his offensive prowess, Djoos racked up 58 points in 66 contests with the AHL Hershey Bears this past season. Injury to John Carlson or Matt Niskanen would also inflate the Djoos’s fantasy worth exponentially.
Winnipeg Jets: Thus far, Connor Hellebuyck, and not offseason acquisition Steve Mason, has been handed the reigns in net for the Jets. That’s largely because Mason allowed 11 goals in his first two starts, while Hellebuyck stopped 37 of 39 shots in Monday’s victory over the Oilers. Long-term, this means nothing. Short-term, Winnipeg’s perceived second banana presents as an enticing dark-horse DFS asset versus the Canucks on Thursday.