It’s best not to be too volatile with rankings for fantasy hockey this early in the season. Projections based on small sample sizes are usually more comedic than prophetic. Take the 82-game pace totals from the first week of NHL action:
You get the picture. Now, while we don’t want to overreact to small samples, we can still reasonably guess at the answers to some key questions we had before the season started, based on early returns.
All of the “on the move” players I’ve listed this week have already answered one of those key questions this season.
Forwards on the move
Kyle Connor, W, Winnipeg Jets(up nine spots to No. 81):Will the Jets roll Connor on the top power play? A resounding yes, here. Connor has played the same team-leading 5:48 of power-play time as have Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. This was the key element for Connor to grow from his 31-goal, 57-point rookie campaign and things are clearly going his way in terms of deployment. At the other end of the spectrum, and perhaps as a direct result of Connor’s increase in responsibility, Nikolaj Ehlers looks very fantasy unfriendly to begin the campaign. Off the top power-play unit and out of the top six, Ehlers should be held, but not started, at the moment.
Jeff Skinner, W, Buffalo Sabres(down 18 spots to No. 112): Who will be on Buffalo’s top line with Jack Eichel? It looked like it would be Skinner, but after a loss to the Bruins, the Sabres moved Conor Sheary to the top line. The results since then have been three points for Sheary and two wins. While this could be a fluid situation, Skinner clearly isn’t stepping into some kind of reserved role on the team’s catalyst line. Perhaps worse, Sheary appears to have taken over the top power-play unit, as well.
J.T. Miller, W, Tampa Bay Lightning(down 40 spots to No. 115):Is Miller a lock for top-line minutes after last season’s strong showing? Nope. In fact, Ondrej Palat already looks like he’ll be replacing him for Thursday’s game. I was high on Miller coming into this season because I thought his 18 points in 19 games after the trade deadline last season would translate into job security. Apparently, that isn’t the case, as Miller practiced on the fourth line. He could be fine, but with questions already circling, this is closer to where he should be ranked, given the uncertainty of top-line and power-play minutes.
Elias Pettersson, C, Vancouver Canucks(up 24 spots to No. 117):Can Pettersson be the second Canucks rookie in as many seasons to compete for the Calder Trophy? Brock Boeser would have won Rookie of the Year honors last year if he hadn’t suffered an injury and now Pettersson is off to a blazing-hot start. With three goals and two assists through two games, this looks like a very positive start for the rookie, but we still have to see how he manages against a team other than the Calgary Flames before we get too excited.
Defensemen on the move
Dougie Hamilton, D, Carolina Hurricanes(down 15 spots to No. 74):Will Hamilton be the lead defenseman for the Hurricanes? Playing less than 20 minutes of average ice time per game and sitting No. 10 on Carolina in total power-play minutes to date, I’m thinking he’s not. After Justin Faulk essentially disappeared for stretches last season, Hamilton looked to be strutting into a situation in which he could take control. That hasn’t been the case, as he’s not a part of the top power-play unit and he’s also not surpassing the arbitrary-but-telling “top defenseman” threshold of 20 minutes. The 11 shots on goal are encouraging, but we need to see his usage increase if his fantasy value is to rise from the bar he set last season.
Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres (up 16 spots to No. 157): Will the new Rasmus upstage the old Rasmus right out of the gate? Eighteen-year-old defensemen don’t fare well in the NHL, but Rasmus Dahlin has the skills to be an exception. However, now three games into the season, it looks like he has some work cut out for him if he is to surpass Ristolainen as the top dog on the Sabres blue line. Dahlin is averaging 19:26 of ice time to Ristolainen’s 25:36. Ristolainen is also firmly cemented on the top power play, while Dahlin has only had a cup of coffee on the man advantage so far.
Thomas Chabot, D, Ottawa Senators (up 30 spots to No. 164): Can Chabot possibly fill the skates of the departed Erik Karlsson? Judging by the way he almost single-handedly beat the Maple Leafs on Saturday, maybe he can. Chabot was busy joining the rush, making offense happen and distributing pucks from the back end. Sounds like Karlsson, doesn’t it? Through three games, Chabot has five points and ranks second on Ottawa in total ice time — and first in power-play ice time. He’s ready for the spotlight here.
Goaltenders on the move
Semyon Varlamov, G, Colorado Avalanche(up 15 spots to No. 150): How much of a fight will Varlamov put up against Philipp Grubauer for the job in the crease? The season has kicked off with a 2-0 record with a .948 save percentage by Varlamov. Your move, Grubauer. The former Capitals backup gets his first start for the Avalanche on Tuesday after watching his competition for playing time notch two stellar victories out of the gate. Varlamov will have a huge advantage for the starting gig if Grubauer doesn’t come up big against the Blue Jackets.
Roberto Luongo, G, Florida Panthers(down 12 spots to No. 231):How long until the 39-year-old Luongo gets hurt? Apparently, about 32 minutes. Now he’s out for up to four weeks. James Reimer becomes an option in that timeframe.
Jonathan Quick is on the injured reserve already, but we don’t yet know the severity. Jack Campbell has shown improved signs of maturity in recent seasons and could be a more-than-decent option to directly replace Quick in fantasy lineups for the medium-term. Quick’s managers should look to pick him up, quite quickly.
Jakub Voracek is already getting another chance on the Flyers top line after James van Riemsdyk‘s injury forced a shakeup. This is great news for those who took a chance on Voracek — which is not me, as I don’t like his “yo-yo act” on the depth chart, for the cost.
Joel Eriksson Ek practiced on the top line for the Wild in place of Nino Niederreiter from the top six. Eriksson Ek is an intriguing option because he meets all the requirements for a breakout season, if given the opportunity.