Special to Yahoo Sports
Another week of fantasy hockey and some food for thought …
Catching up from last week: MacKenzie Blackwood continues to dominate, going 4-0 with a .954 Sv% in his last four starts and now faces Detroit, San Jose, LA, and Anaheim, so keep starting him … Jakob Chychrun had nine shots in two games but has since suffered a lower-body injury and could be out a while … Juuse Saros lost against Carolina but made 40 saves in a shootout win against Columbus on Saturday, and for now, it looks like the Preds will continue to split the starts even though Saros looks slightly better … Kevin Fiala scored a goal in consecutive games since last week’s column and deserves to be rostered.
15:16 — An encouraging debut for rookie Joshua Norris
That’s Joshua Norris’ ice time in his NHL debut Saturday against Montreal, second-most among Ottawa centers. The Sens lost 3-0 but it was a pretty encouraging debut for Norris, who was third in scoring in the AHL (58 points in 51 games) at the time of his call-up. He played almost exclusively with former AHL teammate Drake Batherson, along with a rotating left winger. With Anthony Duclair the line was really bad (11.11 CF%, according to Natural Stat Trick) but better with Nick Paul, if uneventful (1 CF, 50 CF%).
I like D.J. Smith’s decision to keep his two raw but talented scorers together, giving us a glimpse of the Sens’ future. Norris finished the game with four shots and Batherson with four hits, and both were featured on the power play. Norris and Batherson were sent back to the AHL on Sunday, but with the Sens expected to be sellers and with development their top priority, look for Norris and Batherson to return sooner than later and possibly get significant minutes.
When he returns, Norris will have more value in leagues that count peripherals, being a center (a surprising nine faceoff wins in his debut) who can play both sides of the puck (two blocked shots).
10 — Lucas Carlsson is another rookie who deserves attention
That’s the number of power-play assists Lucas Carlsson has scored this season with AHL Rockford. With the expectation that Erik Gustafsson will be dealt soon, the Blackhawks are telling him to stay home in an asset-management move, and called up Carlsson Saturday to take his spot. Carlsson, a fourth-round pick who led all Rockford defensemen in scoring this season and last, is an undersized left-shot defender who skates and moves the puck well and likely will start by playing third-pairing minutes and maybe some power-play duty on the second unit.
If Gustafsson is dealt, Adam Boqvist will get the bulk of the power-play minutes … but should he? His talent is evident but despite spending most of the season with Duncan Keith, his production has been minimal (eight points), his impact negligible (16:26 TOI) and his underlying numbers not good at all (46.91 CF%, according to NST).
The Blackhawks already have the league’s worst power play, so if Boqvist still can’t make a big difference, Jeremy Colliton, who coached Carlsson in Rockford last season, may want to consider trying Carlsson instead. What could go wrong?
2.87 — Pavel Francouz just keeps impressing
That’s Pavel Francouz’s GSAA since last week, which ranked sixth entering Saturday’s games, and his .941 Sv% in high-danger situations is third-highest among goalies who have faced at least 10 shots, according to NST. That’s almost three goals saved compared to the average goalie, doing an incredible job of holding down the fort with Philipp Grubauer‘s return uncertain. Francouz has taken over the No. 1 job and is now rostered in nearly half of Yahoo leagues.
The two-year extension the Avs handed Francouz is a huge sign of confidence and is already paying dividends. After a three-day break, the Avs will face non-playoff teams Buffalo, Nashville, and Detroit in three of their next four games, giving Francouz and fantasy managers a palatable schedule.
If Francouz is still available in your league, he’s worth picking up. Backup Hunter Miska, who has just 18 minutes of NHL experience under his belt, is not expected to play a lot. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if Francouz started both back-to-back games against Carolina and Nashville next week, which is key for those in weekly leagues.
1.077 — Fantasy managers shouldn’t look for defense help on the Leafs
That’s Jake Muzzin’s PDO since Feb. 15 entering Saturday’s games, making him the luckiest among Leafs defensemen, according to NST. During that period, Muzzin scored two goals and five assists — one-third of his season total — despite doing a poor job of controlling shots at 46.59 CF%, the lowest among Leafs defensemen with at least 50 minutes played at 5-on-5. Muzzin, despite scoring 40-plus points in three of his last six seasons, is clearly more of a defensive defenseman at this stage of his career and any scoring he brings is a big bonus.
If Tyson Barrie is traded (or hurt long-term after leaving Saturday’s disastrous game) and Toronto doesn’t get a puck-moving defenseman to replace him, creating offense from the back end will be a tough challenge. Rather than hoping Muzzin continues to have a hot hand, the Leafs will have to place some faith in Rasmus Sandin’s puck luck (0.965 PDO) turning around or hope Morgan Rielly returns sooner than later and gets up to speed right away.
Muzzin is rostered in more than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues, but other than being a reliable shot-blocker he hasn’t proven he can provide much else. Considering the Leafs are on the verge of collapse and just saw their $30-million top line get shut down by a Zamboni driver and part-time practice goalie, you’re better off looking for help on defense elsewhere.
1 — Gabriel Vilardi returns
That’s a shoutout to Gabriel Vilardi, who scored his first goal on his first shot in his first game after facing a serious injury and being forced to basically sit out a full year. The big playmaking center played 15 minutes in his debut, finishing with another assist for a two-point night. His second game last night was a lot quieter, as he recorded his first penalty but finished with just one shot in 14 minutes. It was a game in which the Kings failed to generate much offense, an on-going problem for a team that will continue to persist as it sells off veteran players.
That’s good news for Vilardi, though, who will get a lot of those minutes and may remain with the Kings for the rest of the season if their AHL club fails to make the playoffs. With Edmonton, New Jersey (despite the red-hot Blackwood) and Toronto coming up, even the Kings should be able to muster a few goals, making Vilardi an intriguing pickup in deeper leagues.
He’s rostered in less than five percent of Yahoo leagues, but when he starts to score more points, that number will surely increase quickly. He’s not there yet, but there’s some Mark Scheifele in Vilardi’s game, and having the hard-shooting Martin Frk on his line gives him a winger who can finish.