If you're looking forward to the NHL playoffs as much as a good hockey fan should (or good old Canadian boy from Ontario, which, sadly, I am not), you might be faced with the reality of your team not being included in the race. Maybe you're a Montreal fan, waiting for the season to end or an Oilers fan thrilled to see how good this talented group of kids will be in a year or two. Maybe you're a Sabres fan that simply can not get over how rough of a season it has been, wondering where the Ryan Miller we are seeing now was during the winter months.
If you don't have a horse in the race, might we suggest the Colorado Avalanche. The bandwagon is filling, and for good reason. This is a dynamic, young team with energy, talented players and a handful of gritty veterans that is staking its claim to one of the Western Conference's last playoff spots. Colorado is currently seventh through Saturday's games with 83 points. The additions of Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn at the trade deadline have given these two players a boost in fantasy value, especially McGinn, who couldn't see regular top-6 minutes with the Sharks. If you haven't watched Gabriel Landeskog's Calder Trophy campaign this season, the kid is a future star in the NHL. Landeskog currently leads all rookies in points with 47, 21 of which are goals. Even more impressive is his plus-20 rating through Saturday. Landeskog is giving the Avs leadership, as a rookie, and scoring important goals for a team that's essentially been in playoff mode the last month.
Between Landeskog's clutch performing (he snagged the winning goal Saturday against the Rangers), steady goaltending from the unlikely duo of Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the playmaking ability of Ryan O'Reilly, the Avs are careening toward a playoff berth. Colorado has lost just once in regulation the last two weeks, posting a 6-1-1 record in the last eight games. Life doesn't get easier this week with a pivotal clash against Calgary Tuesday, a trip to Phoenix on Thursday followed by a tilt with Vancouver next Saturday.
As for defensemen not named Erik Johnson, the Avs' Ryan Wilson has been enjoying life the last two weeks with five assists over seven games, making him well worth a waiver wire grab.
-Ottawa's Erik Karlsson still has more assists than Brian Campbell (No. 2 on the defensemen scoring list) has points, but the Senators received a good boost of production from veteran Filip Kuba, owner of three points the last three games this past week.
-Toronto's Jake Gardiner and Philadelphia's Braydon Coburn also had three points the last week. Gardiner has 24 points on the season and has been steady, albeit in an unspectacular way. The 21-year old Minnesota native has all five of his season's goals since the All-Star break and figures to be a savvy pick next year.
-You know about Mark Streit on the Islanders, but Travis Hamonic is salvaging his season for owners that counted on across-the-board production; Hamonic has six points over the last four games with 12 penalty minutes. His numbers are still steady, with 21 points, 71 penalty minutes, a plus-7 rating (outstanding on the Islanders) and 160 hits for the year. Also making a name on the Islanders is Andrew MacDonald (not to be confused with St. Louis's playmaking veteran Andy McDonald). MacDonald has a goal and an assist in the last four games and seven points over the last 12 games. MacDonald is well worth a look in deeper leagues, just don't expect a point-per-game, and, of his last seven points, just one has come on the power play. Regardless, defensive scoring is a hard to come by at times, so a pace of better than a point per two games is not bad.
-From a points-per-game perspective, other than Erik Karlsson, few have been as steady as Dustin Byfuglien with the Jets. Winnipeg is still battling for the Southeast Division crown and the East's eighth playoff spot while Byfuglien has 46 points through 55 games with another 10-goal season. Over the last three games, Big Buff has four points and, since February 17, Winnipeg's jumbo jet boasts 17 points, which included a stretch of 13 points in seven games. Obviously, Byfuglien won't be available to snag on waivers, but his numbers are impressive considering how slow he started.
-Speaking of points-per-game production, Pittsburgh welcomed back Kris Letang on Thursday along with some other player on their roster named Sidney. Letang posted an assist in Thursday's rout of the Rangers, finishing with a plus-5 rating. The dynamic blue liner has 32 points in 42 games despite missing time with two concussions this season. His value to Pittsburgh is undeniable and he will be one of the first five to seven defenders taken in next year's drafts.
Back On the Prowl
The Panthers' Dmitry Kulikov is back after missing nearly two months with a knee injury, posting five hits and two blocked shots in Saturday's 3-2 win over Buffalo. Kulikov had cooled off considerably after a fast start, posting just four points over a six-week span before suffering his knee injury. Kulikov is still young and is on a blue line with Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison. The 21-year old Kulikov has more of an eye for passing than Garrison does and a strong finish to the season can see Kulikov finish over 30 points for the first time in his career. Kulikov is one of a handful of young players definitely worth targeting next season. He has a big shot and is not shy about throwing his body around, if your league counts hits.
-Detroit's Nicklas Kronwall continues his solid season, highlighted by bone-jarring hits, 14 goals and 33 points He has a mere two points over the last six games, and, of his 33 points, six came over the course of two games in late February and early March. He has three goals over the last six weeks and remains a steady source of points as well as hits and blocked shots, if your league counts peripheral stats.
If It Looks Like a Duck
Anaheim's rally toward a playoff spot is coming to a close, but, like New Jersey last year, the season started too poorly and not even a coaching change and surge of great play will get them into the postseason. Second-year blue liner Cam Fowler is a woeful minus-20 on the year but has four points over the last three games. He certainly has been frustrating to own this season, but let's not forget that he turned 20 back in December and posted 40 points as a rookie one season earlier. Fowler is on his way to a 30-point season, as he has 27 with just 10 games remaining.
Fowler is one of the league's more productive young defensemen and, if you ignore his plus-minus rating, he's certainly a player to target next season. He has not exhibited the kind of sophomore slump shown by Buffalo's Tyler Myers one year ago.
While Fowler has been steady the last three games, 20-year old Justin Faulk on the Hurricanes has one assist over the last six games. His eight goals are tops among rookie defensemen and he owns 19 points on the season.
Following up on last week's assumption that Montreal's P.K. Subban was just teasing owners with a recent string of production, shows Subban still putting up points. He had two assists in four games this week coupled with nine penalty minutes. He owns 33 points on the season, but his goal totals are literally half of the 14 he snagged as a rookie last year. Subban will constantly be a source of discussion for the media and hatred for opposing fans, as evidenced by the hits he threw around in Friday's shootout loss to Ottawa. It's hard not to like the guy in leagues that reward penalty minutes, and, if he can show even a semblance of consistency next season, 45 to 50 points with a boatload of penalty minutes are not out of the question.
Philadelphia welcomed back Kimmo Timonen to the lineup this week after the veteran missed a handful of games with a lower-body injury; he posted one assist in three games this week. The fact that Timonen is closing in on 40 points shouldn't be a shock to anyone, as he's done it seven times in his career. His teammate, Matt Carle, however has been one of the best values of the year, as he closes in on 40 points for the second-straight season. Carle has been remarkably consistent since arriving in Philadelphia, posting campaigns of 35 and 40 points with a plus-55 rating the last three seasons.
Carle has 35 points this year and has not gone more than two games the last month without posting an assist. Carle's goal numbers have never been gaudy, but his point and assist totals remind owners of a poor man's Brian Rafalski: single digit goals with high assists and a steady plus-minus rating. Carle is a player to target next season, as the word is beginning to get out about his consistency. He never produced a strong follow-up to his 42-point rookie season in San Jose, but has certainly found a home with Philadelphia.
Until next week, enjoy the playoff race, especially the battle for the final two spots out West.
Questions, comments and suggestions for future articles are welcomed. Contact Dan Pennucci at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DVNucci42