Hutch's Hockey: Welcome to Championship Week

Hutch's Hockey: Welcome to Championship Week

Here we are, everyone – it's finally fantasy championship week. From the excitement of draft day to the doldrums of COVID postponements and all the highs and lows in between, we're down to one last matchup. In my leagues, I'll play just as hard for third place as first. A virtual trophy is still a good reward for your effort, even if it's not shining gold. If last week didn't go as planned for you, considering using this advice to try and secure the bronze, and if you're in the title match, these players can help get you over the hump. 

At this time of the season, you can throw some of the typical rules out of the window. A player missing two or three games doesn't help your roster, and neither do part-timers or players being rested after their team clinches. To find success in championship week, you have to find guys on teams that still have something to play for, be it their own playoff positioning or an audition for next season. Now let's pinpoint some players who will help get you to the top of the podium. 

At the top of my list for additions in championship week is Tim Stutzle. The 20-year-old has gotten hot at just the right time with six goals and seven assists in his last eight games. Save for missing two contests to a knee injury, he's been great, and there's been no lingering concerns from that absence. The Senators only play one playoff team in their last seven games, so there's offense to be had for many of their players. If Stutzle's not available, consider Connor Brown – he's picked up 38 points in 61 games, and he just snapped a 10-game point drought. He's not hot right now, but the Senators' injuries have piled up enough to get Brown back in a top-six role. 

Jordan Staal suffered an upper-body injury Saturday, and if he misses time, that'll open up a larger role for Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The Hurricanes have been relentless this season with a 3.29 goals-per-game average, so I want to get a piece of this top-10 offense. The good news for fantasy managers is that they can't take their foot off the gas – they're still fighting the Rangers for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Kotkaniemi is just a couple of contests removed from his own eight-game absence, but if he can slot onto the third line, I like his chances of being productive. 

Shore up your defensive depth with Mattias Ekholm. In his last nine games, he's picked up seven assists, 18 hits and 18 blocked shots. He's not an overly physical player on his own, but the intensity with which the Predators play seems to have rubbed off on him lately. He'll chip in a little bit across all major fantasy categories – the 31-year-old probably won't win you a championship single-handedly, but he can be a productive piece on your roster. 

I don't often recommend true fourth-liners with no power-play time, but Nic Dowd has my attention. He's picked up six points, 14 hits and a plus-3 rating in his last five games. For the season, he's at a career-high 23 points and he's won 53.9 percent of his draws. Dowd is by no means the next Patrice Bergeron in any way, but the Capitals still have a chance to catch the Penguins for third in the Metro – and by extension, avoid a first-round date with the Panthers. They'll need contributions up and down the roster to move up the standings. 

Gustav Forsling has picked up some scoring slack from the blue line for the Panthers lately. He's tallied four goals and an assist in his last four outings. The defenseman isn't a heavy hitter, but given his role on an elite team, he's been a huge boost in plus-minus – he's plus-38 with 35 points in 66 games. He won't add anything on special teams, either, but sometimes you need to have a few category specialists to keep an eye on so you can make adjustments midweek based on the course of your matchup. 

Let's talk rookies for a second. Since the NCAA season ended, we've seen a number of young guns sign their ELCs and get started at the NHL level. If I could only add one to my roster, it's Matty Beniers. All he's done since entering the Kraken's lineup is pick up a power-play goal, an assist, four shots on net, three hits and an even plus-minus rating in two games. With two-week championship matchups in fantasy, Beniers will also be an attractive addition since the Kraken play the Jets on May 1 after a weather postponement from last week. The 19-year-old University of Michigan product has looked NHL-ready right from the jump – whether that's adrenaline or genuine skill, he can boost your center depth to close out the year. 

If you're in a dynasty format and want a sneaky add that can help you now and later, consider Ben Meyers. Unlike Beniers, Meyers isn't going to see top-six minutes with the Avalanche after he signed with them as an undrafted free agent. He still scored in his NHL debut Saturday versus the Hurricanes. Meyers will see sheltered minutes with favorable zone starts as he gets his first action at the NHL level. The bigger perk is what he could do next season. The Avalanche will likely see at least one top-six forward walk in free agency. Meyers being on an entry-level deal will make him a cheap and effective replacement, but he'll want to show his best in this regular-season audition – due to CBA rules, he's ineligible to play in the playoffs. As long as he's in the lineup, he should have a chance to be productive, and he'll afford the Avalanche the opportunity to rest some of their veterans. 

Last week, I pointed out Jakub Vrana's strong production since his season debut. He was flipped in a trade for Anthony Mantha, who proceeded to get my attention with a four-point effort versus the Canadiens. Mantha's earned seven points in his last four outings, and he's seeing power-play time. Capitals games lately have more or less been a circus – they're trading goals back and forth in a way that'll lighten Peter Laviolette's hair a few more shades by the end of the campaign. Even in a third-line role, Mantha will benefit from the high-scoring tendencies of his team, and he's no slouch on the physical side of the game. The 27-year-old has 21 points, 73 shots and 37 hits through 30 contests this season. 

"Better late than never" was the motto of a couple of my fantasy teams this year. They started slow, injuries piled up and they made it tricky to navigate my way to the playoffs. One of them was in a league with early playoffs, and it won 5-4 in the championship round. The other demolished the third- and second-place teams to bully its way into a title fight this week. Both of those teams came from the No. 5 seed, and the latter will face a No. 6. All of this is a long way to say Vasili Podkolzin shouldn't be off your radar. Yes, I'm concerned he'll struggle with Bo Horvat (leg) out for likely the rest of the season. With that considered, Podkolzin has three goals and three assists in his last four games. It's all about the timing, and a couple more hot weeks will make his rookie season look better than it did a month ago. 

For your playmaking needs, Gustav Nyquist could help out. Unlike most of the players listed here, Nyquist and the Blue Jackets don't have anything except for pride on the line. The 32-year-old has racked up seven assists in his last six games, and he's still seeing a top-line role as he has for almost all of the season. You know what you can get from this steady Swede – he's landed between 40 and 60 points in every full season of his career, and he's a setup man. Like Forsling, Nyquist may not be a player you want to grab Monday, but he can give you a boost if you find yourself chasing assists. 

In goal, this is the time of the year where Andrei Vasilevskiy's fantasy managers tear their hair out when he gets rest down the stretch. Get ahead of them and snag his backup, Brian Elliott. Moose is 5-1-1 with a 1.97 GAA and a .931 save percentage in seven games since the start of March. You'll want to confirm Elliott will start before plugging him in your lineup, but he'll likely get two or three starts in the Lightning's last seven games – they have two sets of back-to-backs in the mix. He's won his last three appearances. Goalie starts at this time of year are as unpredictable as ever, so Elliott is a solid insurance policy whether you have Vasilevskiy or not. 

Enough talk – it's time to fine-tune our fantasy management to be its best when it matters most. I'll have one more edition of Hutch's Hockey this season for a mid-championship tune-up next Monday. Good luck in your quest for puck glory. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. He serves as a beat writer for the Calgary Flames and contributes in hockey and baseball. Shawn also enjoys soccer, rooting on his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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