Hutch's Hockey: Closing Time

Hutch's Hockey: Closing Time

Midway (or a little past it) through your fantasy hockey championship, you know where you stand. This is the last chance to make a few moves if there are a couple of categories that are close. I try to keep things focused on offense, but it's worth mentioning some players that can help outside of scoring, so I'll mix these in for the Hutch's Hockey finale of the season. 

The best reasonably available player of the last two weeks is David Perron, who has seven goals and three assists over his last seven games. He's picked up three power-play points and nine hits as well. The Red Wings have nothing to play for, but they're one of the 15 teams playing three times this week. At this point, having more runway to rack up the counting stats is the biggest plus for any move you can make. 

There's no reason for 36 percent of Yahoo! formats to have Jared McCann available, but if you're in a shallower league, you might want to take a look. The Kraken aren't even locked into the first wild-card spot -- they could move up to third in the Pacific if the Kings stumble. There's no ego on the roster in Seattle, but McCann's a goal away from 40 and two points from 70, so he'll have plenty of personal accolades to play for over the last three contests. He's earned eight points, 18 shots, eight hits and a plus-8 rating over five games in April. 

More widely available is his linemate, Jordan Eberle, who also has eight points through five outings this month. Eberle's more of a pure offense addition, and he's not chasing milestones as much, but he's been just as good as McCann when it comes to scoring recently. Eberle could be a particular boost on the power play, where he's earned three of his last eight points and 15 points this season, his most since 2014-15. 

Digging a little deeper, the Blues' Alexei Toropchenko has really rounded into form. With five goals, two assists, 21 shots, 13 hits and a plus-8 rating over his last 10 games, he's solid enough all-around to be useful. He's only got two games left, both against the Stars, so only add him if you want the hits and shots -- he's not a great matchup play despite the recent heater. 

I don't typically advocate for Radko Gudas -- 14 points in 70 games for the season just isn't attractive. At this time of year, he gains significantly more appeal for hits and blocked shots. The Panthers are playing playoff hockey now since they're in the three-team battle for the Eastern Conference's two wild-card spots. One assist over his last nine games is a bit rough, but there's gold to be mined from the 42 hits, 20 blocked shots, 11 PIM and a plus-5 rating he has in that span. The hits will be there, so he's a premium target if that's what you need. 

Sean Durzi missed some time with an upper-body injury in March, but he's been steady with 28 blocked shots over his last eight contests. He's also chipped in four points, including a pair of power-play assists, but the rest of his profile has been lacking. Durzi can sustain that offense and continue to rack up blocks, but if you're holding onto plus-minus, you may want to look elsewhere. 

It's worth kicking the tires on Daniel Sprong again. The 26-year-old didn't take kindly to a two-game stint as a healthy scratch in mid-March, responding with five goals and six assists (including four power-play points) and a plus-7 rating while playing in 10 straight games. He's been too good for head coach Dave Hakstol to sit, and if the Kraken opt to rest anyone this week, Sprong could see a bigger role. 

The Lightning don't really have the cap space to play around with roster moves despite knowing their playoff fate, which is a benefit if you have their stars. If you want a more accessible piece of this offense, Alex Killorn is your target. He has eight points (four on the power play), 12 shots, nine hits and a plus-4 rating over his last seven contests. This is a team that is trying to keep its championship window open, so they won't be letting bad habits settle in as they play out the regular-season string. 

Your best bet in shoring up plus-minus this week is Mattias Ekholm. The Oilers will be looking to keep pace for the Pacific Division title Tuesday when they face the Avalanche, and the Sharks await Thursday. Ekholm has 12 points and a massive plus-25 rating in 19 games with the Oilers. He'll help in hits and blocked shots as well. 

Thanks to a postponement earlier in the season, the Sabres end the campaign with four games in five days. Casey Mittelstadt is hot at just the right moment with two goals, nine assists and a plus-6 rating over his last seven games. Tage Thompson's iffy injury status has led to Mittelstadt on the top line between Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch, which is a huge upgrade in terms of linemates. Mittelstadt has one of the quietest 50-point campaigns (12 goals, 41 assists) in the league, but he's making noise late to make sure he doesn't go unnoticed. 

There's been a lot of talk around Thomas Novak and Luke Evangelista, and that's fair. Cody Glass also needs a little respect for keeping the Predators around the playoff race this long. He's posted four goals and two assists over his last eight games, though he's scoreless in his last two. Monday's game versus the Flames will likely decided both teams' fates for the rest of the week -- if the Predators win, Glass will have plenty to play for versus the Wild on Wednesday and the Avalanche on Thursday. 

In goal, rookie Devon Levi is the guy I'm looking at over the last week. As mentioned earlier, the Sabres play four times over five games. There's a good chance the 21-year-old gets at least two starts down the stretch. He's won three of his four outings with only one really ugly appearance so far. His latter matchup of the week, either versus the Senators or the Blue Jackets, would be the most attractive one, but you won't want to wait if goalie categories are up for grabs. 

I've resisted the urge to pick up Alex Lyon so far, but if I need a boost late this week, he's definitely in the mix. You simply can't ignore a six-game winning streak, especially when he's allowed just nine goals in that stretch. I wouldn't count on the 30-year-old beyond the next week -- there's a late bloomer in goal every now and then, but I don't think that's his career arc -- but I'd be very happy if he gets me the eternal joy that is a fantasy title. 

One more goalie for the road: Scott Wedgewood. The Stars have three games left, one against the Red Wings and two against the Blues. I think Wedgewood gets a start in there, especially if the Central Division standings solidify heading into Thursday. Jake Oettinger's already at 60 games played, and I think the Stars will want to get him one more breather before the playoffs. Of all the playoff teams, Oettinger may be the one goalie who is most relied on by his team. Wedgewood's a solid backup, and he could also use a tune-up before the playoffs start. 

With that, it's time to get to action for a few more days and make that final push. As always, it's a privilege to share my thoughts on players, teams and trends in this space once a week. Whether you've been along for the ride all season or you pop in every once in a while, thanks for reading -- it means a lot. 

Before I sign off for the season, I want to revisit the bold predictions I made at the start of the season. It's always fun to look back and see what stuck and what didn't. For the purpose of honesty, you can review them in their original form here, at the bottom of my season-opening article. 

  • We'll have a first-time Norris Trophy winner in 2022-23. Moritz Seider, Heiskanen, John Carlson, Aaron Ekblad -- take your pick. Somebody's stepping up this year, and they'll be a huge boost for fantasy managers. 
  • Shane Wright will have enough success to torpedo Beniers' Calder chances. We saw something similar almost happen last year in Detroit, as the presence of Lucas Raymond made it a question for Seider to win Rookie of the Year. I'd prefer to see how this year's rookies adjust to the NHL before proclaiming any early favorites. 
  • A Western Conference wild-card team makes the Stanley Cup Finals. There are teams in the west built for the playoffs -- strong defenses and star goalies that can perhaps steal a couple games in a best-of-seven against the Avalanche or the Oilers. I'd envision this prediction coming true with the likes of the Canucks, Stars or Golden Knights stepping up. 
  • The Capitals and Penguins both miss the playoffs. This one might hurt my parents, who have each supported one of these two teams for 30-plus years. My top-three in the Metropolitan consists of the Rangers, Hurricanes, and Devils, and I think the Atlantic is deep enough to command five playoff teams. 
  • The Coyotes pick first overall next year. Central Division teams should be happy to get to play the Coyotes and Blackhawks more than anyone, but I think it's Arizona who bottoms out faster despite Chicago's best tear-down efforts. I don't know what the official name of this year's tank campaigns are called, but it'll be the Coyotes who Fall Hard For Bedard. 

It's not looking so good for a first-time Norris winner. Seider got hit with a sophomore slump, Carlson and Ekblad were out with injuries at times, and Heiskanen has been excellent, but I really don't think anyone's surpassing what we've seen from Erik Karlsson or Adam Fox. I am still on Fox's side for this one, but I think it's pretty much inevitable that Karlsson gets the award if he hits 100 points. 

I will fully admit here: I'm not great at projecting rookies. Wright hardly saw any NHL time -- this isn't to say he'll never flourish, but the Kraken rightfully played it slow with him, especially with the success of virtually everyone else on the roster. Beniers looks like a runaway favorite for the award. I'd put Matias Maccelli in second and Stuart Skinner third, though I could see Mason McTavish earn a nod as a finalist too. 

I can't speak to points three or five just yet -- who knows what the next six weeks will bring? I'm not very confident in a Western Conference wild-card team going the distance anymore. That's no disrespect to any of the Kraken, Jets, Flames or Predators. I just think the Oilers, Avalanche and Stars will be very tough outs, and the Golden Knights aren't exactly a friendly first-round draw either. I wanted to embrace the chaos, and I will if it gets to that point, but it doesn't look great from here. As for the Coyotes picking first overall, that doesn't look so likely either. They've been a sneaky-good home team, so props to them for looking like they're past the lowest part of the valley in their rebuild. 

Finally, there's the Penguins and Capitals. I'll take half-credit so far. I had a pretty good handle on the Metropolitan Division from the start, although it appears they'll get four playoff teams at a minimum. You win some, you lose some. 

Best of luck as you compete for your championships this week. I'll be back in October with my season preview. 

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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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