Hutch's Hockey: Let The Fun Begin

Hutch's Hockey: Let The Fun Begin

So you've made it this far, and now the fantasy playoffs are in front of you. You've navigated the injuries, the dry spells, the bad luck -- if you're here, you still have something to play for. 

A lot of people play fantasy hockey, but only about half make the playoffs, depending on the format. Getting in is just half of the battle, though it is still something you can be proud of, especially if you had to dig out of an early hole to make it. Anything can happen in each matchup in a head-to-head league. If you're looking at rotisserie or season-long, no-playoff formats, you can still improve your rosters here, but the urgency factor isn't as important. 

Throughout the year, I try to highlight a variety of players making impacts, without repeating the same under-appreciated names too often. That all goes out the window now. If you're making moves, you're looking for players that are making an impact right now. The time to worry about sample sizes and unsustainable percentages is over. Hot is hot, and it doesn't matter where you get your heat from. 

With that in mind, let's take a look at the Rangers, who posted back-to-back shutouts this weekend, outscoring the Predators and the Penguins by a combined 13-0 mark. In Sunday's 7-0 win over the Predators, it was the K'Andre Miller show, as the 23-year-old defenseman posted two goals and two assists in the first period. Since he returned from a three-game suspension, he has two goals and six helpers over seven contests. If you need a bit more category coverage, he's also succeeding there with a plus-11 rating, 12 shots on net, 14 hits and 10 blocked shots in that span. I've liked Miller as a streaming option throughout the year, and he's heating up at just the right time to help fantasy managers. 

I keep circling around the Coyotes as a place to look for offense. They've scored four-plus goals in six of their 10 games in March, and they haven't been shut out since January. A big part of their success is Barrett Hayton's top-line work. He's posted four goals, eight assists, a plus-9 rating and 22 shots on goal during his active seven-game point streak. Six of those contests have come at home, where the Coyotes are a surprisingly strong 20-11-3 on the year. Their next three games are on the road, so Hayton is a player you might want to take some caution with, but they'll be back home Sunday for four in a row. 

I've also mentioned Juuso Valimaki recently, so a simple update will do. The Finnish blueliner has a goal and six helpers over his last four games, and he's seeing time on the top power-play unit. All the warnings about the Coyotes' dramatic home/road splits apply here as well, but Valimaki has also been a clear-cut top-four defenseman since the All-Star break with 19 points and a plus-6 rating while averaging 22:56 of ice time per game over 20 contests. 

The Flyers' Owen Tippett is worth another look after a hat trick and two assists over his last two contests. The winger got some attention for putting up 28 points in 46 appearances before the All-Star break. He faded to four points in 10 outings in February, but he's up to seven points through eight games in March. Tippett's gotten more aggressive with shooting the puck in the last month, which supplies a bit of a foundation to support his improved production. He's also on the top line, and while that can change on a whim with head coach John Tortorella, it's still a valuable role for Tippett to see. 

Chances are pretty slim Rickard Rakell is still hanging around any fantasy waiver wires in competitive formats, but he's worth checking on. The 29-year-old has six goals and 10 assists across his last 17 contests, and he's gotten on the scoresheet in six of nine games in March. Power-play time and a top-line gig alongside Sidney Crosby tend to pay off. If Rakell's not available, it won't make or break your playoff run, but he's a nice depth winger to roster, especially since he's on one of his most noticeable hot streaks in his best season since 2017-18. 

Need a championship resume on your roster? Alex Killorn might be the right fit. He's been a point-per-game player in March with seven goals and four helpers over 11 contests this month. The Lightning can roll three scoring lines, so I wouldn't be concerned if Killorn remains on the third line for a bit, especially when he's also seeing power-play time. The Lightning's real-life jockeying for position should keep all of their veterans engaged deep into the fantasy playoffs, which is an added bonus should Killorn keep his offense up. 

My optimism on Mattias Ekholm wasn't all that significant in an instant reaction to his move to Edmonton. With seven points, a plus-13 rating, 16 blocked shots and 16 hits over nine games since the deal, I'm way more optimistic now. Go get him -- defense runs thin in fantasy, and his top-four role means he's getting minutes with all of the Oilers' big stars throughout games. 

The Canadiens' Josh Anderson has always been somewhat of a tease for fantasy managers, but he's turning that into real production late in the season. He has two goals, three assists, 10 shots and 12 hits during his current four-game point streak. The 28-year-old is also seeing time with top center Nick Suzuki and a rejuvenated Denis Gurianov, a trio that has clicked fairly well for the Habs over the last three weeks. All you want from Anderson is for his current burst of offense to help you win a round or two -- you can get off the ride at the first sign of a slump and turn to another streaking forward. 

Color me intrigued on Jesperi Kotkaniemi. His March numbers -- three goals, six assists in 10 games -- look great on paper, but he's only gotten on the scoresheet in three of those contests. I'm worried about the Hurricanes' offense sans Andrei Svechnikov (knee), especially with regards to the power play. Still, Kotkaniemi can provide some scoring pop. His 34 points through 68 outings this season represent his best pace in an NHL campaign, and he's also matched his point total from 79 games as a rookie in 2018-19. His second-line role is good. I wouldn't bite on him right away, but I'd keep an eye on him for later in the fantasy playoffs -- the Hurricanes facing the Rangers twice, the Maple Leafs and the Bruins in the next week discourage me from buying into their offense immediately. 

Reilly Smith has gotten himself all the way back into the picture in fantasy with four goals and seven assists through 10 games in March. The 31-year-old is usually right on the fringe of my rosters, and he's available in just under half of Yahoo! formats heading into the postseason. His assist Sunday got him to the 50-point mark through 70 contests this season -- that's under his peak performance, but it's the best he's looked in three years. He's riding an eight-game point streak, and he'll get to feast on Western Canada's less-than-impressive goaltending next week. 

If you need a little punch in a deep format, Jujhar Khaira could fit the bill. He's picked up a goal, five assists, 15 hits and nine PIM over his last six contests. Khaira remains in a bottom-six role with the Blackhawks, but he's averaged 13:27 of ice time over that six-game stretch -- that's more like a third-liner than a fourth-liner. Don't count on the offense to continue, but he can be a specialist in hits or PIM. 

I'm also still invested in Alex Stalock. He's almost done enough to disrupt the Blackhawks' hopes of bottoming out, winning three of his six appearances since he returned from oculomotor dysfunction in late February. The 35-year-old is definitely more of a matchup-based play -- I don't like him against the Avalanche on Monday, but starting two out of three versus the Capitals, Wild and Canucks could be a solid option for fantasy managers. If you're set in goal, you probably don't want to go chasing the counting categories. Aim for solid ratios and hope that you can snag wins or shutouts. If you're goaltending's questionable, Stalock is a better gamble, since he won't hurt the ratios much and he can help pile up saves behind a shaky defense. 

If you want more of a speculative play, Casey DeSmith is worth consideration. He's made his last two appearances in relief of Tristan Jarry, who is simply not getting the job done lately (4.78 GAA, .842 save percentage through seven games in March). Head coach Mike Sullivan hasn't flipped to DeSmith to help the Penguins' playoff push yet, but his ratios (2.07 GAA, .927 save percentage) are far more attractive, albeit in a smaller sample. The Penguins are just one point up on the Panthers for the second wild-card spot, so at some point in the next four weeks, they may need DeSmith to be the guy for a while. 

Fantasy hockey can be a fickle game. You played roughly 20 weeks to get to this point, managing your team through ups and downs, and yet you could be out with one bad week -- one of my best teams had that happen this week thanks to an early playoff start. That's how sports go, but it's also part of the excitement. You could just as easily be the one to ride an unexpected hot streak to a win. Whether you're playing for money or fun, enjoy the final stretch of the NHL season -- this is some of the sport at its best. Get a win this week and I'll see who can help you navigate the semifinals next Monday. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. In 2023, he was named FSWA Hockey Writer of the Year. Shawn serves as a contributor for hockey and baseball, and pens the "Hutch's Hockey" column. He also enjoys soccer, rooting for his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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