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NHL Waiver Wire: Back on the Radar

Dan Waldner

Dan Waldner covers hockey for RotoWire, and has been involved in fantasy hockey pools for 15 years. He's a lifetime Toronto Maple Leafs fan, a passion his wife puts up with and his daughter is starting to emulate.

Time for the choice picks for the upcoming week from the Waiver Wire. For those paying more attention to the ice than the gridiron this week, I've selected a few noteworthy players for your consideration should you need someone to fill a gap or win a category.

J.T. Miller C, NYR -
New York has been solid all year, and near the top of the Eastern Conference most of the season. While players like Derek Stepan, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello have received much of the praise for the success, Miller has been a good source of secondary scoring. His 24 points in 47 games surely doesn't turn heads, but he's been a reliable plus-seven and contributed with 25 PIM, while also getting time on the second power-play unit. Noteworthy statistic: he also has three GWG of his career-high 12 this year, showing he's a clutch performer, as well. In his last 10, he's picked up the pace, tallying four goals and two assists with a plus-five rating. He has a plum assignment on a good team, and he's been doing yeoman's work in that role -- one that's surely to continue given his performance. With an ownership rate of 6 percent, he's also underowned for what he offers, and is an interesting option for deep teams in search of a third- or fourth-line center down the roster. Given that level of depth, he's likely your best option available on any waiver wire. Also, given any injury to Derek Stepan, he gets thrown onto the top position on a very dangerous line. He's a good choice if you're in need.

Travis Zajac C, NJD -
I won't go so far as to recommend him as a pickup just yet, but someone to keep your eye on is the veteran Zajac. The Devils have relied on solid performances on the top line from Adam Henrique, Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak this year. Secondary scoring has been difficult, but present from the likes of Kyle Palmieri; Zajac, by comparison, has been relatively quiet all year. At 40 games in, fantasy owners were looking for more than seven goals and 16 assists, though his plus-eight and eight power-play points are a welcome surprise. His breakout performance last week against Ottawa, where he recorded four points, has put him back in the eye of many desperate GMs looking for depth scoring. In his last 10, however, he's only recorded a solitary point aside from that game. This breakout may indicate his slump is starting to lift, or it may be simply a statistical aberration in an otherwise frigid winter in Jersey. If the former is true, Zajac offers an investment in a team punching well above its expected weight this year, and his presence on the power play gives solid dividends in deep pools. If the latter is true, picking him up will be an exercise in futility. With an ownership rate of only 8 percent, you have the benefit of time to sit back and watch. If the slump is truly gone, you can expect two to three points over the next week. At that point, his ownership will rise to the low teens, and you can safely invest with a bit of comfort. If he regresses, nothing has been lost. Flag him for follow up next week to see which path to take.

Mika Zibanejad C/W, OTT -
If plus-minus is not a concern -- or better, not a category in your league -- Zibanejad would be another great addition to your team. He is on pace to eclipse his career high in points, while also offering a very accessible ownership rate. At 47 games into the season, the young Swede has ten goals and 19 assists for 29 points, seven of which have come on the man-advantage. His current linemates, Mike Hoffman and Bobby Ryan, don't have star cache, but both are dangerous snipers who know how to light the lamp, and Zibanejad has become quite adept at getting them the puck. His last 10 games have seen solid production, with three goals and three assists and a pair of power-play points. With ownership in the high-teens, he's among the league lowest ownership rates for a first-line player. While the injury to Kyle Turris is likely going to bump him back to second-line status upon his return, for now, you can quickly and easily get a top-line player for at least a little bit, and still ride his rather solid production for the rest of the year. Added benefit to those GMs who are position constrained -- Zibanejad is dual-eligible in almost every league, and the ability to play him at both wing and center is a coveted advantage on busy evenings where you need flexibility. Many dual-eligible players are highly owned; he is not.

Vincent Lecavalier C/W, LAK -
Another recipient of the dual-position eligibility is the surging and recently traded Vincent Lecavalier. It's little wonder that his ownership level is low; he's almost a decade removed from a career-high 108 points, and the last three years has seen his drive and ability trail off. His body is not able to meet the demands of the younger, faster NHL -- and the general feeling upon his trade to the west coast was that he would be a spot player with little impact. Reality, it would seem, is not without a good sense of timing: in his seven games in Silver and Black, he has three goals and an assist, and really seems to be clicking on the second line with Marian Gaborik and Jeff Carter. Perhaps more surprising, his defensive play hasn't been a liability -- his historic weakness. After all, he was a prolific scorer earlier in his career, yet he always managed to find a way to record incredible minuses; a concern for fantasy owners who have invested in him. He's playing with responsibility, edge and a scoring touch he hasn't had in years. His ownership rate reflects the uncertainty he poses, but at 15 percent, he's hit-and-miss in deep leagues. If he shows, even for a few more games, that he can provide a consistent scoring touch on the second line, his value will increase immeasurably and his ownership will be out of reach for many. Given his play in L.A., take a flyer on him in a deep league on the bottom of your roster; medium-depth teams should watch with renewed interest. He has the potential to be a real gem should he be able to keep this trend alive.

Seth Jones D, CLS -
Interestingly, when the trade that sent Jones to Columbus was announced, ownership rates spiked sharply downward for the young defenseman. Time and again, fantasy GMs react with good-player-to-bad-team as a solid-net negative, worthy of a dump, when it's often a net-positive, often worthy of a pickup. The last such trade that comes to mind was the acquisition of Matt Moulson by Buffalo, where owners abandoned him like the plague, and lead to some really interesting bargains on the wire. Jones' trade has given the opportunity for him to emerge as the top defenseman (which he is) on an NHL team, and get the best offensive opportunities that he didn't have access to behind Shea Weber and Roman Josi. The results are telling, and speak for themselves: while his ownership rates dropped by double digits since the trade (14 percent), his first seven games in Ohio has resulted in five assists, a plus-two rating (on a terrible defensive team) and a power play point -- surely the first of many. His pace -- admittedly small sample size -- puts him on a 50-point per season average, among the best rearguards in the league. Funny, that's about where we all projected him once he reached maturity. I suppose the hottest fires do cast the strongest steel. I'm ambivalent about his prospects for a good plus-minus the rest of the season, as Columbus does have a lot of work to do playing a two-way game, but aside from that, Jones has been everything as-advertised, and is worthy of an investment on any deep team, and many mid-level teams out there. At his ownership rate, you do not have a better option to own a premier blueliner in the league.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic D, SJS -
Two players in the league have been paragons of "better real defensemen than fantasy defensemen" -- Ryan Suter in Minnesota and Marc-Edouard Vlasic in San Jose. Ironically, both are having fantastic years in both regards, despite their fantasy critics. Vlasic, whom I have affectionately nicknamed "Pickles" for years, has had a career season that shows little sign of slowing down. In 42 games this year, he has seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points -- already making it his best season since 2008-2009 -- and projects to finish with a shade less than 50, which would blow his best out of the water by a dozen points. With six power-play points, he's been far more effective on the man-advantage, and has been rewarded with more time as a result. He's also San Jose's defensive stalwart on the blue line, and carries all the hardest assignments -- with great success. His ownership rates are far higher than he's seen in recent years, hovering near 50 percent, but fantasy GMs can invest in him without fear of defensive lapses, as he's one of the best shutdown rearguards in the game. If you can get him, and you're looking for a solid addition to the blue line, Vlasic offers a conservative, hard-nosed edge to your team.

Chad Johnson G, BUF -
I thought it would be quite some time until I could reasonably recommend a Buffalo goalie for an addition, but given his stellar play on a not-so-stellar defensive team, I couldn't pass up this opportunity to mention him. Johnson has played his heart out this year in Western New York, registering a 2.36 GAA, .920 SV% and a 12-12-2 record with one shutout. It's been obvious all year that wins were going to be hard to come by in Buffalo, but his personal stats have been far better than expected. With an ownership rate of 17 percent, he's readily available to be added, but it should only be done in a league that doesn't count wins -- or added to a team where the primary goalie has a high win count, with low personal numbers. Platooning Johnson with a Craig Anderson or Semyon Varlamov might make the best of a bad situation, as neither goalie has kept solid stats this year, and has the benefit of a high win count that Johnson lacks. He'll also be a good add should you lose one of your starting goalies due to injury -- he might not get you prolific amounts wins, but he can help your cause in the others.