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NHL Waiver Wire: Playoffs are Coming

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.

Based on my last glance at the schedule, there's approximately four weeks left in the fantasy regular season, and only a week and a half to trade deadline. That makes the moves you make now even more valuable -- time is limited and the moves you make will make or break your upcoming run. Carefully consider who you're adding; the following players can really help you out on your quest to glory.

Martin Hanzal C, ARI -
No stranger to this column in the last few years, Hanzal is a perennial underdog who has been overlooked in many pools for a long time. This year seems to be no exception. His 32 points doesn't look like much at face value, but considering he missed a large chunk of December due to a lower body injury, and an extended stretch of January where he was obviously playing through it with little production, his performance has been quite good. If you exclude these stretches, he's on an over-a-point-per-game run, and doesn't look to be slowing down. Quite the contrary actually; in his last month, he's put up 10 points, five of which on the man-advantage, and 20 PIM. Combine those numbers with an ownership rate of 20 percent, and you have a bona fide diamond in the rough that you can likely pick up today. His presence on the "Killer D" line with Anthony Duclair and Max Domi is the perfect position to be in to pick up tons of goals and assists, and his top power play unit spot gives him the ability to add to his already above-average PPP production. Given all these factors, he's probably the best option many have to add at center given injury or under-performance. Pick him up while you still can -- his ownership numbers are sure to surge in the coming weeks as his performance becomes more mainstream.

Jordan Staal C/W, CAR -
I mentioned him a few weeks ago, and his performance has not tapered off -- and surprisingly, neither has his ownership rate. Since that column on Feb. 6, his ownership numbers have increased from 20 to 29 percent, but he's put up another three goals and four assists in six games. In 2016, he's been on a point-per-game pace, which is well above his career trends of about half that, and given the number of games he's done that in, it seems that this trend will largely continue for the remainder of the season (or until such time as Carolina drops out of contention, or a major shakeup alters his team composition). With the Hurricanes only a few points out of a wild-card spot, and with the impending UFA status of older brother Eric, it would take very little for Carolina to sway between big-time buyer at the deadline to make a last run, or full-fledged seller to do a rebuild on-the-fly. Both events could have a huge impact on the younger Staal and his production -- both for the positive and the negative. Either way, with his recent run, his dual position eligibility, his availability and the scarcity of such good players on the waiver wire, it's a solid bet to take on. At very worst, his production glides down to his normal values, and you search for someone better in a month's time, when all those variables coalesce.

Cam Atkinson W, CLS -
For what was one of the worst starts to the season for any team, the Blue Jackets have turned things around -- somewhat. They're still sitting in the basement of the Eastern Conference and have very little chance of crawling into wild-card contention; not much has changed there. What they have done, with full marks to head coach John Tortorella, is play with a renewed ferocity. Their last 10 games have produced 14 points, and they're finally looking more like the team I always thought they could be. Front and center to that has been the play of Cam Atkinson, who I have made a point to mention more than I probably should. He's a fantastic bottom-of-the-roster fantasy player that finds a way to chip in 20 goals and 20 assists every year while being eternally available when I need him - no small feat. Despite the rough start and a shambles of a team around him, he's on pace for a career year -- in only 58 games, he's recorded 19 goals and 18 assists for 37 points. This production has put him only three points off of his previous career high of 40, with more than a quarter of the schedule remaining. His last 10 games have seen him put up five goals and four assists, including a hat trick, and a plus-seven rating with six PIM. While forecasts put him at just over 50 points this year, my gut says he pushes into the mid-50s and Columbus as a whole finishes strong, though well short of the mark. Don't let his team fool you -- he's a great player with a lot of fantasy panache.

Mathew Dumba D, MIN -
With all that's wrong in the land of 10,000 lakes, Dumba represents the promise of the future. He was drafted with all the hopes and dreams of a blueliner with a high pedigree, but in the three years he's been in the league, he hasn't lived up to much of that hype. It's not that uncommon for a defenseman to take some time to acclimatize to the bigger, faster game; we all remember Victor Hedman being largely transparent for the first few years of his career. In a similar vein, Dumba's third season has seen him put up eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points in 58 games, while pulling in second pairing assignments with Nate Prosser. He's been able to keep his plus-minus relatively neutral in the midst of a very difficult stretch where the team lost nine straight. In that same stretch, he was able to put up a very impressive eight points -- incredibly difficult to do when the whole team stops scoring. With his ownership rates in the high teens, he's likely one of your better bets for an offensive defenseman who can also play a respectable plus-minus game. With the Wild starting to win games, he's likely at a low for the season in terms of ownership, so now is the time to invest -- while you still can.

Brian Campbell D, FLA -
While he certainly doesn't have the scoring touch he used to in his times with Buffalo and Chicago, he's no stranger to lighting the lamp. His veteran presence on the back end of this team has been key to helping younger defensemen like Aaron Ekblad and Alex Petrovic find their way in the professional game. From a fantasy perspective, he's still a damn good option along the margins of your roster. In 58 games, he's put up five goals and 19 assists for 24 points, a fantastic plus-21 rating, and eight PPP. He's even tacked on a SHG, just to put the cherry on top. For nothing other than his plus-minus, fantasy GMs might look to him to solidify a very dicey category; all the other stats are wonderful gravy to go with it. With Florida's incredible worst-to-first transformation, everybody is jumping on the bandwagon (myself totally included) and every Panther right now glitters like gold. Campbell's ownership is sitting at 34 percent and continues to climb as the club from Miami proves they're quite legitimate. If your team is looking for a temporary replacement on the back end, there are far worse options available -- and few that offer the same level of team success that Campbell and the Panthers offer.

Eddie Lack G, CAR -
While Carolina has opted to go with a platoon tandem in net this year, it seems that the play of Lack combined with the injury-prone Cam Ward, has led to the former taking over a majority of starts. To his credit, Lack has run with the opportunity admirably, and posted a 5-5 record in his last ten decisions. While those numbers aren't terribly head turning, his .925 SV% and 2.04 GAA in that stretch has been among the league leaders in the same period. He's also posted two shutouts, which are ever so valuable for fantasy GMs. As all poolies will lament, starting goaltending is damn near impossible to get off the wire, and even more difficult to find where the goalie is actually any good. Lack's numbers are on the better side of respectable, and he's only owned in 25 percent of leagues; by comparison, goalies with his stats are trending into the mid-70s of ownership, or comparable ownership numbers are for mid-tier backups. In other words, while his win-loss numbers are mediocre and his individual stats are solid, you're not going to find anybody better right now that's available. If you need a goalie, this is your best bet.