The clock is ticking on the regular season -- both fantasy and real-life. Most leagues will begin the first round of the playoffs the next two weeks, and the end of the NHL regular season is almost a month away. For teams that sit on the bubble, the playoffs have already begun, and every week can make the difference between competing for your league crown, or sitting on the sidelines.
Here are my picks for the wire this week:
Craig Smith C/W, NSH - One of my favorite hidden gems the last two seasons is really starting to make some waves in Music City. He's never raised his game to elite levels -- nor does he project to, in all likelihood -- but he's always been a clutch performer down the stretch that is criminally under-owned for his production levels. As we can see, this year is not much different. In his last 10 games, Smith has been white hot, scoring five goals and seven assists for 12 points, along with six PIM, a pair of power play points and a plus-eight rating. That represents almost half his season totals to date, as the first half of his year was admittedly forgettable. The line of Smith, Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg has been an incredibly strong source of scoring since the trade to acquire Ryan Johansen, and all have seen their ownership levels spike. While Ribeiro and Forsberg are well out of waiver wire territory, Smith is owned in less than a third of leagues. That means you can get your hands on a dual-position eligible player that happens to be on a four-game point streak and an above-a-point-per-game clip for the last month, who happens to be very good defensively. He'll also chip in a few PIM here and there. I'd recommend taking a flyer on him if you need a good all-round utility player in a mid-depth roster or deeper.
Zack Smith C, OTT - Sometimes watching the deeper stat lines can really help you spot incoming trends. Case in point: for some reason around the beginning of February, perennial bottom-six center Zack Smith started shooting the puck a lot more than he normally did. His average shots per game prior to the start of February yo-yoed between zero and two each game. His last 15 games or so, he's been regularly hitting four and five shots per game; as a result, he's also had a little bit of a scoring streak. Go figure that if you double your shots, you also double your output. In his last 10 games, he's got four goals and three assists with a neutral plus-minus and eight PIM. He's played so well that he's also received power play time, which has been equally fruitful, producing three points in the last 10. Given his hot streak and gritty play, he could be a very valuable commodity around the margins of your deep fantasy roster. Equally valuable: he has three shorthanded goals this year, which puts him third in the league. If your league keeps track of that horrible SHG stat category, Smith can help. At an ownership level of 6 percent, he's remarkably unowned, and a steal down the stretch.
Carl Hagelin W, PIT - In his first four years in the league, he was a dangerous up-and-comer; he combined high-end speed with a solid pair of hands, and projections placed him in the 50-plus point plateau rather easily. While that never came to fruition in the Big Apple, the change in scenery to Anaheim was thought to be just the thing he needed to take the next step. After a disastrous half-season where he put up a measly 12 points and a minus-10 rating, he was shipped to Pittsburgh. Perhaps the best example of a player who doesn't thrive in the Western Conference, he's now taken off like a shot, matching his total in Anaheim in half the time in Pennsylvania. His presence on the wing of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel makes for an incredibly dangerous trio. As the season progresses, and their timing continues to improve, all three could hit point-per-game clips. Hagelin is only owned in 14 percent of leagues, which for a player scoring at 0.6 PPG is incredibly low. As he continues his production ascent, those numbers are going to skyrocket. Pittsburgh is a scary team that's just now starting to realize some of its promise. Get in while you still can.
Erik Haula C/W, MIN - Mark this kid down as one to watch, and potentially grab if you're in the need for a hot hand in a deep league. While his first two years haven't produced the type of offensive output you'd expect from a fantasy recommendation, you can see he's starting to put together the pieces of what it's going to take to be successful in the adult league. The first half of the season was remarkably unimpressive, averaging two points a month while playing almost every game. His 11 points in 43 games was on par with his sub-1 percent ownership rating and general cast-off fantasy status. Something happened in February; in addition to his ice-time jumping by more than two minutes per game, his productivity skyrocketed. His month matched his entire point output all season -- 11 points in 14 games, including a much improved plus-six rating. Now, this might somehow align with the firing of head coach Mike Yeo and the hiring of John Torchetti, but Haula's improved play predated the change. His ownership rate of 6 percent is quite low still, and his dual-position eligibility adds a flexibility to most rosters that adds its own value. In a deep league, it's hard to find a lot of value in the slim pickings that are on most wires; if you need someone, Haula is probably there, and probably better than most of your other options.
Cam Fowler D, ANA - He's the best ownership-to-performance defenseman in the league, and the way the Ducks are playing, that's not likely to change. Like the rest of the team, Fowler had a completely forgettable first half. Reading his game log for the first two months looks like golfer Jordan Spieth's scorecard: littered with minus-ones and minus-twos and a whole bunch of goose-eggs. All that turned around relatively abruptly around the end of November. Both he and the team changed their entire defensive structure; the results have been telling. As I predicted at the end of January, Anaheim is now fighting with L.A. for the top of the Pacific Division, and Fowler is among the hottest players in the league, with nine points in his last 10 games, along with a plus-two rating, two PIM, and seven (yes, seven) power-play points. At 36 percent ownership, he's heavily underowned. Get him while you still can.
Alex Petrovic D, FLA - This is a mini-bump on the same player I mentioned a few times in the last month. I won't go terribly in-depth on him, because there's no point in repeating what I've already said, but I just wanted to point out that he's now got five points, a plus-seven and 40 PIM in the last month with an ownership of 3 percent. He's exactly the type of guy you want in your seventh or eighth D spot on a deep team.
Michael Stone D, ARI - Aside from Fowler and Petrovic listed above, your only other real option on the wire for a decent defenseman is likely to be Michael Stone in Arizona. At 25 percent ownership, there's a huge chasm of skill between him and the next available players in most pools. With 28 points in 64 games, including 10 power-play points, he's having a pretty great season. He's already eclipsed all career highs for offensive categories. He's also pretty good at putting up PIM as well with 56, or just less than 1 PIM per game. His biggest weakness is his inability to put up decent plus-minus numbers. So far in his career, he's never had a plus season when he's played more than 40 games. In fact, last year he finished with an atrocious minus-24, one of the worst in the league from a player not wearing an Oilers jersey. If you lose a blueliner to injury, look to add stone temporarily. If your pool has plus-minus as a stat category, consider Fowler or Petrovic first, if they're available.