With the trade deadline behind us, it's time to devote our full attention to the playoff push. It's never too late to upgrade your fantasy team -- I spent a good portion of my time addressing weak spots on my rosters and cycling my depth players for those in better scoring form in the past week. Competition's only going to get tougher the farther you get into the fantasy playoffs, so you have to be ready to step up.
At the same time, the real-life playoff race is also heating up. There will be desperate teams and players on the ice, and that can go a couple of ways. Some players will thrive under pressure, and others will buckle. For example, I wouldn't yet count out the Golden Knights -- sure, most things have gone wrong on the injury front lately, but they're still in the mix. Pete DeBoer's going to push that roster to give their best in the next month, so don't shy away from their Jekyll-and-Hyde offense.
In that regard, consider Evgenii Dadonov for your team. He's staying put after his no-trade clause was revealed, canceling his move to the Ducks. In the two games since he "rejoined" the Golden Knights, he's picked up two goals and three assists in a critical pair of wins for the team. The winger didn't click initially this season, but he's doing well in a top-line role now. With Max Pacioretty (undisclosed) suffering a setback, Dadonov's set for prime minutes.
The Golden Knights aren't the only team in the hunt in the West -- the Jets are also there, and they're getting big contributions from Josh Morrissey. The top-pairing defenseman has eight points, 34 shots on goal and 20 hits in his last 11 contests, picking up the slack as Neal Pionk plays through a nagging injury. Morrissey's likely going to finish with career-best numbers this year, and he's carrying momentum into April.
Claude Giroux's move to Florida opened up space for Kevin Hayes to emerge as the Flyers' best natural center. Hayes was held off the scoresheet Sunday versus the Predators, but he posted two goals and five assists in the previous four games. The Flyers' injuries aren't as serious as they have been this year, but Hayes should continue to see top-six minutes, though Joel Farabee is also seeing time as a center. With 21 points in 32 games, it's been an injury-riddled campaign for Hayes, but he's proven to be a reliable 40-point option when healthy. This isn't a huge gamble for fantasy managers to make.
For a large part of the season, the Oilers refused to put Kailer Yamamoto on Connor McDavid's line, even as the winger struggled in a variety of roles down the lineup. That's over now -- he's picked up seven goals and five assists in his last nine games while getting his even-strength minutes with McDavid and Evander Kane. I'd assume Yamamoto will back down to slightly under a point-per-game pace in April, since the return of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins bumps him off the top power-play unit, but I wouldn't expect him to drop back into the doldrums of the last season and a half.
Speaking of productive Oilers, I'm ready to take Cody Ceci seriously. Like Yamamoto, he spent most of the year in a less-than-ideal role, then immediately stepped up in a new assignment. In Ceci's case, he's looked better alongside Darnell Nurse than he did for much of the year with Duncan Keith or any number of injury replacements. Ceci has six points, 13 hits, 21 blocked shots and a plus-6 rating in his last nine games, and that's including a minus-5 showing against the Flames on Saturday.
I was taking a wait-and-see approach with Valeri Nichushkin, but it looks like he's set to stay on the top line for a while with Gabriel Landeskog (knee) out. In his last six games, Nichushkin has three goals and three assists, including four power-play points. On top of the scoring, he's added 18 shots and seven hits. The 27-year-old has always known how to throw a hit, but he's flexed career-best offense with 37 points in 48 outings this season. It says a lot that he's on the top line instead of Andre Burakovsky, who has often taken that role when the Avalanche have endured injuries up front.
Moving down to the third line is rarely a good thing, but Jamie Benn's made the most of it with four points in his last three games. I've been hurt before by thinking the Stars' older core forwards are going to put it all together, only to see the offense disappear again a week later. Benn, however, has maintained a point-per-game pace with four goals and 11 helpers in his last 15 outings -- that's a month of quality play despite a recent decrease in role. Sometimes less is more.
I've wavered back and forth on Alexander Barabanov in my deeper formats, but there's little need to hesitate now. The 27-year-old is seeing top-line minutes with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, and all three are on the power play. The chemistry's been good lately, with Barabanov collecting two goals and seven helpers in his last nine outings. He's got a little physicality, and he's been more confident to shoot after posting just three shots on net in his first 10 games of the season. He'll help you more if you need assists, but I've always got room for a hot stick in a top-line role.
Anthony Mantha missed nearly four months recovering from shoulder surgery, returning to action March 3 versus the Hurricanes. In the 12 games since, he's consistently played in the top six with five goals, three assists, 37 shots on net and 17 hits. Health has often been the only thing to hold Mantha back -- his only full season at the NHL level was last year when he posted 29 points in 56 contests. The winger's 14 points in 22 games extrapolates to a 52-point pace in a full season.
If you need hits, look to Keegan Kolesar -- he's got 50 of them in his last seven games, and he's added a pair of assists in that span. The Golden Knights' injuries this season have occasionally pushed him into a middle-six role. The 24-year-old hasn't been a slouch on offense with 21 points, but it's the 207 hits (ninth-best in the league) and 61 PIM that boost his profile in fantasy.
For most standard fantasy formats, this week is the last one before the playoffs. Make adjustments now to position yourself well -- sneaking into a bye week with a strong finish to your regular season could make all the difference. Most importantly, don't second-guess yourself at this time of the season. There's only so much analysis of matchups and trends that you can do, so sometimes you just have to trust your instincts with roster moves and sit/start decisions. Next week, I'll dive into some playoff prep to get you ready for your push to the championship.