Hutch's Hockey: Depth Test

Hutch's Hockey: Depth Test

It's been a particularly rough week for NHL injuries. It doesn't help that most teams seem to be dealing with an illness in the locker room as well. 

Among the players injured recently: Kyle Connor (knee, out 6-8 weeks), Bryan Rust (upper body, week-to-week), Dylan Larkin (upper body, day-to-day), Patrik Laine (collarbone, six weeks), Andrei Svechnikov (upper body, indefinite), Jeff Skinner (upper body), Charlie McAvoy (upper body) and Jake Oettinger (lower body). With some long-term absences and some just to be determined, there's a lot of talent slipping out of fantasy lineups. 

Then there's the usual attrition of day-to-day injuries and illness. It's a tough break Auston Matthews (illness) and Cale Makar (lower body) were both ruled out during warmups Saturday. That clouds their outlook for the week ahead as well. 

With all of the man-games lost, it's time to test your fantasy depth. Some of these injuries will require moves out of necessity. Getting a good player off the waiver wire now will help soften the blow, but some of these players are virtually irreplaceable with one move. 

To start your adventures this week, it's best to address the Jets' top-six situation now. Connor's knee injury has opened the door for Gabriel Vilardi to join the top line, and the early results are encouraging -- he has four goals and three assists over his last four games. Vilardi had a career night against the Kings on Thursday, an extra-sweet taste of revenge since he was traded from Los Angeles over the summer as part of the Pierre-Luc Dubois deal. Vilardi's a first-round pick from 2017, taken 11th overall, but long-term injuries have often derailed his seasons rather than open the door of opportunity. 

On the other side of Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers' offense has also sparked to life. With 11 points over his last seven contests, Ehlers has been electric. He's gone plus-13 with 21 shots on goal as well. Ehlers is a much more established player than Vilardi -- as such, fantasy managers are already flocking to him in droves. He's still out there in just under half of Yahoo formats, and it's worth checking to see if you can grab him before he's gone. 

Calgary hasn't dealt with a lot of injuries up front this year, so it makes it all the more impressive that Yegor Sharangovich has earned his place on the top line. He heads into the new week on a five-game goal streak and six-game point streak, a span in which he's potted six tallies and added two assists. The Flames shuffled their lines like a blackjack dealer handles cards to start the year, but finding some successful combinations has slowed the changes. Sharangovich is probably better cast in a middle-six assignment, but he's hot now and needs to be on rosters in formats that value offense above all. 

Colton Sissons has done well to keep himself on the radar this season. He's not a player to go on long runs of offense, but he's started December with six points over nine games. The Predators are fourth in the Central Division as of Sunday, and Sissons is a key part of their forward depth. He's best targeted in formats that count at least two of hits, PIM or shorthanded points, though his success this year has also helped him pick up power-play time regularly for the first time since 2018-19. 

It's tough to advocate for adding Mike Reilly, but it's worth a look into the numbers. The defenseman couldn't break into Florida's lineup even when the team was missing multiple blueliners to start the season. Reilly was waived and claimed by the Islanders, collecting five points over 10 contests with his new team. He's also pumped 28 shots on net while adding 13 hits and nine blocked shots since donning the blue and orange. He's on the second power-play unit, and the minutes should stick as long as Scott Mayfield (upper body), Adam Pelech (upper body) and Ryan Pulock (lower body) are all sidelined. The results are there and the ice time is open, so Reilly checks a few boxes for continued short-term success. He's unlikely to be a set-and-forget player for the rest of the year. 

Josh Manson has worked his way back into the conversation after a quiet November. Samuel Girard's indefinite absence in the player assistance program opened up a top-four role, and Manson ascended further with top-pairing usage Saturday and Sunday due to Makar's aforementioned absence. Manson has six points, 22 hits, 18 blocked shots and a plus-5 rating over nine games in December. With Makar seemingly in and out of the lineup, Manson continues to carry more value than his skill set would suggest, especially since he's proven capable of putting up offense when he gets an opportunity. He'll also be a positive in formats that count hits and blocks. 

Jake McCabe is another blueliner who's taken advantage of other injuries on his team to step up. The Maple Leafs are missing John Klingberg (hip) for likely the rest of the regular season, and Mark Giordano (finger) has been out recently as well. In December, McCabe has stepped up with six points, 18 hits and a plus-5 rating. Like Manson, McCabe is benefiting from more time because he's playing in a strong offense. Both blueliners carry more value in formats that reward physical play, but they can be short-term adds in standard formats given their recent scoring success. 

If you need a Svechnikov replacement, Stefan Noesen is a name to keep an eye on. Noesen's usage is interesting in Carolina -- he's got the profile of a fourth-liner and rarely gets over 15 minutes of ice time per game, but he's seemingly the preferred stopgap whenever there's a top-six injury. Additionally, the Hurricanes continue to give him net-front looks on the power play, albeit mostly on the second unit. Noesen has eight points and 17 hits over his last 10 games, giving him power-winger appeal. Despite all the positive signals in Noesen's usage lately, he's a cold stretch away from losing time to Michael Bunting, and both of them would be back in the bottom-six once Svechnikov is healthy. 

It's fair to say little has gone right for the Capitals' offense this season. With Alex Ovechkin showing signs of being human, the team has had to rely on depth and defense a bit more, to mixed results. Despite all of that, Dylan Strome has carved out an effective role as the top-line center, racking up seven points over his last six games and 18 points, including 12 goals, on the season. Strome will get you points and shots, and his ice time is at a career-high 17:46 per game under first-year head coach Spencer Carbery. Strome has often found himself on the wrong side of coaching decisions, but there's little reason to be worried about that so far this season, so he's a safe waiver-wire option. 

In goal, the obvious choice to add this week is Scott Wedgewood. If you're waiting for an update on Oettinger's status, it's best to get ahead of the situation now by adding Wedgewood as a solid insurance option. Wedgewood is rarely stellar, but he doesn't have a lot of bad games either. He's at 6-1-2 on the year, and playing behind a strong team should at least help him pile up wins even if his ratios are poor. 

Likewise, Joey Daccord has taken his opportunity and ran with it while Philipp Grubauer (lower body) is out week-to-week. I haven't recommended Daccord earlier because the Kraken were awful over last couple of weeks before getting back on track this week. Daccord has gone 3-3-3 with a 2.10 GAA and a .919 save percentage over his last nine outings. He's not one you can count on for wins, but those ratios play in any format, especially when he's yet to face a challenge from Chris Driedger for playing time. 

Samuel Ersson won't fly under the radar much longer. He's gone 5-0-1 with a 1.76 GAA and a .933 save percentage over his last six games, including playing three straight with Carter Hart (illness) sidelined. Hart was able to back him up Saturday, but Ersson has made a great case to start at least once a week going forward. He's just 24 years old and in his first full NHL campaign, so there could be bumps along the way, but Ersson is a great option for a No. 3 or 4 fantasy netminder in deeper formats. 

These are tough times to navigate in fantasy, especially in formats with lots of teams or roster spots. Injuries happen, and working through them is part of the game. With the holidays here as well, it's also understandable if managing game-time decisions isn't something you're paying as much attention as normal. Everyone's busy, so it can be tough to keep up. 

With that in mind, Hutch's Hockey will be taking a week off during the NHL's holiday break. If you need your fantasy hockey fix next week, please remember to keep up with my RotoWire colleagues' work, including Janet Eagleson's Frozen Fantasy and Evan Berofsky's NHL Waiver Wire for the free-agent market, Corey Abbott's NHL Trade Tips for the trading landscape, Michael Finewax's Puck Drops for pruning your roster, the all-around excellent NHL Barometer by Jan Levine and Jason Chen's Goalie Report for the specifics between the pipes. It takes a team around here, and I'm glad to be part of the strongest one in the business. Happy Holidays, and I'll be back on New Year's Day. 

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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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