Hutch's Hockey: Divisional December, Atlantic Division

Hutch's Hockey: Divisional December, Atlantic Division

With over a quarter of the season in the books, I'm going to take some time throughout December to breakdown each division on a team-by-team basis. First up is the Atlantic Division, which is home to many superstars and some breakout players as well. All stats are through Sunday, Dec. 5.


The Panthers have flirted with a breakout season for a couple of years, but this looks like it'll be the one that sticks. One of the biggest keys to their success has been Sergei Bobrovsky's resurgence. He's posted an 11-1-2 record with a 2.41 GAA and a .920 save percentage while retaking his place as a quality goalie. 

MVP: Jonathan Huberdeau (eight goals, 21 assists in 24 games). Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov have typically run the show on offense, but the Panthers' newfound depth has allowed them to work on different lines. While Barkov has been out since Nov. 18, Huberdeau has racked up three goals and 11 assists in the eight games since. 

Breakout player: Anton Lundell (five goals, six assists in 20 games). Lundell's first NHL campaign has seen him hold down a middle-six role while earning some significant defensive responsibility. Taken 12th overall in the 2020 draft, the Finn looks set to be a key piece of the offense for the rest of this season and beyond. 

Letdown: Spencer Knight (6-3-1, 2.88 GAA, .908 save percentage in 11 games). While Bobrovsky's impressive return to form has been a welcome sight, it's led to a less-than-expected workload for Knight. This isn't to say Knight's been bad -- he just hasn't been as prolific as originally expected. 

Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs didn't have the easiest October, but they've turned it on lately once their best players started contributing more. With the right mix of skill and grit, veterans and younger players, the Leafs are trending upward. 

MVP: John Tavares (11 goals, 15 assists in 25 games). Tavares helped the Leafs weather the early absence of Auston Matthews, but he's in this position for his recent work. In his last six games, Tavares has three goals and seven assists. The 31-year-old will continue to lead by example while contributing consistently as he has throughout his career. 

Breakout player: Jack Campbell (13-4-2, 1.78 GAA, .942 save percentage in 20 games). Campbell proved he was ready to be a starter with his run over the last two months of 2020-21. He's the No. 1 in Toronto now, but he's improved his numbers even more this season. It's not unreasonable to think he'll be a Vezina Trophy finalist as long as the injury bug doesn't bite. 

Letdown: Nick Ritchie (no goals, seven assists in 26 games). Anyone who expected Ritchie to repeat his 15-goal, 26-point performance from last year should probably give up hope at this point. He's fired 39 pucks on net with no luck to show for it. Michael Bunting's been the better of the Maple Leafs' free-agent additions on the wing. 


Despite injuries to Brayden Point (upper body) and Nikita Kucherov (lower body), the Lightning to continue to hum along at a playoff-worthy pace. Andrei Vasilevskiy remains a beast in net and while the depth isn't where we've come to expect it for the Bolts, they're getting the job done. 

MVP: Steven Stamkos (12 goals, 15 assists in 23 games). Stamkos has more or less been the last man standing among the Lightning's forward superstars. Despite the diminished supporting cast, the 31-year-old is shooting 20 percent and providing quality in a top-line role. A case could be made for Victor Hedman as team MVP, but I don't want to imagine what the Lightning's offense would look like without Stamkos at this point. 

Breakout player: Anthony Cirelli (eight goals, eight assists in 24 games). With the Lightning missing key players, Cirelli has stepped up to fill the void. He hasn't gone on an extended tear yet, but he's on pace for his first 50-point campaign. The team will be better for him getting this experience now when things get more important later in the season. 

Letdown: Ondrej Palat (six goals, eight assists in 24 games). Palat probably outplayed his potential with 46 points in only 55 games last year, shooting 13.5 percent. He's dropped off a bit this year despite a similar 13.3 shooting percentage. It's fair to assume the loss of his regular linemates to long-term injuries has played a part in the winger's regression, as has his diminished power-play production (one assist). 

Red Wings

Perhaps the Atlantic's most surprising team, the Red Wings have collectively taken a step forward in their rebuild this year. They hold a playoff position for now, though the Bruins have games in hand that could change things by season's end. Once a fantasy graveyard, there's reason for managers to look to the Red Wings for underappreciated options throughout the lineup. 

MVP: Dylan Larkin (10 goals, 11 assists in 21 games). Larkin is in his seventh NHL season, serving as captain and enjoying one of his best starts to a campaign. The closest he's come to a point-per-game pace was 2018-19, when he had 32 goals and 41 assists in 76 outings. There's some fear of regression here -- Larkin is shooting 16.7 percent, compared to a career-high 11.1 percent in his aforementioned best season. 

Breakout player(s): Lucas Raymond (10 goals, 12 assists in 25 games) and Moritz Seider (three goals, 14 assists in 25 games). It's not fair to mention either of the Red Wings' stellar rookies individually here. The team's 2019 and 2020 first-round draft picks have immediately stepped into featured roles and made an impact. The only question at this stage would be how they divide up the Calder Trophy votes. They've been impressive on the ice, and that's translated well in fantasy. 

Letdown: Filip Zadina (four goals, five assists in 25 games). While Raymond and Seider get people out of their seats in Motown, Zadina has flopped. He's seeing just 14:54 of ice time per game, a career low despite still working in a second-line role. The Czech winger doesn't add much physicality either (17 hits). He's not really a prospect anymore, and he'll still likely end up with career-best numbers this year, but Zadina hasn't taken a step forward. 


The Bruins probably know by now their competitive window is closing. A thin schedule to start the season has them fifth in the Atlantic, so it'll be on them to cash in the games-in-hand and get into a playoff spot, but doing so without longtime star David Krejci and maybe Tuukka Rask too could be an uphill battle. 

MVP: Brad Marchand (nine goals, 15 assists in 18 games). Marchand has been effective as ever this season. The one thing that's not different for the Bruins is the success of the top line -- the team MVP could just as easily be Patrice Bergeron or David Pastrnak. As long as that trio's together, the Bruins have a chance, but it's been Marchand who has stood out the most so far. 

Breakout player: Jeremy Swayman (7-4-1, 2.26 GAA, .918 save percentage in 12 games). Filling the skates of the aforementioned Rask was never going to be easy. Swayman has done his part while sharing the crease with Linus Ullmark this year. If Rask comes back, Swayman could be forced to the minors in a business decision, but his play suggests he belongs in the NHL. Whether he's the B's goalie of the future or the now, the Alaska native can handle top-level talent. 

Letdown: Taylor Hall (five goals, six assists in 21 games). I was on board with the Hall redemption tour to begin this season, but the returns have been discouraging. He's on pace for a 20-goal, 40-point season. The 30-year-old has probably been hurt by Krejci's departure more than anyone -- they showed chemistry after the trade deadline last year, but Hall hasn't found that same connection with Charlie Coyle, Nick Foligno or Erik Haula. It might be a stretch to call the Bruins a one-line team, but Hall isn't carrying as much of the load as a former MVP still in his prime should. 


Are the Sabres competitive? No. The goaltending and defense are a mess and they're well on their way to another losing season. The Jack Eichel debacle is over, and the focus can be on restarting the rebuild. This team isn't completely barren for fantasy-relevant talent, but there's not much meat on the bones either. 

MVP: Victor Olofsson (five goals, 10 assists in 16 games). Despite an eight-game absence with a soft-tissue injury, Olofsson is still near the top of the Sabres' scoring leaderboard. The most important thing to note here is that he's thriving on the top line even without Eichel. Olofsson has just three power-play points so far, so there's also a bit of room to grow for the 26-year-old winger. 

Breakout player: Tage Thompson (10 goals, six assists in 24 games). Fantasy managers have been waiting for Thompson's breakout for years. A first-round pick of the Blues in 2016, he was part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade. Thompson finally looks to be NHL-ready -- his 16 points are a career high, as is his 17:33 of ice time per game. It doesn't matter if he's a long-term solution as a No. 1 center as long as he continues to produce in a tough team situation. 

Letdown: Goaltending, in general. The Sabres entered the season with Craig Anderson (upper body) and Dustin Tokarski (COVID-19 protocols) as their top-two netminders. Both have missed time, leading to Aaron Dell and Malcolm Subban (lower body) to get some playing time. The Sabres have allowed 90 goals overall, 31st in the league defensively. Fantasy managers already know to steer clear of this crease conundrum unless they absolutely need a start. 


How did a Stanley Cup Finalist go from penthouse to outhouse so quickly? In a word, injuries. Long-term absences for Carey Price (knee) and Shea Weber (ankle, likely career-ending) have decimated the leadership. Regression has struck after the Canadiens punched above their weight last season, and the acquisitions of Mike Hoffman and Christian Dvorak haven't covered the difference. 

MVP: Tyler Toffoli (five goals, 12 assists in 26 games). There hasn't really been a standout performer on offense, but Toffoli (upper body) and Nick Suzuki lead the team in points with 17 and 16, respectively. Unfortunately for the Habs, Toffoli is expected to miss multiple weeks. Suzuki is a steady option, but the Canadiens' 59 goals puts them 27th in the league in scoring, and it won't get any easier. 

Breakout player: TBD. Mattias Norlinder, Michael Pezzetta and Jake Evans have all taken a step forward in their responsibility. The Canadiens don't really have a player who has made people take notice yet. Cole Caufield has picked up five of his six points in the last six games -- by season's end, he could very well be the team's breakout player, but he'll need to wash the stink of his awful October off first. 

Letdown: Jeff Petry (no goals, two assists in 25 games). Perhaps no one player on the roster personifies the Canadiens' fall from grace more than Petry. The defenseman has reached the 40-point mark in four straight seasons, including 12 goals and 30 assists in 55 outings last year. He'd need a massive surge to get there in 2021-22. With 51 hits and 31 blocked shots, he's still playing a solid physical and defensive game, but the absence of Weber has pulled back the sheet on the flaws in relying on Petry to lead a defense. 


A COVID-19 outbreak, a carousel in goal and Brady Tkachuk's contract negotations have hampered the Senators at various times this season. This is still very much a rebuild-in-progress, but the Senators have a respectable top six and are beginning to piece together an NHL-caliber blue line. 

MVP: Josh Norris (10 goals, seven assists in 22 games). Norris functioned as a top-line center last year with 35 points in 56 contests. This season, his average ice time has ticked up to 19:03 per game -- he's now a true first-liner. He's shown an ability to maintain a high shooting percentage while adding some sandpaper up front. That balanced production, plus playing alongside Tkachuk, should make Norris a good depth center in fantasy. 

Breakout player: Lassi Thomson (no goals, three assists in nine games). Maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit with this, but Thomson has held his own in his first taste of NHL action. He's probably going to play sheltered minutes on the third pairing with a power-play role the rest of the way. The pedigree is there for him to succeed -- he was selected 19th overall in 2019. I'll gladly listen to the Tim Stutzle breakout case if he can build on his three-point effort from Saturday versus the Avalanche. 

Letdown: Matt Murray (0-5-0, 3.27 GAA, .890 save percentage in six games). This was supposed to be Murray's year to take control of the crease, but a head injury and a stint on the COVID-19 list derailed that. Now, it's Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg with the big club while Murray tries to get back on track with AHL Belleville. Fantasy managers probably should stay away from Senators goalies in general, but Murray's continued decline is especially tough to see. 

To wrap up, a handful of players that were good last week. 

Ross Colton made an impact with five assists in his last four games. The 25-year-old forward has filled a bottom-six role for the Lightning for much of the season, though he's floated around wherever needed. He's up to nine points, 47 shots on net and 45 hits in 24 contests -- it's the physical play that could set him apart as a depth forward in fantasy. 

Few players needed a three-point effort more than Jordan Greenway, who scored a goal with two assists versus the Coyotes last Tuesday. The winger has had a rotten start to the year with just seven points in 20 contests, but there's a little reason for hope. He's shooting 8.3 percent, right in line with his rate over the last two seasons, but he hasn't had as much success with assists. The New York native has added 42 hits, 15 PIM and a plus-12 rating -- just a small uptick in offense will be enough to help out fantasy managers in need of a winger. 

Could Ryan Graves be the answer to all-around production on fantasy blue lines? Probably not by himself, but the 26-year-old has collected two goals and an assist in two games since the calendar flipped to December. For the season, he's at 10 points, 41 blocked shots, 33 shots on net, 30 hits and a plus-8 rating. He's a rock defensively, and I mean that in a nice way -- don't expect too many surges, as he plays a simple and steady game. Being paired with Dougie Hamilton has its perks, which could lead to some trickle-down offense for Graves. 

Jamie Oleksiak is doing that thing again where he gets hot for a few games. He carries a four-game point streak (one goal, four assists) into Monday's game with the Penguins. The hulking blueliner goes on these stretches every now and then -- they rarely last longer than a couple of weeks at most, but he's worth a look when the puck is bouncing his way. The 28-year-old has 10 points, 32 shots on net, 72 hits, 28 PIM and 25 blocked shots through 24 contests, and the physical play won't fade even when the offense drops off again. 

If you need help in net, Kaapo Kahkonen isn't a bad option. The Wild have four games this week, including a back-to-back in Los Angeles and Vegas. The Finn won back-to-back games over the Coyotes and Devils, stopped 29 of 31 shots in each contest. Kahkonen is probably more of an option for managers already rostering the 34-year-old Cam Talbot rather than as a standalone move. 

That's all for this week. Next week, I'll turn the spotlight on the Central Division to analyze what's likely to be a playoff race that goes down to the wire. 

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Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. He serves as a beat writer for the Calgary Flames and contributes in hockey and baseball. Shawn also enjoys soccer, rooting on his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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