With one week of the fantasy playoffs in the books, I remain confident in my teams. I've overcome some deficits -- others were a bit too much due to slumping players. Those are the breaks this time of year. If you're still in pursuit of a championship, now's not the time to worry about past failures and close calls on roster decisions.
This week, for most leagues, is the fantasy semifinal round. Win this matchup, and you're going to compete for the title. You need players with momentum who can chip in across the board to propel you past your opponent. In the last week, few players have done that better than Jordan Staal. He scored a hat trick Sunday and totaled seven points, a plus-5 rating and 11 hits in his last four games. He's endured a tough season while slipping more firmly into a third-line role in a deep offense, but that's all old news. He's doing good work right now, and fantasy managers should hope the captain leads by example against the Rangers, Red Wings and Avalanche in the upcoming week.
If there's been one thing holding me back from going all-in on Robert Thomas, it was the lack of shooting. Throughout his young career, he's been a playmaking center -- and that's fine, but it doesn't drive the same kind of attention in points leagues that a goal-scorer does. Something has clicked for his lately, as he enters this week on a nine-game point streak with six goals and 11 helpers in that span. He's added a solid 15 shots on net and a plus-8 rating. Like the Hurricanes, the Blues have a deep offense and a lot to play for down to the wire, which is a recipe for success for Thomas.
If you want more of a physical edge from your center depth, Josh Norris is your guy. He's posted six goals, six assists, 34 shots on net and eight hits in his last nine outings. The 22-year-old's only been held off the scoresheet once in that span. It's tough to imagine a 32-goal scorer is sitting on many waiver wires, but it's easy to ignore a lot of the Senators' forwards outside of Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle. Norris is a top-liner with this team, and while he's shot 21.3 percent this season, it looks like any potential regression is next year's problem.
Victor Olofsson is back and making noise on the power play again. He's picked up 10 points, 25 shots on net and a plus-2 rating in his last 10 games. Most important, four of those points have come with the man advantage. The Sabres' offense isn't much to brag about, but they've got a four-game week ahead, including a game against the leaky Maple Leafs and a home-and-home with the Flyers. Olofsson is likely to be a big part of any success they find in that stretch, given his recent quality on offense.
I wouldn't buy in on Noah Hanifin just for his four-assist game versus the Kraken on Saturday. Instead, widen the scope and you'll see he's earned 13 points in his last 13 appearances with a plus-17 rating and 32 shots on net. Again, this is the time of the year to get as much category coverage as you can. Hanifin fits the bill on the blue line, especially since the Kraken and the Coyotes are two of the Flames' three opponents this week. He's also not afraid to block a shot, with 75 in 71 appearances this season.
I've been excited for top-line Jake DeBrusk since the results began to match the role in mid-February. He's turned up the offense again with four multi-point efforts in his last six games, scoring five goals with three assists and 21 shots on net in that span. The 25-year-old has put a rough March behind him to provide a good yield on offense in April. The top line in Boston has long been a good source of scoring, and it's rare that you can make a fantasy investment in that trio on a day that's not in September or October. Don't hesitate to take advantage, or your opponent will.
If you're chasing deep-league power-play production, take a look at Alex Chiasson. The veteran winger has been stick in a bottom-six role for much of the season, but upper-body injuries took Brock Boeser and Tanner Pearson out of the lineup. Chiasson has found a home on the second line, racking up six points in his last three games. He's a fantasy rental this week -- the Canucks only have contests Tuesday versus the Golden Knights and Thursday against the Coyotes. Give him a look early on and then stream another forward to close out the week.
Jakub Vrana likely dropped off most people's fantasy radar after missing almost five months to begin the season as he recovered from shoulder surgery. That long absence makes what he's done since he was activated all the more impressive. He's got 10 goals, four assists and 41 shots in 16 games with a top-six role for the Red Wings. The 26-year-old never saw this kind of opportunity in his Capitals tenure, but it's been a different story in Motown. His season stats don't pop off the page, so Vrana's a great sneaky addition to get ahead of your opposition while he's hot, though three of the Red Wings' four opponents this week are playoff-bound teams.
If you need to make a big splash in the playoffs, roll the dice on Rickard Rakell. He's earned eight points in 11 games with the Penguins, but they've only been in three contests. The 28-year-old is notoriously streaky, but I'm willing to dive in after his three-assist game Sunday versus the Predators. The Penguins have a home-and-home with the Islanders before facing the Bruins on Sunday -- the chance for offense will be there, but it's up to Rakell to capitalize.
Nick Leddy has done very well to repair his season since joining the Blues. After going minus-33 with only 16 points in 55 games with the Red Wings, the 31-year-old's posted seven points in 11 contests for the Blues. He's on a five-game point streak heading into semifinals week, and he's seeing top-unit power-play time with Torey Krug (upper body) out. Everything's in the right place for Leddy to succeed, and he's likely more available than his defense partner Justin Faulk, who's had a good run of his own with 11 points in his last seven appearances.
In goal, I'm not looking to Carey Price to be the savior. He's missed all of the season recovering from a knee injury. On a larger scale, this is like a backup drawing into action cold because the starter got hurt. It's a little too much of a gamble for me when the season is on the line. Instead, I'm more willing to take a look at Linus Ullmark. Prior to Sunday's loss against the Capitals, he had won four starts in a row while allowing just seven goals. In that span, he's actually outplayed Jeremy Swayman, though the Bruins are likely to split starts anyway. Ullmark could end up with just a single start this week, but he's been worth streaming whenever he starts lately.
Mike Smith has also done good work lately, winning four starts in a row. The less said about his April 1 game versus the Blues, the better -- it wasn't pretty, but he's allowed just four goals in three games since then. Mikko Koskinen did well versus the Avalanche on Saturday, but Smith's held the starting role a bit better lately. They'll face the Wild, Predators and Golden Knights this week, with the first two of those games on the road, so it's a gamble, especially since the Oilers' defense hasn't always been that steady.
If anything, getting this far in fantasy is a strong indication of good management. You've got to know how to ride the highs and lows, and sometimes the momentum changes within a week. The players mentioned above are hot now, and I'm willing to trust them a little more, but one bad game and I'll be looking for the next big performance on the waiver wire. If you're chasing your matchups early, don't be afraid to make moves you wouldn't make in the regular season. If you're ahead, try to maintain your lead over your opponent by shoring up your weak spots. Just remember, if you have championship aspirations, this is not the week to play like there's no tomorrow. If you win, there's two weeks of tomorrows to think about. I'll meet you there in next week's column to prepare for the title climb.