Hutch's Hockey: Go Time

Hutch's Hockey: Go Time

This time of year, the pace gets a little hectic. Right after the NHL trade deadline, we've got the fantasy playoffs coming up. Whether you're starting the knockout rounds now or you've still got a week left to jockey for your position, there's no time to play games. If you're on the bubble, the final week of the regular season is already playoff-level -- win or go home, and sometimes it's both if you're facing too much of a deficit. 

We've also had some time to see how players are settling into their new situations after the deadline. That is the biggest time of the year that changes the calculus for fantasy rosters. I was an early adopter on Adam Henrique when he was getting regular top-line minutes with the Ducks. I was just as fast getting off the ride when he was traded to the Oilers. He's got a better team situation, but that comes with worse usage, and we all know the perils of rostering depth forwards on that top-heavy team. 

On the other hand, I was cautious in assuming any player traded to a contender would pop. So far, Casey Mittelstadt and Evgeny Kuznetsov have my attention. For Mittelstadt, it's providing the consistency he showed in Buffalo this year and taking it up a notch with Colorado. Kuznetsov was anything but consistent, but a second-line spot with the Hurricanes is worth anyone's attention. 

I usually try to avoid bringing up the same player recommendations week after week here. It doesn't do any good to say that you really need to add a player over and over again. I'll mention a few of my favorite pick-ups multiple times. That said, in getting ready for the fantasy playoffs, it's a good time to clear the slate. Hot is hot, and if a player has had an outstanding March, they'll be listed below, whether I've featured them once or half a dozen times this year. It's go time in fantasy, and that means giving a proper look at anyone who can help your roster thrive at the most critical point of the campaign. 

At the top of the list is Jake DeBrusk, who has put all of his struggles from early in the year behind him. He's put up nine points over eight games in March while seeing steady playing time in the top six. He'll give you just about everything you could ask for with modest physicality and power-play time, and it helps that he's averaging three shots on goal per game this month. DeBrusk staying warm will be crucial to the Bruins' hopes of claiming, at a minimum, the top of the Atlantic Division. 

I'm continually impressed by Dylan Guenther since his call-up in January. At the time, it was expected to be a temporary promotion, but he had three points over his first two games of the year. He followed that with a four-game slump, but he hasn't gone more than three contests without a point since. This is a talented 20-year-old winger holding down a middle-six role with power-play time. He's at 20 points (nine on the power play, one shorthanded) through 31 appearances. The Coyotes' post-All-Star stumble took them far out of the mix for the playoffs, so the kids will be alright as they get more playing time under less pressure down the stretch. 

I wasn't stoked on the Alexander Nylander trade at the time, but it's done nothing but pay off for the Blue Jackets. He has eight goals and three assists over his first 12 games with his new team, and now he's worked his way onto a line with Boone Jenner and Johnny Gaudreau. Nylander won't continue to shoot 19.5 percent as he's done since the trade, but he's finally putting the pieces together. At 26 years old, he'll probably never fully live up to the family name, but all you hope for now is that he can keep this going for another month. 

Staying on the trade theme, Anthony Duclair with the Lightning looks to be more than a flash in the pan. He's earned four points over his first three games with the team. I mentioned I liked the landing spot for Duclair last week, though I worry about his long-term consistency. That concern is more of an afterthought if he's going to play with Steven Stamkos and see power-play time. At just 19 percent rostered in Yahoo on Sunday night, he's out there for the taking in plenty of formats. 

Things aren't so bad for one of Duclair's former teammates either, as Fabian Zetterlund has seven points over nine games in March. The standard Sharks warning applies here: he's not an option if you need help in plus-minus. Zetterlund has 32 points, 101 hits, 61 blocked shots and 162 shots on net through 67 appearances. Those are interesting stats for a winger on a bad team, but it's playable in 12-plus-team formats. 

Cam York had very little go his way over the first four months of the season, but he's now collected nine points and 34 blocked shots over his last 10 games. For whatever reason, head coach John Tortorella is reluctant to use Travis Sanheim on the power play -- York and Egor Zamula have often bounced back and forth in that role this season. York has more upside for the rest of this season, especially since he's got enough defensive chops to absorb a lot of the ice time that was vacated when Sean Walker was dealt to the Avalanche. 

He won't be out there in a ton of formats, but Bowen Byram hasn't shown any hesitation in his adjustment to the Sabres. Five points in five games with his new team is nice, especially when he's immediately meshed with Rasmus Dahlin on the top pairing. Let's face it -- that kind of opportunity was never going to be his on a full-time basis in Colorado. Between being buried on the depth chart and spending a lot of time hurt, Byram needed a new opportunity. There's a reason he was picked fourth overall in 2019, and we're starting to see why. 

Those expecting Reilly Smith to claim a top-six role following the Jake Guentzel trade have been disappointed, but it's actually worked out alright so far. Smith is on the Penguins' third line for now, and he's produced eight points and 26 shots on net over his last 10 outings. It's been a lackluster season for the winger -- he's at 33 points through 61 contests overall. The Penguins will likely miss the playoffs, and it's possible they pursue a trade for Smith just one year after acquiring him from the Golden Knights. Both on the ice and in fantasy, Smith can't drive your offense, but he can support it when he's on runs like he's had this month. 

He goes under the radar all the time, but Nick Schmaltz is always a player I like to consider in deeper formats. He's earned 13 points over nine games in March, which has easily been his best month of the campaign. With 48 points in 65 outings overall, he's actually been a bit below his usual scoring pace. Some of that has come from not being a firm lock on the top line -- the Coyotes have mixed things up occasionally. Still, Schmaltz usually ends up alongside Clayton Keller in the end, and those two have years of chemistry together, with Schmaltz serving as a strong playmaker with a large power-play role. When he's hot, he's the perfect low-maintenance player to plug and play into a utility spot. 

This is mostly for Connor Hellebuyck's managers, but it can work for anyone: if you don't like the worst goalie on your roster, go grab Laurent Brossoit instead. Brossoit has won five straight starts, and his last two outings were shutout wins. He's playing about once a week now, and with the Jets having four games in the upcoming week, there's a good chance he gets at least one start soon. Brossoit is viable in just about any format -- he's the only goalie with less than 20 appearances that ranks in the top-25 in my home league. The Jets are a rock-solid team, and with Brossoit getting the best matchups, he's about as good as you can get among the true backups. 

The Flames are quickly slipping out of the playoff race, but it's because a lot of the teams on the bubble are surging. Once the math catches up to the reality of the situation, Dustin Wolf could be in line for some spot starts down the stretch. He's started the last two games with Jacob Markstrom (lower body) on the shelf -- while Markstrom is considered day-to-day, there's been no clear update since he was scratched from his start last Tuesday. Wolf has allowed three goals on 70 shots over three appearances (two starts), and he's worth rostering as long as he stays in the NHL. 

With this time of year, winning in fantasy has a lot to do with your timing. If you're in a tight battle, you want to be faster to the waiver wire than your head-to-head opponent. If you're in rotisserie, now's the time to identify where you can leapfrog someone to get an extra point by targeting select categories. There's a lot of different approaches that come into play, but this is no time to be cautious. It's a sprint now, so find your second wind and get your team to the finish line. I'll be back next week with more suggestions to help you as the competition gets tighter. 

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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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