Hutch's Hockey: Looking Ahead

Hutch's Hockey: Looking Ahead

For many of us, the holiday season is a time to live in the moment. The world slows down for just a bit, giving you some time to reflect. If you observe any of the holidays, it's a time to be around family and friends and focus on the year that has been. 

I've always appreciated the NHL taking some time off around the holidays. As much fun as it would be to watch 12 straight hours of hockey, taking a step back for a few days is a nice change of pace. 

It's also a good time for fantasy managers to turn your eyes toward 2023. We're rapidly approaching the midpoint of the season. In lieu of recommending players after a short week with a lot of back-to-backs, I want to broaden the scope this week. I'm going to highlight the player to watch on each team for the rest of the season, be it an up-and-coming rookie, a surging veteran or a long-awaited debut or return from injury. These are players that should have a significant impact one way or another in 2023. 

Ducks: Mason McTavish. The 19-year-old is eligible for the World Juniors, but he won't be there. Instead, he's quickly endearing himself with strong middle-six play for Anaheim. He picked up two goals and four assists in five games before the holiday break. He's also yet to extend a point streak to three games. I want to see some more consistency, but the third overall pick from 2021 is here to stay, and it'll be interesting to follow his development. 

Coyotes: Jakob Chychrun. How much longer Chychrun is a Coyote is anyone's guess. He's under contract for two more years after this one, so the team has no obligation to fulfill his trade request, but they'd lose him for nothing if they're idle. Retaining part of his salary would make him even more manageable for a team in need of defensive help. He's got 13 points through 16 games, and more impressively, a plus-8 rating. Chychrun's biggest question mark is durability, but his offense is easily trusted in fantasy regardless of where he's playing. 

Bruins: David Krejci. If you had Krejci penciled in for a nearly point-per-game pace after a year away from the NHL, forgive me for not believing much else of what you say. I certainly didn't think he'd slot right back in, but 10 goals and 16 assists in 28 games while playing his usual second-line role makes it look like he never left. The Bruins have enjoyed good health since getting back to full strength, but they have an old core. Krejci is arguably one of the biggest injury risks, but he's also available in nearly three-quarters of Yahoo! leagues. If you want a piece of this high-powered offense, he's the guy to grab. 

Sabres: Tage Thompson. If you're not paying attention to Thompson, what more can he do to earn your time? He's tied for third in the league with 50 points and 22 power-play points, he's sixth in shots on goal (146) and he's a huge reason the Sabres are looking way better than previous years. He's shooting 17.8 percent, but he sustained 15.0 percent in his breakout last year, so any regression might not hurt too much. It really looks like the 25-year-old can be talked about among the other young stars of the league. 

Flames: Dillon Dube. Waiting for Dube's breakout year has been a bit of an annual tradition for a few years. Now, he's averaging 15:23 of ice time with 20 points through 35 games -- a material step up from what we've seen. With the Flames sputtering, Dube was moved to the top line and clicked with Elias Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli. I'd like to see him stay there, but I'm also watching to see if he can sustain his newfound success if he gets shuffled down the lineup again. 

Hurricanes: Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty is still recovering from Achilles surgery, and he's not close to playing yet. He's started skating, but that operation is a tough one to come back from. At 34 years old, there's a wide range of outcomes for his potential return. I still think playing alongside Sebastian Aho, even for six weeks or so, will be enough to show Pacioretty's not done yet. Remember that he's a UFA this summer -- he'll want to do well once he returns so he can earn another lucrative contract. 

Blackhawks: Patrick Kane. You wouldn't need a crystal ball to know that Kane's likely going to be looking for a rental residence in February. The 34-year-old is in the midst of a frustrating season with 25 points and a minus-19 rating in 32 games for the tanking Blackhawks. He's a playmaker, and with no proven finishers left in Chicago, it's tough for him to run the offense on his own. In fantasy, he should be at the top of every buy-low list. 

Avalanche: Mikko Rantanen. Frankly, injuries have taken a lot of the fun-to-watch guys out of the lineup for the defending champions. What that's ultimately allowed for is Rantanen to tear up the league to the tune of 42 points in 32 contests. It's well-earned attention for one of the league's top sidekicks -- he's never truly gotten his due in the shadows of Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. While the team's depth has been tested, Rantanen has proven his worth dozens of times this year. 

Blue Jackets: Adam Boqvist. It feels like this 22-year-old defenseman has been around a while -- he was a 2018 first-rounder and debuted a year later. We're still waiting for his breakout moment, and he'll once again have a chance to step up for a team that's been ravaged by injuries. Boqvist has no points in five games this year, but Zach Werenski (shoulder) probably isn't coming back this season. The top power-play job is Boqvist's to lose. Let's see if he can do something with it, or at least stay in the lineup for a few months in a row. 

Stars: Miro Heiskanen. Jason Robertson is certainly fun to watch, but his star turn has been very prominent. Heiskanen, on the other hand, has quietly picked up 25 points -- including a career-high 13 on the power play -- through 32 contests. A 50-point campaign is very doable, and a surge of offense could have him challenge for 60. Defensively, he's been his steady self. It might be too early to whisper his name in the Norris conversation, but he should get some attention there. 

Red Wings: Moritz Seider. Even Calder winners aren't immune from sophomore slumps. Seider entered the season with the hype of being the Red Wings' next great defenseman, but 12 points and a minus-14 rating through 32 games has sent his ascent off course. The 21-year-old would have a long way to fall to be a bust -- hopefully he's taking the holiday break as a reset to get his year on track, especially since he has just one assist in his last 11 outings. 

Oilers: Connor McDavid. No one's hit 150 points since Mario Lemieux did it in 1995-96. McDavid may be our best chance to see that dry spell end. He's at 30 goals and 66 points through just 35 contests. Even if you don't like the Oilers, what he's doing on a nightly basis is must-watch stuff. There's no fantasy angle here -- if you have him on your roster, enjoy it; if not, you just have to hope he doesn't burn you. 

Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky. If you're counting on Bobrovsky in fantasy, you're likely hoping for wins without a blow-up on your ratios. He's been the Panthers' starter for much of December with Spencer Knight getting eased back in after an illness. Neither goalie is playing all that well, but the Panthers' tight cap situation has left them down a player on multiple occasions. If this team hits a gear, the hot hand in net will be a huge help in fantasy, and it's fair to say Bobrovsky has farther to go to regain trust after some uneven years. 

Kings: Pheonix Copley. In a month, this could look shortsighted. Right now, Copley's taken advantage of his opportunity to get regular NHL time for the first time since 2018-19. Jonathan Quick isn't turning things around, but Cal Petersen has been good with AHL Ontario and could earn a promotion. Considering Copley won four straight games heading into the break, he could see his momentum busted by the time off. It's still heartwarming to see a 30-year-old journeyman find some success. 

Wild: Sam Steel. When Steel signed a one-year deal with the Wild in late August, it looked like an organizational depth move. For the first month of the campaign, he logged bottom-six minutes with little to show for it. Since joining Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on the top line, Steel has 10 points in 16 contests. It's easy to forget Steel was a first-round pick in 2016 given how he never panned out in Anaheim, but he's taken advantage of his opportunity in Minnesota. It might not last, but he's worth a look in most fantasy formats given who he plays with. 

Canadiens: Kaiden Guhle. He doesn't have gaudy scoring numbers, but the 20-year-old has quietly absorbed top-pairing minutes (20:53 per game) while contributing 13 points in 34 contests. There's little chance Guhle loses his ice time -- the Canadiens aren't playoff-competitive, so they won't be adding much at the trade deadline. He'll have room to grow, and his physical game is strong enough to make up for his relative lack of power-play time. 

Predators: Thomas Novak. Injuries didn't force the Predators to call Novak up for three games before the holiday break. He stepped right in with a goal and two assists in those contests, but he was reassigned to AHL Milwaukee. At 25 years old, he's beyond prospect status. He has 26 points in 25 contests with the Admirals, and it seems likely he'll be back in the NHL following the break. Small sample red flags are waving, but if he continues to see top-line usage, there's some appeal here on a team that's lacking in center depth. 

Devils: Mackenzie Blackwood. Heel and knee injuries have kept Blackwood off the ice for much of last 18 months. It wasn't that long ago that he was the Devils' goalie of the (near) future, but Vitek Vanecek's success early in the season has made things interesting. Blackwood started the last two games before the holiday break, but this could quickly become a timeshare. If he stays healthy, the 26-year-old just has to play reasonably well to rack up wins for a team that's top-10 in goals scored per game. 

Islanders: Zach Parise. The Islanders still aren't very exciting as a team. Parise's well past his prime, but he's earned 17 points in 35 games while continuing to play in all situations. Wild fans are probably still frustrated he never really lived up to the massive contract he signed with them, but he's quietly done well as a middle-six option with the Islanders. Give him a look if you need wing depth, and enjoy this under-appreciated 38-year-old forward while he's still playing. 

Rangers: Alexis Lafreniere. Like Parise, Lafreniere has 17 points in 35 games this season. The comparison ends there -- Lafreniere is just 21 years old, and it feels like we're still waiting for him to make good on the promise of being taken first overall in 2020. He's only shot 8.1 percent this season after staying above 17 percent in his first two seasons. Meeting somewhere in the middle would be great for him in 2023. Pushing for a true top-six role would be even better. Fantasy managers can probably be patient for about one more year before it's time to move on to the next shiny thing. 

Senators: Tim Stutzle. Taken two spots after Lafreniere in 2020, Stutzle's early career would have him going first in most do-overs. He's been great with 28 points in 29 contests this year, and he plays a physical game that translates well in banger leagues in fantasy. Stutzle is exciting, and he looks set for a long and productive career. The Senators have struggled overall, but they've put together a solid foundation for future seasons, so the German should continue to be fun to watch for years to come. 

Flyers: Cam York. The biggest challenge for any Flyer this year is avoiding John Tortorella's dog house. As the recent benching of Kevin Hayes showed, no one is immune. York has done his part since Dec. 9, earning five points and a plus-5 rating through eight contests. The 21-year-old blueliner could push Tony DeAngelo for power-play time, and if York's defense remains acceptable, he's got the potential to be a great help in fantasy down the stretch. 

Penguins: Evgeni Malkin. It's fair to say Sidney Crosby has looked to have more longevity than Malkin, but they're both enjoying excellent campaigns. In Malkin's case, he's at 11 goals and 33 points while still averaging 18:03 of ice time per game. He's another guy on this list that needs to maintain his good health -- something he's struggled to do in any of the last four seasons. He's put on a lot of miles since 2006-07, but Malkin has looked resurgent this year, even if it's more of a last hurrah than a sustained late-career surge. 

Sharks: Erik Karlsson. One of the easiest choices on this list, Karlsson has turned back the clock by about 10 years. He leads NHL defensemen with 46 points in 35 games, and he's just about the best part of an otherwise unwatchable Sharks team. The criticisms about his defense remain justified, but who can be bothered to care when his offense is so thoroughly entertaining? Pacific Division clashes have rarely had shortages of offense, and Karlsson chipping in at an elite level helps to bring the fireworks. 

Kraken: Shane Wright. The Kraken have had a plan for Wright all year. From the outside, it hasn't made much sense -- you never want to see your high-end prospect sitting as a healthy scratch for weeks on end. From his conditioning loan in the AHL to his turn as Team Canada's World Juniors captain, it's all on the path to success for the 18-year-old. He's got two points in eight NHL games, but a successful and deep run at the WJC could allow him to return to Seattle brimming with confidence. If he gets into the lineup upon his return, he could be a source of sneaky offense. 

Blues: Jordan Binnington. This year's personification of the roller-coaster emoji, Binnington is doing streaks only. Three wins, five losses, six wins, seven losses, three wins. He lost in overtime before the holiday break -- fantasy managers may want to steer clear right after the break given how he's been unable to avoid letting the bad times spiral. The inconsistency is maddening, something Binnington would likely agree with, given his outbursts of frustration when things go south. 

Lightning: Mihkail Sergachev. Over the last five years, Sergachev has been reliable but not remarkable in fantasy. He checks a lot of boxes and always carved out some power-play offense despite Victor Hedman hogging most of the man-advantage time. This year, Sergachev's at 27 points (13 on the power play) through 30 games, putting him on track to easily smash his career-high scoring production across the board. I liked him as a mid-to-late-round sleeper in drafts, and I'm enjoying the payoff now. He won't come cheap, but he's probably a bit more affordable in trade than bigger-name blueliners. 

Maple Leafs: Mitch Marner. You can't really underrate a guy with two 90-point campaigns on his ledger. He then went off for a 23-game point streak, setting a franchise record for one of the most storied clubs in the league. Marner has seen a lot of second-line time this year -- he's not a product of Auston Matthews or John Tavares, but he's an excellent complement to both of them. Marner's elite playmaking is a treat to watch. 

Canucks: Bo Horvat. J.T. Miller enjoyed a contract year bump last season, and he was rewarded. Whether it's in Vancouver or elsewhere, Horvat will likely get the same treatment. The 27-year-old already has 24 goals -- his third-highest total in his nine-year career. Shooting 23.1 percent is definitely unsustainable, but it wouldn't shock me if that mark stays higher than usual all season. With Miller and Elias Pettersson around, Horvat sometimes flies under the radar, but the Canucks will almost certainly regret dealing him if they fall all the way out of contention by the trade deadline. 

Golden Knights: Phil Kessel. The 35-year-old winger's offense is never going back to the glory days. Watching him play now is more about the durability he's shown than anything else. I wouldn't imagine another ironman streak of 1,000 games popping up anytime soon. That's not to say Kessel's record will be untouchable, but it is generational. At this point, the best way it could end would be with a retirement, rather than a healthy scratch or an injury. 

Capitals: Alex Ovechkin. The Great Eight gave himself a gift right before the holiday break, passing Gordie Howe for second on the all-time goals list with two tallies versus the Jets on Friday. Ovechkin is 37 years old and looks like he could play for another five years without slowing down all that much. He'll be fun to watch in 2023 and beyond as he chases down Wayne Gretzky's all-time record of 894 goals. 

Jets: Josh Morrissey. Securing a career year before the holiday break is something established players rarely do. Morrissey made it happen -- he's at 39 points in just 34 games. The 27-year-old also has a plus-15 rating, matching his career high. It's a huge rise for a player who has long been solid for the Jets. The hefty point total will earn him some Norris buzz in the spring, and that will only get louder if his second half of the campaign is as good as the first. 

If nothing else, I hope this weekend has allowed you some time to recharge. The hockey world will be back in full swing Tuesday, and it'll be time to get back to making adjustments in fantasy. Some of the players included in this list could be the difference between winning and losing in the coming weeks. I wish you all the best for the rest of the season and 2023, and I'll be back in a week with a more traditional waiver-wire look to help you get the new year going right. 

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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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