Hutch's Hockey: Pretty Fly

Hutch's Hockey: Pretty Fly

That first week of the season sure felt like it went fast. Most teams have played a couple of games, so we're starting to see systems get implemented and players fit into roles. At this time of the year, the biggest thing to remember is avoid overreacting. Just because something happened in the first game doesn't mean it'll define a team for the whole season. 

That said, we can still learn some things from the small sample we've got to work with. I want to take a look at the Flyers to begin with, as they've opened their John Tortorella era with a pair of wins. Carter Hart's been sharp in goal -- defense and strong goaltending are key parts of Tortorella teams, though Philadelphia's reputation as a goalie graveyard could challenge that. Making Hart's job easier this week is my spotlight player, Ivan Provorov. Through two games, he's collected three assists and a plus-5 rating despite seeing just 1:14 on the power play overall. The 25-year-old was alright last season with 31 points in 79 contests, though that was his lowest point-per-game pace (0.39) in three years. 

There's no guarantee Provorov's power-play time will bounce back, as his new defense partner, Tony DeAngelo, is a specialist with the man advantage. There's a silver lining here, however -- Provorov's added nine shots on goal, 11 blocked shots and nine hits in the first two games of the year. If he has to focus more on defense, he could really stuff the stat sheet with those numbers, which are typically less volatile than scoring. I don't expect the Flyers to be good all year, but they should be better than last year despite their tough division. How good they get is likely a byproduct of how successful Provorov is. 

Travis Konecny has also looked like a new man early in the year. With three goals (one on the power play) and a shorthanded assist, it looks like Tortorella trusts the 25-year-old forward in all situations. Konecny may very well be the most talented healthy forward on this roster -- that doesn't reflect well on the team, but he's going to see premium usage. We saw him put up eight points in his first nine games last year before fading back into streaky scoring the rest of the way. 

The Predators have had a bit more time to make a statement this year, as they have already put four games in the books. A couple of their wingers have stood out so far, and it's a good sign since this was a top-heavy team a year ago. 

Nino Niederreiter has picked up four goals, 10 shots on net, 10 hits and a plus-2 rating through those four contests. He's only been held off the scoresheet once, and that was Thursday against the Stars (and breakout goalie Jake Oettinger). The physical play seemed to regress for Niederreiter in the pandemic years, so if he can play heavy and continue to be a 20-goal, 50-point threat, he should be a good glue guy for the bottom part of fantasy teams. 

Playing on the opposite wing of El Nino on the Ryan Johansen line, Eeli Tolvanen is already off to a much better start this year. He's picked up a goal, two assists, six shots on net, nine blocked shots and a plus-2 rating. At this point, I'd be willing to chalk up Tolvanen's struggles last year as a sophomore slump. The 23-year-old was a first-round pick for a reason -- he's got a good shot that should add value to the second power-play unit. He hasn't cashed with the man advantage yet this year, but that should only be a matter of time. The Finn will also add some hits, which fits right in with the Predators' heavy style.  

If you can afford some injury risk, Jaden Schwartz should have your attention. The Kraken winger has tallied twice on the power play, added an assist, fired 10 shots on net and doled out seven hits in three games. I highlighted Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand last week as good fantasy depth wingers. The Kraken's power play has clicked at a 38.5 percent rate (5-for-13) early on, though that won't last all year. This offense is stronger than last year, and Schwartz has five 50-point seasons on his ledger. He's missed some practices for maintenance early this season, which is always a concern, but go fearlessly as long as he's in the gameday lineup. 

Likewise, that Kraken power play has been driven by Justin Schultz, who has an even-strength goal and two helpers with the man advantage in three games. The 32-year-old can't keep up this pace, but if you're a Vince Dunn believer, Schultz represents a solid insurance policy. Both defensemen will see time on the power play this year, it's just a matter of who's the hot hand at any given time. 

The Blackhawks opened the season with a three-game road trip to Colorado, Vegas and San Jose. In those games, Tyler Johnson had three assists, including one on the power play, while Jonathan Toews racked up two goals and seven shots. I'm not necessarily saying these two linemates will recapture their glory days on the second line, but they've certainly turned back the clock a few years in the first week. Toews looks much better now that he's a full year removed from an immune illness that kept him out of the 2020-21 campaign. This is a scary offense (not in a good way), but streaming Chicago forwards when they're hot could add a little juice to your bottom line, since few other managers will give them much thought. 

It should go without saying: if a winger moves up to a line with an elite center, he's worth an add. Rickard Rakell fits the bill this week, as he scored a goal and went plus-5 while riding shotgun on Sidney Crosby's right side. The Penguins' offense has been a force of nature with 12 goals through two games, putting them atop the NHL. Rakell as a player gives me plenty of pause -- he's among the streakiest in the league for scoring, but again, he's playing with Crosby. You can do worse for a speculative move. 

I like the role the Flames are using Dillon Dube in this year. He's already seeing all-situations minutes under Darryl Sutter, and he netted a shorthanded goal versus the Avalanche in the season opener. He's also added an assist, five shots on goal and four PIM in two contests. The 24-year-old is playing with Nazem Kadri and Andrew Mangiapane, and it could be Dube who enjoys a Mangiapane-like breakout in 2022-23. For now, the Flames' lines seem pretty set, and Dube's thriving in his role, though a little more offense would be nice. 

If you wanted to ride the Patrik Laine gravy train for this year, unfortunately he's been derailed for 3-to-4 weeks with an elbow injury. The opportunity to play opposite Johnny Gaudreau now belongs to Gustav Nyquist, who has two goals and seven shots on net in three games to begin the year. Nyquist is a known quantity with 50-point potential, though a few weeks alongside Gaudreau could lead to a small uptick in scoring for the Swede. You could do worse, especially if this re-establishes Nyquist in the top six. 

For help in goal, Adin Hill could be an option. Logan Thompson looks very secure as the Golden Knights' starter -- his shutout win over the Blackhawks confirmed that. Hill then got a start against the Kraken and kept them off the board for 50 minutes before letting in a pair of late goals. The 26-year-old Hill has never played in more than 25 games in a season, so we haven't seen a lot out of him yet, but we're just a year removed from Vegas being applauded for a strong defense. He's only played behind the perennially bad Coyotes and last year's Sharks. There's upside here, especially if head coach Bruce Cassidy wants to keep both of his goalies fresh. 

October John Gibson has usually been the best form of the American goalie, but he's allowed nine goals in five periods of hockey against the Kraken and the Islanders, so I'm not big on his chances of putting up a good year. At some point, the Ducks will have to give Anthony Stolarz a shot to split the starts, and he may have the higher upside of the two goalies. Neither should be considered a reliable source of wins for a team still firmly in the bottom half of the Pacific. Stolarz could at least provide stability in ratios, though the defense in front of him doesn't offer a ton of confidence. 

If you didn't win this week, remember that this is only the beginning. In a head-to-head format, it's just one week. Some players start slower than others, and I'm one to often advocate for patience. It never hurts to look at what's available, however, and you don't want to be fighting an uphill battle to stay competitive in your league all year. 

Likewise, if you won this week, your victory is just one brick in the wall of success. There will be tougher weeks -- injuries occur, slumps happen and it's up to you to manage through adversity as well as triumph. In either case, a level head and a fair assessment of not just what any player has done but what they could do should guide your roster decisions. You have the better part of five months to react to what the NHL has in store for this season. Good luck this week, and I'll be back next Monday to give you more guidance for early-season success. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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