Hutch's Hockey: The Pressure Is On

Hutch's Hockey: The Pressure Is On

The playoffs are on, which means that the most intense part of fantasy hockey is here. If you've got a reason to read this, there's little need for preamble -- any moves you make now will need to have an instant impact. Speculation is less important than production at this time of year. With that in mind, I've got a baker's dozen of players that could help the cause as you begin your playoff journey. 

Justin Faulk leads the list this week, and it's for his all-around production. Faulk has seven assists and a plus-7 rating over the last seven games, but that's just part of what he brings to the table. He's added 16 hits, 13 shots on goal and nine blocked shots in that span. It's been a rough year for the defenseman, who has just 27 points over 54 outings overall. Still, he offers a steady floor across the board, and he may be out there in more fantasy formats since he's been on the third pairing and second power-play unit instead of in a more friendly role. That third-pairing assignment is of no concern -- he's still routinely seeing more than 20 minutes per game. 

The Hurricanes have really solidified their play in March, and Dmitry Orlov has recently gotten in on the fun. With seven points, 15 hits and 14 shots on goal over his last seven contests, he's showing off a scoring touch. A lot of the same things said about Faulk (above) apply to Orlov -- the main difference is that Orlov isn't in the Hurricanes' mix for power-play time. He's still got an outside chance at a 30-point campaign overall, though Orlov's offense is secondary to his hits and steady defense for fantasy purposes. 

There aren't a lot of reasons to buy into the Blackhawks' offense, but Philipp Kurashev has been solid. He's got six goals and eight assists over 11 games in March, and that includes five power-play points. A favorable schedule has helped the cause, and it doesn't get all that much tougher over the next couple of weeks. I'm not afraid to stream Kurashev -- he's a top-line lock and does fine on the power play, but you can't count on him for anything outside of offense. 

I'm also liking Nick Foligno this month. He's earned eight points, 23 hits and 19 shots on goal over his last eight games. Foligno is not the lock for the top line that Kurashev has been, but Foligno at least maintains a spot on the power play. I'm always on the lookout for multi-category contributors, and Foligno fits the bill with solid offense and ample physicality. It helps when he's on track for his first 40-point campaign since 2016-17. 

Timothy Liljegren first got my attention when the Maple Leafs' defense was in shambles, and then an injury and a short dry spell took him off the radar. He's back now after putting up a goal and six assists over his last eight contests. He's added a plus-7 rating and 22 blocked shots, showcasing his effort in the defensive zone. Liljegren is still getting plenty of power-play time, which is the big reason he's here, but he won't hurt you if you need more than offense this week. 

Jake Neighbours has done two things really well this season: defy expectations and score goals. The winger is on a particularly good run lately with five goals and two assists over his last six contests, while adding 13 shots on net and 17 hits for good measure. The Blues' pursuit of a playoff spot means they will ride the hot hand, which is how Neighbours has earned a top-line role. He's at 25 goals, 10 assists, 134 shots and 125 hits through 71 games this season. Now's not the time to question the process -- just be happy with the results and hopeful that he can keep it going. 

Jaccob Slavin is well regarded as a steady defensive presence, and that hasn't changed. Depending on the fantasy format, he can be helpful -- he's a reliable source of blocked shots and almost always carries a positive plus-minus. He started this season incredibly well before tailing off, but he's enjoyed an encore effort over the last couple of weeks. Slavin has seven points, 19 shots on net, 16 blocked shots and a plus-3 rating over his last nine appearances. When he's on a run like this one, he's a must-have depth defenseman for fantasy. 

Alexis Lafreniere saw a five-game point streak end Saturday versus the Panthers, but that won't deter me from adding him for the fantasy playoffs. The Rangers figure to be in contention for the top spot in the Eastern Conference right to the end of the season, so they will not be as prone to resting players. It's hard to argue against Lafreniere when he's playing alongside Vincent Trocheck and a career-year version of Artemi Panarin. Since the All-Star break, Lafreniere has carried his own weight just fine with 16 points and 62 shots on net over 22 contests. 

Morgan Frost had three goals and five assists during a six-game point streak, which came to an end in Sunday's loss to the Panthers. Early in the season, he could barely get in the lineup, but now he's a functional top-six center for the Flyers -- which has been all the more important since Sean Couturier has struggled late in the season. Frost's talent has never been in question, and if he stays hot down the stretch, he could still top the 46-point campaign he had a year ago. 

It's fair to say the Kings have not quite had all of their forwards going at the same time this season, but it's very rare that the team goes completely cold. Lately, Phillip Danault has been doing a solid job with six goals and three assists over 11 games in March. The thing I like about a lot of the Kings' forwards is their ability to play a solid two-way game, and Danault -- along with Anze Kopitar -- exemplifies that point. With 74 hits and 56 blocked shots over 70 games this season, Danault can chip in at both ends of the rink, even if he'll never be the shiniest of stars on offense. 

Admittedly, I was skeptical that Jake Allen going to the Devils would work out. He never posted a save percentage above .907 during his four seasons with the Canadiens, and he was under .900 the last two years. Given the Devils' shoddy defense, I didn't think it would work out. I'm a believer now -- Allen has opened his Devils career with three wins in five games and just 12 goals allowed. That level of play will work as a No. 3 goalie in any format, and he could even be a No. 2 fantasy option if he's still out there in deeper formats. 

David Rittich won't get a majority of the playing time as the Kings look to shore up their playoff spot, but he's been up to the task when he plays. He's alternated starts with Cam Talbot recently, so I'm willing to consider Rittich even as the Kings get ready for a gauntlet road trip through Western Canada over the next week. After that trip, the Kings play just one legitimate playoff team over their final eight games, giving Rittich plenty of appeal even in a backup role. 

The Coyotes' goaltending situation is always on the brink of a problem, but it looks like Karel Vejmelka and Connor Ingram will alternate starts the rest of the season. Vejmelka's got more momentum with four wins and just 12 goals allowed over his last six outings. Unlike Talbot and the Kings, the Coyotes' schedule is much more daunting down the stretch, but Vejmelka is a solid enough goalie to be useful in spot-start situations. 

As you prepare your roster for the playoffs, it's a good time to remember to check everything. A little extra vigilance with injuries and goalie starts can make the difference, and it's a great time to get a little more aggressive with moves as well. You'll be opposing other managers who have also had good years -- there are no free wins at this stage. 

Get bold this week and make a strong statement for the first playoff week. I'll be back next Monday to see where things stand for the next round. 

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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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