The All-Star Game is less than a week away, and I'm finding it tough to get as excited as I used to. I've always been more of a fan of the NHL's midseason showcase than others -- it doesn't have the same faux importance as baseball once did, nor does it feel like a massive waste of time like the NFL's Pro Bowl. The Skills Competition, drawn out as it may be, is still an exciting showcase of talent. The Game -- or games, as it has become in the division-based format -- leaves a lot to be desired, although there's certainly no shortage of goals.
I loved the fantasy draft format the NHL did roughly a decade ago. Constraining players to conferences or divisions for an exhibition doesn't make much sense from a marketability standpoint. Let chaos reign, and make it fun to watch. I don't think the NHL is going to scrap the divisional format any time soon, but the current 11-man rosters don't let enough guys in.
So this week, I'll honor the best of the snubs, many of whom are great supporting players in fantasy or even stars in their own right. For the purposes of this exercise, there will be only one goalie per B-team (there's not enough position depth), and players named as injury replacements prior to Jan. 30 won't be included here. If I ran the show (not happening), I'd have these B-teams compete against the official All-Stars for the right to represent their division in the main event. Think of it like a high school class rivalry -- the freshmen won't just let the seniors walk all over them, after all.
Artemi Panarin (12 goals, 37 assists in 41 games)
Andrei Svechnikov (16 goals, 22 assists in 39 games)
Boone Jenner (18 goals, 12 assists in 42 games)
Mika Zibanejad (17 goals, 30 assists in 46 games)
Bryan Rust (12 goals, 18 assists in 23 games)
Cam Atkinson (17 goals, 18 assists in 44 games)
John Carlson (nine goals, 24 assists in 41 games)
Tony DeAngelo (seven goals, 26 assists in 35 games)
Kris Letang (five goals, 35 assists in 40 games)
Igor Shesterkin (2.10 GAA, .937 save percentage in 28 games)
Aleksander Barkov (20 goals, 17 assists in 32 games)
Sam Bennett (21 goals, eight assists in 35 games)
Brayden Point (16 goals, 13 assists in 31 games)
William Nylander (17 goals, 23 assists in 40 games)
John Tavares (17 goals, 23 assists in 39 games)
Tyler Bertuzzi (21 goals, 18 assists in 37 games)
Charlie McAvoy (seven goals, 21 assists in 39 games)
Morgan Rielly (five goals, 31 assists in 40 games)
Moritz Seider (four goals, 25 assists in 45 games)
Sergei Bobrovsky (2.51 GAA, .921 save percentage in 31 games)
Gabriel Landeskog (19 goals, 26 assists in 35 games)
Mikko Rantanen (23 goals, 30 assists in 40 games)
Vladimir Tarasenko (15 goals, 25 assists in 40 games)
Filip Forsberg (22 goals, 14 assists in 32 games)
Jason Robertson (16 goals, 24 assists in 34 games)
Roope Hintz (20 goals, 17 assists in 40 games)
Seth Jones (three goals, 26 assists in 40 games)
Shayne Gostisbehere (eight goals, 20 assists in 43 games)
Devon Toews (eight goals, 24 assists in 32 games)
Darcy Kuemper (2.58 GAA, .915 save percentage in 29 games)
Matthew Tkachuk (20 goals, 24 assists in 40 games)
Trevor Zegras (12 goals, 20 assists in 41 games)
Tomas Hertl (22 goals, 16 assists in 45 games)
Anze Kopitar (14 goals, 27 assists in 46 games)
Jared McCann (18 goals, nine assists in 39 games)
J.T. Miller (15 goals, 29 assists in 42 games)
Brent Burns (four goals, 25 assists in 45 games)
Cam Fowler (six goals, 17 assists in 43 games)
Shea Theodore (eight goals, 23 assists in 41 games)
Jacob Markstrom (2.15 GAA, .924 save percentage in 31 games)
I'm not saying under the current selection system, these guys would all be All-Stars, but they're all capable of it. I get that the NHL wants a certain prestige with the title of All-Star, but that goes out the window sometimes when you're also making sure each team is represented. Bigger rosters would solve a lot of those problems by allowing more quality players to attend without sacrificing every team's representative. There's a lot of talent in this league -- let's enjoy celebrating it next weekend and appreciate those players that fell a little short of a trip to Vegas.
The next few guys are no All-Stars, but they've found a groove recently. With the schedule getting a little thin even with the rescheduled games in February, getting the most out of your player adds in the next few weeks will be important.
Tyler Toffoli has looked really good since returning from a hand injury. The winger has four goals and four assists in his last seven contests while playing in a top-line role. Not much has gone right for the Canadiens this season -- only Nick Suzuki has avoided the injury bug halfway through the campaign. With the team enjoying slightly better health in January and a busy schedule ahead, Toffoli could be very useful in fantasy.
Similarly, Toffoli's linemate Artturi Lehkonen has benefited from a move up the lineup. Fantasy veterans should be familiar with Lehkonen's pattern by now -- he'll surge for a few games and then fade back into relative obscurity. The surge is on now: he's picked up three goals and five assists in his last 10 games, playing top-line minutes in the last three. All Canadiens skaters come with a warning label on their plus-minus, but the defensively responsible Finn is just minus-4 with 19 points in 41 contests overall.
Another top-liner on a bad team that's made an impact lately is Nick Schmaltz. Both of his three-point games this season have come in his last seven appearances. The Coyotes are still in the foundation-pouring stages of their rebuild so, there's no guarantee Schmaltz stays with the team even though he's locked in long-term -- he has no trade protection in the seven-year deal he signed in March of 2019. Assuming he stays, playing alongside Clayton Keller should keep Schmaltz at least as a viable depth forward in fantasy.
Kevin Fiala won't be available in a lot of fantasy leagues, but it's worth double-checking his status in yours. The Swiss winger has (somewhat quietly) surged with eight goals and six assists during an 11-game point streak. Despite the hot offense, he's still in a middle-six role with the Wild -- he's not displacing Kirill Kaprizov or Mats Zuccarello from the top line, solely because of their chemistry. Fiala has broken the 50-point mark before, but this season he's tracking for around 65, as long as the bottom doesn't fall out.
Alexandre Carrier hasn't enjoyed a breakout season in his first full campaign with the Predators, but he's picked up three assists and a plus-6 rating in his last five contests. The 25-year-old benefits from playing alongside Roman Josi at even strength on the top pairing. Carrier's at 16 points, 63 blocked shots, 30 PIM and a plus-13 rating in 42 contests. His role is secure, and he adds a little defensive grit to the lineup, though he's more of a deep-league option in fantasy.
There's a lot to like about Brandon Hagel's situation heading into the second half of the season. He spent much of the first three months stuck in a middle-six role that didn't lead to much offense on the floundering Blackhawks. Since a three-game stint in the COVID-19 protocols in January, he's emerged as a top-line option, and the results have been great: four goals and four assists in his last eight contests. He's matched his 24-point output from last season in 14 fewer games, and there's little reason for coach Derek King to mess with a good thing. Hagel's playing alongside Patrick Kane -- you could do far worse for speculative adds.
I'd be remiss to not suggest taking a look at Evander Kane's availability. He's been officially cleared by the league for various off-ice issues. Kane was a very strong winger with 22 goals, 49 points, 194 shots on net, 97 hits and 42 PIM last year -- and that was a marked decline in the physical areas. He scored in his Oilers debut, and it looks like he'll get the first crack at playing alongside Connor McDavid on the left-wing side. Many fantasy managers likely held on to Kane from their drafts or picked him up as soon as he was linked to the Oilers in rumors. It's not too late to buy in, but that window will close quickly if he puts up a few more strong showings in orange and blue.
In the goalie department, a couple of Central Division backups have begun to push for more playing time. I've touched on Ville Husso's rise with the Blues, but Pavel Francouz and Kaapo Kahkonen are making similar cases to see more ice. Francouz has a fantastic situation -- the Avalanche are a juggernaut on offense and steady on defense. He's thrived after a bad first impression in his season debut Dec. 16. Francouz won all seven of his appearances in January, racking up two shutouts with a 2.02 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Darcy Kuemper is still the No. 1 in Denver, but Francouz has begun to alternate starts. Keeping both of the Avalanche's injury-prone goalies healthy will be priority No. 1 for head coach Jared Bednar, but it looks like Francouz could step into a larger role if needed.
Kahkonen, meanwhile, has had his turn as the No. 1 when Cam Talbot was sidelined for most of January. Kahkonen appeared in nine of the Wild's 10 games in January, starting seven of them with a 6-0-1 record, a 2.33 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Very likely to be the goalie of the future in Minnesota, Kahkonen was solid last year and continues to play well in 2021-22. Using him in tandem with Talbot is my preferred path forward for this goaltending situation.
With a light schedule due to the upcoming All-Star break, next week's Hutch's Hockey will be a look at midseason awards, both official and a few fantasy-specific ones. All complaints aside, the All-Star weekend is supposed to be fun, and I intend to enjoy it before getting back into the swing of things for the second half of the season.