Happy Halloween to those that celebrate. It's not often that I've had the chance to publish on a holiday, especially a more lighthearted one such as Halloween.
The focus remains on how to help a fantasy hockey manager navigate the challenges of the season. Bear with me as I go with a theme this week -- for each player, I'll label them as either a "trick" or a "treat" for what I think they'll provide the rest of the season. Tricks are playing above their level, while treats could be a good long-term bet, though there's plenty of gray area.
At the top of the list this week is Vitek Vanecek -- yeah, I'm starting with a goalie for the first time in a while. Vanecek seems to have fully supplanted Mackenzie Blackwood as the Devils' top goalie, and for good reason. After allowing a goal on four shots in a relief appearance versus his old team last Monday, Vanecek has given up just three goals on 66 shots while winning three straight starts. One was an impressive 1-0 shutout win over the Avalanche. The 26-year-old never put it all together with Washington, but he's been fairly steady so far. Most importantly, the Devils' defense is keeping it simple for him right now. Vanecek's had a career .908 save percentage entering the year, so keeping the shot volume down should benefit him. I think he's a treat going forward, especially if he can hold onto the No. 1 job.
More help in goal could come from Adin Hill, as the Golden Knights' backup has opened the year a perfect 4-0-0. He's allowed only seven goals on 116 shots, though it's important to note head coach Bruce Cassidy appears to be giving him mostly favorable matchups. Logan Thompson has also had plenty of success, so Hill's not going to battle for the No. 1 job yet. He's never played in more than 25 games in a year, so I think this hot start might be more of a trick -- consider him a short-term add if you need to pick up an extra start per week. This isn't the first time I've mentioned Hill, but I think he's a goalie to keep an eye on throughout the year.
There's really no reason to be ignoring Brandon Montour at this point. He turned the offense all the way up this week with two goals and three assists in three games as he settles into being the Panthers' top defenseman with Aaron Ekblad (lower body) on long-term injured reserve. The Cats' offense has scored at least three goals in seven of nine games so far. Montour's power-play role could make him a treat for the rest of the year, but it all depends on how Ekblad's utilized once he returns.
Ilya Mikheyev needed to shake off the rust after missing the first three games of the season with a lower-body injury. He's looking pretty polished now, and he played a key role in the Canucks' first two wins of the season, logging two goals and two assists in those games. Outside of Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson, the Canucks' offense hasn't looked very good so far, but this weekend could be a turning point for the team. Getting more offense from Mikheyev and the rest of the middle-six wingers will be a key part of that. His ice time was steady even as he struggled, so he looks like a treat to me -- I'll chalk the slow start up to the injury.
It wouldn't be a Halloween article without mentioning the NHL's resident ghost observer, Brandon Tanev. This isn't just a throw-in -- the winger has four assists in his last three games. That's earned him a promotion from the fourth line to the third line, where he's skating alongside Yanni Gourde and Jared McCann. The Kraken's offense is frustratingly balanced, and a player like Tanev isn't likely to be explosive. He's at six points, 21 hits and a plus-7 rating in 10 contests overall. The 30-year-old had 31 points in 62 games over two injury-riddled campaigns before this one, so he's probably more on the trick side of things, but he looks good right now.
You know what they say about bad teams -- somebody still has to score. The Blackhawks have been better than expected lately, earning at least a point in five of the last six games, and Max Domi has had a lot to do with that. He's earned three goals and three assists in that span, including three power-play points. He was kept off the scoresheet Sunday, but he added 17 PIM, hearkening back to his father Tie's abrasive playing style. The younger Domi doesn't have that same aggression, but with seven points and 25 PIM in nine contests this year, he's chipping in some offense and grit. Domi's a treat alongside Patrick Kane, but the risk of either of them getting traded at the deadline will likely hurt Domi's outlook toward the tail end of the campaign.
Fantasy managers who liked Nick Paul as a sleeper pick probably hit snooze on him after he began the year with no points in the first five games. The 27-year-old has responded in a big way, logging two goals and three helpers in his last four contests. The Lightning recently adjusted their lines to put Paul as the second-line center between Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn. That's a valuable spot for the short term, but Anthony Cirelli (shoulder) is expected back in late November. Paul's a trick once he goes back to the third line, though his scoring touch and physicality should keep him on the fringe of fantasy rosters in standard formats.
In that same line shuffling, Brandon Hagel got moved up to the top line with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. Hagel started this year ice-cold, but with three goals and three assists in his last four outings, he's looking more like the player he was early in the season last year. The 24-year-old winger isn't seeing a lot of power-play time with the Lightning, so his productivity will likely recede, but a top-line gig on a strong offense is always worth a look. I'm still not sold from a regression standpoint over a full season, so we'll have to see if he can turn his tricks into fantasy treats with consistent scoring.
We should collectively know better than to sleep on Carter Verhaeghe at this point. He's put up solid enough numbers to at least be a depth forward in fantasy over the last two years. He posted his second multi-goal game of the year Saturday versus the Senators, and he's up to seven points and 19 shots on net through nine contests overall. Swaggy won't threaten for any scoring titles, but his seemingly permanent attachment to Aleksander Barkov should be enough to earn him a place on your roster, especially when his offense is clicking. Verhaeghe's offense is like a king-sized candy bar in your bag, a huge treat you can trust for the full season.
Full stop -- whoever is centering Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello needs fantasy attention. You could put the Zamboni driver there and I'd recommend picking him up. Frederick Gaudreau doesn't resurface the ice, but he's been making some magic on it lately since replacing Ryan Hartman on the Wild's top line. Gaudreau's picked up all four of his points this year in his last four games, and he secured a shootout win over the Blackhawks on Sunday. That confidence should pay off in fantasy, especially since he doesn't hesitate to shoot. He's put 26 shots on net in nine contests this year. If he sticks on the top line, he's a treat, but head coach Dean Evason could move him back down the lineup, which would be a cruel trick indeed.
I'm not overlooking Gabriel Vilardi on purpose, so consider this a testament to his stability so far. A first-round pick from 2017 (11th overall), it's quite possible he's something of a Jordan Kyrou-type breakout candidate. Vilardi has seven goals and four assists in 10 games to begin the year, and his ability to put up points in seven of those contests has briefly earned him a top-line spot over free-agent signing Kevin Fiala. They both play scoring-focused games, but Fiala is known to be streaky, while Vilardi's early consistency makes him less of a headache in fantasy. For now, he's still a trick -- Fiala won't be stuck on the third line all year, and Vilardi won't keep shooting 25.9 percent.
Hopefully, you're looking at a team with a full bowl of tasty treats through the first three weeks of the fantasy season. At this point, you should have a good feeling for the quality of your draft and what areas you might need to explore in trades or on the waiver wire. You want to be scary good, not scary bad. If you're not where you want to be, have no fear -- candy goes on sale Tuesday and there's no shame in dipping into the bargain bin. Enjoy the hockey this week and I'll have more for you next Monday.