Hutch's Hockey: Welcome Back

Hutch's Hockey: Welcome Back

Just like that, hockey season is back. With that, the third season of Hutch's Hockey is also back. 

This year, I did a bit more drafting than usual. Given that we're almost a full week into the season now, I won't bore with the details, but I've got an eye on a lot of players in the league. Once again, an impressive rookie class and plenty of other young up-and-coming talent keeps the quality of competition for fantasy very high. 

This week, I'll keep it simple with a season-long perspective. Instead of overreacting to the first handful of games, I'll highlight one player from each team that I've either got a significant investment in or those I believe could make a splash during the season. The usual waiver-wire-style columns will be back next week when there's a bit more data to play around with. 

Ducks: Jamie Drysdale. After missing nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury and most of training camp as an unsigned RFA, Drysdale has a lot to prove early on. So far, he's picked up a pair of assists through two games. This is a defenseman with a clear path to being a No. 1 for the Ducks within two years, but he's going to need a full, healthy season to re-establish himself.

Coyotes: Karel Vejmelka. I didn't get a lot of Vejmelka shares in my drafts -- I prefer to draft my goalies early. The Coyotes are expected to step up in 2023-24, and that will be the test to see if Vejmelka can be a great goalie for a few years or if he's just been above average. 

Bruins: Brad Marchand. It wasn't so much a changing of the guard as it was just a change for the Bruins with the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Now Marchand is the captain. I won't doubt his ability to agitate, but can he still be the effective all-situations machine he's been for years, or is age about to take a bite out of his performance? I took him as a third-rounder when I got him, but I don't have a lot of shares. 

Sabres: Jack Quinn. I'll have to wait and see with Quinn -- he's out with an Achilles injury. Last year, he erupted for 37 points in 75 contests despite averaging 13:51 of ice time per game. The 22-year-old will have a lot of catch-up to do once he's fully healed, and there's no guarantee a top-six role will be open when he gets back. The future remains bright in Buffalo in the long run, but they'll be in the hunt in the Atlantic all season. 

Flames: Rasmus Andersson. Anyone who's played fantasy with me knows I'll grab Andersson at a premium. I didn't have to this year, as he was right at the end of the pack of defensemen available in the mid-to-late rounds in drafts. He's a power-play quarterback with an established 50-point level, and a new coach and system leads me to think a career year is in store. 

Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov. Usually, I avoid injured players at all costs on draft day. My thinking is if they're hurt in camp or coming off of a significant injury from the previous year, there's a down stretch when they're getting up to speed. An ACL surgery is about as bad as it gets, but Svechnikov wasn't expected to miss much time early in the year. He's not quite ready yet, but I'll be ready when he is. He lingered in a lot of draft rooms, so I'm certain I didn't overpay, even if he needs a little time to get into form. 

Blackhawks: Connor Bedard. Of course. I love hockey, and while I have no connection to the Blackhawks personally, Bedard is quickly becoming appointment viewing. I sat out the bidding war to draft him this year. If the results and consistency are there, he'll be a worthy first or second-rounder in my redrafts next season. 

Avalanche: Jonathan Drouin. A brutal injury history for Drouin is well-documented, but a reunion with junior teammate Nathan MacKinnon could be a cure-all. So far, it's been mostly an even-strength connection, with Drouin seeing limited power-play time. He's peaked at 53 points in a season in his NHL career, but this is arguably the best situation he's been in -- if he can stay on the ice. 

Blue Jackets: Adam Fantilli. It's not quite the same as it is with Bedard, but Fantilli is an interesting rookie in his own right. He has an assist through his first two games while averaging 14:51 of ice time, so there's still some room to grow. If he's a top-six forward all year (potentially gaining wing eligibility along the way), that's a win in keeper formats. Columbus has plenty of youngsters, so there's potential for team-wide growth that should raise the level of everyone on the roster. 

Stars: Thomas Harley. I just missed out on him in a couple of deeper leagues, and that was a little frustrating. Harley had two assists in six regular-season games last season, but he also racked up nine points in 19 playoff outings. He's got the tools to be the Stars' second-best blueliner behind Miro Heiskanen, but Nils Lundkvist is getting first dibs on the second power-play unit. In the long run, Harley's the safer bet. 

Red Wings: Alex DeBrincat. So he didn't live up to expectations in Ottawa last year. Big whoop. DeBrincat still had 66 points while shooting 10.3 percent -- that's his second-lowest percentage in a season. He's a proven durable player despite a smaller stature, and he packs a little punch with his play. He's already clicking with Dylan Larkin, as DeBrincat has three goals and an assist through two games. I targeted him in the middle rounds, and I'm not regretting it. 

Oilers: Stuart Skinner. If you want a roller coaster on a spreadsheet, my opinion of Skinner fits the bill. I largely ignored him in my earliest drafts, then spent a week picking him heavily before backing off again. My theory is that the Oilers' goalies can rack up wins, and I want in on that. Skinner was solid last year, but two ugly appearances to begin the season have started to sound the alarm. I won't be hasty, but he's on a short leash at this point. 

Panthers: Gustav Forsling. With Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour both out while recovering from shoulder surgeries, Forsling is the Panthers' top blueliner. Getting pieces of this offense was a priority in drafts, mainly through Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe, but Forsling was a great late target on defense too. He was arguably one of the best No. 3 defensemen in the league last season, so it'll be interesting to see if he can moonlight as a No. 1 for a couple of months. 

Kings: Cam Talbot. In reality, a number of players could have gone here. I was big on the Kings' offense during drafts -- I pondered stacking all of Kevin Fiala, Adrian Kempe, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Anze Kopitar on multiple teams, but opted to diversify instead. However, it's the goaltending situation that provides more intrigue. Talbot's not a true No. 1 anymore, but he should be able to get the majority of the starts over Pheonix Copley. The Kings have been leaky so far, so I'm glad to have backed away from using my tandem-goalie strategy too much here, but I want to see if one or both of the netminders can be midseason pick-ups. 

Wild: Filip Gustavsson. Speaking of the tandem strategy, the Wild's pair of netminders were my favorite targets. Gustavsson in particular -- I'd rather have him alone than Marc-Andre Fleury alone. Gustavsson was great last season, and I'm expecting more of the same. His first start of the season was impressive, but I won't be re-watching Saturday's outing against the Maple Leafs. Again, no overreacting this week. 

Canadiens: Sean Monahan. Consider this more sentimental than anything. Monahan, still just 29 years old, has had some wretched injury luck. Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, he has 70 points in 142 games. He's picked up a goal and an assist through two contests this season, drawing top-six minutes and time on the first power-play unit. Monahan could still have a Tyler Seguin-like resurgence as a middle-six forward in the back half of his career, if he can just stay healthy. If he does, he'll be a useful depth piece. 

Predators: Filip Forsberg. The upper-body injury that ended his 2022-23 early has been of no concern this season. Forsberg has three assists in his first three games, and while he's come up empty on 14 shots, he looks good with Juuso Parssinen and Ryan O'Reilly on the top line. I don't think the Predators have the consistency to keep up in the Central, but I drafted Forsberg expecting a 60-point campaign as the bare minimum. He went overlooked in a lot of places, so he may be a true bargain if he can keep up his strong start. 

Devils: Luke Hughes. I love the Devils' roster, particular the forward group. I've got pieces of this team scattered throughout my fantasy lineups. I took Hughes in a couple of leagues as a late-round flier. The 20-year-old isn't going to unseat Dougie Hamilton from the No. 1 spot on this blue line, but the price is right, as it didn't appear the hype resulted in a draft-day premium. If Hughes is anything like his brother Quinn in Vancouver, he'll be a mid-round target in short order. 

Islanders: Mathew Barzal. Ilya Sorokin was a favorite for my goaltending group, but Barzal is the player I really want to track. He hasn't put it all together since his 85-point, Calder-winning season in 2017-18, but the Islanders' lineup has often been a place where offense goes to wilt. A move to the wing gives Barzal versatility, and playing alongside Bo Horvat is an upgrade over his linemates in recent years, but I need results. He's got about to the end of October before I start looking to upgrade his spot in my lineups. 

Rangers: K'Andre Miller. A favorite pick-up from last year, I'm watching to see if Miller has another level to reach. His 43 points in 79 games in 2022-23 was excellent production for a waiver-wire add, but the 162 hits, 105 blocked shots and plus-12 rating helped a bunch. Can Miller offer the kind of well-rounded production I'm looking for, a la Darnell Nurse or Neal Pionk? Can he be better than both of them? I'll be watching his shifts closely. 

Senators: Jake Sanderson. One of my top sleeper defensemen, Sanderson has a tough path in Ottawa. He's part of the team's core thanks to his long-term contract signed in September, but the present day situation features Thomas Chabot and Jakob Chychrun as roadblocks to his success. Still, Sanderson's already recorded a goal, two assists and three blocked shots through three games this season. If he flew under the radar in your league, go get him now. 

Flyers: Sean Couturier. I'll be honest, I'm not stoked on the Flyers' roster. Travis Konecny is a standout forward, but I'm hoping Couturier can get back to being a 60-point center after a back injury effectively torpedoed his last two seasons. He has an assist through two games, as well as a plus-3 rating. I don't have any shares, but I'll be willing to pounce if he plays well early on, especially since he tended to get better as seasons progressed back in his healthier days. 

Penguins: Sidney Crosby. Some managers may have been scared off by his age, but I gladly took Crosby as a second-round pick, especially if I went winger in the first round. With three goals and an assist through three games, it looks like he won't be slowing down this year. Beyond the obvious fantasy implications, it's also fun to watch what one of the best players of the salary-cap era can do in his later years. 

Sharks: William Eklund. I've thought Eklund should probably be in the NHL for a while now, but the rebuilding Sharks have taken it slow with their first-round pick from 2021. He had seven points in his first 17 contests, and he hasn't gotten on the scoresheet through two games this season, but it's my turn to be patient. Eklund is still a promising winger, and on the rare occasions I'll see Sharks games this year, he has the chance to be among the few bright spots. 

Kraken: Philipp Grubauer. Admittedly, this would have been someone else a week ago. However, despite the Kraken's poor start as a team, Grubauer looks a lot more dialed in than he did in his first two years in the Emerald City. Joey Daccord will push him for starts this year, but the early signs suggest goaltending may not be the point of failure if the Kraken can't replicate what they did last season. 

Blues: Jordan Binnington. Again, not my first choice, but Binnington has turned some heads in the first week of the season. Holding the Stars and Kraken to one goal each in shootout games is impressive work. Binnington was the streakiest of streaky goalies last season -- I stayed away from him in most formats because of that and the diminishing returns he's produced since he broke into the league. If he can be consistently good, that could be a difference-maker in the Central, but it's still very early in the season, and he's yet to face much adversity. 

Lightning: Victor Hedman. Five points through three games? It's safe to say Hedman is back with a capital-B. I don't think he remains above a point-per-game pace. I would say 60 points is a reasonable expectation, and one that would make his mid-round draft position in most formats look like a massive steal. While I drafted Mikhail Sergachev more, I've got plenty of Hedman shares too -- long live elite offense from the blue line for the Bolts. 

Maple Leafs: John Tavares. Back-to-back hat tricks from Auston Matthews has life feeling good in Toronto. Tavares has also picked up five helpers through two games. This offense could be the best in the NHL, so there are plenty of solid fantasy options here, either from those that came off the draft board or waiver-wire additions that will rotate with the line shuffling. Matthews' value was at too much of a premium for me this year, but his success will play a role on my teams where Tavares, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander are key pieces. 

Canucks: Quinn Hughes. I've spent years downplaying Hughes' effectiveness in fantasy. Not this year. He had 76 points, including 34 on the power play last season, and he added 71 blocked shots and a plus-15 rating. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is out of the picture, so Hughes will get all of the best minutes for the Canucks. Honorable mention goes to Thatcher Demko this year -- I'm still on his bandwagon for a bounce-back season. 

Golden Knights: Alex Pietrangelo. Vegas is another team with a number of players I targeted late in drafts. In one of my early leagues, I ended up with their top-three centers -- oops. It's a mistake I'll play through. Pietrangelo, however, was not a mistake. He was a favorite for me in the middle rounds, especially if I missed out on an elite defenseman early on. He had 19 points in his last 18 regular-season games and added 10 points in 21 playoff contests. It's a little risky to hitch the wagon to a 33-year-old blueliner to be a core piece of a team, but the situation he's in is about as good as any in the league. 

Capitals: Rasmus Sandin. Like Sanderson, Sandin was one of my late-round defense targets. Sandin is another player who could pay off down the line rather than this year, but I think he can carve out enough usefulness on his own to be worth the dart throw. He's not afraid to hit and he chips in a decent number of blocks. After posting 35 points in 71 contests last season, I think he's got 40-point potential in 2023-24. John Carlson will keep Sandin out of the best ice time, but he doesn't have to be a Norris challenger to be what I wanted on draft day. 

Jets: Josh Morrissey. I have no problem going to the Jets for complementary pieces on my rosters. Kyle Connor's a favorite winger of mine, and Connor Hellebuyck is a fantastic goalie. Morrissey's great 76-point campaign in 2022-23 was a double-edged sword for me -- I drafted him heavily and reaped the rewards, but the secret's out now on a player who I'd been able to get as a fourth blueliner for years. He's already got three assists through two games this year, so while there may be some regression, the early concerns have been quieted so far. 

Who was your favorite sleeper or a comfort pick in drafts this season? Let me know in the comments. Most of all, good luck this season, and I hope you'll follow along with my waiver-wire content all season, which will be back in this space next Monday. 

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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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