Fantasy Hockey Pickups: Why not add the guy skating next to Alex Ovechkin?
Special to Yahoo Sports
Alex Ovechkin hit the big 800 on Tuesday when he scored the Caps’ fifth of seven goals in Chicago to earn his 29th career hat trick. Even at 37, The Great Eight continues to pot pucks at a regular rate while logging significant ice time. He gives his all on the ice and works as hard as anyone in the league. The results show in his stats. The same kind of effort can be applied to your fantasy teams.
Now, I’m not implying you could also score 800 goals, but if you intend to succeed in fantasy, you have to put in the work. Regular news checks, roster moves, waiver or trade opportunities and other efforts to improve rosters.
While you devise a plan, here are a few fresh faces to add to your lineups.
(Rostered rates as of Dec. 16)
Mikael Backlund, CGY (Yahoo: 29 percent)
Backlund has been logging similar minutes for many seasons, yet last year he recorded his lowest scoring average since 2010. Ten points from the first 23 games followed a similar pace, though he’s recently increased it by posting a goal and seven assists in the last seven, including an active five-game point streak. Backlund has also counted on the power play in consecutive outings while notching almost three shots and over eight faceoff wins a night.
Anthony Cirelli, TB (Yahoo: 25%)
After missing the opening 23 contests due to summer shoulder surgery, Cirelli has seamlessly fit back on the Bolts’ roster. He’d normally be centering Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn on the second line, but Nick Paul has done an excellent job so far and there’s no need to switch things up. With six helpers and 20 shots, however, Cirelli doesn’t seem to be missing his usual linemates. He’s also back on the penalty kill, while a place on the man-advantage could eventually come.
Andrew Copp, DET (Yahoo: 18%)
Copp turned a career campaign into a multi-year contract with the Wings, and while his stats have been inconsistent, he remains a major contributor, averaging over 17 minutes while appearing in all situations. Copp hasn’t registered a point across his last three, yet he preceded that with 10 from 10. There’s a handful of pucks on net and a bunch of faceoff wins, but he’s getting on your team because of his offense and his potential to increase it.
Lawson Crouse, ARI (Yahoo: 13%)
Thirteen goals in 26 games sound great for someone who’s only 13 percent covered, and Crouse also gets it done in other areas, having racked up 51 shots and 60 hits. He’s also potted three PPGs and has been heating up with eight points, 20 shots, 20 hits and 10 PIM across 10 outings. With a regular dose of 18-plus minutes, Crouse deserves more recognition. The Arizona stigma may be a turn-off, but there can’t be many forwards who are this available and receive this much responsibility.
James van Riemsdyk, PHI (Yahoo: 7%)
JVR has endured some unfortunate injuries over the years, so it’s no surprise he was forced to sit for six weeks after breaking a finger while blocking a shot. He was eased back during the first two contests before exploding for a goal and three assists Sunday and potting another one on four shots Tuesday. The Flyers are without a couple of key veterans, leaving van Riemsdyk and other experienced forwards to pick up the slack. If the offensive chances keep coming, he’ll maintain his worth for those needing a scoring boost.
Conor Sheary, WAS (Yahoo: 6%)
Riding shotgun with history is a great way to get noticed, and Sheary has done that alongside Alex Ovechkin over the last month. Over that stretch, he’s picked up 10 points — including five on the power play — and 34 shots, and thanks to a few casualties on the wings, Sheary is enjoying a career-high in ice time. His partnership with Ovi may eventually disappear when others return, though things are currently going great and that’s what really matters.
Sam Steel, MIN (Yahoo: 5%)
Steel wasn’t given a great shot over his four seasons in Anaheim and found his way to Minnesota during the offseason on a near-minimum one-year deal. It didn’t look promising when he started with only two goals and an assist through 17 games. Steel then got the promotion almost any center would crawl through hell for: The opportunity to skate between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on the first line. His stats have significantly improved, and he’s averaging over six more minutes. Steel’s gig is pretty sweet, but know that it could all disappear if he starts to struggle.
Kevin Labanc, SJ (Yahoo: 2%)
Injuries have plagued Labanc since his stellar 56-point effort of 2018-19. He wrecked his shoulder late last year and then came back to poor results and a healthy scratch. It all clicked again for Labanc starting Nov. 5, as he would go on to record 15 points, 38 shots and 16 PIM in 18 games since that date. Despite a secondary power-play role, he’s teamed up with Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier on five-on-five. As long as Labanc can stay healthy, he’s primed to approach previous peaks.
K’Andre Miller, NYR (Yahoo: 26%)
Miller has been invaluable for the Rangers during his brief career, though not much of that has translated to the scoresheet. He teased with an assist in each of his first two games but only doubled that total after another 16 contests. Miller’s ice time has stayed consistent since, yet he’s recorded a goal, eight helpers, 16 shots, 34 hits and 18 blocks. He’s on pace to shatter his peak of 20 points, but don’t expect anything past 30.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, VAN (Yahoo: 15%)
OEL isn’t the 40-plus point producer from his days in the desert, and no one’s expecting that at this point. At 31, he operates as a complementary defender who can chip in some offense and secondary power-play action. In his last 10 games, Ekman-Larsson has matched his output from the opening 19 outings, posting seven assists — including two PPAs — along with 18 shots and 12 hits. That kind of production should be sufficient for more than 15 percent of fantasy lineups.
Daniil Miromanov, VGK (Yahoo: 2%)
When profiling Alec Martinez last week, it was mentioned that Alex Pietrangelo was still not available. Shea Theodore (leg) has since been ruled out week-to-week, leaving a huge hole on Vegas’ man-advantage. Martinez would have been the natural fill-in based on previous experience and seniority, yet it was Miromanov — who was summoned from the minors two weeks ago — who produced a pair of PPAs Tuesday and added an even-strength assist Thursday.
Who knows if this placement holds, but there’s some upside here. He managed 13 points across 17 AHL matchups before the promotion and 40 in 53 games last season.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph, PIT (Yahoo: 1%)
The Pens also recently lost a big blueliner, as Jeff Petry is scheduled to be sidelined until January with an upper-body injury. Joseph previously covered on the backup power play while Petry moved into Kris Letang‘s spot on the primary unit. He’s now set for a longer spell and actually registered his first NHL PPP — and second career goal — on Monday. His minutes have been on the low side, but there’s generally been enough from a couple of categories to qualify him for fantasy selection.
Semyon Varlamov, NYI (Yahoo: 44%)
There was a time when Varlamov was counted upon as a lead goalie, but that hasn’t been the case for a couple seasons. Ilya Sorokin arrived in 2020 and progressed each year to where he’s now the Isles’ clear No. 1, but that doesn’t mean Varlamov should be avoided in fantasy. He’s been solid of late, with no regulation losses in his last four outings to go with a 2.21 GAA and .919 save percentage. He’s also pretty much guaranteed at least one start a week behind a top-10 defense. Pick up Varlamov as a streaming option and keep him if you have available roster space.
Charlie Lindgren, WAS (Yahoo: 44%)
Since Darcy Kuemper went down two weeks ago, Lindgren has started all six and won the first five while stopping 161 of 172 shots. Kuemper is back at practice and could return soon, but Lindgren’s latest efforts should at least be worth additional appearances. He hasn’t seen more than 14 games in any of the previous six seasons and just matched that mark Thursday, so his long-term outlook is unknown, but if you need a goaltending boost, there aren’t many better available choices.
Players to consider from past columns: Logan Couture, Martin Necas, Dylan Cozens, Joel Eriksson Ek, Gabriel Vilardi, Blake Wheeler, Boone Jenner, Jeff Skinner, Andrei Kuzmenko, Matty Beniers, Phillip Danault, Dylan Strome, Kevin Hayes, David Krejci, Trevor Moore, Nick Schmaltz, Max Domi, Kent Johnson, Alex Killorn, Jake DeBrusk, Kirby Dach, J.T. Compher, Jared McCann, Jack Roslovic, Brandon Hagel, Jack Quinn, Jordan Eberle, William Karlsson, Viktor Arvidsson, Jason Zucker, Nick Paul, Seth Jarvis, Brandon Montour, Shayne Gostisbehere, Jake Sanderson, Noah Hanifin, Alec Martinez, Cam Fowler, Sean Durzi, Vince Dunn, Janis Moser, Rasmus Sandin, Calen Addison, Vitek Vanecek, Martin Jones, Dan Vladar, James Reimer, Karel Vejmelka, Pyotr Kochetkov, Stuart Skinner, Spencer Martin, Jake Allen, Craig Anderson
Source: Yahoo Sports