Without question, the most improved team in the NHL this season has been the Florida Panthers.
After largely disappointing last year and getting knocked out of the qualifying round by the New York Islanders, the team replaced general manager Dale Tallon with Bill Zito. Zito made a number of moves this offseason that have worked out excellently, and it appears the hockey executive added to his already strong resume at the trade deadline. It’s still early, but it appears the Panthers have uncovered another gem, who is the first of 10 takeaways from this week.
1 - C/LW/RW Sam Bennett (41% rostered on Yahoo) dominating with the Florida Panthers
Who saw Sam Bennett breaking out with the Florida Panthers? Oh wait, I did!
Bennett, a disgruntled top-five selection from the 2014 NHL Draft, is lighting it up after being dealt from the Calgary Flames to the Panthers. In four games with his new squad, the 24-year-old has posted an impressive three goals and five assists while serving as the team’s second-line center. Playing alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair, there’s ample reason to believe Bennett will continue this level of play for the remainder of the season.
In the four contests he’s played with the Cats, Bennett leads all players in even-strength high-danger chances with seven and is tied for the team lead in scoring chances with 11, according to Natural Stat Trick. The most encouraging indicator for the seven-year pro’s fantasy value is his ice time. Bennett logged a season-high 21:12 last game, showing that the Panthers are willing to give him opportunities the Flames wouldn’t. Add in all of the hits he throws, and you have a player who can help put your fantasy team over the top in the playoffs.
2 - G Jake Allen (38% rostered on Yahoo) will retain value if or when Carey Price returns
With Carey Price battling through a pair of injuries in April, backup netminder Jake Allen has been surprisingly active in the Montreal Canadiens’ crease. Allen has appeared in nine of the Habs’ 12 games this month, and while the results haven’t been spectacular — a 4-5-0 record, .902 save percentage and a 2.80 goals-against-average — his season totals are encouraging and the opportunity to start his fair share of games with Price sidelined makes him one of the best adds at goalie.
Considering Price is recovering from a concussion, it’s really hard to place a definitive timeline on when he’ll be returning. With Montreal playing four games per week in each of the next two weeks, including a back-to-back in both weeks, Allen will see some consistent action even if Price returns quickly. The unpredictability of concussions could keep the longtime Habs netminder longer than expected, and in this case, Allen would serve as the clear top goaltending option with plenty of games to be played.
With Allen besting Price in every major statistical category while being tied for the sixth-best save percentage above expected in the league according to Money Puck, he’s proven to be a reliable insurance policy.
3 - Hit machine LW/RW Marcus Foligno (12% rostered on Yahoo) is back and worth adding
The Minnesota Wild are very happy to have Marcus Foligno back in the lineup. The power forward missed more than a month dealing with a lower-body injury, but he has made his presence felt in the six games he’s played since returning. In those contests, the 29-year-old has scored a goal, two assists, owns a plus-three rating and has dished out a punishing 23 hits.
On the season, Foligno leads all Wild forwards in plus-minus (plus-16) and hits (81). When healthy, he’s been a great source of both while also chipping in offensively with eight goals and 19 points through 28 games. His ability to contribute to a wide range of categories makes him one of the best players available in over 80 percent of Yahoo leagues. With two games still to play this week and a healthy three contests scheduled for next week, Foligno is a great pickup for someone needing a lift in hits.
4 - Drop any member of the Columbus Blue Jackets after this weekend
I’m not going to take up too much of your time explaining this one. Next week, the Columbus Blue Jackets are the only team in the NHL that has just two games scheduled. Additionally, the squad is in the midst of an eight-game losing streak while having won just three of its last 17 contests. The Blue Jackets have scored the fourth-fewest goals per game of any team in the league and there’s simply nobody, not even the incredible Seth Jones, worth keeping. There are players on your waiver wire playing four games next week that will certainly do more to help your squad than any member of this team.
5 - Exercise caution with streaking members of the Dallas Stars
If you have any major player on the Dallas Stars, you’ve likely been pleased by their output recently. Specifically, Denis Gurianov, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Jamie Benn and Jake Oettinger have been excellent in fantasy hockey, helping managers in a number of categories. The recent uptick in each’s production, however, coincides with the team’s soft schedule. The Stars have played each of their last five games against the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets and the struggling Detroit Red Wings. After one more meeting with Detroit this week, Dallas’s schedule gets considerably more difficult next week.
The squad plays four games next week, all against teams currently holding playoff spots in the Central Division. It starts with a pair of outings against the Carolina Hurricanes, who’ve allowed the fourth-fewest goals per game, a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning and (likely) Andrei Vasilevskiy, and a game against the Nashville Predators. While having four games is a plus, there’s no question the matchups get tougher. Prepare for a bit of a dip once this week ends.
6 - C/LW Jack Hughes (39% rostered on Yahoo) could finish the season on goal-scoring tear
Two stats I always look at to try and forecast future goal scoring are shots and shooting percentage. Jack Hughes has been putting pucks on net better than almost anybody, as the 19-year-old’s 30 shots over the last 14 days sit second to Alexander Ovechkin (38). The issue with Hughes, however, is that he’s only scored two goals during this span and his shooting percentage this season is a pretty pedestrian 8.3. For someone with a first-overall pick pedigree, it’s fair to expect he’d be capitalizing on a higher percentage of these chances.
The underlying numbers also reiterate how well Hughes has played this season. His 64.17 Corsi for percentage sits eighth across the entire NHL, which is even more impressive when you consider he’s the only player inside the top-10 who plays on a team currently not in a playoff spot. Playing on a weak team like the Devils hasn’t given Hughes much puck luck, but he should be able to create his own with the year coming to a close.
7 - Good luck if you’re going up against D Shea Theodore (96% rostered on Yahoo)
You won’t find a defenseman doing more for his fantasy managers these days than Vegas Golden Knights blueliner Shea Theodore — the electric rearguard has been a driving force on fantasy hockey teams.
Over the last 14 days, Theodore’s nine assists lead the NHL, he’s tied for the league lead in power-play points with six, tied for fifth in shots with 28 and he’s added a respectable 12 blocks while maintaining a very solid plus-seven rating. The 25-year-old has been an absolute horse on the back end and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if he’s in the mix for the Norris Trophy. He’s a major reason why the Golden Knights — and fantasy managers — are having so much success right now.
8 - Fantasy managers can drop G Chris Driedger (51% rostered on Yahoo) without any regrets
I’ve been on the Chris Driedger bandwagon all season long, but an important skill to have when playing fantasy hockey is knowing when to hop off. With Driedger now dealing with a lower-body injury and highly-touted prospect Spencer Knight in the mix, the Panthers' goaltending situation has become a little too muddy for my liking.
This isn’t a knock on Driedger’s performance, as the 26-year-old has posted much better numbers than starter Sergei Bobrovsky all season. This has more to do with the team’s future deployment of the netminder when he is healthy enough to play again. Despite outplaying Bobrovsky, Driedger’s 20 games started sit behind Bobrovsky’s 27, and with Knight now in the equation — he turned aside 33 of the 34 shots he faced in his NHL debut — you may have a three-headed goaltending situation similar to what the Carolina Hurricanes are utilizing.
There’s likely a goalie on the waiver wire who’ll see more action and can help your team more down the stretch.
9 - LW/RW Anthony Duclair (26% rostered on Yahoo) excelling since return to lineup
Since returning from an upper-body injury, Anthony Duclair, similarly to Sam Bennett, is finding a lot of success on the Panthers’ second line. In the six games he’s played this month, Duclair has posted an impressive eight points while recording at least one point in five of the six contests. Given that Carter Verhaeghe won’t be coming back anytime soon, it’s safe to assume that Duclair will play the remainder of the season in Florida's fantasy-friendly top-six.
In addition to point production, Duclair has also been an elite source of plus-minus totals, as his plus-19 rating sits tied for 18th in the NHL. With a healthy four games scheduled for next week, Duclair is a sensible player to add for your upcoming matchup.
10 - LW/RW Nick Foligno (33% rostered on Yahoo) getting chance on first line with Zach Hyman out
This is the first time in 10 takeaways history that two siblings have cracked the same blog. The cities of Buffalo, New York and Sudbury, Ontario should feel very proud to see how far these two have come to earn such a milestone. In all seriousness, Nick Foligno’s trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs will provide a little more fantasy value than originally thought with Zach Hyman out and the former Columbus Blue Jackets captain slotting in alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Playing with two players currently inside the NHL’s top-five in points is clearly a great spot to be. The results in his first game alongside the two standouts provided some positive results, as Foligno recorded one assists, a plus-one rating and three hits in 16:12 of time on ice. I’d expect similar outputs from the 33-year-old moving forward, which is certainly something many fantasy managers will gladly take.
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