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Fantasy Hockey Waiver Wire: Mikael Backlund leads pickups to target for Week 21

Fantasy hockey seasons are winding down, so make sure you're optimizing your roster in your battle for playoff positioning.

Working the waiver wire is a crucial part of any championship fantasy hockey season. Finding players to work into your lineup every single week who can add points to your total is the No. 1 way you can control the outcome of your matchup. In this article every week, I’ll be going over players at every position and at different levels of rostership so that you can fill out your fantasy squad with the best players available in your league. Let’s dig in:

Forwards

Rostered in 41-50% of Leagues: Mikael Backlund, C - CGY (41% rostered)

I consider Mikael Backlund a must-roster player for the upcoming week in almost all formats. Backlund ranks fifth in the entire NHL in shots on goal in the last month, on a 76-point pace in that span. And that’s including his last four games in which he’s scored zero points despite firing 19 shots on goal. And if you’re not entirely sold on Backlund the player, consider Calgary — along with Anaheim — has the league’s best schedule for streaming this week.

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The Flames play an early week back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday, giving you an early out on Backlund if he’s not performing. But you’re likely going to want to hold onto him because the Flames and Ducks are the only two teams that do not play on Saturday’s 15-game slate. Since your streamers aren’t going to crack your starting lineup on Saturday anyways, you’re going to want to find players from the Flames or Ducks, and the best option between the two teams is Backlund.

Honourable Mentions: Bryan Rust, RW - PIT (48%) & Jared McCann, C/LW - SEA (45%)

Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund is worth a look as fantasy hockey seasons draw closer to the playoffs. (Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund is worth a look as fantasy hockey seasons draw closer to the playoffs. (Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports) (USA TODAY Sports)

Rostered in 31-40% of Leagues: Ivan Barbashev, C/LW - VGK (32% rostered)

Barbashev has been on a hot streak since the moment he arrived in Las Vegas, notching two goals and five points in three games with the Golden Knights thus far. He’s been a seamless addition to the top line alongside Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault, and he’s seeing work with the second power-play unit as well. Barbashev provides more than just point-scoring upside, notching 11 hits and six blocks through these three games.

Barbashev’s potential to contribute across every category is a rare ability to find readily available on the waiver wire this time of year, so he’s worth considering, especially in bangers categories leagues.

Honourable Mentions: Boone Jenner, C - CBJ (39%) & Nick Schmaltz, C/RW - ARI (36%)

Rostered in 21-30% of Leagues: Ryan Hartman, C/RW - MIN (30% rostered)

Hartman has been a natural fit with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello on the Minnesota top line since the trio was reunited in February. While Hartman hasn’t found the back of the net in his last six games, he’s registered three or more shots on goal in five of his last seven and has only skated less than 17:25 once in that span. With the trade deadline behind us, it feels pretty safe to say the Wild don’t have any better option for the 1C role than Hartman, and that makes him a prime add candidate as we approach the fantasy playoffs.

Honourable Mentions: Anthony Duclair, RW - FLA (25%) & Viktor Arvidsson, LW/RW - LAK (24%)

Rostered in 0-20% of Leagues: Blake Coleman, LW/RW - CGY (11% rostered)

Coleman’s success or failure will likely be correlated with the aforementioned Backlund this week since the two have been linemates for much of the season. Similarly to Backlund, Coleman has been firing a ton of shots lately, with 17 in his last four games. Unlike Backlund, however, Coleman has found the back of the net with two goals in those four games. Coleman doesn’t get the same amount of ice time as Backlund but he’s widely available even in deeper leagues, making him a perfect streaming play in places where Backlund is already rostered.

Honourable Mentions: Anthony Beauvillier, LW/RW - VAN (18%) & Mason McTavish, C/LW - ANA (14%)

Defensemen

Rostered in 26-50% of Leagues: Shayne Gostisbehere - CAR (44%)

It’s impossible to ignore what Gostisbehere has done since being traded from Arizona to Carolina, as the offensive-minded rearguard has scored two goals and two assists in two games. Gostisbehere has been skating on the third pairing and second power-play unit, but the lack of ideal deployment hasn’t seemed to bother him. Perhaps Gostisbehere just needed to get out of the desert and we can expect him to outperform his role given the offensive firepower Carolina sports up and down its lineup.

In any case, it’s worth jumping on the train here and seeing how long “Ghost Bear” can stay in the flames.

Honourable Mentions: Michael Matheson - MTL (32%) & John Klingberg - MIN (42%)

Shayne Gostisbehere has looked sharp since joining the Hurricanes. (Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)
Shayne Gostisbehere has looked sharp since joining the Hurricanes. (Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images) (Josh Lavallee via Getty Images)

Rostered in 0-25% of Leagues: Rasmus Sandin - WSH (16% rostered)

Rasmus Sandin is another defender who has made an immediate impact on his new team after being moved at the trade deadline. Sandin went from a frequent healthy scratch in Toronto to top power-play usage in Washington, and he responded by collecting three assists in 21:40 of ice time in his first game in a Capitals uniform. With incumbent power-play quarterback John Carlson not expected to return until the end of March at the earliest, Sandin has a very nice runway in which he’ll be given every opportunity to assert himself.

The nice part about Sandin is that he doesn’t necessarily have to score points to be useful in your fantasy lineup. He’s a big-time contributor to the hits and blocks categories and it should be expected that he’ll provide plenty of those stats as he strives to make a big impression with his new squad.

Honourable Mentions: Juuso Valimaki - ARI (9%) & Cam Fowler - ANA (15%)

Goalies

Rostered in 26-50% of Leagues: Philipp Grubauer - SEA (32% rostered)

Grubauer had a sensational week, winning all three games he played while registering a .921 save percentage. Martin Jones has continued his downward trend and Grubauer has been up to the task, paving the way for him to potentially assume a legitimate high-end starter’s role as we close out the fantasy season. Grubauer is another reference point as to why it’s prudent to fade goalies early in your drafts and play the “who’s hot” game throughout your season.

With Seattle looking more and more like a top-end team in the Pacific Division, Grubauer’s ceiling for the rest of the season is as high as just about any other goaltender out there. He’s a must-roster in all formats at this point.

Honourable Mentions: Adin Hill - VGK (49%) & John Gibson - ANA (44%)

Rostered in 0-25% of Leagues: Elvis Merzlikins - CBJ (16% rostered)

You’re going to have to overlook the stench of Merzlikins getting pulled in his last outing against Ottawa on Saturday to get on board with this one, but if you’re desperate enough for goaltending that you’re looking for someone in this range then Merzlikins just might be your best bet. Prior to the Ottawa game (which was the second half of a back-to-back that Merzlikins started both legs of) he had put together three straight quality starts, stopping 110 of 119 shots for a .924 save percentage. If nothing else, you can expect him to face an incredible amount of shot volume as Columbus is in full tank mode.

Merzlikins is by no means a safe option, but if you’re looking for volume in this range then he’s your best bet at the moment.

Honourable Mentions: Akira Schmid - NJD (6%) & Eric Comrie - BUF (4%)

Nate Groot Nibbelink is the creator of Apples & Ginos Fantasy Hockey and the originator of the #ZeroG draft strategy. You can find him pontificating about obscure fantasy hockey strategy topics in the Apples & Ginos Discord Server or on Twitter @applesginos.