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Fantasy Hockey Week 7: Analyzing some of the top line combinations in NHL

·8-min read

By Jason Chen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Here's a look around the league at the latest trends after another week of hockey. Some food for thought, some leftover stats, and, of course, some fantasy advice. Let's dig in.

All fancy stats courtesy Natural Stat Trick.

Who has the best line?

With a shortened season and trade acquisitions having to quarantine before joining their new teams, there is no simple fix to issues for coaches other than to tinker with their lines. It's been a difficult balance to maintain all season, especially with games being postponed and players being placed on COVID protocol. Case in point, the struggling Flames, who re-united their old top line of Sean Monahan between Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm and ended up winning 6-3 against the Sens on Saturday.

Monahan's line combined for four points but it also allowed a lot of chances and was completely dwarfed possession-wise by the second line of Mikael Backlund centering Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane, with Backlund snapping an eight-game drought with a three-point effort. Long-term, however, re-uniting Gaudreau and Monahan with Lindholm seems like the right play; they had a 54.13 5v5 CF% in 2018-19 and 52.56 5v5 CF% in 2019-20, so there's plenty of history to show it can and should work.

The biggest beneficiary should be Monahan, who is rostered in only 69 percent of Yahoo leagues but could see a big boost from playing with his old linemates and, hopefully, an improving shooting percentage that's at a career-low. It's worth noting that Backlund's line has been excellent as well, combining for seven points against the Sens and crushing their opposition in puck possession. Backlund (14 percent rostered) and Mangiapane (eight percent) are worth looking at in deeper leagues, especially roto leagues that count peripherals. The Flames play the Sens three more times in their next four games, a situation ripe for some stat-padding.

Here's a breakdown of some of the league's best and most intriguing lines this season, with some fantasy advice to boot:

Some of the NHL's best line combinations. (Photo by Natural Stat Trick)
Some of the NHL's best line combinations. (Photo by Natural Stat Trick)

Panthers

Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov were practically attached at the hip the last few seasons, but they began the season playing on separate lines with coach Joel Quenneville spreading out his offense. But, trailing 2-0 in Thursday's game against the Stars, Quenneville elected to drop Anthony Duclair from the top line and re-unite Huberdeau and Barkov, sparking a third-period comeback in a 3-2 win.

Their fortunes weren't as good Saturday against Carolina, but Barkov, Huberdeau, and Carter Verhaeghe remained Quenneville's top line, and the short-term prospects look very, very good. Verhaeghe has not scored since Feb. 11 — we knew his shooting percentage would dip, so that's not surprising — but his 14 points in 20 games still ranks within the top-100 forwards, ahead of the likes of Nick Suzuki and Evgeni Malkin. Verhaeghe's only rostered in just 27 percent of Yahoo leagues, but if he stays with Huberdeau and Barkov, it's highly plausible he maintains his scoring pace.

Flyers

Since Feb. 7, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, and Joel Farabee have combined for nine of the 15 goals scored by Flyers forwards. Only three others have scored: Kevin Hayes and Nicolas Aube-Kubel — who have scored a goal each — and Scott Laughton, who basically met half of his quota for the entire season in two games by scoring four goals.

Couturier's line has been carrying the team, and both van Riemsdyk and Farabee continue to pile up points at an elite pace. Farabee is available in roughly 47 percent of Yahoo leagues and is worth considering again since he's scoring consistently (for now), but note that this line is getting outscored mostly due to bad goaltending (5v5 On-ice Sv% of .778). If Carter Hart or Brian Elliott can stop the puck, like in Saturday's 3-0 win against Buffalo in which Couturier scored two points, his line could be even more productive. Note Couturier and van Riemsdyk are scoring at a rate that's much higher than their career averages, but their underlying numbers suggest they're genuinely good, so the regression might be going from great to good rather than from great to average.

Wild

Another red-hot line is Kirill Kaprizov with Mats Zuccarello and Victor Rask at center, but there's good reason to be skeptical this time. First, Zuccarello's current pace — 1.57 P/GP, 21.4 S% — is clearly unsustainable, and there are 400-plus games of evidence to argue Victor Rask isn't the top-six center you're looking for. Analytically, the stronger line has been defensive ace Joel Eriksson Ek's line with Kevin Fiala and Jordan Greenway, who have been very good at generating chances but not so much at finishing them. Both lines needed a bit of luck to score Saturday against the Kings; Eriksson Ek's goal came off a few bounces and deflections, and Kaprizov was Johnny-on-the-spot on a broken play caused by a broken stick.

Kaprizov is their best finisher and well-represented in Yahoo leagues (71 percent), but Fiala (60 percent) deserves a little more attention as last season's leading scorer and a high-volume shooter. Eriksson Ek (32 percent) and Zuccarello (40 percent) should be approached with more caution because of their abnormal scoring pace. The Wild are still very average when it comes to scoring; they're downright awful if you consider their 30th-ranked power play, which has scored in only five of their 18 games. There's a tough test ahead — the Wild will face Vegas in four of their next six games.

Minnesota Wild left wing Kirill Kaprizov (97)
Kirill Kaprizov has been lighting it up for the Wild, but there's reason to be skeptical of his line. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

Blue Jackets

Coach John Tortorella is not a patient man. He shouldn't be in a compact season where every game counts for more than usual, and Patrik Laine was moved off the top line (again) in Saturday's loss to Nashville. Boone Jenner took his spot, and the results were very good; in 7:13 of 5v5 play, Jenner, Cam Atkinson, and Jack Roslovic were the Jackets' best line, generating seven chances to just four against. It's a line Tortorella has used before, and in previous games, the results have been good, too.

Laine's fantasy value takes a hit because Roslovic has arguably been the Jackets' best center on a team already bereft of them, and let's not forget one of the reasons Laine was unhappy in Winnipeg was because of the lack of quality centers. Jenner (22 percent rostered) is a darling in roto leagues because he shoots, hits, block shots, and wins faceoffs, but his offensive production might increase now that he's on the top line.

Blues

The big news out of St. Louis is that A) Goaltending is optional, and B) Vladimir Tarasenko was skating on a line with Brayden Schenn and David Perron at practice, and it's believed the Russian goal scorer is "close" to returning. That's big news for a team that really struggles on the power play, which is operating at 12.9 percent, and went 0-for-2 despite scoring seven goals Saturday. When healthy, the Blues have a pretty deep lineup, giving coach Craig Berube a lot of options.

When Jaden Schwartz returns, it makes the most sense to re-unite him with Schenn and Tarasenko. That will bump Perron back to his usual spot next to Ryan O'Reilly, and also leaving the door open for Jordan Kyrou to be the first-line right winger. The sample is small, but in 32:24 together, Perron-O'Reilly-Kyrou have done a really good job of both controlling possession and generating chances. Kyrou is rostered in only 47 percent of Yahoo leagues, and with 17 points already on the season, Kyrou's a good bet to finish in the top 50 among wingers given his shooting ability and his current role.

Devils

Unfortunately, Nico Hischier might miss more time after taking a puck to his face on Saturday, having just scored a goal in his second consecutive game. The Devils captain is rostered in just 29 percent of leagues after missing a lot of time to injury and COVID protocol, but in short time showed why his presence is so important. He gives the Devils two scoring lines and a strong power-play unit, and his faceoff prowess can shelter Jack Hughes in high-pressure situations. As of this writing, Hischier is considered day-to-day, but upon his return, he should be rostered immediately. In just 45 minutes of 5-on-5 together with Jesper Bratt and the red-hot Pavel Zacha (nine-game point streak), Hischier's line is generating more than one chance per minute of play, putting them in elite territory.