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20 Fantasy Thoughts: Demko making up for lost time with tremendous run

Clayton Keller isn’t getting enough credit for the season he’s having. 

Despite being stuck on one of the league’s basement dwellers, Keller has cruised to 75 points in 70 games, scored six times in his past five outings, and has 34 points in his past 20 contests. You could argue that Keller has been the best player in the NHL outside of Connor McDavid since the All-Star break. 

Keller’s campaign is more impressive when you think of what he’s overcome. The 24-year-old suffered a serious leg fracture a year ago, which isn’t exactly the easiest thing to come back from. Keller, though, worked his way back to being healthy for the start of the season and hasn’t missed a game this year, while turning in a career campaign in the process.

Impressive stuff.

1. Miro Heiskanen has finally arrived, from a fantasy hockey perspective at least. Heiskanen was always a great defenceman, but his value in fantasy always left a lot to be desired. His career high in points coming into this year was 36 and he’s already shattered that, currently sitting at 59 with still a few weeks to go in the season. This is in part thanks to an incredible March, where Heiskanen has put up a whopping 17 points during an 10-game point streak.

Some predicted this would be the breakout year for Heiskanen after the Dallas Stars let John Klingberg walk in the summer, but until this month it looked like it was going to be another pretty pedestrian season for the 23-year-old. The talent has always been there, but Heiskanen was always one of those better in real life players than fantasy. Not anymore.

2. My fear with the Bo Horvat trade to the New York Islanders was that his production was going to take a big hit, and we’re finally starting to see just that. Horvat has just one point in his past eight games and isn’t scoring anywhere close to the rate that he was with the Vancouver Canucks. Yes, Mathew Barzal has been injured which doesn’t help, though it wasn’t tough to figure out Horvat’s numbers would inevitably dip when joining the low-scoring Isles.

Say what you want about the Canucks, but those Bruce Boudreau coached teams were great for fantasy. I have no doubt Horvat is helping his new team overall and it was a great trade for the Islanders, you just can’t deny it wasn’t the best destination for him for fantasy.

3. Tough break if you were banking on Semyon Varlamov to start earlier this week against the Anaheim Ducks. I know many had that game circled as a Varlamov start because it was the second of a back-to-back, but Ilya Sorokin played both. It would have been a great streaming opportunity and I’m sure a few people even added Varlamov for their playoffs eyeing some friendly starts. This time of year you have to be careful with teams fighting for a playoff spot not to assume the backup will play the second half of a back-to-back. Sometimes teams play their number one goalie in both games with every point so critical.

4. Brandon Hagel is back. After a quiet stretch, Hagel finds himself back on the top line and has nine points in his past five games, thanks to a hat-trick on Saturday. This is the time of year where it’s so tempting to drop certain players because you can’t afford even a small slump, but you know if you do they are going to bounce back sooner rather than later. Hopefully you didn’t get caught in that conundrum with Hagel.

5. It’s safe to say Sebastian Aho has found his groove again. Aho had been scoreless in seven games and was even held without a shot in one contest earlier this week, before scoring a hat-trick Saturday. Andrei Svechnikov’s injury hasn’t been ideal for Aho, so hopefully this weekend’s big performance gets him going. With four games for the Carolina Hurricanes next week, Aho getting back on track is going to be critical for a lot of fantasy teams’ chances at a championship.

6. No points for Rasmus Dahlin in his past seven games. The 22-year-old Swede recently returned from an injury and there’s a chance he still may not be fully healthy. Dahlin hadn’t gone more than two games without a point prior to this stretch.

7. It sounds like Devon Levi is going to be with the Buffalo Sabres for the rest of the year. Levi was a standout goaltender at Northeastern University for the past two seasons and the Sabres are definitely looking for some consistency between the pipes. He might have a bit of short-term upside for spot starts, but I think Levi’s value is more long-term, as he could be Buffalo’s goalie of the future.

8. Jordan Kyrou has been on fire lately, recording five goals and seven points in his past four games. His shot volume has really improved this year and he’s already obliterated his previous career high. Kyrou has been one of the few consistent producers this year for the St. Louis Blues, just don’t look at his plus/minus.

9. Speaking of the Blues, Jakub Vrana is starting to look more comfortable with his new squad. Vrana has four goals in his past five games and St. Louis’ schedule is very friendly next week. The Blues play four times, including two matchups against the Detroit Red Wings and one against Anaheim. All this seems like a good reason to give Vrana, who’s still widely available in most leagues, a shot for your playoff matchup.

10. A small note about the Coyotes’ goaltending situation. The team stated that Ivan Prosvetov will remain with the team for the rest of the season, even with Karel Vejmelka healthy. Arizona likely wants to get a look at what they have in Prosvetov, which will cut into the playing time of both Vejmelka and Connor Ingram down the stretch.

11. Thomas Novak is heating up again. Novak has four goals and seven points in his past five games and is seeing top power play time. The Nashville Predators have a game Sunday and then play four times next week, so Novak could be a savvy streaming option in points leagues.

12. Thatcher Demko was certainly worth the wait if you stashed him while he was out with an injury. Demko has been solid since returning, posting a .933 save percentage in March with a 5-2-0 record. Not to mention he stole a game against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday where his team was badly outplayed and outshot.

Looking ahead to next week, the Vancouver Canucks play four times, with a couple of very favourable matchups for Demko to look forward to. Ideally, Demko would start against both the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks, making him a must-play in those contests. You still have to be somewhat cautious with him — as the Canucks have been inconsistent all year — but if you can add a couple of wins and quality starts with Demko in a key playoff week, it would be a huge bonus.

13. When it comes to forwards blocking shots, there aren’t too many better options than Elias Pettersson. That’s why it’s so peculiar that Pettersson hasn’t blocked a shot in six straight games. Pettersson was a rare blend of elite offensive talent and blocked shots, but not so much right now.

14. As the Colorado Avalanche continue to deal with a plethora of injuries, Evan Rodrigues has been bumped up to the top line, though I’m not sure you should race out and grab him. Rodrigues has been underwhelming since his promotion, although he does have points in back-to-back games, and he isn’t on the top power play unit. There might not be an obvious pickup to replace Arturri Lehkonen, even with Colorado’s good schedule. You may want to look at external options.

15. It hasn’t been the best of seasons for Josh Anderson, but he’s certainly picked it up for the fantasy playoffs. He has six points in six games and is filling plenty of other categories as well. Anderson also provides a lot of value for shots, hits and penalty minutes. Don’t get too caught up worrying about players underperforming during the season. What they’re doing right now is more important in a short-term matchup.

16. Darcy Kuemper left practice Saturday with an upper-body injury and there was no word on how much time he’ll miss. Charlie Lindgren would take over if Kuemper misses time, though he hasn’t played well of late. Still, the Washington Capitals start next week with games against Columbus and Chicago, so that’s about as good as it gets. Do you take a chance on Lindgren?

17. With each passing game, it looks like Quinton Byfield is getting more and more comfortable on the Los Angeles Kings’ top line. Byfield has points in seven of his past nine games now and could be a valuable addition in points leagues.

18. The one issue with adding Byfield is Los Angeles’ schedule next week. They have four days off between Monday and Saturday, and I never like to roster players that are sitting out that long, especially at this time of year.

For instance, I dropped Brock Nelson on Thursday for the aforementioned Novak, something that pained me to do. I would never make a move like that in the middle of the season, but Nelson played just once between Thursday and Sunday this week, where Novak played three times. Additionally, Novak plays four times next week and Nelson three, so over that 11-day stretch I get seven games from Novak and only four from Nelson. As good as Nelson is, he isn’t going to produce more than Novak in three less games. Be mindful of gaps in the schedule right now and try to adjust your roster so someone isn’t occupying a spot for long stretches while not playing.

19. I’ve talked a bit about how valuable Owen Tippett has been down the stretch and I’m amazed he’s still only 14 per cent rostered. Tippett has five points and 10 shots in his past two games and puts up great numbers for blocked shots as a forward. He’s going to be a must-have next season.

20. It’s really tough to justify starting Tristan Jarry anymore. He’s had a dreadful March, sporting an .841 save percentage for the month and he’s been pulled four times in his past 10 games. The Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender is just too risky to put out there at this point in a playoff matchup when one bad outing can destroy your stats for the week. You’re better off utilizing streaming options because there’s simply no more time to wait for Jarry to find his game.


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