Fantasy Hockey Odds and Ends: Jakub Vrana's breakout is for real

By Jason Chen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Another week of fantasy hockey and some food for thought ...

.953

That's Cory Schneider's save percentage in his last four starts for AHL Binghamton before getting called up Sunday to replace the injured MacKenzie Blackwood. At first, it looked like it was going to be further disaster after his first four starts netted a .793 Sv%, but he turned it around after a 23-save performance against a much stronger Rochester squad. This marked a huge improvement, and it looks like the brief demotion accomplished what it was supposed to do: instill more confidence (at least for now). The Devils are putting the Ewing Theory to the test, going 7-4-2 since trading Taylor Hall, and while Schneider's confidence is back and the Devils are playing better, I wouldn't be so quick to pull the trigger on Schneider.

Final Advice

He just seems too fragile and the Devils too messy (Ray Shero was fired Sunday) to be given any serious consideration, and their upcoming schedule — Leafs, Caps and the red-hot Blue Jackets — demands a cautious wait-and-see approach.

26.72

That's Jakub Vrana's expected goals at 5-on-5 this season entering Sunday, according to Natural Stat Trick, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (27.81) on the Caps. Vrana rocked a 14.9 S% last season to finish with 24 goals in 82 games, and not only has he managed to maintain that efficiency this season, a higher shooting volume has put him on pace for a 35-goal, 60-point season, yet he remains rostered in just 66 percent of Yahoo leagues. He's scored five goals in his last five games, and given that Ovechkin is already four shy of 30 this season, it'll just be the second time since the 2016-17 season the Caps have boasted two 30-goals scorers. The small spread between his actual goals and expected goals is further proof Vrana's breakout season is for real, and his ice time is creeping up from 13:37 in October to 16:14 in January.

Final Advice

He deserves to be rostered in all leagues.

Jakub Vrana is on pace for a 60-point season, but is still being ignored in too many fantasy leagues. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jakub Vrana is on pace for a 60-point season, but is still being ignored in too many fantasy leagues. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

14

That's how many points Nico Hischier has scored in his last 16 games, a 44 percent increase in productivity after needing 23 games to score 14 points from October to November, becoming the hottest commodity to come out of Jersey since GTL. His ice time has similarly jumped, from 15:59 in October to 19:12 in January, and not that there should've been any real doubt before, but he's clearly the No. 1 center ahead of Jack Hughes, who continues to struggle on a game-to-game basis. A big reason for the turnaround has been shooting luck; Hischier scored just three goals on 49 shots (6.12 S%) in the first two months of the season but in his last 16 games has scored nine goals on 39 shots (24.3 S%), raising his season average to 14 percent, which is slightly higher than what it should be but still a lot closer to his career average. He's a keeper-level player based on talent, and his huge improvement in faceoffs — 45.2 FO% last season vs. 54.1 FO% this season — also ensures he'll get plenty of playing time and trust from his coaches.

Final Advice

He should flirt with 30 goals by the end of the season and is rostered in just one-third of Yahoo leagues.

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5

That's the number of goals Blackhawks winger Dominik Kubalik has netted in his last four games. With 16 goals this season, Kubalik is now tied with Victor Olofsson for the rookie lead but let's be real — this isn't going to last. The 24-year-old spent six years playing pro in the Czech Republic and Switzerland after two underwhelming seasons in the OHL before signing with the Blackhawks, and even at his best projects to be a borderline top-six winger. He's too lineup and matchup dependent, and he has to battle Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome for quality ice time as well. Does he get the same opportunities on a better team? Probably not. All five goals were scored at home, and Anaheim's the only one that doesn't have troublesome goaltending. Through nine games and more than 60 minutes of play at 5-on-5, Kubalik's line with Jonathan Toews and John Quenneville (recently demoted to AHL Rockford) is controlling the play just slightly better than average at 52.48 CF%, according to Natural Stat Trick, and those three already scored five goals against an expected 2.74 goals. Translation: they've been kinda lucky. Fantasy managers have jumped all over Kubalik and he's now rostered in more than 10 percent of Yahoo leagues, but he has a much tougher schedule ahead (Toronto, Winnipeg, Florida, Arizona, Boston) so don't expect too much.

Final Advice

You're better off leaving Kubalik on the waiver wire and grabbing Martin Necas (5 percent rostered) instead on a very good Carolina third line. Oh, and the Calder race? Barring injury it's a two-man show between Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar. 

4.75

That's Elvis Merzlikins' GSAA, which is second best in the league since January and trails only Andrei Vasilevskiy, according to Natural Stat Trick. Since Dec. 1, Columbus is 11-5-4 for 26 points, the third-highest total behind only Tampa Bay (31 points) and Pittsburgh (29), and have held opponents to a league-low 2.15 GF/GP. There's just something magical about John Tortorella's Blue Jackets and their ability to overcome any kind of odds, and having a relatively unknown Latvian goalie help them stay in the playoff race is just one of the many surprises.

Final Advice

Is it sustainable? Probably not; Merzlikins is still a relatively inexperienced rookie and the Blue Jackets are bleeding high-danger chances, and his GSAA in high-danger chances ranks ninth (min. 120 TOI) among goalies. However, with dates against the Devils, Rangers and Sabres coming up, Merzlikins is a worthwhile pickup with his hot hand and is available in well more than half of Yahoo leagues.

4

That's roughly the number of seconds it took for Ilya Kovalchuk to become a Montreal folk hero when he carried the puck into the offensive zone, looked off a hard-charging Phillip Danault (arguably the Habs' MVP) and sniped an overtime winner to snap an eight-game losing streak. He now has four points in four games in the bleu, blanc et rouge, who have had some luck with Russian veterans, including Andrei Markov and Alexei Kovalev. There's little pressure on Kovalchuk after signing a league-minimum contract and escaping a nightmare situation in L.A. In 17 games with the Kings, he averaged 15:25 TOI per game, but the Habs are happy to give him all the ice time he wants with such an underwhelming top-six depth, and his ice time has jumped to 19:57 per game.

Final Advice

Kovalchuk is a worthwhile gamble and since Saturday has already seen his rostered percentage triple from seven to more than 21 percent.

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