By Jason Chen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Fantasy hockey veterans will know that there's inherently a ton of randomness in a game played on ice with blades of steel strapped to the players' feet while blasting around a piece of vulcanized rubber at over 100 mph. Player performance can be tough to predict, but none more so than goaltending, especially this season.
Goalies are, by far, the most frustrating part of the experience, which is why they're part of the focus of this week's Trade Targets column. Players featured on this list must be rostered in over 50% of Yahoo leagues — otherwise, you can just pick them up from the player pool — but note that Carolina's Pyotr Kochetkov (29% rostered) and Vancouver's Spencer Martin (18%) are noteworthy trade targets if they're already rostered in your league.
Joel Eriksson Ek, C, Wild (51% rostered)
The center position on the Wild continues to be in flux, and there's still no return date set for Ryan Hartman (upper body), who has been the team's preferred pivot between Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello over the past couple of seasons. Right now, Sam Steel is playing in that coveted spot, but he hasn't done much in the role.
The big boon from playing with Kaprizov will come on the power play, anyway, and this is where Eriksson Ek has some hidden fantasy value because he's the pivot on Minnesota's top unit. He's scored five points on the power play already and, despite playing on the third line at even strength, has scored 17 points in 21 games this season. He's currently on a five-point, three-game heater.
Andrei Kuzmenko, LW, Canucks (49% rostered)
We're cheating the rules a little bit because Kuzmenko is just shy of being rostered in half of all Yahoo leagues, but fantasy managers looking for excellent point production should look no further. Last week, I highlighted Elias Pettersson as a trade target because he's taken his play to the next level, and riding on his coattails is Kuzmenko, who has 21 points in 22 games and carried a five-game point streak into Tuesday's game against the Caps. Don't worry about Kuzmenko and Brock Boeser fighting for time on PP1; Kuzmenko will get his points no matter the situation as long as Pettersson is on the ice with him.
Filip Hronek, D, Red Wings (74% rostered)
The knock against Hronek has always been his inconsistency and defense, but on the beefed-up Wings, he doesn't have to shoulder such a heavy load. Through 21 games, he's already seen a 39-point swing in his plus-minus and surpassed last season's power-play assists total, and he's been particularly excellent in November with 12 points in 12 games. At this current pace, Hronek will be a more valuable fantasy player than Moritz Seider, who's undergoing some growing pains in his sophomore season. Fantasy managers looking for premier power-play quarterbacks should target Hronek, who should be easily attainable due to the lack of name recognition.
Jakob Chychrun, D, Coyotes (62% rostered)
It's still not clear which Chychrun — the injury-prone version or the 18-goal version — we'll get this season, but through four games he's looked quite good. The Coyotes are showcasing him for a potential trade, and Chychrun will be an attractive piece for a contender given his digestible cap hit of $4.6 million. He's an all-situations player who could supplant the incumbent power-play quarterback when he joins his new team, and his fantasy value might not be this low for the remainder of the season. Even if a trade isn't consummated, the lack of production from Shayne Gostisbehere has paved the way for Chychrun to get quality minutes on a surprisingly good power play.
Matt Murray, G, Maple Leafs (72% rostered)
Even with Ilya Samsonov set to return from a knee injury Wednesday, I wouldn't give up on Murray just yet. He's going through one of his hot streaks and has gone 5-0-1 since returning from a groin injury, allowing more than two goals just twice over that stretch. There's just no guarantee that Samsonov will be able to take back the starting job, and remember that it was Murray who started the season opener and was presumed to be the 1A option. The Leafs are winning a lot of games despite a patchwork defense, so there's no fear that the loss of Morgan Rielly (knee) will seriously hurt their chances of winning. Both Murray and Samsonov are worth rostering, but Murray has more upside at the moment as the starter.
Cam Talbot, G, Senators (72% rostered)
The Sens' defense is somewhat concerning, but it's certainly better when the lineup includes Thomas Chabot, who returned Friday after a brief absence due to a concussion. The emergence of Jake Sanderson will give them two players they can deploy in any situation, but their best insurance policy so far has been Talbot, who is sporting a losing record but putting up solid stats with a .919 Sv% and 2.51 GAA. At the very least, Talbot is firmly established as the starter thanks to Anton Forsberg's struggles, and it's a soft schedule coming up with games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks. Talbot isn't good enough to anchor a fantasy team, but he should be a solid No. 2 for the rest of the season.
Devon Toews, D, Avalanche (93% rostered)
Toews is one of those players who's excellent in real life but not so much in fantasy. Playing alongside Cale Makar pushed Toews to score a career-high 57 points in 66 games with an absurd plus-52 rating last season, but at a lower scoring pace, a much lower shooting pace (2.40 shots per game last season compared to 1.71 this season) and without the ridiculous plus-minus, Toews' fantasy value has become much more muted.
There's a lot of value in playing with Makar, but since Toews doesn't generate a ton of offense on his own, I find it gives him a high floor but a relatively low ceiling. Combine this with the imminent return of Bowen Byram (lower body), who is practicing with the team, and it doesn't look like Toews will be able to replicate his accomplishments from the previous season.
Thatcher Demko, G, Canucks (82% rostered)
Spencer Martin keeps eating away at Demko's ice time, and Tuesday's 5-1 loss to the Caps shouldn't change much going forward. Coming into the season as a potential top-five goalie, Demko has been one of the most disappointing fantasy players this season. There's always the hope that Demko will regain his form later on, and in a season where quality goaltending is hard to find, there's some logic in holding and hoping for the best.
But the reality is that Martin has been outplaying him for the majority of the season, and the Canucks' recent surge puts them firmly back in the playoff race. It's forced Bruce Boudreau to start Martin because he's given the Canucks the best chance of winning, and it seems Boudreau isn't shy about leaving Demko on the bench. Demko's fantasy value may be at its lowest, but there's a ton of name recognition and he could still net a top-line forward or defenseman in a swap.