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Fantasy Hockey: Waiver wire pickups to gear up for the playoffs

·8 min read
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By Evan Berofsky, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

With the NHL trade deadline done and the start of fantasy playoffs in many leagues, things are getting intense. If you've made it this far, then there's some sort of pressure — even if you have a bye this week (or two, like the person who wrote this column). As long as you stick to what you've been doing, things will turn out fine.

Or not.

As this is a shortened season, I'll try not to repeat any previous entries for the remainder of the campaign. That may be difficult to do with some players coming back into relevance following a change of scenery or return to health. The most important thing this column can do is advise on those who can help you now and in the near future.

For the latest news, head to the RotoWire news page. And for analysis, stats, and other helpful tips, check our current hockey material to set your lineups and manage your rosters.

(Yahoo roster data/stats as of April 15)

FORWARDS

Jack Hughes, NJ (38 percent)

To say Hughes hasn't lived up to the fanfare that led up to the 2019 draft would be unfair. After all, the phenom was being compared to everyone from playmakers like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby to snipers such as Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane. Hughes began the season with plenty of spark, posting 11 points in 13 games, but a five-in-22 slump heading into April put a dent in his progress. He's earned additional playing time following Travis Zajac's departure and has recorded two goals, three assists, 19 shots, and 30 faceoff wins from six. With Jersey once again planning for next year, expect Hughes to play a major role.

Nico Hischier, NJ (38 percent)

Let's double up on the Devils with another of their No. 1 overall picks. Hischier has had trouble staying healthy the last couple of campaigns and made just his sixth appearance of 2021 on Tuesday after missing 35 games due to various ailments. The Swiss center was immediately thrown back into his regular workload with 21 minutes and a spot on the top power play. Like Hughes, Hischier will undoubtedly receive plenty of opportunities to produce the rest of the way … as long as he can avoid further injury.

Max Domi, CLS (38 percent)

Columbus expected a lot from Domi after acquiring him from Montreal, but he didn't do anything notable in the opening 27 outings besides a fight and a couple of game misconducts. April has seen a turnaround with seven points from seven, including two goals and three assists in the last four. Domi's also back on track with 17 shots during the same span and lines up between Patrik Laine and Oliver Bjorkstrand 5-on-5. He's too talented to be left out of the top-six and should be among the Blue Jackets' key contributors.

Michael Bunting, ARI (38 percent)

Bunting has consistently produced in the AHL since 2015, though he had only participated in five NHL games prior to this year. After notching 19 points in 16 at Tucson, the Scarborough, Ont., native was recalled at the end of March and debuted with a goal and assist. Five days later in LA, Bunting shocked everyone with a hat trick — with two of those PPGs. He has six markers through nine games and remains a fixture on the Coyotes' lead man-advantage. This kind of success can't be maintained, though even a fraction of that makes Bunting worthwhile.

Colin Blackwell, NYR (4 percent)

How is someone with 12 goals, a decent power-play position, and a regular even-strength gig beside Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome available in 96 percent of Yahoo leagues? The simple answer is that there are many better fantasy forward options than Blackwell and many fantasy managers will tend to overlook a 28-year-old who has never previously posted any similar totals at this level. But if he's good enough for the upper half of the Rangers' depth chart, then he's at least good enough as a short-term flyer.

New York Rangers' Colin Blackwell (43)
Colin Blackwell deserves more attention in fantasy leagues. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Casey Mittelstadt, BUF (4 percent)

Those in dynasty formats who suffered with Mittelstadt probably don't want to hear his name, but there's increased hope due to the Sabres' recent yard sale and Jack Eichel's ongoing absence. Despite several no-shows to start the season, the eighth selection of the 2017 draft was not sent to the minors. Mittelstadt finally operated in a regular role in early March and eventually got it going with five goals and a plus-5 (!) in seven games. You may not trust him based on past letdowns, but you have to give a chance to a center logging prime minutes and winning plenty of faceoffs.

Adam Erne, DET (4 percent)

Erne's recent body of work will amaze anyone, especially those who closely follow fantasy. Betcha didn't realize that in the last 10 matchups, the former Bolt has accumulated six goals, two helpers, 22 shots, 19 hits, and six blocks. And he's doing it in Detroit! Regression is definitely coming for Erne's unsustainable 19.3 shooting percentage, but anyone who's totaled six PPPs and grabs a wide variety of stats should be more rostered.

Tyler Bozak, STL (1 percent)

If you're wondering what happened to Bozak, I've got good news for you: He's back and he's somewhat fantasy-relevant! With the Blues unable to string together a few decent efforts, it's comforting to know Bozak is at least preserving some form of stability with five points in five appearances. And life isn't terrible as St. Louis's third pivot considering he's flanked by serviceable wingers and has counted PPAs in back-to-back outings.

DEFENSEMEN

Ryan Ellis, NSH (47 percent)

After missing 20 games, Ellis came back Saturday and didn't look out of place. While he's only recorded one goal (and no assists) in three, he does have six shots, six hits, and four blocks while skating more than 21 minutes per game — though he's been provided with meager power-play duty. Ellis averaged 36 points, — including almost eight PPPs — the previous five campaigns, so he should soon start increasing his attacking totals.

Jamie Oleksiak, DAL (12 percent)

Oleksiak is not your guy for scoring. He may have racked up nine points during the Stars' playoff run last season, but that was just a career anomaly. The 14th pick from the 2011 draft has been a beast when it comes to supplemental stats, however, with 35 PIM, 110 hits, and 63 blocks. But it's Oleksiak's recent performances that have caught poolies' attention with 37 and 20 of the latter two categories in eight outings.

Ryan McDonagh, TB (11 percent)

McDonagh used to be someone you could count on for decent offensive numbers. That role has obviously changed in Tampa Bay with studs like Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev leading the blueline charge. The ex-Ranger captain found it hard to hit the scoresheet for most of this season, yet potted a pair of goals last Thursday while directing six shots on net. McDonagh was once also reliable for PPPs and has recently found a place on the Bolts' second unit, though nothing has come of that so far.

Mike Matheson, PIT (3 percent)

If Matheson could bottle his scoring streaks for wider use, he could become an upper-lineup fantasy D-man. That's probably never going to happen, and it doesn't really matter because he's solid enough for everyday use. Matheson is enjoying a stretch of two goals, six assists, and 15 shots in seven appearances. This upswing is bound to end, but you might as well ride the wave and see where it goes.

Goaltenders

Jake Allen, MON (38 percent)

The Habs picked up Allen during the offseason because they wanted to give Carey Price more nights off. And while the two more or less rotated for the first month, the former Vezina winner eventually took on a larger share. With Price out with an upper-body problem, Allen has started the last five. Price's return is unknown, but it'll probably be in the next week or so. Until then, Allen should see most of the upcoming schedule with six against the Alberta clubs and one versus Ottawa.

Jeremy Swayman, BOS (23 percent)

With Jaroslav Halak gone since April 3 and Tuukka Rask only making a brief appearance at the end of March within a 17-game absence, the Bruins' next generation has gotten their chance. Daniel Vladar looked promising but eventually ended up back in the AHL. Former University of Maine star Swayman has since taken control of the top job with three wins from four and producing a 2.21 GAA and .926 save percentage. Rask is reported to appear Thursday, but Swayman will pick up a few starts along the way.

(Players to consider from past columns: Jared McCann, Jordan Staal, Roope Hintz, Ryan Johansen, Vincent Trocheck, Chandler Stephenson, Viktor Arvidsson, Clayton Keller, Martin Necas, Jason Robertson, Alex Tuch, Tim Stutzle, Carter Verhaeghe, Jesper Bratt, Joshua Norris, Zach Hyman, Phillip Danault, Calle Jarnkrok, Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith, Joonas Donskoi, Kirby Dach, Josh Morrissey, Adam Boqvist, Devon Toews, Filip Hronek, Alex Goligoski, Nick Leddy, Mike Reilly, K'Andre Miller, Jared Spurgeon, Vince Dunn, Chris Driedger, Jake Oettinger, Kevin Lankinen, Juuse Saros, Alex Nedeljkovic, Cam Talbot, Kaapo Kahkonen)