Fantasy Nuggets Week 2

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It’s always dangerous to read too much into the early days of the season. It’s encouraging for the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings that they’ve started off the season well, but they still have a lot to prove. That said, with developing teams like them, rather than worry too much about the ups-and-downs of the campaign, it might be best to focus in on specific players.

With the Buffalo Sabres Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, and Rasmus Dahlin are three worth paying particular attention to. While Craig Anderson’s heroics so far are a great storyline, for obvious reasons the 40-year-old goaltender isn’t part of the Sabres’ long-term plans and consequently won’t be in the net in a few years when Buffalo hopes to be a serious contender. The other three I mentioned though could be part of Buffalo’s long-term solution.

Dahlin is the highest profile of the three. The former first overall pick has already established himself as one of the Sabres’ main defensemen, but he had some defensive issues last season. So far things have been going well for him though in 2021-22 and if he has a strong season then that will be huge for the franchise regardless of whether the Sabres end up defying expectations throughout the season or are instead a lottery team like initially projected.

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Thompson by contrast never had the same kind of hype surrounding him, but so far the transition from the wing to center has suited him. He has two goals and a 58.3% success rate on the draw in three games. Just as noteworthy, he’s averaging 17:22 minutes, up from 13:52 minutes last season. He’ll only turn 24-years-old on Oct. 30, so if he’s able to prove himself this season as a reliable second line center, then that will go a long way to addressing the Sabres’ center depth after losing Sam Reinhart and, eventually, Jack Eichel.

Cozens might slot in as the Sabres’ first line center in the long run. While not a superstar like Eichel, Cozens certainly has the potential to be an offensive leader in his own right. He still has plenty of growing to do though. Cozens had a quiet rookie season with four goals and 13 points in 41 contests. He’s chipped in two assists in three games so far in 2021-22. It’s worth adding that he also needs to get better on the draw. He had a 47.5% success rate in 2020-21 and so far he’s only won 7-of-20 faceoffs (35%).

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When it comes to Detroit the situation is a little different. Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri, and Dylan Larkin are already well established and while they could still develop further, none of them can be regarded as prospects anymore. What the Red Wings lack is a deep supporting cast and to that end, Lucas Raymond and Michael Rasmussen could be a big help while goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic might emerge as a huge part of their long-term plans.

It was seen as a bit of a steal when the Red Wings were able to acquire Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes back in July in exchange for Jonathan Bernier, who was an UFA and didn’t end up re-signing with the Hurricanes, and a 2021 third round pick (Aidan Hreschuk). Nedeljkovic finished third in Calder Trophy voting after posting a 15-5-3 record, 1.90 GAA, and .932 save percentage in 23 starts in 2020-21.

The question now is if he can replicate that success. He surrendered seven goals on 48 shots in his first game against the Lightning, so that’s not a great start, but then again it’s just one game, it was against the high powered Tampa Bay Lightning, and he had to face a staggering 48 shots, so it’s way too early to judge him.

Raymond could also be a major part of the Red Wings going forward. He was taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and so far his rookie campaign has been encouraging. He has a goal and three points in three games already. It helps that he’s been playing primarily with Tyler Bertuzzi and if that duo stays together then he could end up being a serious Calder Trophy contender.

Rasmussen has taken longer to develop. He was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and since then he’s bounced primarily between the AHL and NHL. He played in 40 games last season though and seems to have established himself as a top-six forward with the Red Wings in 2021-22. He has two assists in three contests while averaging 16:56 minutes.

While the Red Wings and Sabres have enjoyed strong starts to the campaign, at the other end of the spectrum, the Montreal Canadiens are 0-4-0. Not only have they been losing, but they’ve been outscored 15-3 already.

The Canadiens made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but they lost Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi over the summer and entered the season without Shea Weber and Carey Price. The Canadiens are still expected to be better than this, but the Atlantic Division is tough and even assuming this is just an early season slump, they’re not a lock to make the playoffs. One big X-Factor with them is Mike Hoffman. He missed the start of the season due to a lower-body injury and now that he’s healthy, the Canadiens need him to help spark their ailing offense.