Is Erik Johnson a Late Bloomer

Ryan Dadoun
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Johnson Not Gone!

Join Brian Rosenbaum in a fantasy hockey chat Thursday at 8:00 pm ET!

It’s hard to believe about a quarter of the 2013-14 campaign is in the books.  We’ve had our fair share of early surprises, of course, but the real test is how things will shake out down the stretch.  Is Colorado’s three-game losing streak a sign they are falling down to Earth or is it just a rough stretch in what will be an otherwise remarkable season?  Have the New Jersey Devils turned a corner?  Narrowing our focus, what about the players who are still struggling?  For example, is it time to panic about Sergei Bobrovsky?

I think Bobrovsky owners should start operating under the assumption that his final numbers are likely to be in the 2.5 GAA and .910 save percentage range, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.  If you’re wondering whether it’s time to cut a struggling player, it’s a good idea is to look at his history and potential.  For example, while I don’t think Bobrovsky will win the Vezina Trophy, I certainly wouldn’t recommend dumping him.  Others, like Sergei Gonchar, for example, seem safe to cut at this point if you haven’t already.

As we do every week, we’ve assembled a list of players you might want to consider grabbing if you need to shake things up.

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Mats Zuccarello (NYR) – LW – Owned in 10% of Yahoo! leagues

Zuccarello has a decent amount of offensive potential, but he’s struggled to firmly establish himself at the NHL level.  His problems were evident early this season and culminated in Rangers coach Alain Vigneault making him a healthy scratch on October 24th.  After that, Zuccarello returned with a vengeance, scoring two goals and 10 points in 11 games.  He’s only been held off the scoresheet three times since he was scratched and in each of those contests, the Rangers scored no more than one goal as a team.  He’s endured false starts before, but he’s worth another chance.

Kevin Poulin (NYI) – G – Owned in 6% of Yahoo! leagues

When it comes to young backup goaltenders, good play isn’t always enough.  They also need the right set of circumstances in place to get the number of starts they need to be relevant in fantasy circles.  That’s the case for Poulin, who started in three straight contests because Evgeni Nabokov had gotten off to a very rough start with a 3.24 GAA and .894 save percentage in his first 13 games.  Nabokov got another chance on Saturday, but he left the game with a groin injury.  At the time of writing, the severity of Nabokov’s injury isn’t known, but either way there’s an opportunity for Poulin to grab the starting job or at least wrestle a fair amount of playing time away from Nabokov.  For his part, Poulin has gotten off to a solid start with a 2.45 GAA and .914 save percentage in seven games, although he’s only earned two wins in 2013-14.

Tyler Toffoli (LAK) – RW/C – Owned in 16% of Yahoo! leagues

It came as a bit of a surprise when Toffoli failed to make the Kings’ opening game roster, but he didn’t let that keep him down.  Toffoli scored seven goals and 12 points in 10 AHL games before the Kings finally called him up.  He then proceeded to start his stint with the Kings by posting a five-game point streak.  That ended on Friday, but Toffoli is still worth gambling on in standard leagues.  If he can consistently get top-six minutes, it isn’t out of the question that he could record 30-40 points in the Kings’ final 62 games.

Valeri Nichushkin (DAL) – RW – Owned in 6% of Yahoo! leagues

Nichushkin is definitely a gamble, but an intriguing one.  He was taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and at the age of 18 has made the jump from the KHL straight to the NHL.  Rookies are notoriously hard to gauge, especially when they’re teenagers.  The fact that Nichushkin is being asked to simultaneously adapt to North American hockey only makes him that much more of an X-factor.  However, he’s been spending some time on a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin and the trio enjoyed some success on Thursday.  So feel free to roll the dice on him if you got a spot available or at least keep an eye on this situation if you don’t.

Scott Hartnell (PHI) – LW – Owned in 37% of Yahoo! leagues

As is the case with most Flyers forwards, Hartnell struggled out of the gate and his problems in particular were accentuated by a rough 2013 campaign.  Still, his potential as a well-rounded forward in the vein of David Backes or Milan Lucic makes him appealing, especially seeing as the worst might be over for Hartnell.  The Flyers offense is finally starting to heat up and Hartnell has been a part of that with three goals and five points in his last six games.  As bad as Philadelphia’s start to the campaign was, they should be able to turn things around.  Look for Hartnell to continue to be a part of that.

 Brayden Schenn (PHI) – C/LW – Owned in 37% of Yahoo! leagues

Like Hartnell, Schenn is a player that’s heated up with the rest of the Flyers’ offense.  He has three goals and five points in his last four contests after recording just seven points in his first 14 games.  He’s someone who entered the league amid high expectations and at the age of 22, he looks like a prime breakout candidate, which in his case could mean more than 60 points despite his slow start.  He’s also gotten more physical this season, which significantly enhances his appeal in leagues that value hits.  Just keep in mind that he’s terrible on the draw with a 38.8% success rate.

Erik Johnson (COL) – D – Owned in 27% of Yahoo! leagues

Since being selected with the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Johnson has endured more than his fair share of ups and downs, but going into the 2013-14 campaign, it looked as though his best days might already be behind him.  Fortunately, he’s one of the many players who have seemed to find his game under new head coach Patrick Roy.  After recording just four points in 2013, Johnson has two goals, five assists, a plus-11 rating, and 22 penalty minutes in 19 games this season.  He’s not one of the league’s top defensemen from a fantasy perspective by any stretch of the imagination, but Johnson might be able to reach the 30-point mark for the first time since 2009-10.

Tom Wilson (WAS) – RW – Owned in 1% of Yahoo! leagues

The rookies that tend to catch our eyes are the ones who have the potential to be scoring leaders and the reasons for that are obvious.  Wilson isn’t that kind of player.  While he does have some offensive potential, we certainly don’t expect him to display it in 2013-14, especially given that he’s averaging just 7:10 minutes per game.  Still, he does have value in special situations because of his physical nature.  Wilson has already accumulated 46 penalty minutes in 20 games this season along with 43 hits.  He’s a good bet to maintain his pace of around two PIM per contest, which might be good enough to place him in the top 10 in that category by the end of the season.

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