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Fantasy hockey forecaster: Oct. 16-22

From ESPN - October 13, 2017

While we, the collective fantasy hockey universe, is hardly asleep at the wheel, it's fair to suggest we are maybe a little groggy to start the season when it comes to some players.

But you know what? That might even be an unfair suggestion, too. The players I am specifically looking at here are guys who have started with a bang, but with the exception of a couple, did not even make most sleeper lists prior to the season.

As I will discuss for each player, even with a small sample size, there are plenty of reasons to consider getting on board with these players, even in shallower leagues.

Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings (rostered in 57.4 percent of ESPN leagues)

Larkin was on plenty of preseason sleeper lists, as the opportunities were expected to be ample for him to shake off a sophomore slump that saw his point total drop and his plus/minus turn into an anchor last year. So far, so good. He started with 15 minutes of ice time and a goal in the season opener, but has played at least 18 minutes in the following three games while tacking on four assists. The changing of the guard for the Red Wings offense could very well come this season, with Larkin eclipsing Henrik Zetterberg as the catalyst.

Richard Panik, RW, Chicago Blackhawks (53.3 percent)

With the Blackhawks depth chart in flux during the offseason, a 22-goal, 44-point campaign last year was not enough to get Panik among the top 200 fantasy hockey selections by average draft position this season. Back in the same position that earned him relevance last season, Panik is off to a great start with three goals and three helpers in five games. So long as he is skating with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad for his 15 minutes per game, those minutes are going to be exceptionally productive.

Jesper Bratt, LW/RW, New Jersey Devils (37.2 percent)

We knew the Devils top six coming into the season was going to get its makeup Wild West style: Whoever laid claim to a spot would earn it. Jesper Bratt, the 19-year-old rookie who was expected to be skating for the London Knights right now, earned a spot and is doing everything in his power to keep it. Following a goal and assist in his debut on the third line, Bratt has been sharing the ice with the likes of Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha for the past two games, adding two more goals and two more assists to his credit. Why not get on board at this point? The Devils are going to play an up-tempo game and rely on speed, which Bratt brings to the table in spades.

Clayton Keller, C/RW, Arizona Coyotes (35.5 percent)

Keller is going to be the real deal this season. Coach Rick Tocchet is not babying this rookie in any way shape or form, with Keller averaging 20:30 in ice time through four games. He already has three goals and a helper, to go with 15 shots on goal. Keller is locked in on a line with Max Domi and Derek Stepan and is an early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors given the fact that he will have this opportunity right through until April.

Sonny Milano, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets (17.7 percent)

Even coach John Tortorella can no longer deny Milano, who has earned credit for exactly half of the Blue Jackets eight goals through three games this season. Milano started on the third line on Tuesday, but was playing on the second line with Nick Foligno and Oliver Bjorkstrand by the third period. That's when he scored a pair of goals to break a scoreless tie with the Hurricanes and win the game in overtime. It's not always going to be this productive for Milano, but clearly the roles on scoring lines are still up for debate. We will see how he fares after Boone Jenner finally turns the corner on his health.

Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers (15.6 percent)

Limited by injuries and reduced depth chart positioning for the past couple of seasons, Couturier could be in for a breakout campaign if he continues to get prime ice time with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Not expected to be a top-line player for the Flyers coming into the season, Couturier has used the role to fuel a goal and two helpers through four games. He's also averaging more than 19 minutes of ice time per contest. Couturier has never topped 15 goals, 40 points or 200 shots in a season despite having six of them under his 24-year-old belt at this point, but he's also never been given an opportunity to be a regular top-line forward.

Dustin Brown, LW/RW, Los Angeles Kings (13.3 percent)

Anze Kopitar seems to be making good on his need for a major bounce-back season, and the early returns suggest Brown is coming along for the ride. Of his 58 minutes of ice time so far this season, Brown has spent only 2:33 without Kopitar at his side. The results? Three goals and two helpers in three games, to go with 13 shots on goal. It's been a few years since Brown's fantasy heyday, but he's still only 32 years old, and Kopitar has the ability to lift those playing with him.

Nail Yakupov, LW/RW, Colorado Avalanche (11.5 percent)

Thorough four games, Yakupov has a point for every 9:56 of ice time he's received so far this season. That's an exceptional start to the campaign and has him among the top 15 in the NHL for that statistic so far. Yakupov has been an absolute bust in the past, in large part due to his defensive ineptitude, but perhaps the Avalanche are not expecting much from him. If he's only going to play 12 minutes per game -- with a quarter of it on the power play -- then his lack of a 200-foot game is not going to be much of a factor. It's doubtful he can keep up a 33 percent shooting percentage, but Yakupov is locked in with Matt Duchene on a line and could very well keep up a relevant pace for points.

Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 16-22

With only three four-game slates on tap for NHL teams, it's a lighter week for hockey. With the exception of the Anaheim Ducks and their one game, there are not really any squads to avoid.

Team notes

Goalie notes

Player notes

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