Fantasy hockey forecaster: Dec. 24-30

How good has the start of Vancouver Canucks Elias Pettersson‘s rookie season been? Actually, it’s probably been way better than you might even think. With 36 points in his first 32 games, I wondered how far back I would have to go to find a rookie who had a better points-per-game number through Dec. 20 of their initial NHL season.

Think about it for a second and see if you can come up with a solid guess or two. Remember, all we’re looking at here is production from a rookie through Dec. 20 of any given season. Depending on the season, we’re looking at, approximately, 32-35 games, depending on a given team’s schedule.

Over the past decade, there have been a few newcomers who managed exactly 1.00 PPG through Dec. 20. That includes last season’s rookie sensation from Vancouver, Brock Boeser. Also achieving this milestone were Filip Forsberg in 2014-15 and Sidney Crosby in 2005-06. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1.03) in 2011-12 and Alex Ovechkin (1.10) in 2005-06 both did better than that — though neither player bettered Pettersson’s current 1.13 PPG pace.

It’s actually the “other” Penguins superstar center who was the last player to be this good out of the gate. Evgeni Malkin had 33 points in the first 29 games (1.14) of his rookie campaign in 2006-07.

Any way you slice it, though, Pettersson has been pretty darn good so far. What’s that you say? He missed six games with a concussion in October and could potentially have done even better? Perhaps so, though, as we’ve discovered, it’s not that easy for a rookie to keep this scoring pace going for so long.

The bottom line is that the common thread among all of these guys (plus a few more who have come close to this pace over the past 10 years like Patrik Laine and Patrick Kane) is that they’re all really good fantasy assets. With perhaps the exception of Nugent-Hopkins, all have been stars in the league ever since their arrival. I think we should be holding Pettersson in the same high regard.


Fantasy Forecaster: Dec. 24-30

Teams playing four games: Four games? Are you kidding me? Four games when the league is taking three full days off? You’ll be lucky to get two games out of each of your roster spots on this short week.

Teams playing two games: Every team, with just the two exceptions listed below, will play only twice this week as the NHL takes their usual holiday break.

Teams playing three games: The Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes will be the only teams in action on Sunday Dec. 30, making them the lone sides to have a three-game slate for the week.

For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: “O” (offense) and “D” (defense) matchup ratings are based on a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team’s season-to-date statistics, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, and its opponents’ numbers in those categories. The “Ratings” column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week’s offensive (“O”) and defensive (“D”) matchups.

In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, but this space will also include players below 10 percent whenever possible to try to cater to deeper formats.


Team notes

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Vegas Golden Knights: The Knights play the Avalanche at home and then visit the Kings and Coyotes on back-to-back days. That extra game against Arizona could go a long way to helping your fantasy team’s efforts in this week’s truncated head-to-head battle. Yes, Malcolm Subban is in play here as you try to get your goalie starts in, even though he’s been pretty porous this season. He’ll get either the Kings or the Coyotes, so he is in a softer landing place. …The advantage on offense is going to be with Alex Tuch (in shallow leagues) and Brandon Pirri (in deeper leagues where Tuch is already rostered). Tuch is being utilized on Vegas’ second line with Paul Stastny. During Thursday’s contest, he was even elevated in place of Reilly Smith on the team’s top line with William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault. Tuch has a surprising 25 points in 29 games this season. … Meanwhile, Pirri is a decent option to consider if Max Pacioretty is unable to return from an undisclosed injury. He filled the void on the second line on Thursday in his first NHL game this season, scoring a goal in the process.

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Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes visit the Kings and Ducks and then welcome the Golden Knights to Gila River Arena on Sunday. I wish we had more clarity with Arizona’s goaltending situation so that fantasy managers could try to take advantage of this extra third game, but we simply don’t. Adin Hill has looked mortal again after a hot start and Darcy Kuemper has done fine. Still, the Coyotes aren’t winning games and Cal Pickard has been a healthy scratch ever since the team claimed him. Perhaps Pickard gets a chance next week following the break, but that’s just a wild guess on my part. If you are allowed same-day pickups and know in advance who is starting next Thursday, that matchup with the Kings is decent. … Christian Fischer and Richard Panik are both deeper-league options with roles on Arizona’s top-six. In shallower leagues, Nick Schmaltz and Derek Stepan might be options, but watch out for your plus/minus.

Player notes

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Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins: Eyeing a return this weekend, Bergeron will be good to lock into lineups for next week. Part of me wants to raise the possibility of the Bruins keeping David Krejci on their top line while bringing Bergeron back on the second unit. That could be considered fear mongering on my part, but the point is that the Bruins have struggled to get their second line going. Krejci has been solid while filling in for Bergeron (14 points in 16 games), so I don’t know that I would immediately drop Krejci. At least give things a week to see what the Bruins decide.

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Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers: Hart has been as good as the hype, looking sensational in his first two games for the Flyers — the second of which came against the powerhouse Nashville Predators and resulted in their first regulation loss in the Eastern Conference this season. Philadelphia’s penalty kill is looking incredible of late, which should go a long way to helping Hart out. If he wasn’t already on your “must add” list for this week, make it happen. I personally play in a very deep 20-team league and I spent 30 percent of my overall FAAB budget to get him — and that was before he manhandled the Predators.

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Connor Brown, W, Toronto Maple Leafs: Zach Hyman is on the shelf for up to three weeks, so Brown is getting a warm welcome into the Toronto top-six alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner for an extended run. He was a natural choice for promotion after three assists against the Devils on Tuesday and responded to his new superstar linemates with an assist on Thursday. He’s good to go for any league size until Hyman returns.

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Jesse Puljujarvi, W, Edmonton Oilers: Coach Ken Hitchcock is swapping his top-six around, moving Puljujarvi and Nugent-Hopkins onto a line with Connor McDavid. The disappointing (so far) winger did score his third goal of the season on Tuesday. Maybe having a new voice on the bench could be just what the doctor ordered for a prospect who was, once upon a time, being debated as the possible No. 2-overall selection ahead of Laine.

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Sam Bennett, C, Calgary Flames: Here’s someone worth monitoring over the coming days. On Thursday, Bennett’s play pushed him up to Calgary’s top line for the third period, replacing Elias Lindholm alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. If that move sticks, Bennett would be a nice short-term asset in fantasy.

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Jordan Martinook, W, Carolina Hurricanes: Even with Micheal Ferland and Jordan Staal both back in the Carolina lineup, Martinook stuck with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen on Thursday. Martinook’s fantasy value is not something to be overly excited by, but perhaps we need to pump the brakes on getting Ferland and/or Staal back into our fantasy lineups just yet.

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Josh Ho-Sang, W, New York Islanders: There’s nothing to see here yet, but it’s a lot easier to push for a role with a team’s top-six when you are actually in the NHL, as opposed to crushing it in the AHL. Ho-Sang was having a quality campaign down on the farm, tied for fourth in the league in assists. He’s now playing bottom-six minutes for the Islanders and will have his sights set squarely on taking over for Anthony Beauvillier, who is still not doing enough in his current role. Of course, Ho-Sang has to take care not do dumb things like he did on Monday, taking a penalty and then getting called for a second infraction before the referee even had a chance to blow his whistle for the first violation.

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