Hutch's Hockey: May The Fors Be with You

Hutch's Hockey: May The Fors Be with You

Going into this season, I questioned a lot of the moves the Rangers made in the offseason. To recap shortly: a physical pummeling at the hands of the Capitals in May led to a clearing out of the front office and previous head coach Dan Quinn. Former Ranger Chris Drury took over the general manager role and Gerard Gallant was inserted as the new coach. 

What followed was a step back into old-school hockey. They traded for and signed Barclay Goodrow to a six-year deal. Pavel Buchnevich, fresh off a 20-goal, 48-point season, was flipped to the Blues for Sammy Blais. Ryan Reaves was brought in from Vegas. Presumably, the goal the Rangers had here was to get tougher, both physically and defensively, but on paper, it didn't make much sense in my mind. They missed the playoffs last year, but their rebuild had taken a material step forward. 

You can't win every trade you get into, and with Blais (knee) done for the year and Buchnevich continuing to excel with the Blues, it's fair to say the Rangers lost that trade. Reaves has given them a bit of a backbone, though it's tough to say that leads to any significant increase in quality of play. Most notably though, Goodrow has looked solid while playing all throughout the lineup. He was a key piece of the Lightning's "identity line" during their back-to-back Stanley Cup runs, and he's brought that championship pedigree. 

That's recently translated to six points in six games since the holiday break for the 28-year-old Goodrow. The Toronto native's surge in scoring and the continued excellence of Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad up front, as well as Adam Fox and Co. on defense, have helped the Rangers weather COVID-19-related absences for Igor Shesterkin and Artemi Panarin. Goodrow won't be able to help fantasy managers this week after entering the virus protocols Monday, but keep him in mind if he can hit the ground running once he returns. 

Among other players that have been on the rise this past week is Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling. The 25-year-old has had some moments of excellence this season, but he's riding his second three-game point streak and he's collected five assists in six games since play resumed. He's already at a career-high 18 points (all assists) in just 30 contests this year. The good news is he won't hurt managers much in the physical categories, as he's logged 23 hits and 36 blocked shots. Playing for the Panthers will also be a boost on his plus-minus, which is at plus-15 so far. Offense from the blue line can be fleeting, but this is a player that's found a new level. 

It's time for another Lawson Crouse discussion. He stumbled into the holiday break with one goal and a minus-5 rating in 10 games, then shot out of it with a four-point effort as soon as play resumed. He's collected three goals and three helpers in his last four outings while adding 16 hits. I understand any trepidation for rostering Coyotes, but Crouse is on a career-best pace with 17 points in 32 games overall. His shot volume is over two per game, and he's still on track for roughly 200 hits. Worst-case scenario, he goes cold and pads only your hit count for a week or two. 

The Predators are on a four-game winning streak, and they're now atop the Central Division, though the Avalanche have a lead in points percentage. Scheduling issues aside, the improved all-around play of Mattias Ekholm shouldn't be ignored. He's picked up a goal and four helpers since January began after posting all of six points in his first 31 games this season. It's well-known that he's not going to play at a point-per-game pace – the recent surge is making up for his unusually sluggish start. I think, when it evens out, his play will be closer to his recent level, and that's enough to get my interest going forward. 

I've probably slept on Corey Perry long enough this season. With four goals and four assists in his last eight games, he can't be ignored. I'm concerned with his third-line role and considering he's 36 years old, it's fair to question if he can hold up throughout the NHL's first full campaign since 2018-19. To be fair, he's logged a lot of playoff miles with the Stars and Canadiens, and he's not playing big minutes (14:11 of ice time per game). The Lightning are still one of the league's elite teams, and that's enough to put aside my doubts – it's not like Perry's going to lose his competitive drive. 

Brady Skjei's probably having a better week than you or me. In his last three games, he's picked up six points, including four goals. That small stretch contains two of his three multi-point efforts this season, and the other was Dec. 18. He's another defenseman more likely to contribute with his body than with offense, but 13 points, 71 shots on net, 37 hits, 32 blocked shots and a plus-12 rating is not a bad overall line through 33 contests. His offense will recede, but that's less of a problem in deeper formats. 

We all collectively need to appreciate Alex Kerfoot more. Playing for the Maple Leafs, he's regularly flown under the radar while the spotlight belongs to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The latter's absence to a shoulder injury in December and now COVID-19 protocols has created a chance for Kerfoot to shine in a more prominent role. Grab the sunglasses – Kerfoot's got two goals and six assists in his last three outings. I'm hesitant to recommend too many players in Canadian cities while the NHL continues to postpone games north of the border due to attendance restrictions, but I can't pass Kerfoot up right now. 

In net, it's been especially tough to keep pace with postponements. You've probably noticed this by now, but when a forward has a game postponed or ends up on the virus list, there's a fair amount of solid replacements available. My injured list spots have turned into a rotation that has spared me from making too many real decisions yet. Goalies, however, just aren't easily replaceable. Having a good, healthy, clear No. 1 netminder is not easy – those that I'd classify in that category currently are Juuse Saros, Jack Campbell, Sergei Bobrovsky, Tristan Jarry and Thatcher Demko, and that's with Demko not playing much lately. 

When I'm looking for goalie games, I'm looking to complete tandems. The Stars' pairing of Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger remains one of my favorites. Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen could be trending toward a more even split going forward as well. Alexandar Georgiev is a quality backup, but he won't start much once Igor Shesterkin returns from protocols. I wish the outlook in the crease was better, but the best general advice right now is hold on to what you've got. A goalie that's playing, even at a subpar level, is better than one watching most games from the bench. If you need a game, Karel Vejmelka, Chris Driedger or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen aren't awful options, though you can't expect a win. It's easy to feel like you're the only person who has to manage through these absences, but all of your fantasy rivals are dealing with the same thing. 

The lesson this week is that things are not always as they appear. Things change quickly, and we don't have to understand it to adjust to it. In the case of the Rangers, their moves didn't make sense, but it's working. Go with the flow this week and let's see where it leads us. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Hutchinson
Shawn has covered sports independently since 2010, and joined RotoWire in 2019. He serves as a beat writer for the Calgary Flames and contributes in hockey and baseball. Shawn also enjoys soccer, rooting on his hometown teams: Sounders FC and Reign FC.
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