The NHL has season has reached the first-quarter mark and that is a perfect time to make some bold fantasy predictions for what will we see for the rest of the fantasy season:
Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall will be a top-20 fantasy player. The first pick of the 2010 NHL Draft missed seven games due to a knee injury but is back and producing even with the struggling offense around him. The Oilers have 14 of their next 19 games at home so you can expect Hall and the Oilers to break out of their offensive slump and Hall to move up the rankings.
The San Jose Sharks' Antti Niemi will be the first goalie to start 75-plus games in a season since Martin Brodeur in 2009-10. The Finnish netminder has started 18 of the Sharks' first 21 games, and with only eight back-to-backs on the schedule for the rest of the season, look for Niemi to get into the net and carry Fantasy teams for the entire season.
WAIVER WIRE WATCH
Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings (owned in 63 percent of Yahoo Leagues) -- Franzen is back and producing, with five points in three games since his return from an injury. This week is set up for the Red Wings to be successful with four games scheduled -- home games against the Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators, followed by a trip to the Buffalo Sabres. Nashville, Ottawa and Buffalo all rank in the bottom-eight in the League in goals-against per game. Franzen should be owned in 100 percent of leagues now that he is healthy as he is showing great chemistry with another player straight off injured reserve, Darren Helm, and a speedy forward in Tomas Tatar.
Alex Goligoski, Dallas Stars (owned in 37 percent of Yahoo Leagues) -- The Stars defenseman, who was drafted in 100 percent of Yahoo leagues, has saw his ownership drop drastically as he did not get his first point until Oct. 28, his 10th game. This is the perfect time to buy low on this talented offensive defenseman. His early struggles were due to not meshing with his partner Sergei Gonchar, another offensive-first defenseman. The 28-year-old now is paired with Trevor Dailey and has four points in his past five games. The Stars have a light schedule this week, with a home game against the New York Rangers and another at the St. Louis Blues, but the player who leads the Stars defensemen in average time on ice at 21:21 will continue his upward swing.
Robin Lehner, Ottawa Senators (owned in 28 percent of Yahoo Leagues) -- The 22-year-old goalie of the future for the Senators is pushing to become the goalie of the present. The Swedish netminder has won his past three starts while giving up a total of four goals. Ottawa has two sets of back-to-back games this week: Tuesday and Wednesday at the Philadelphia Flyers and home for the Minnesota Wild, and Saturday and Sunday at the Red Wings and at the Hurricanes. That many games this week almost guarantees Lehner two starts this week. With Craig Anderson's injury history and average play this season, expect Lehner to surpass the career-high 12 games he played last season.
AHL success -- We already have seen the Los Angeles Kings' Tyler Toffoli come from the American Hockey League into fantasy relevance and there could be more players like that on the way. The Red Wings are struggling to find a consistent scoring threat from their top-six forward group while on their AHL team in Grand Rapids Gustav Nyquist, who had five points in the Red Wings' 2013 Stanley Cup Playoff run, has 21 points in 15 AHL games. Tampa Bay already has lost Steven Stamkos but in Syracuse Nikita Kucherov is scoring at a rapid pace in his first professional season with 13 goals and 24 points in 15 games. Ryan Strome, another AHL rookie, has 16 points in 14 games with Bridgeport. Keep an eye on these players if they get the call as they will be players to own for your team. And if you're looking for a goalie, there's Antti Raanta of the Chicago Blackhawks, who was recalled after Nikolai Khabibulin was injured. He had a 7-5-0 record with a .914 save percentage for Rockford.
Instant line chemistry -- Line chemistry is seen in some of the quarter MVP candidates as Alexander Steen with linemates David Backes and T.J. Oshie have combined to score 35 percent of the Blues' total points. Who your fantasy player skates with is important and can help a fringe player become a fantasy stud overnight if the chemistry is right. Here are some lines that are riding high right now: Boston Bruins' David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla; Montreal Canadiens' Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher; Phoenix Coyotes' Martin Hanzal, Lauri Korpikoski and Radim Vrbata; and the Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin.
Torey Krug, Boston Bruins -- For the second straight we get to talk about a rookie defenseman making a big impact on his team. Krug is on fire right now with five points his last six games while playing 17:52 per game. The undrafted Michigan State product has moved up the rookie scoring ranks but still is owned in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues. Where the undersized (5-foot-9) defender also is making an impact is on special teams; he has a team-best six power-play points. Krug is a must-own in all fantasy formats as we see the continuing rise of a talented offensive defenseman.
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