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Fantasy mailbag: What to do with slow-starting players?

Burns, Laine, Marner, Aho should overcome early struggles

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / Senior Fantasy Editor

Every Friday during the season, will answer your fantasy mailbag questions. Whether you're in a year-long league or play DFS, we'll answer the most relevant questions based on Yahoo transaction trends, DraftKings value and any other developments (production, lineup, injuries) around the League. Send your questions to @NHLJensen on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.


@95jakeringwald: Does Brent Burns still end up producing at an elite level this season?

Burns was a consensus first-round fantasy pick (Yahoo ADP: 6.7) for a reason. Even with his slow start (no goals, seven assists, minus-8 through 12 games), he still leads all defensemen in shots on goal (54), has four power-play points and is ranked 106th in Yahoo based on standard-category performance. Even if he takes a step back from his past two seasons (27 goals in 2015-16; 29 last season) to score something like the 17 goals he scored in his first season back on defense with the San Jose Sharks (2014-15), he would still be among the defensemen leaders in the category. I would not sell low on Burns.


@Shane__Vail: Do you think Mitchell Marner will turn it around, or should I look to trade him?

Marner's value remains high in a keeper league, but his worth in a one-year league is sinking after he was moved down in the lineup and with all the Toronto Maple Leafs' line changes of late. His second season has been a struggle with six points (one goal, five assists), three on the power play, a minus-10 and 24 shots on goal in 14 games. Toronto coach Mike Babcock has clearly been trying to teach Marner some lessons by sticking him in a depth role, but I do believe the productive second line of Marner, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak will be reunited soon. Exercise patience for as long as you can with Marner.

Video: TOR@WPG: Marner shovels home rebound for PPG


@THEREALBIGLORDY: Had high hopes for Sebastian Aho. Should I continue clinging to those hopes?

I considered Aho a top 100 overall player in all formats entering the season. Like you and so many others, I had high hopes for him as a breakout candidate and for the Carolina Hurricanes to begin cashing in on their possession-based system and become a fringe Stanley Cup Playoff team. That said, Aho has taken on a workload of nearly two minutes per game more (18:42) than last season (16:47), and the fantasy results have been put on hold. I don't have full confidence that he'll fully bounce back and reach the 57 points we projected him for this season, but I do think he will start scoring goals in a matter of time (0 goals on 33 shots on goal in 11 games). The Hurricanes' 5-on-5 shooting percentage (7.0, T-23rd) should improve considering they lead the NHL in Shot Attempts (plus-144) this season. Certainly hold onto Aho in deeper leagues, but there may be a better option on the waiver wire in a shallow format. For DFS purposes, I wrote about Aho as a value pick Thursday and he returned value with 4.5 DraftKings points.


@a_chahine: Do you think the New Jersey Devils are for real? Thinking of dropping Carey Price for Cory Schneider in a wins and shutout-only fantasy pool.

This question seems crazy at the surface, but it's actually a roster move worth considering since your league doesn't count rate-based goalie stats. I ranked Price, who has three wins in 11 games, much lower (23rd) than his ADP (5.9) entering the season because I had serious concerns about the Montreal Canadiens roster. Schneider, who has six wins in eight games, was an elite fantasy goaltender over his first three seasons with the Devils, but then fell flat last season with a much less-talented supporting cast than he has now. The Devils are dealing with injuries to forwards Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson, and I worry that rookies Jesper Bratt, Will Butcher and Nico Hischier will regress over an 82-game season.

I do think Schneider is closing in on Price in your league type and also the Devils have a legitimate shot at contention, but I will continue to side with Price's individual track record since we're only one month into a long season. Montreal still has time to make some moves to improve its roster, and Price has at least a .916 save percentage and three shutouts in each of his five NHL seasons of at least 55 games. One thing to monitor is that Price has a minor lower-body injury and will not play against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. If you can stash Price in an IR+ spot and add Schneider, obviously do so.

Video: NJD@VAN: Schneider makes 37 saves in shutout win


@closetothegame: Have I lost my mind if I'm about to offer Patrik Laine for Clayton Keller?

Fantasy owners should always explore the upside of any potential roster move. That said, you should not offer Laine for Keller, whether we're talking a standard, points-only, one-year or keeper league. You have to think about how incredible of a sell-high move this would be for your potential trade partner. The Winnipeg Jets are averaging more goals per game (3.17) than they did last season (3.0) and allowing fewer per game (2.83 this season; 3.11 last season). I'm willing to wait to see if they can also improve their mediocre power play over time. Laine is playing away from Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler at even strength, but should eventually turn it around alongside Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little, two high-end point producers. Laine's shooting percentage (14.3) is not far off from last season (17.6). Keller, 19, has 15 points (nine goals, six assists) and an elite shot volume (53) in 14 games and will be in the Calder Trophy mix all season, but doesn't stack up to Laine in terms of short-term fantasy worth, especially if your league counts plus/minus. Individual ability aside, Winnipeg is a postseason contender and Arizona is at the bottom of the NHL standings. Keller is worth owning in all fantasy formats at this point, though.


@BillVictory: Can Cam Atkinson turn it around? Kept him as a 17th rounder

Atkinson is day to day with a hip injury. Stash him on your bench or in an IR+ spot if you can and wait to see if he rejoins Artemi Panarin's line upon returning. Panarin is currently with Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson (RW, 6 percent owned) on the Columbus Blue Jackets' top line. Atkinson is worth waiting for considering he's been a 20-goal scorer with at least 210 shots on goal in each of his four full NHL seasons. He also plays on the first power-play unit when healthy and is still worth owning considering you didn't have to give up much to keep him.


@anthonyabuhanna: Does Rickard Rakell have a repeat season like last year?

There have been so many moving pieces as a result of injuries to the Anaheim Ducks, from centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler to their defensemen, that they are a tough team to gauge right now. I expected more power-play production from Rakell in an expanded role than we've seen so far (one PPP in 12 games), but I still like his chances of producing once Getzlaf returns. Even with the struggles, Rakell has five goals through 12 games, a 34-goal pace over 82 games (scored 33 last season). I would hold onto him, and the fact that he's still among my top 50 fantasy forwards reflects my confidence in his ability.

Video: ANA@TBL: Rakell buries one-timer for second goal


@adrianberg: Worth holding on to Juuse Saros in a keeper league? Was keeping for next season, but his recent play has made me question my decision.

Saros (0-3-0, .817 save percentage) is still a decent long-term fantasy investment with Pekka Rinne being 35 years old, but the Nashville Predators have holes in their lineup and have been underwhelming so far. It's still early, and the eventual return of defenseman Ryan Ellis should help Nashville's overall outlook. Saros, 22, is among the youngest goalies to play in the NHL this season, so it really depends who else is available on the waiver wire. For example, I would probably rather stash a 22-year-old Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins) or 23-year-old Oscar Dansk (Vegas Golden Knights) over Saros right now in a keeper league based on what we've seen this season and last postseason.


@TomsTumshais: What about Shea Theodore? Will he get some major playing time and stay all season long in Vegas?

Theodore (23 percent owned in Yahoo) has played one game this season after being recalled by the Golden Knights, and was a healthy scratch against the Boston Bruins on Thursday. He appears to be behind productive defensemen Colin Miller, Brad Hunt and Nate Schmidt for the time being. Theodore has a high fantasy ceiling if he's playing on the first power-play unit with forwards James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, but we need to see more of him before making a rash decision. He played 16:06 with 3:23 on the power play in his season debut and is definitely worth owning in deeper leagues. 

Video: COL@VGK: Theodore buries long-range wrist shot


@djordan119: Do you think Connor Hellebuyck and Semyon Varlamov are going to be safe bets all year to get consistent wins? Who do you value more out of the two?

I like Hellebuyck much more right now in fantasy and reality. He has won the Jets' starting job on a prove-it, one-year contract and is 7-0-1 with outstanding peripherals. The Jets also don't have many back-to-back sets, and their offense is far superior to the Colorado Avalanche's. This isn't close. Varlamov is way too inconsistent for my liking in fantasy; he had 57 saves on 60 shots faced against Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday after allowing seven goals against the Golden Knights in his previous game.


@PodnarMike: Who should I drop: James Reimer or Anders Nilsson?

The Florida Panthers can score with the best of them when healthy; they are fifth in the League with 3.58 goals per game. The problem is Roberto Luongo is on injured reserve, and Reimer and the Panthers defense have not fared well at all. The Panthers are allowing the second-most goals per game (4.17) behind the Coyotes (4.36). The Vancouver Canucks are currently in playoff position, and their underrated goalie tandem of Nilsson and Jacob Markstrom and veteran-laden forward group could help them hang around all season long in the Pacific Division. I would drop Reimer in favor of the more efficient Nilsson (.943 save percentage, two road shutouts).

Video: TBL@FLA: Reimer denies Point with solid glove save


@tristan_vncvr: Will Tim Heed's deployment remain this way even when Paul Martin comes back?

Heed (8 percent owned) has been a big topic of fantasy discussion this week because of his production on the Sharks' first power-play unit with Burns and forwards Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture. Martin, 36, is dealing with an ankle injury and hasn't been a first power-play guy when healthy in recent years, so I wouldn't worry too much about that aspect. I think Heed, a point-per-game player in the American Hockey League last season, will be fantasy-relevant for the rest of the season. I would probably even side with him right now over an uncertain project like Theodore given Vegas' crowded defense. He continues to be a nightly value play in DraftKings.

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