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Callahan, hits and keepers among hot fantasy topics

by Matt Cubeta / NHL.com

Let's jump right into the five hottest topics in fantasy hockey right now.

1. Callahan coming through in Tampa Bay

For some strange reason, several fantasy hockey owners have been reaching out to me on Twitter asking about Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan. Whether it's adding him for someone else, or trading him, or whether he can keep his hot streak going, Callahan has been a topic of discussion of late.

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I'll say this: I'm a fan of Ryan Callahan. The only issue with him is that he's had difficulty avoiding injuries throughout his career. If he can stay on the ice for the Lightning, I expect an extremely productive fantasy season. He won't reach his current on-pace for stats of 38 goals, 71 points and a plus-28 rating, but he has the ability to score 30-plus with 60 points.

There are three main reasons I'm a believer in Callahan: 1) He skates on a line with Steven Stamkos; 2) He averages 3:30 of power-play ice time per game (six power-play points this season); and 3) He has a solid track record of all-around per-game production over his career.

According to dobbersports.com, 86.18 percent of his even-strength shifts have come alongside Stamkos. That's probably reason enough to love Callahan in fantasy leagues. He also has scored 50 power-play goals in 486 games, which averages out to 8.4 per season (he had double-digit power-play goals in back-to-back seasons from 2010-2012).

Right now Callahan is the 59th ranked fantasy player, contributing in all categories, yet he's owned in just 70 percent of Yahoo leagues. He's also the No. 3 fantasy forward over the past 14 days. As long as he can stay healthy, he's a must-own player.

2. Are Faulk and Franson for real?

In two of the past three seasons I've listed the Carolina Hurricanes' Justin Faulk as a sleeper going into the season. He made my list this season and I believe his current hot streak is not a fluke. His 12 points are tied for 12th-most among defensemen. Sure, his minus-5 rating won't help owners, but he makes up for that with four power-play points and 50 shots on goal (10th most among defensemen).

As for the Toronto Maple Leafs' Cody Franson, his successful start to the season has to do with the fact that he's playing alongside Dion Phaneuf and seeing a lot more offensive minutes. He's produced 14 points in 18 games, including five on the power play, and he's in the middle of an absurd nine-game point-scoring streak.

These are young and talented offensive defensemen and I think they're for real. And they're each available in plenty of leagues. Pick them up now before it's too late.

3. Avoiding duds in goal

Fantasy owners are constantly complaining about a goalie having a horrible performance and ruining their week in head-to-head leagues. I've been there and know what you mean. Paying attention to difficult matchups is important in avoiding that problem. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Lightning currently average over 3.50 goals per game. It might be a good idea to bench any non-elite goaltender when they face those teams. Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and Calgary Flames are all averaging over three goals per game, so again, choose your matchups wisely.

Cory Schneider
Cory Schneider
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 8-8-2
GAA: 2.72 | SVP: .910
It should also be noted there are four goalies in the NHL that have had more than four games with an .850 save percentage or worse: the New Jersey Devils' Cory Schneider, who's done it five times, and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes and Ben Scrivens of the Edmonton Oilers, who have each posted a save percentage of .850 or worse four times this season. These are the type of starts you must try to avoid in head-to-head leagues. They will absolutely destroy you in the goalie categories in any given week.

4. Hits league value

More and more fantasy leagues are starting to include hits as a category. And fans are constantly wondering who helps in all fantasy categories, including hits. Here are some under-the-radar options:

Leo Komarov, C/LW, Toronto Maple Leafs -- He has 12 points and an NHL-best 88 hits this season.

Radko Gudas, D, Tampa Bay Lightning -- He has a goal and two assists on the blue line, plus 30 penalty minutes and 63 hits in 17 games. His 273 hits last season were tied for third most in the NHL.

Troy Brouwer, RW, Washington Capitals -- He has five goals and five assists this season to go along with 57 hits in 19 games. Brouwer also receives just under three minutes of power play ice time per game.

5. Forsberg or Lehtera?

Filip Forsberg
Filip Forsberg
Center - NSH
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 22
SOG: 52 | +/-: 20
Fantasy owners will always have questions about keepers. And rookies Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators and Jori Lehtera of the St. Louis Blues are two of the most popular names thrown around when discussing potential keepers. The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko seems more like a lock as a keeper these days, but Forsberg and Lehtera have their question marks.

Relatively speaking, they have each kind of come out of nowhere in the fantasy landscape, and they each make for an excellent player to hang onto in dynasty leagues. Over the past two weeks, Forsberg ranks ninth among all players and Lehtera ranks 16th.

If I had to choose only one to keep in a dynasty league, I'd go with Forsberg. In my eyes, he has a little more potential and the fact he was a highly touted prospect makes me believe he is more likely to sustain his success.

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