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Fantasy All-Access: Stars' Nichushkin fits on top line

by David Satriano

Every Monday, identifies potential waiver-wire pickups and points out lineup moves and schedule impacts for fantasy hockey.

Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn leads the NHL in goals (18), and he and linemate Tyler Seguin are tied for second in points (35). So it's no surprise they are each owned in 100 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Valeri Nichushkin was promoted to their line Thursday and the right wing is owned in 15 percent of leagues.

Nichushkin had a solid rookie season in 2013-14 with 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games. Big things were expected from him last season but he played in eight games because of hip surgery.

Through 25 games this season, he has three goals and nine points, but had a goal and an assist against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday, his first on the top line.

"I thought he did a great job," Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News on Friday. "He just keeps getting better and better. There's no secret. If you keep playing well, you're going to get to play."

Although he didn't have a point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, Nichushkin had a three game point-streak prior to that, and as long as he has two MVP candidates in Benn in Seguin on his line, he should continue to pile up the points.


Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets (23 percent owned)

Hellebuyck has started three of the past five games for the Jets and the early results are excellent. He's 3-0-0, allowing one goal in each game while making 83 saves on 86 shots. The two games he hasn't played, each started by Michael Hutchinson, were losses, including a 3-1 defeat against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. In short, expect the rookie Hellebuyck to get most of the starts until Ondrej Pavelec (out at least the rest of December) returns from injury.

Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins (50 percent owned)

Kunitz has nine points in 26 games this season, but six have come in his past three games. He has a goal and five assists during a three-game point streak. He played a season-high 19:11 and had an assists in a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. This is a player who's scored 228 goals in his career and more than 20 goals six times. True, his production slipped last season with 17 goals and 40 points in 73 games, but why not take a chance on Kunitz, 36, who still has something left in the tank.

Sam Reinhart, C, Buffalo Sabres (9 percent owned)

He's playing on the Sabres' top line with Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly and has three goals in four games, one a game-winner. Reinhart has seven goals and 10 points, and has taken 51 shots on goal. He has been getting more chances with the man advantage (2:15 power-play ice time per game) and has played close to 20 minutes per game in three of the past four games.

Mike Hoffman, RW, Ottawa Senators (76 percent owned)

Hoffman was owned in the 50-percent range prior to the past few days when he's gone on a tear. He has a goal in four straight games (six goals in that span) and 10 goals in his past nine games, including three multi-goal games. Hoffman has taken seven shots in three of his past four games. He has 14 goals, 26 points and is a plus-7 in 23 games. If he is still somehow not owned in your league, he should be.

Olli Maatta, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (39 percent owned)

People tend to forget how good Maatta was in his rookie season (nine goals, 29 points in 78 games). Last year, he dealt with numerous injuries and played in 20 games (one goal, nine points). Since returning last week after missing six games, Maatta has picked up a goal in each of his two games, has four goals and six points and is a plus-8 in 20 games this season. If he can stay healthy, he could be a valuable asset.


St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock opted to change his lines prior to a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Friday, saying he wanted to present other teams with different looks. David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Alexander Steen skated together, as did Jori Lehtera, Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko. But before the game ended, Steen, Stastny and Tarasenko were reunited, as were Backes, Lehtera and Brouwer. The Blues have scored three goals in three games so expect more line changes to come.

With injuries to Drew Miller and Teemu Pulkkinen last week that will keep each of them out for an extended period of time, the Detroit Red Wings made numerous changes up front. Miller had been skating with Luke Glendening and Brad Richards, and Pulkkinen was with Darren Helm and Pavel Datsyuk. Helm skated mostly with Datsyuk and Brad Richards in a 5-4 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday; Henrik Zetterberg, Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader were on a line together, as were Glendening, Joakim Andersson and Tomas Jurco, and Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan.


If you have any Toronto Maple Leafs or Anaheim Ducks on your team, don't expect much from them this week. That's because they each play one game this week. Yes, you read that correctly: one game. Toronto hosts the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and doesn't play again until Dec. 15 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Anaheim hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday before not playing again until Dec. 17 at the Buffalo Sabres.

Four teams play two games this week: the Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning (each at home) and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets.

Four teams play four games this week: the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues.

The remaining 20 teams have three games each. The Calgary Flames will play each of their games at home; the Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators will be on the road.


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