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Fantasy mailbag: Hidden gems on defense

Heinola, Cholowski worth monitoring in deep leagues; Samsonov vs. Demko; rookie forwards to add

by Pete Jensen @NHLJensen / Senior Fantasy Editor will be answering your fantasy hockey questions for season-long leagues, DFS and other NHL props all season long. For more fantasy coverage, visit and subscribe for free to the NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast.


MORE FANTASY COVERAGENHL DFS picks | Top 100 'F' | 50 'D' | 25 'G'


How do you feel about Ville Heinola for the Winnipeg Jets? Think he can overtake Josh Morrissey? -- @DialUpDamon

I'm big on Morrissey to score at least 50 points this season, especially if Dustin Byfuglien (personal leave) doesn't play for an extended period -- or at all -- this season. For as long as Byfuglien is out, Morrissey (power-play assist in season opener Thursday) should run the PP1 with high-end exposure to elite forwards Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. 

Heinola, the No. 20 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, had an assist in his NHL debut playing 18:24 as an 18-year-old and is certainly worth monitoring in fantasy considering Winnipeg's defense is severely depleted compared to last season without Byfuglien and offseason departures Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Even if the Jets take another step back this season, you're going to want a piece of that offense.

Video: Best rookies for fantasy hockey in 2019-20


Filip Hronek or Dennis Cholowski since Cholowski grabbed PP1 [in the preseason]? -- @benzboiz5

The Detroit Red Wings don't play their season opener until Saturday against the Nashville Predators, so I would take a wait-and-see approach to this situation. Thankfully, in the short term, not many fantasy owners are crowding to pick up Red Wings players; they are still an overlooked team that can yield fantasy upside with exposure to Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Co.

I'd be patient with Hronek, one of my must-have fantasy players in late rounds and a standout late last regular season and at the 2019 IIHF World Championship. Although Cholowski has upside and started last season strong (eight points in first 11 games), don't lose faith in Hronek -- or forget about productive veteran Mike Green -- after just a couple of preseason games. 


Thatcher Demko or Ilya Samsonov? Just scooped up Samsonov alongside Demko. Will one of them emerge as a strong fantasy asset this season? -- @JaredLane_

Demko vs. Samsonov is a debate we could be having for many years down the road. Right now, the Washington Capitals are far-and-away more reassuring than the Vancouver Canucks on a number of different fronts, so I'd lean towards Samsonov. But it's interesting that the starters for Washington (Braden Holtby) and Vancouver (Jacob Markstrom) are potential 2020 unrestricted free agents, so there's a path toward 25-30 starts for either or both of these rookies.

Here's how I would rank the under-26 goalies who are either backups or third-string options based on team security and fantasy upside (for this season alone):

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, NJD (22 years old)
2. Juuse Saros, NSH (24)
3. Ilya Samsonov, WSH (22)
4. Thatcher Demko, VAN (23)
5. Elvis Merzlikins, CBJ (25)
6. Alex Nedeljkovic, CAR (23; AHL)
7. Igor Shestyorkin, NYR (23; AHL)

Video: Which goalie should go highest in fantasy drafts?


Beyond Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, which 2-3 rookie forwards could have an impact this season? -- @MattKuiper; Worth hanging on to Victor Olofsson for a couple of weeks? -- @vanislandgee; I nabbed Cody Glass after [Wednesday] night. Is he the real deal? -- @JerrodEdson; Are you high enough on Glass to drop Jake DeBrusk? -- @MarkAPier

The DeBrusk question is so close that it could come down to positional need (center vs. wing). I would probably keep DeBrusk over Glass since he's on PP1 with Boston's top forwards. That said, I would say to drop veteran center Paul Stastny, who was expected to play with valuable wings Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty based on their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff success, in favor of Glass. It may be a bold, risky move, but it's the hunch of our fantasy staff right now.

I would absolutely add Glass and/or Olofsson in standard leagues. Below are five dark horse rookie forwards to consider adding off the waiver wire based on early trends and overall fantasy upside. You can't go wrong with any of the top three.

1. Victor Olofsson, LW/RW, BUF
2. Cody Glass, C, VGK
3. Alexander Nylander, LW/RW, CHI
4. Alexandre Texier, C/LW, CBJ
5. Max Comtois, LW, ANA


Is James van Riemsdyk a keeper on L3 but also PP1 or is he droppable for a waiver wire pickup? I'm looking at you, Nikita Gusev! -- @joexbondo

We know what van Riemsdyk is at this point: the safer of the two wings you mentioned who's likely to score 25-30 goals regardless of lineup placement. But the Philadelphia Flyers have already shuffled their lines before even playing their first regular-season game, so that makes me worry van Riemsdyk could bounce around (again) all season long.

But fortune favors the bold, and Gusev has a very high fantasy ceiling on a line with top rookie center Jack Hughes for the New Jersey Devils. Gusev is comparable to Florida Panthers wing Evgenii Dadonov, who has had at least 28 goals and 65 points in each of his two seasons since coming to the NHL from Russia. I would probably go with Gusev in the hope that his elite Kontinental Hockey League production translates to the NHL.


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