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Tarasenko, Luongo among hot fantasy topics

by Matt Cubeta

We've just about reached the point of no return, at least in my book. As I stated a few weeks ago, I tend to give players a 12-15 game trial every season to prove themselves. If they've performed at a high level for those 12-15 games, I have reason to believe they can continue to perform at that level for at least most of the remainder of the season. If they've struggled and disappointed in those 12-15 games, I usually start to think this might not be their season.

Of course, players will prove my benchmark wrong. Claude Giroux's 2013-14 season got off to an abysmal start when he went without a goal in his first 15 games. We all know what happened after that.

There will be Girouxs this season. At some point players like Anze Kopitar, David Backes and Gabriel Landeskog should turn things around. But for lesser-known players, the 12-15 game benchmark usually has worked for me. This is your chance to start gauging what you can expect from a player this season.

Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Tarasenko
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 16
SOG: 55 | +/-: 10
St. Louis Blues sensation Vladimir Tarasenko is the perfect example. Tarasenko's been the hottest topic in fantasy hockey this week and is the No. 2 overall fantasy player in Yahoo leagues. Will he remain a top-10 player? Maybe. But he's the type of player that has proved to me he can carry this hot start throughout the season. I'm a believer.

Let's have a look at some other hot topics in fantasy hockey right now.

1. Injury replacements

With the news that Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise will be out because of a concussion and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp is sidelined for 3-4 weeks, fantasy owners will be searching the waiver wire for replacements. Here are some options:

Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames (available in 76 percent of Yahoo leagues) -- He has six points in the past five games, is a plus-7 on the season and is starting to see the playing time he deserves.

Derick Brassard, C, New York Rangers (77 percent) -- He's been extremely consistent this season with at least one point in seven of 12 games (five goals, six assists, 27 shots on goal).

Chris Higgins, LW, Vancouver Canucks (93 percent) -- For deeper leagues; he has nine points in 14 games and will help with assists (seven), plus/minus (plus-7) and shots on goal (28).

2. Luongo liking life in South Beach

Over the course of 813 NHL games, Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo has a 2.51 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. In his 24 games since joining the Panthers late last season, he has a 2.40 GAA and .927 save percentage. Despite his team ranking 19th in shots-against per game (30.2) and their penalty kill ranking 25th (76.6 percent), Luongo continues to shine for the Panthers. He may be coming off a 4-1 defeat against the Philadelphia Flyers (his first regulation loss since Oct. 13), but Luongo should be viewed as a potential top-10 goalie for the rest of the season.

3. Fourth-line roles

Jeff Skinner
Jeff Skinner
Left Wing - CAR
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 2
SOG: 21 | +/-: -5
Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner is 22 years old and has scored at least 30 goals twice in four NHL seasons. He's been injury prone but he's also been extremely productive when on the ice. Unfortunately that hasn't been the case this season. Skinner has one goal, one assist and a minus-5 rating in seven games. This poor start led to him being demoted to the fourth line Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, when he played a season-low 11:12. The one good thing was that 5:15 of that ice time came on the power play. Skinner is in a rut, but at some point he'll return to the top line and should be capable of scoring 25-plus goals this season.

San Jose Sharks forward Tomas Hertl found himself in a similar situation, getting bumped to the fourth line Saturday. He received 9:30 of ice time and responded with a power-play goal. On Thursday he had an assist while bouncing between the third and fourth lines. Like Skinner, I'd bank on Hertl returning to a more prominent role in San Jose and finishing with around 25 goals and a better rating than Skinner will have.

Both players are ownable in fantasy leagues; I would just keep them on the bench until they move back up in the lineup.

4. Bouncing back

Alexander Edler
Alexander Edler
Defense - VAN
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 7
SOG: 46 | +/-: 5
Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler had a miserable season in 2013-14, including a League-worst minus-39 rating. Clearly Edler has put that season behind him and fantasy owners should too. Available in 29 percent of Yahoo leagues, Edler has three goals and four assists in 14 games, and wait for it … a plus-5 rating. Not only is he producing in the plus/minus category, but his 46 shots on goal are tied for third among defensemen. Edler is averaging just less than three minutes of power-play ice time per game and 23:14 of total ice time. It's safe to say he's back to his old ways.

5. Consistency

I mentioned how Brassard has points in seven of his 12 games this season, but did you know Flyers forward Jakub Voracek has at least one point in 12 of 13 games? Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets have points in 11 of 12 games, while the Canucks' Henrik Sedin has points in 12 of 14. As for defensemen, Brent Burns of the Sharks leads the way with points in 11 of 14 games, while Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie of the Calgary Flames each have points in 11 of 15 games.

There's something to be said for consistent point production, especially in head-to-head leagues, and fantasy owners need to be aware of this. For a full League-leaders list of games with at least one point, go here.


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