In the NHL, a player can receive a two-minute penalty for diving or embellishment. Hoping not to embellish anyone, I’ll take a deep dive into the possible free agents who might still be available in your league who may not be receiving much attention.
Once upon a time, Casey Mittelstadt was the 8th overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2017. But his best season to date was 2018-19, when he scored 12 goals and 25 points in 77 games. Well, at least back then, he was receiving playing time. He hasn’t even been getting that lately. He only appeared in 31 games last season and two so far this season, in and out of the taxi squad. He’s become an afterthought in the Sabres rebuilding plan. Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, and Sam Reinhart seem to be leading the way, with prospects Dylan Cozens and Jack Quinn not very far behind. Where’s Mittelstadt? A high draft pick bust for a poor team? Who should pick him up as a free agent at this point? You should.
There’s still plenty of opportunity for Mittelstadt this season on a team like the Sabres. After all, we’re talking about a team currently centered by Curtis Lazar and Cody Eakin on two lines and Kyle Okposo on one of their power-play units. The Sabres have only scored 32 goals so far this season in 13 games. Certainly, there’s a chance for a center with Mittelstadt’s pedigree to carve out some playing time within that scenario. When he does get some playing time, he’ll have something to prove. If you look at the scouting reports at the time of the 2017 draft touting his elite speed and puck skills, you’ll conclude that this talent must be realized sooner or later.
From someone with a high pedigree trying to get a chance with a low-scoring rebuilding team, let’s turn our attention to a less-heralded center getting some unexpected playing time for a high-scoring team surprisingly holding down the second-best record in the NHL. The Florida Panthers are cruising with 55 goals in 15 games so far this season. You’re going to benefit if you can grab anyone off this scoring machine. Eetu Luostarinen from Finland was a 2nd round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2017. Traded to the Panthers as part of the Vincent Trocheck trade, he finds himself centering the third line in this prolific offense. He’s not on either of their power-play units, but look closely at his statistics, and you can overlook that. Anytime you have a player on your fantasy team who can get you points without the benefit of scoring a goal or an assist, you have an asset no matter when and where he plays. Luostarinen has recently had four games in which he did not score a point but compiled 7.5 fantasy points. Not a whole lot, but sneaky production like that adds up. His face-off wins, hits, blocks, and shots on goal add up. And the potential for increased goals and assists certainly exists on this team. It’s just this sort of sneaky production that not everyone in your league may be taking notice of, as witnessed by his 14% ownership.
In the 2019-20 season, Andreas Johnsson of the Maple Leafs fell out of favor with new coach Sheldon Keefe. He was an underperformer despite being surrounded by high-scoring, highly-paid, highly-publicized teammates. Great things were expected of Johnsson, but he only scored 8 goals and 21 points in 73 games. When the Devils acquired Johnsson for Joey Anderson last October, he received a new lease on life. After a two-week hiatus due to COVID protocols, Johnsson suddenly finds himself on the Devils’ top line with superstar sophomore Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt, as well as holding a second unit power play assignment. He once again finds himself surrounded by some talented teammates but now with lower expectations than in Toronto. Look for Johnsson to thrive in this new environment.
The Bruins drafted Zboril number 13 overall in 2015. They’ve been quietly and steadily bringing him along ever since then. Zboril scored 94 points in three seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. The Bruins finally placed him with Providence in the AHL for the 2017-18 season, where he has scored exactly 19 points in each of the last three seasons. He finally made the big club this season and has appeared in 14 games, scoring two points. Big deal, right? Nothing to see here. Well, remember his pedigree. He is a speedy skater responsible at both ends of the ice and can really accelerate through the neutral zone to set up opportunities offensively. He’s been getting steady ice time for a rookie, averaging 17:26. He’s even been getting some time on the power play, so the Bruins must recognize his potential explosiveness. He’s an experienced 23-year old now, just on the cusp of a breakout. Capitalize now as he’s only owned in 9% of the leagues in Fantrax.
Life after Corey Crawford was supposed to be a work in progress this season for the Blackhawks. As the season approached, it was thought Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban would battle it out for the starting job or occupy a job share at the position within the condensed schedule. With an eye towards the future, they expended a 2nd round draft pick on Drew Commesso. Whoever won the job, it was universally agreed the Blackhawks would suffer through this transition period at the position for so many years dominated by Crow.
That work in progress may have already been completed with the surprising emergence of rookie Kevin Lankinen. But he’s not the only goaltender who has taken a step forward for the Blackhawks. The hockey world has been waiting for Malcolm Subban to take a step forward ever since the Bruins made him their first-round draft pick in 2012. It was only the third time in their history the Bruins picked a goaltender in the first round (you probably have never heard of the other two–Evgeni Ryabchikov in 1994 and Hannu Toivonen in 2002). When the Bruins finally waived him in 2017, Subban landed with the expansion Golden Knights and had an excellent year as Marc Andre Fleury’s backup going 13-4-2 in 22 games with a 2.68 GAA. But since then, Subban has barely been adequate with a GAA well over 3.00 and a sub-.900 save percentage.
However, this season Subban has had flashes of brilliance in the four games he’s appeared as Lankinen’s backup. The Blackhawks habitually give up lots of shots on goal to rebuild their defensive corps with young players like Ian Mitchell, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, and Lucas Carlsson. Subban has faced 132 shots on goal in his four games, an average of 33 per game. Yet he has a .917 save percentage, 2.65 GAA, and a 2-1-1 record. Very quietly, Malcolm Subban has been standing on his head in the Blackhawks’ goal crease. The Blackhawks will give Lankinen plenty of rest, particularly if they stay in the race for a playoff spot. They also still have three back-to-back sets this season. Don’t say you don’t need a backup goaltender like Subban for your fantasy team, or you might end up eating crow.
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