Fantasy hockey playoff guide: Four-game streamers, light-night performers, hot hands and goalie guidance

Ready for the playoffs? You will be by the end of this column.  As always, we are heavily relying on our bestie: the schedule.

Four-Game Streamers

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Only two teams will be in action four times next week — Vegas and Anaheim. 

For the Ducks, my eyes are on two players in particular. Trevor Zegras will return from injury soon. On the surface, things obviously haven’t gone very well for the forward who has missed chunks of the season with injury. But in a super limited sample of games, he did have a positive impact on Anaheim’s expected goal generation. The big question is whether his return will have a positive impact on Troy Terry. Otherwise, there isn’t a Ducks forward who catches my eye, really now that Frank Vatrano’s scoring has unsurprisingly slowed and Leo Carlsson left Wednesday night’s game with injury. 

The Golden Knights are a much more interesting team for us, with their schedule in mind. This week, they’re in action four times, with one light night appearance. Next week, they only have a two-game slate but will once again be in action on a light night. Fast forward to the final matchup of the fantasy season, and Vegas will have six games over that two-week span and be in action on four more light nights.

Two skaters stand out in Vegas: William Karlsson and Anthony Mantha. Karlsson remains quietly effective. When Tomas Hertl returns from injury, I expect more defensive usage for Karlsson, which could hurt his production. But someone from that second line will likely shift down to his line, which brings potential. So does his role on PP1, which is bound to include Hertl as well. The return of Hertl may not come until the second or third (and final) week of the playoffs, but the Golden Knights have such a favorable schedule then as well. That’s when someone like Mantha should be on your radar. He hasn’t stood out on the scoresheet just yet, but that should change if he gets time on Hertl’s wing at even strength. 

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I’ll go further into detail on four-game streamers for the week of April 1 (and beyond) next Friday, but with the playoffs in mind, I want to make sure everyone can plan ahead as much as possible. The Islanders, Wild, Devils, and Lightning all go from two-game streamers to four. But teams like the Rangers and Oilers are worth scouting — both have three games on the schedule next week, before a four-game week with two light nights the following week. 

In Edmonton, the key is adding whoever is slotting alongside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. That’s what is giving players like Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod even strength value. But our player to watch is Mattias Ekholm, who tends to chime in with some contributions on the scoresheet and the more traditional categories for defenders. Alongside Evan Bouchard, the pairing has earned 61 percent of the expected goals share at five-on-five, and they tend to share the ice with the Oilers’ top forwards. 

On the Rangers, Jack Roslovic remains in a position to succeed on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. It’s a super small sample of games, but the team is outperforming expectations by a pretty wide margin. So that is a bit of a sustainability issue worth keeping an eye on — if Roslovic’s puck-moving can help this line, he could be a worthwhile add. But if the scoring dries up, it won’t exactly be surprising either. The more consistent (and less attainable option) is Alexis Lafrenière, who keeps cooking alongside Artemi Panarin. Not only is he in a position to score with Panarin’s elite passing on his left, but he is dishing some nifty passes to Panarin, who keeps finishing his chances. 

Light-Night Performers

Sometimes a busy slate isn’t the number one priority. It’s all about finding players who will actually fit into your lineup. So, we always have to look to light nights. 

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Vancouver is a team to watch with their schedule in mind, which should sway managers to consider someone like Conor Garland now that he’s been elevated to Elias Pettersson’s wing. In Buffalo, I’m still on the Bowen Byram train. But I also have to note JJ Peterka, who got the boost to the top line against the Oilers. Peterka has been one of the most consistent Sabres this season and with Tage Thompson starting to look like himself again, this combination brings some intrigue. 

I did the math so you don’t have to. Here are the teams with the most light nights throughout the playoffs. The first column features the combined number for Weeks 24 and 25. The second column adds in the two-week long final matchup (so Vegas has six light nights combined, not two plus six for eight). 

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Trending Up

Moving outside the bounds of the schedule, there are a handful of players trending in the right direction worth highlighting. With Joel Eriksson Ek out of the lineup, expect more time and a linemate boost for Marco Rossi. Ryan Hartman has also picked up the pace as an option who chimes in across the board. 

The “Bad Team Effect” may be real in Arizona, but it looks like Nick Schmaltz is finally hitting his stride. The Coyotes are three-game streamers in both of the next two weeks and have two light nights in Week 25. This is someone managers can be selective with based on opponent — matchups against Columbus and San Jose are the standouts, and even Vegas could be a wild card with some of their goalie issues in mind. 

Players in the Stars’ middle-six remain worthwhile options, too: Wyatt Johnston may be the most valuable, and the least available. But Mason Marchment and Logan Stankoven can round out a roster’s forward group. 

If Lucas Raymond is available, this is a player to jump on. He picked up the pace while Dylan Larkin was out, and now that the center has returned, he is slotted between them. It’s a pivotal part of the start for Detroit — expect him to keep rolling. If these lines stay in tact, then also consider J.T. Compher, who is providing two-way support to Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane. 

On the backend, I’ve spotted three defenders to consider. Dmitry Orlov has been quieter than expected from a fantasy context, but if these last few games are an indication of what’s to come — now that the Hurricanes lineup is that much deeper — he could be of value (and speaking of the Hurricanes, I see you Evgeny Kuznetsov). 

Cam York has been trending in the right direction over the past month, too. He is contributing more on the scoresheet while showing a willingness to shoot the puck and get in front of them. The former should be handy against teams like the Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, and Canadiens, while he will have a ton of opportunity to block shots versus the Rangers (twice), and Panthers — and maybe even the Capitals in their last game of the season depending on how close the playoff race is by then. 

Lastly, we have to give stick taps to Ryan McDonagh’s reliable play over the past 16 games in Nashville. He isn’t super flashy but has proven to be a really solid fourth or fifth option. 

Goalie Guide

The Jets do not have any back-to-backs to end the year but expect a reliable backup like Laurent Brossoit to rotate in every two or three games. Jonathan Quick is likely to start around once per week to end the season, as well. Joel Hofer has been steady when turned to over his past three games. The Predators are going to start Juuse Saros as much as possible, but watch for Kevin Lankinen to sneak in a few starts down the stretch — the the Predators are giving their goalies a lot of support, and both netminders are responding with strong play. 

Another backup, who could be more than that depending on how this next stretch goes, is Logan Thompson, considering how Adin Hill’s game has trailed off lately. At the very least, expect a split net when the team plays both Monday and Tuesday of next week. 

Jake Allen is making a strong first impression in New Jersey, saving 5.26 goals above expected in four starts. Philipp Grubauer is the hotter hand in Seattle right now, making him the 1A. Frederik Andersen’s durability is always a concern, but he has stood tall for the Hurricanes since returning. I’m not writing off Charlie Lindgren after a dicey game against Toronto on Wednesday — he has emerged as the Capitals’ No. 1 and has been putting up quality starts on most nights over his latest stretch. 

Data via Evolving-Hockey, HockeyViz, HockeyStatCards, AllThreeZones, and NaturalStatTrick. This story relies on shot-based metrics; here is a primer on these numbers.  

  (Top photo of William Karlsson: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

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