These days, many NHL fantasy leagues go well beyond rewarding goals, assists and power-play production from skaters. This week, we examine those who provide valuable defensive and other secondary statistics that fall outside the realm of traditional scoring categories, and then evaluate whether those players merit any real fantasy attention.
Anaheim Ducks: Top of the league table in hits with a cool 100, forward Chris Wagner is centering the Ducks' second scoring line at present, a great gig, especially once winger Jakob Silfverberg returns from injury. Just know that Wagner will be quick to tumble from Anaheim's top six once fellow centers Ryan Kesler and/or Ryan Getzlaf return from their respective issues, which is loosely expected within the next couple of weeks.
Arizona Coyotes: Centering a top line with Brendan Perlini and Tobias Rieder, Derek Stepan is strides beyond his earlier funk, collecting three goals and seven assists in 10 games. As for offered bonus outside scoring categories, Stepan consistently hovers between 10th and 20th overall among all NHL forwards in average time on ice. After an ugly October, his plus/minus has since maintained an even keel (minus-one). Rostered in less than half of ESPN leagues, the Coyotes' No. 1 centerman feels underappreciated.
Boston Bruins: Rookie Charlie McAvoy is more than just a productive puck-moving force on the Bruins' blue line. The 19-year-old defenseman also leads his team in hits with 65, while averaging 23:37 minutes per game, second on the team only to veteran Zdeno Chara. Consider targeting this well-rounded fantasy asset via trade if your league rewards more than just goals and assists.
Buffalo Sabres: In the six contests following his recent recovery from a back issue, Rasmus Ristolainen has blocked 17 shots and launched 17 hits, all while averaging nearly 27 minutes per game. Impressive stuff. Less impressive? The young defenseman has managed only two assists through that stretch. No team has scored fewer goals this season than the basement-dwelling Sabres, and it isn't even close (2.14 goals per game). Seasonal fantasy managers invested in Ristolainen and most other Buffalo skaters can either hope for a turnaround or consider cutting bait now.
Calgary Flames: While waiting for Mark Giordano to rediscover his production, take some comfort in the defenseman's 61 blocked shots (fifth in the West), his average ice time of 24:12 or even his 69 shots on net. A fixture on the Flames' power play and top pair, Giordano will undoubtedly start producing at an improved pace soon enough. Before then, the veteran blueliner presents as an intriguing fantasy trade target.
Carolina Hurricanes: Step aside Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin. When it comes to non-scoring categories, fellow defenseman Jaccob Slavin leads all Hurricanes skaters with 59 blocked shots and an average ice time of 23:18. Unfortunately, Slavin doesn't offer much else, and won't unless the very same Faulk or Hanifin fall injured. Then a power-play role for the 23-year-old, along with increased scoring chances, should be in order.
Chicago Blackhawks: A disappointment on the production front to date, Brent Seabrook offers some value beyond goals and assists with 58 blocked shots and a Chicago blue line-leading plus-eight. Unfortunately, the former 40-plus-point player is seeing little, if any, power play time at present, taking a backseat to others. If production serves as the be-all, end-all in your league, consider moving Seabrook on name value while that's still an option.
Colorado Avalanche: Leading the Avalanche in ice time (26:20), shots (79) and blocked-shots (51), while maintaining a digestible plus-three rating, Erik Johnson is a steady presence on any fantasy roster with respect to those categories. Even though the production has dried up some of late, the 29-year-old power-play anchor had a solid run through late October and early November, accumulating eight points in 10 contests. He can score, too.
Columbus Blue Jackets: While three goals in six games is usually not all that newsworthy from a player like Nick Foligno, our perception changes when such a "flurry" follows a month-long drought. We can only assume the top-six forward has rediscovered his scoring rhythm. That breakthrough, in concert with his whopping 74 hits on the year (good for ninth in the East) suggests Foligno may be worth a look in the 40 percent of ESPN leagues where he's available. The 30-year-old also blocks an inordinate number of shots for a forward.
Dallas Stars: Antoine Roussel was on a nice little run there, with two goals and three assists in five games, before falling ill. More so appreciated for his penalty minutes (ranked 10th in the league with 47 PIM this year), the French skater is also productive in fits and bursts, on occasion. When back to health and on a productive roll, he serves as a solid daily fantasy asset in competition that rewards penalties. For all his bluster, Roussel has also comfortably reached double digits in goals these past few seasons.
Detroit Red Wings: An often frustrating asset for Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill and his respective fantasy managers alike, forward Anthony Mantha still deserves rostering most nights. If the recent minus-seven accrued over four games churned your stomach, take comfort in the club-leading 37 penalty minutes collected to date or that the 2013 first-rounder sits behind only fellow youngster Dylan Larkin on the Wings with 22 points on the season. You've got to lump the bad with the good from this ever-developing 23-year-old forward, but it should prove beneficial in the long run.
Edmonton Oilers: Adam Larsson isn't likely to ever satisfy those Oilers fans, who want more offense out of the 2011 fourth-overall draft pick, but that doesn't mean his fantasy worth is null and void. Leading the league with 3.6 hits per game, Larsson also blocks more than two shots per contest. Only fellow blueliner Oscar Klefbom sees more ice time with the club. We still believe the 25-year-old has the tools, and often opportunity, to contribute at a greater offensive clip than he has. Just keep in mind, Larsson is currently listed day-to-day on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. When again healthy, he serves plenty of purpose in deeper leagues that reward defensive categories.
Florida Panthers: Taking a brief break from discussing defensive fantasy categories, it's worth highlighting that forward Nick Bjugstad is subbing in for Evgenii Dadonov on a Florida top line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov and has consequently scored in each of his past two games (eight shots). With Dadonov anticipated out for weeks with a shoulder injury, Bjugstad could serve as an easy waiver-wire steal. He's rostered in only 3.3 percent of ESPN leagues.
Los Angeles Kings: Only Edmonton's Kris Russell has more blocked shots than Los Angeles' Alec Martinez (74), and the Oilers' blueliner has two additional games. Plus, the Kings' defenseman is starting to contribute offensively again, earning three assists in his past five games, including two with the man advantage. Available in almost half of ESPN leagues, Martinez should be snagged before he really gets going, particularly in competition that values shot blocking along with production. Martinez collected a career-high 39 points just last year.
Montreal Canadiens: Forward Andrew Shaw should merit a little more attention these days for scoring three goals and three assists in five games while skating on a top line and the power play with Max Pacioretty. The feisty forward also leads his club with 1.10 PIM per game, which matters to some fantasy managers.
Minnesota Wild: The move hasn't translated into an increase in scoring yet, but Jonas Brodin is seeing an increase in power play minutes while fellow Wild blueliner Jared Spurgeon recovers from a groin injury. Spurgeon is expected to miss another week, at minimum. Additionally, Brodin leads the Wild in blocked shots with 56 through 27 contests. He may be worth an outside flier in relevant DFS play ahead of Spurgeon's return.
Nashville Predators: No NHL regular is averaging more penalty minutes per game (3.79) than Predators forward Cody McLeod. The troublemaker is also averaging 2.53 hits per contest. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee McLeod will drop the gloves in any given game -- or even suit up -- and he has little to offer in fantasy otherwise.
New Jersey Devils: In daily fantasy competition, Stefan Noesen is worth an extra look. The latest to benefit from Kyle Palmieri's absence within the Devils' top six, Noesen scored a goal and assist in Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets. Watch the 24-year-old sophomore again suit up on a scoring line with Marcus Johansson and Travis Zajac on Friday. As an added bonus, Noesen has 10 blocked shots in his past six contests. He could indeed make for a sneaky DFS add.
New York Islanders: Blocking shots like a boss, Johnny Boychuk ranks seventh in the NHL with 64 in 27 games. The Islanders' top-pair defenseman is also good for a little offense, here and there, sitting second only to Isles teammate John Tavares in shots on net (75). Tracking to finish with 25-30 points, the veteran blueliner brings all-encompassing value to deeper, comprehensive leagues.
New York Rangers: In addition to contributing offensively on a top line and with the No. 1 power play, winger Chris Kreider brings a wide variety of fantasy goods to the table. Leading his club in hits with 56, Kreider also rates first in PIM and second in shots on net among Blueshirt forwards. If these categories matter in your league, hold the 26-year-old forward in higher regard.
Ottawa Senators: Ranked eighth in the Eastern Conference with 58 blocked shots, defensemen Dion Phaneuf is also averaging a serviceable 0.73 PIM per game. Despite two measly assists in 11 contests, he remains on Ottawa's secondary power play, so once the Senators learn how to score again as a whole, the 32-year-old defenseman should also individually benefit.
Philadelphia Flyers: Relishing top-pair minutes and anchoring the Flyers' secondary power play, Ivan Provorov trails only Shayne Gostisbehere in blue-line production with 14 points. The 20-year-old sophomore leads all fellow Flyers with 25:00 average time on ice and 65 blocked shots, while ranking second in hits (63) only to a super-physical Robert Hagg. In some fantasy leagues, you might argue Provorov has more all-around value than Gostisbehere, and the 2015 seventh-rounder is far more available across the ESPN spectrum.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Ryan Reaves has played in all 29 Penguins games to date. The NHL's active PIM leader (74) hasn't played much, but he's played. He's also managed to accumulate 88 hits while averaging less than seven minutes per game, a respectable feat. Still, unless you feel particularly prophetic about a specific tough-guy-on-tough-guy match-up involving Reaves, steer clear of the casual part-timer, and even then, dabble in relevant DFS competition only.
San Jose Sharks: Enjoying top-four minutes, Justin Braun has been pleasantly productive for the Sharks in recent games. Leading his squad with 56 blocked shots, the 30-year-old defenseman is also shooting the puck more often, partially accounting for his six points in seven contests. He also averages 2.12 hits per game. If nothing else, Braun could serve as a short-term injury plug in deeper leagues.
St. Louis Blues: Featured in this space recently, blueliner Joel Edmundson still ranks third in the West with 67 blocked shots. However, the recent streak of minus-five through three games, following a relatively productive November when Edmundson tallied five points (plus-four), has somewhat turned us off the physical defenseman, even in deeper leagues.
Tampa Bay Lightning: By no means in the same fantasy league as Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, forward Vladislav Namestnikov is nonetheless forging a clear path for a career year with 24 points in 27 games. Did you know the 25-year-old leads all Lightning forwards with 23 blocked shots, while sitting second to only Ryan Callahan in penalty minutes? Hardly game-changing numbers on their own, but combining them with Namestnikov's production provides for some pleasing fantasy padding.
Toronto Maple Leafs: No player in the league has blocked more shots than Nikita Zaitsev: 81 and counting. Averaging more than 23 minutes per game as a Leafs' top-four blueliner, the second-year NHLer also has four goals and six assists (plus-nine). The 27-year-old certainly has a role in fantasy leagues with a wide variety of categories.
Vancouver Canucks: Bo Horvat won't be blocking any shots, or doing much of anything else related to hockey for a bit. The Canucks' top center has reportedly been sidelined up to six weeks with a fractured foot. Alexander Burmistrov is the first candidate tasked to center a scoring line with Brock Boeser in Horvat's absence, but give it a minute before jumping on the part-timer's bandwagon. If anything, we're more excited about Nikolay Goldobin serving on Vancouver's No. 1 power play following his call-up from the AHL. The 22-year-old prospect has a goal and assist in three games thus far.
Vegas Golden Knights: Pressing pause once again on our view of defensive categories, know that Marc-Andre Fleury could be back between the pipes within the week. Battling his way back from concussion, the veteran netminder participated in Golden Knights' practice on Wednesday. If all goes well, we're willing to wager on seeing the ex-Penguin in net against his former team when they visit Vegas on Dec. 14. That would spell the end, fairly or not, of Malcolm Subban's successful run as Knights' No. 1.
Washington Capitals: Unlike others listed here, Tom Wilson provides a legit one-two punch for fantasy managers of all stripes, and more so now than ever. Need PIM? Enjoy the best rate amongst NHLers (with more than 20 games) of 2.72 per contest. Additionally, he leads all Capitals not-named Brooks Orpik with 69 hits. Oh, and the antagonizing forward is currently skating on a Capitals' top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. From that vantage point, Wilson scored two goals and two assists against the Blackhawks on Wednesday. Love him (less likely) or hate him (more likely), you could probably use Wilson on your own fantasy squad right now. He's widely available.
Winnipeg Jets: Defenseman Josh Morrissey has really come on of late as a well-rounded fantasy commodity. Enjoying top-four minutes on a nightly basis, the 23-year-old leads his team with 60 blocked shots, while boasting 57 hits and 0.79 PIM per game. Drafted 13th overall in 2013, the 22-year-old sophomore is on pace to easily best last season's output of six goals and 14 helpers. He has use in deeper leagues, both of re-draft and keeper variety.