Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly and John Tavares are among the top 20 fantasy skaters this season on the ESPN Player Rater (fantasy value evaluator) and Auston Matthews is only missing because he's been out half the season so far. Nylander will find a role with these elite weapons, but there are some questions remaining.
What isn't a question is whether Nylander will get his plum wing spot back next to Matthews and how strong the chemistry is there. We saw it last season when they accounted for 52 goals at even strength together (allowing only 25 against). Nylander scored 20 goals and 61 points last season, and will only build on that body of work in an improved offense thanks to the addition of Tavares.
Am I willing to say with absolute confidence at this stage that it's Patrick Marleau over Kasperi Kapanen for the third spot on the line with Matthews and Nylander? No. While it was supposed to be Marleau at the start of the season, Kapanen's 10 goals and 18 points may give coach Mike Babcock pause here. The natural inclination may be to dump Kapanen back to the free-agent pile in fantasy, but I think he's worth holding for at least a little longer to see how the depth chart settles. The same is true for Marleau. While the veteran only has six goals and 15 points, he hasn't had the linemates he was projected to have for most of the season, especially thanks to Matthews prolonged absence with a shoulder injury. Wait and see. One of these two wingers will be worth having on your squad for the remainder of the season, just not both of them.
The largest looming question here is whether Nylander gets the power play. Last season, Nylander was a bit player on a much different power-play configuration. The Leafs rolled two units equally and the more successful one had neither Matthews nor Nylander as a part of it. But the exodus of that unit's core (James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) and arrival of Tavares has changed the landscape. The Leafs have been stacking top heavy on the man advantage with tremendous success on their chief unit. Before Nylander's arrival, this successful power play has blossomed with Tavares, Matthews, Marner, Rielly and Nazem Kadri. Kadri has been the man doing the battling in front of the opposition crease, and while he's the natural choice to sub out for Nylander, that's not a role for the slick, soft-touch Nylander to take on.
With all their pieces in place, it's conceivable that the Leafs divide up the attack on the power play and attempt to ice two lesser units with a higher sum total. While that could be more successful overall for the team, it removes some of the concentration we rely on in fantasy hockey for more points in fewer baskets. We don't have any practice looks yet to see how the Leafs are going to handle the situation with Nylander, so this is speculation, but it's a fact that the Leafs now have more assets than they can put on the ice together for a power-play unit.
A dilution of the power-play units for Toronto would most negatively impact Rielly, who has 12 of his 29 points on the man advantage. Kadri is also at risk for lesser value here, with six of his 16 points coming on the power play. The power play has not been a big part of Nylander's fantasy profile so far in his career, with only 12 points on the man advantage last season. That said, adding it to his repertoire would be the difference in him being a top-60 fantasy play and a top-30 fantasy play. We should know in the coming days what Babcock has envisioned for the Leafs power play.
For now, Nylander is ranked right about where he was during the offseason at No. 66 overall, when we expected improvement in a modest sense on his 60-point total from last year. If I knew he was going to be involved in a top-heavy power play, I'd be comfortable ranking him in the 40s, but we don't know that yet.
Forwards on the move
Brayden Point, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (up six spots to No. 23): This isn't a huge jump in the rankings, but it's symbolic in the fact that I'm moving Point past Steven Stamkos in the rest-of-season rankings. Who would have thought that a healthy Stamkos wouldn't be the Lightning's No. 1 center? We knew Point was good and we knew he was going to be a big factor this season (ranked No. 74 in the offseason), but his start to the campaign has been about as impressive as, well, Stamkos start to last season. In fact, Stamkos had 11 goals and 37 points on Dec. 4 last season; Point currently has 20 goals and 37 points. The lesson here? Nikita Kucherov is an absolute kingmaker for fantasy hockey as he's the common thread for both.
Filip Forsberg, W, Nashville Predators (down 64 spots to No. 97): With Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban and Kyle Turris already on the injured reserve, Forsberg joins them and will remain there for the next month or more as he misses four to six weeks with an upper-body injury. Ouch. With 14 goals and 22 points in 26 games, Forsberg will be missed by the Predators and fantasy teams. If there is a glimmer of good news here, however, it's that the injury forced the Predators to finally call upon Eeli Tolvanen. He's still young and still getting used to playing on NHL-sized ice versus the larger international variety, but this kid has a killer shot. He collected a pair of points in his first game of the season on Saturday. He should get extended time through these injuries to cement himself as part of the Predators attack and could come out on the other side with a role in the top six. He's worth stashing in leagues with 12 teams or more.
Defensemen on the move
Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers (down 18 spots to No. 93): This is what happens when a fantasy asset relies too much on one source of value. Similar to a winger getting moved off a top line away from a superstar, Gostisbehere can't generate fantasy value because the Flyers don't have a power play to speak of. More than half of Gostisbehere's career points (career!) are power-play points. Sure enough, seven of his 11 points this season have come on the woeful Flyers power play. Only the Chicago Blackhawks have fewer than the Flyers' 11 power-play goals this season. Add in the terrible plus/minus on a team that's floundering in the crease and Ghost Bear isn't really in the mix as a reliable fantasy starter. Keep him on the bench though, as luckily Ivan Provorov isn't having much of a season either, so Gostisbehere's role isn't really threatened ... yet.
Will Butcher, D, New Jersey Devils (down 13 spots to No. 186): After sitting out as a healthy scratch over the weekend, Butcher drew back into the lineup on Monday. Sold by the team as a "mental refresh" for Butcher, one has to wonder how much longer his leash will be as the team's power-play quarterback. If you thought Gostisbehere was too reliant on the PP, wait until you have a closer look at Butcher. Six of his eight points this season have been power-play assists. At 5-on-5, Butcher has one point this season (his other point came with the goaltender pulled). Damon Severson has always been boring as a fantasy option because he doesn't quite do enough, but perhaps he can get into the mix this season if coach John Hynes finally pulls the plug on Butcher as the PP QB. Severson has 15 points already this season without the role.
Goaltenders on the move
Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles Kings (up 67 spots to No. 91): He's still backstopping the team that sits dead-last in the NHL standings, but Quick is back sooner than expected from a knee injury and looked good enough in his two games back to inspire a modest amount of fantasy confidence going forward. Quick's struggles and injuries bear more blame for the Kings start that the offensive woes. The Kings have had several seasons with Quick where they don't score a ton, yet still remain in the hunt. But without goaltending, the team is at a loss. Quick can right this ship if he stays healthy. So, despite all the indicators that scream "run away" - not the least of which is his .888 save percentage - there is still enough here to keep him rostered for fantasy squads. It wouldn't be the first time Quick has come on strong after rough/injured starts.
Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens (down 21 spots to No. 123): A healthy Price sporting a .898 save percentage? What world is this? After losing last season to lingering knee issues, Price was supposed to come back and remind us why he is the highest-paid goaltender in the league. Nope. Price has struggled, mightily. His ratios this season are arguably collectively worse than the train wreck that was last season. Is the knee thing still in the back of his head? Is the defense too porous? It's hard to pin down what the problem is precisely, but there is a problem here. If you can afford to keep Price on the bench, do it. If you can pick your starts with a daily lock in your league, be more discerning with when you use him. The hope is that the return of Shea Weber can provide some leadership to the defense and perhaps improve Price's lot. Still, he's not looking like the Price of old when you give him the old "eye test." There's no value in trying to trade him in fantasy right now, so try to sit tight, work on another avenue for goaltending stats and hope he turns things around.