In what wasn't expected to be a banner year for rookies, the kids are all right. After being treated to the rookie campaigns of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel in recent years, expectations were low coming into this season. But we have plenty of first-year NHLers making names for themselves and forcing their way into fantasy lineups.
With nine assists though his first seven NHL games, Butcher is paying massive dividends on the Devils blue line. In fact, when you see that his ice time per game has been as low as 12:45 and he averages only 15:27, his contributions are somewhat shocking. A big part of his success is coming from the power play, where Butcher leads the Devils in total ice time and has earned five of his assists. He is not going to score many goals, as evidenced by his five shots on goal and four games with zero shots registered, but Butcher is going to keep getting helpers on the power play. He could still be available in shallow leagues and makes for a better option than defensemen such as Jared Spurgeon, Nick Leddy, Jacob Trouba or Keith Yandle (all rostered in more leagues than Butcher).
When Keller is on, he is on. But when he is off, he is off. Fortunately, the average at the end of the day is still useful for fantasy owners. Three of Keller's seven games have accounted for all five of his goals, 16 of his 27 shots and a minus-1 rating. His other four games total out to one assist, 11 shots and a minus-5 rating. But, again, the grand total here is worth waiting for, and Keller should be owned in a lot more leagues.
Nico Hischier, C, New Jersey Devils (55.7 percent)
Hischier's ice time rocketed up at the expense of Pavel Zacha during the past three games, and the No. 1 overall pick is taking advantage of it. On Thursday, Hischier added his first two NHL goals to go with four assists during the past three games, all while eclipsing 17 minutes of ice time in each of them. Now skating with Taylor Hall and Drew Stafford, Hischier is worth a look. The only concern here is whether the early season line juggling by coach John Hynes is a product of experimenting to find the right fit or a sign of a season-long trend of fickle linemates.
If dressing seven defensemen is going to be a habit for the Lightning, then Sergachev definitely has a hard ceiling on his potential this season. He's only averaged 12:04 in ice time this season, which ranks dead last among the 159 NHL defensemen who have played at least five games. And it's not like he's getting a power-play bonus, as he's 70th among that same group for power-play ice time per game. The Bolts have decision to make in the next couple days whether or not to keep him up. The two goals on Thursday, which followed two assists on Tuesday, are probably not making this an easy decision, but if he stays, you'll want to see better ice time before considering him as a strong fantasy addition. For keeper leagues, the future is very bright here.
Following only two points in seven games while spending plenty of time on the Avalanche's second line, Kerfoot was bumped to the third line on Thursday. Oh well, I guess we can safely igno... What? He responded to the demotion with two goals and an assist? Clearly Kerfoot has the skills to contribute for the Avs, but he's going to need the right role and ice time. As of Thursday, Tyson Jost, Nail Yakupov and Sven Andrighetto -- in that order -- are his targets to supplant for a scoring-line role. He should be useful for fantasy owners whenever the Avs are using him at the top of the lineup.
As had been the plan coming into the season, but was put off until now due to Patrice Bergeron's injury, Bjork skated on the top line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Thursday. It was Bergeron's season debut and the results were, let's say, fantasy-tastic. Bergeron had a goal and three helpers, Marchand had three points and Bjork added two goals and one assist in only 12:29 of ice time. Bergeron is among the league's best catalysts for linemates, and Bjork should be hopped on for as long as this assignment lasts.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 23-29
Five NHL teams enjoy a four-game week on tap, while four are limited to playing just twice. Of the team's with four games, the Pittsburgh Penguins stand head and shoulders above the rest for potential offensive output, but don't overlook grabbing some fringe guys from the Los Angeles Kings or Calgary Flames. With three of their four games at home, the Carolina Hurricanes are another option. The Anaheim Ducks, who may still need another week to get healthy, play all four games on the road.
There's some home cooking on tap for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild, who all enjoy three games at home. For the Habs, this will be a crucial week if they hope to turn things around before November creeps up on them.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based upon a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1-10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
Reminder: The forecaster chart needs just a few more statistics to eat to get strong enough to start performing without the safety net of last season's data. The more data it has to consume, the stronger its evaluations become. With minimal data to input, the forecaster is still living off its pre-hibernation stores from last winter. So take the ratings with a grain of salt to begin the season, as the numbers being generated still rely at least partially on last season's data. After another week or two we will have enough fresh data to remove last season's numbers from the calculations.
In the notes -- team, goalie and player -- below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Rostering below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, and I'll try to include players below 10 percent whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
With a decent chance of seeing Steve Mason as part of a four-game schedule, the Penguins should be in the mix to have the best offensive week in the league. Patric Hornqvist (rostered in 83.0 percent of ESPN leagues) is playing on the top power play and boasts five points through four games. Conor Sheary (79.7 percent) and Bryan Rust (42.8 percent) are available to varying degrees and are both playing top-six roles. Olli Maatta (60.0 percent) just keeps finding ways to contribute, now on a five-game point streak. Any or all of the aforementioned players should be in lineups for a promising week.
After catching the struggling Ducks at home, the Flyers take their top-five offense on the road for two games in Ontario (Ottawa and Toronto). The Forecaster loves the matchups. For crying out loud, get Sean Couturier (42.7 percent) onto your roster. He's playing on the top line, scoring at a point-per-game rate and is on pace to eclipse his career high for shots by almost 50.
Assuming he's healthy by the end of the weekend, Lehner has a decent schedule for next week and could be a fall back option for some fantasy players. The Sabres face the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks at home (if you can void the visit to the Columbus Blue Jackets, that might be ideal). Lehner's numbers will come around; it's not as if he's being peppered (Buffalo ranks 12th in limiting shots per game).
This is a great schedule for goaltending next week. The Panthers face the Canadiens, Ducks and Red Wings, all with a day of rest in between. Assuming the rotation sticks, it'll be Reimer twice and Luongo once. But keep an eye on this is through the weekend, as one good start by either goaltender could open up a chance for extra work.
Others: It may be tempting to consider Scott Darling with a four-game week on tap, but it's not a move for the faint of heart. The Hurricanes face the potent Lightning, Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues in three of those four games. ... Anton Forsberg remains perfect in regulation despite not having a win yet as the Chicago Blackhawks backup. He could get a game in a late-week back-to-back set if you need a boost. ... After Cam Talbot beat the Blackhawks on Thursday, the hope is that he's over the hump from a horrendous start to the season. Don't hold your breath though, as the Oilers face the Penguins, Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals this week. He's still worth starting in lieu of other options, but it's not an easy week.
Jaromir Jagr, RW, Calgary Flames (rostered in 32.8 percent of ESPN leagues)
Jagr played his first of what should be many games on the top line with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on Thursday, and he notched his second assist. You don't offer Jagr a contract to not play on a scoring line, so he should stick in the top six and get power-play minutes. A four-game schedule means now is the perfect time to add him, though you may end up keeping him for a while.
Noah Hanifin, D, Carolina Hurricanes (26.6 percent)
Hanifin is earning secondary power-play time for the Hurricanes, and the schedule next week boasts three home games and one more on the road. Two of his three points through five games have come on the man advantage. The overall ice time could be better, but for the short-term, Hanifin should pay some dividends next week.
Michael Cammalleri, LW/RW, Los Angeles Kings (2.8 percent)
A little time to think about his game in the press box seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for Cammalleri. The 35-year-old exploded for two goals and two helpers on Thursday, helping fuel new linemate Adrian Kempe to a hat trick. The Kings will need some additional secondary scoring support with Jeff Carter out of the lineup, and Cammalleri can still light the lamp. With a four-game set on order for next week, now is a good time to give him some time in your lineup.
Honorable mentions: Joining Hall and Hischier on the top line for the Devils, Drew Stafford (3.7 percent) has some short-term value. Unfortunately, next week isn't ideal, as the Devils only play twice. ... Michael Del Zotto (3.3 percent) has been the biggest beneficiary of Alex Edler's absence from the lineup for the Vancouver Canucks, soaking up minutes and scoring power-play points in two consecutive games. The Canucks only play twice next week, so we can afford to wait and see. ... Brock Boeser (15.9 percent) doesn't know what it's like to not get a point in a game this season, earning five points through his first four contests with the Canucks. Someone has to assume the mantle from the Sedin twins. ... It might not be too late to hop on Morgan Rielly (53.0 percent) ahead of three home games next week. He has seven points through seven games. ... Nick Schmaltz (23.3 percent) might be getting dropped in some deeper leagues after going without a point in two games back from a five-game absence, but he's played 18-plus minutes in both of those games on a line with Patrick Kane. He should be owned in deeper formats. ... Ryan Pulock (1.5 percent) dressed as the New York Islanders' seventh defenseman on Thursday and played less than nine minutes in his first game of the season. However, he also set up the Islanders' first power-play goal of the season. He could play a role somewhat similar to that of New Jersey's Butcher if the Islanders let him.
To the bench: It would be fair to bench all your Vegas Golden Knights next week. It's a light two-game schedule that includes a date with the Blackhawks. ... David Backes returned for the Bruins on Thursday, but played on the third line. With only two games next week, now is not the time to consider the veteran outside of leagues that count hits. ... The Winnipeg Jets face the Penguins twice and the Blue Jackets once next week. Outside of your must-starts (Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers), it's not worth getting cute here. ... Until further notice, you should only be starting Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber from the Canadiens. Yes, if you have another option, Carey Price should also be riding the pine. He has cold streaks, but he'll get over it. Price's January last season wasn't much better than this October has been so far and, in his monster 2014-15 season, October was far and away his worst month.