Assuming that my personal experience is somewhat representative of the fantasy hockey world as a whole, more leagues seem to be trending away from the use of penalty minutes as a default category. In most cases where I've dealt with such a change, the "go-to category" of choice as a replacement has been hits.
The logic is sound. After all, long gone are the days when pugilists would partake in more than 20 bouts per season. PIM is no longer a reflection of a common element of the actual NHL game. As fighting is much less common now, hits offer a much better way for fantasy to reflect the toughness and physicality involved in the game of hockey. While it's not a category in the ESPN standard game and may not apply to some of you, I think there are enough leagues using hits that we can take a moment now and then through the season to offer some thoughts on the category.
Most leagues using hits already know to target the usual suspects -- Milan Lucic, Nikita Zadorov, Tom Wilson, Dustin Brown, Boone Jenner and, the best of all worlds, Alex Ovechkin. Hits are good like that. If a player demonstrates the skill and playing style to collect hits in one season, they tend to to continue that style of play going forward. So, as long as they are healthy and getting minutes, the hits will continue to come. That said, there are newcomers to the category every season, and it's some of those new faces on the hits landscape that deserve some added attention.
William Carrier, W, Vegas Golden Knights: There's little doubt what's going to happen when the Golden Knights send their fourth line out over the boards. Ryan Reaves leads the league with 39 hits, and Carrier is right behind him at 38. Reaves is a known commodity for the "hits community," but Carrier hasn't been on the radar before. That lack of recognition is only due to limited playing time -- Carrier's per-game hits last season ranked No. 13 in the league for players with at least 30 games played. This season, he's going to finish among the top 10 for hits if he stays healthy.
Heck, it's quite possible Reaves and Carrier will finish 1-2 this season if the Knights keep giving them each 10-plus minutes of ice time per game. That said, Carrier is "empty hits" for your fantasy squad. He's the player you add if you are in a deeper league and don't care about contributions in other categories. For a more nuanced approach, consider the players below.
Max Comtois, W, Anaheim Ducks: The strongest balance of points and hits out of the gate this season has come from the Ducks rookie. As exciting as Comtois' seven points and 27 hits are for leagues that use that statistic, we have to temper some expectations here. A lot of his production came while the Ducks were the "waddling wounded" to open the season. Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Ondrej Kase, Jakob Silfverberg and Patrick Eaves have all missed varying degrees of games already this season.
If the Ducks get fully healthy, I'm not confident Comtois can stick in this lineup on a consistent basis -- at least, not in a position to continue to turn in both points and hits. Still, he plays with an edge and throws his body around, so even a reduced role would help him contribute in the hits department.
Brandon Tanev, W, Winnipeg Jets: Like Carrier, Tanev had hits-per-game numbers last season that, coming into the campaign, would have justified a draft position in some leagues. However, he didn't necessarily play enough games to find himself on that fantasy radar. Tanev has moved up the Jets' depth chart to settle on the third line this season, so he's locked down a role and is playing more minutes. The result has been four points and 33 hits in just 10 games. Tanev is in a position to do enough in the other fantasy categories that he shouldn't hurt you while he racks up the hits.
Tyler Motte, W, Vancouver Canucks: More of a skill-first player when he came up with the Chicago Blackhawks two seasons ago, Motte was given more checking responsibility last season while splitting time with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Canucks. In fact, the hits really started to pile up when Motte played his final 15 games last season with Vancouver, in which he collected 47 hits. That's right on par with what Carrier and Tanev did last season, but the lofty rate was hidden because Motte wasn't throwing the body around during his time with the Blue Jackets (46 hits in 31 games). Already with 29 hits this season, Motte is locked into a checking role with the Canucks. As a bonus, as we've seen this week, injuries can even push him up to a role on a scoring line every now and then.
Brady Tkachuk, W, Ottawa Senators: It may seem silly to recommend a player with a torn ligament in his leg, but Tkachuk is only expected to miss a month or so. He should be universally rostered in leagues that use hits as a statistic. Tkachuk has three goals, three assists and 13 hits in the four games he's played this season. While Matthew Tkachuk is also very good, it looks like Brady may be more in the mold of their dad, Keith, when it comes to playing physically. The NHL didn't track hits in Keith Tkachuk's prime, but even a 36-year-old Keith had 122 hits in his second-to-last NHL season.
Fantasy Forecaster: Oct. 29-Nov. 4
Teams playing four games: The Buffalo Sabres should feast on offense next week thanks to games against the Calgary Flames, Senators (twice) and New York Rangers. Start Jason Pominville in almost any-sized league as he continues to skate with Jack Eichel. Monitor the goaltending situation closely, as Linus Ullmark is on the verge of earning extra starts and is definitely in line for one this week. ... The Flames have a very difficult-looking schedule. After facing the Toronto Maple Leafs, the only possible reprieve is a contest against the Sabres the following night. After that, Calgary is home to face the red-hot Colorado Avalanche and Blackhawks. Even though they have an extra game, there may not be much value added to the Flames players. This is also a bad week for David Rittich to attempt to pass Mike Smith on the depth chart. It looks like the understudy is ready to make a move, but with tough games on the slate, it could take a bit longer. ... The Senators, for their part, look like a decent streaming option for the week. ... The Blue Jackets host the Detroit Red Wings and then head out for a California road trip with three games in four days. ... The Tampa Bay Lightning are home for two and then on the road for two. They definitely offer an advantage with the extra game.
Teams playing two games: The particular two-game schedules for the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Avalanche and Jets shouldn't scare you off any players -- even for weekly lock leagues. That said, Connor Hellebuyck owners may only get one start as the Jets are playing back-to-back games against the Florida Panthers. ... The same is true of Semyon Varlamov, who should only get one of Colorado's two games on the week. ... The Panthers are in the same boat, but a set of back-to-back games against the Jets should be enough to ward off the few fantasy managers who were sniffing around a possible Roberto Luongo return from injury. ... The two-game schedules for the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes are such that I'm only starting the studs here. I'm not sure who that includes for the Coyotes at this stage, though I suppose it's probably Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Clayton Keller. Bad schedule or not, Jake Allen should move to your fantasy bench and stay there until the Blues figure out how to play defense.
Highlights from teams playing three games: The Blackhawks head out for the western-Canadian road swing that has been so beneficial to the Penguins offense this week. ... Devan Dubnyk will rest at least one of the three games for the Minnesota Wild thanks to a back-to-back set. ... I don't like the home-and-home set with the Penguins for the New York Islanders defense or goaltending. ... The Philadelphia Flyers are on a tough California road trip that should mute scoring.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense) and "D" (defense) matchup ratings are based on 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, its performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, and its opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.
In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players who are available for potential use. Being rostered in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff, but this space will also include players below 10 percent whenever possible to try to cater to deeper formats.
Tampa Bay Lightning: I have to admit to being somewhat blindsided by the separation of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov this season. Coming into the season, it's not something I would have foreseen happening -- at least not as soon as it did. However, I do like the look of the Lightning offense with these two superstars on separate lines. It means we can dig a little deeper in fantasy leagues for players who can contribute, even if it does somewhat mute the overall value of Stamkos and Kucherov.
Next week's games against the New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators, Montreal Canadiens and Senators should provide an opportunity for some of the lesser-rostered assets here. Ondrej Palat remains widely available and is rolling on the line with Kucherov and Tyler Johnson. His five assists in nine games aren't outstanding but are enough to consider him on a good week. J.T. Miller might be worth using as well, as the final three games of the week for Tampa Bay are against teams in the bottom-third of the league on the penalty kill. Miller is still getting time on the top power-play unit, despite his role on the fourth line.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes' offense is intriguing for the coming week with games against the Bruins, Coyotes and Golden Knights, meaning you'll want shares in more than just the usual suspects, if you can fit them in your lineups. The chief Carolina candidate for an add to your roster is Micheal Ferland. His rostered number remain muted at 33 percent, despite the fact that he's locked in and shooting a ton, both on and off the power play alongside Sebastian Aho. Ferland has scored in four straight games and is sitting No. 2 on the team with 36 shots on goal.
If your league is a little deeper and Ferland isn't an option, Warren Foegele isn't a bad dart throw. His ice time and linemates are more reliable at this stage than they are with fellow rookie Andrei Svechnikov. Foegele has been consistently lined up with veterans Justin Williams and Jordan Staal, helping himself to a respectable five points in nine games.
Ottawa Senators: I don't mind opting in on a couple of Senators this week, given a four-game schedule that includes a home-and-home set with the Sabres. Matt Duchene has scored a point per game through eight contests this season but remains available in over 50 percent of leagues. He's my first stop in shallow formats. In deeper leagues, Colin White is the widely available asset that is currently slated for both top-line and top power-play duties.
I know Cam Talbot has been serviceable and is the clear No. 1 for the Edmonton Oilers, but Mikko Koskinen remains very intriguing from a fantasy perspective. If he can carry over his success from the KHL (I know, a rare feat for goalies), the Oilers could have something special here. Koskinen rivals Ben Bishop for height and will make his first NHL start since 2010-11 this weekend.
Scott Darling is well worth a grab from the free-agent pile for any team suffering through poor goaltending. As the Hurricanes have two goaltenders with sub-.900 save percentages, Darling could easily come up the middle to earn the lion's share of the work. Or, he could flame out like he did with the same opportunity last season. Either way, it's worth a shot if you need the help.
Cory Schneider has more than looked like Cory Schneider in his AHL rehab starts. This is your last chance to get him.
Seth Jones played over 27 minutes in his return from a knee injury and scored in his second game back while joining an offensive rush.