Sometimes, what you don't need in your fantasy hockey league is a little bit of help across the board. Maybe you're just a tiny bit behind someone in one specific category where a boost could push you well up the standings in rotisserie formats -- or perhaps allow you to edge out your opponent in a head-to-head contest. While we generally tend to focus on players who can help or teams across multiple categories, sometimes a specialist is just what the proverbial doctor ordered.
With that in mind, here are a few options, all available in at least 50 percent of ESPN leagues who do one thing really well, while also not hurting you in other categories.
Josh Anderson, W, Columbus Blue Jackets (available in 56 percent of ESPN leagues): Anderson is on pace for a 30-goal season. Although, admittedly, he's light on the assists (and therefore points), his goals and shots-on-goal have some value if that's where your fantasy team is hurting. Anderson has been a mainstay in the Blue Jackets' top-six, playing on the second line with Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno. It's a nice combination that includes some physical forwards who also have a skilled touch around the net. The result has been excellent scoring chances for Anderson, and he's converting them at a reasonable rate thanks to a 15.3 shooting percentage.
Gustav Nyquist, W Detroit Red Wings (51 percent): Having fallen out of favor in Detroit over the past few seasons, it was far from a sure thing that Nyquist would be heavily involved in the Red Wings offense this time around. That said, he's having a fantastic bounce-back season -- the long-awaited followup to his explosive 2013-14. Dialed in on the wing with team-catalyst Dylan Larkin, both on and off the power play, Nyquist is on pace for 54 assists this season. Thanks to a decent number of goals as well, he is looking at potentially breaking the 70-point barrier when all is said and done.
Colton Sissons, C, Nashville Predators (99 percent): There's a clear benefit to playing on a strong checking line in front of the league's best goaltending. Sissons hasn't really been a fantasy factor before, but he doesn't allow goals. Playing on different lines this season, he's seen only four goals enter the net at five-on-five while he's been on the ice. Meanwhile, Sissons has 16 points. The result has been a rock solid plus-18 that should only get better as the Predators get healthier. It's tough to justify a plus/minus-focused addition to your team, but Sissons may be the exception to the rule in deeper leagues.
Andrew Shaw, W, Montreal Canadiens (97 percent): The fantasy collective dismissed Shaw as an asset after last season, when injuries limited his output. However, he's been a consistent threat for a useful amount of points and solid PIM numbers throughout his career. His points are unexpectedly high this season and he's on pace for a career-high 50. That's a good thing, as he has room for some regression and still being able to retain value. Shaw is also on pace for a helpful 95 minutes in the sin bin. Playing with Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi has had a rejuvenating effect on Shaw. He should definitely be in your fantasy plans.
Neal Pionk, D, New York Rangers (68 percent): The long-term injury to Kevin Shattenkirk helps matters, but even before then, Pionk had surpassed the veteran on New York's power-play depth chart. He currently sits seventh among all defensemen with 11 power-play points. That's more than Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, Mark Giordano or Drew Doughty. Heck, that's as many as Roman Josi and Aaron Ekblad combined. Why isn't Pionk on more fantasy teams?
Average ice time
Darnell Nurse, D, Edmonton Oilers: Without Oscar Klefbom for the next little while, the Oilers will need to lean on Nurse as their No. 1 defenseman. He played the bulk of the team's power-play time over the past two games, spiking past 30 minutes of total ice time. Overall, he's been a bit of a disappointment this season, but the door is now wide open for Nurse to start returning some value.
Fantasy Forecaster: Dec. 17-23
Teams playing two games: The Oilers are the lone team with a reduced schedule this week. It comes at a somewhat inopportune time as Edmonton has finally "locked itself in" under new coach Ken Hitchcock and is finding success. With points in five straight games (and in eight of their past nine contests), the Oilers will get a little rest. Hitchcock has Cam Talbot playing a little better -- to the point that the team's two goaltenders appear to be almost splitting time again. It means both Talbot and Mikko Koskinen aren't really options on a two-game week. You are also running out of time to get Alex Chiasson. If he stays on a line with Connor McDavid -- as he has since Hitchcock took over -- Chiasson will finish the season as a top-50 skater in fantasy.
Teams playing four games: A whopping18 teams play four games this week, with each one having a back-to-back set included on the schedule. With so many affected sides, it all but wipes out any statistical advantage you can gain with the saturation of action. Still, you can use the four-game week as a tie-breaker as you set your lineup.
Highlights from teams playing three games: Calgary's Mike Smith left Wednesday's game with an undisclosed injury, though I think it might have been a case of "four-goal-itis." His status is uncertain. This could leave David Rittich with a three-game week all to himself. Just be wary of the Tampa Bay Lightning matchup in the middle. ... It's time to put away Tampa Bay's Louis Domingue. As solid as he was filling in for the injured Andrei Vasilevskiy (who is now back), Domingue will be relegated to playing only in back-to-back sets going forward. ... Among the teams playing only three games that have a back-to-back set are the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings, Rangers, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals. That means it may only be a two-start week by Carter Hutton, Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby. Plan accordingly, if any of these guys are your main backstop.
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.
Dallas Stars: The four-game schedule for the Stars includes three contests at home and a stop in Minnesota. It will be good for the team to get back home as, regardless of how Saturday turns out, they've had an awful four-game road trip. Coach Jim Montgomery has given us some strange looks on his lines over the past few games, but thought wiser of it on Thursday, going back to the "usual configuration" against San Jose. It still resulted in a loss, but at least the game was closer. It's basically impossible to recommend anyone from the Stars for fantasy, as the team is about as top-heavy as they come. That said, Martin Hanzal has been easing his way back into the lineup and would provide a much-needed boost to the top-six if he can get up to full steam. Hanzal has been borderline fantasy-relevant (when healthy) during most of his career, prior to his arrival in Dallas. In 14-team leagues or deeper, I'm not opposed to a stash. ... Other than that, start your studs and keep Miro Heiskanen in the lineup unless we get word that John Klingberg is ready to return (which is possible).
San Jose Sharks: Like the Stars, the Sharks have three games at home and a road game in Minnesota. It seems to be a formula for a good week on the Forecaster. Don't look now, but guess who is rounding into form? During the past month, Erik Karlsson is tied for second in both points and shots-on-goal among defensemen. ... If you need a sleeper for the week, try Joonas Donskoi. He's skating on the Sharks' second line with Joe Pavelski and Evander Kane.
Calvin Pickard, G, Arizona Coyotes: I see the argument for wanting to pick Adin Hill up, and it's difficult to argue against it. The Coyotes have likely lost Antti Raanta for the season, Darcy Kuemper hasn't exactly been awesome, and Hill has turned in some excellent performances -- not the least of which was a shutout of the Predators. The Coyotes have a good defense and there's plenty of potential here for a fantasy-relevant goaltender, but Hill's hot streak isn't something we should expect to continue going forward. He didn't exactly have the best ratios on the Tucson Roadrunners when the Coyotes recalled him. If I'm looking long-term here to try to get some value in a deeper league, I'm backing Pickard. He has the most untested upside. We've seen Kuemper get a starting gig before thanks to injury and it wasn't that exciting. While Pickard had chances with the Flyers earlier this season, the Coyotes should be a better environment for defense.
Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues: Allen is slowly turning around his season -- very, very slowly. Ever since he missed a little time in early November with an injury, Allen has showed a better side of himself. Prior to the injury, Allen had a .879 save percentage and a 3.99 GAA. Since the injury, Allen has posted a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA in approximately the same number of games. The wins aren't likely to be there from this disjointed Blues squad, but the ratios have been solid for Allen.