Plenty of NHL teams don't have a skater in the top 50 on the ESPN Player Rater, which shows us the fantasy value of every player so far this season.
But there's only one team that sits fourth overall in the NHL standings and doesn't have a fantasy star in the top 50.
The New York Islanders are the most successful of the defense-first franchises. They are 24th in the NHL in goals this season, but sit near the top of the standings because they are also second in allowing the fewest goals.
But the offense has been less inspiring.
Mathew Barzal leads the charge for fantasy production from an offensive standpoint, but among his peers he sits 59th on the ESPN Player Rater. Only the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild have a lower debut for one of their players on the Player Rater.
Barzal's pace remains similar to what he put up last season, which leaves his phenomenal rookie campaign as the outlier at this stage. He's on pace for 68 points after notching 63 last season. His 85 points from 2017-18 can, at this point, be chalked up to the Isles power play back when John Tavares was around. He scored 27 power-play points that season, 18 last year and is on pace for 12 this season.
Either way, Barzal is still clearly the funnel through which the offense flows for the Isles. That means Anders Lee is worth checking on in your league. He's been locked in with Barzal most of the season and has seen his availability grow thanks to a slow start. But Lee has turned things around of late. After scoring just 11 points in all of October and November, Lee had 12 points in December alone. He and Barzal are only hanging out on the power play during the past few games, but have seen little separation on the whole this season.
The other wingers with the most ice time with Barzal this season are Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey. Most recently, it's been Bailey, but both are pretty close in overall 5-on-5 ice time with Barzal. Recent games have Barzal playing with Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier, while Lee has been with Brock Nelson and Eberle.
The results have not been there yet for Eberle or Bailey, so they would be a speculative add at best, but could be used during certain stretches that make sense.
Which is why we are focusing on the Islanders this week. We have our first five-game foray in quite some time. The Islanders play Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday next week. Any access you can get to the lineup that has a chance to pay off is worth considering.
Beyond a hope that Lee is available, and a hopeful pickup of Eberle or Bailey, there are some options on the blue line, too. Ryan Pulock has already had one stretch of success this season, has been getting an increased role and leads the regular contributors on the team in power-play points per minute. Devon Toews is also getting plenty of run on the man advantage, leading the blue line in overall power-play time and currently stationed with the unit that features Barzal. Both will be widely available.
Fantasy Forecaster: Jan. 13 to Jan. 19
It's a busy week with 50 games on the schedule. We have the five-gamer from the Isles, but we also get a two-game schedule for the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers. So, yes, it's one of those rare weeks when Jordan Eberle could outscore Connor McDavid in head-to-head leagues thanks to sheer counting stats.
Playing four times are the Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Everyone else plays three games.
As is the case most weeks, H2H leagues can look to Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday as the days with light schedules. The Hurricanes play three of their four games on those days, and would be a good target to get those counting stats, too. Unfortunately, it's probably too soon to think Justin Williams could be playing a big enough role to use him, but there are other options. Warren Foegele is still skating with Jordan Staal and Andrei Svechnikov, while Jake Gardiner has been hotter than usual on the blue line.
For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense), which is on the left for each game, and "D" (defense), on the right, 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 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 that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50 percent of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I'll try to also include players below 10 percent ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.
Philadelphia Flyers: Carter Hart has had some solid runs, but is also prone to the occasional blowup of late. Next week shouldn't be an issue, as the Flyers have a pretty solid schedule on the Forecaster, which rates all four of their games as a 9 or better.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts are heating up and Alex Killorn still isn't rostered in enough places. He should be universally on rosters at this stage. He's your only ancillary access to Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos at this stage, as the three have been playing together at even strength - but Killorn joins them on the power play.
New York Rangers: Has the Igor Shesterkin era begun? We added him to the "just missed" section in the rankings on Monday, despite the fact there was no indication he was about to get called up, but the Rangers did exactly that later in the day. He's dominated the AHL and is the Rangers future in the crease. While he may not stay up for the long term because the team can't carry three goaltenders, he's in fantasy play for as long as he is up.
Now that we have passed the halfway point of the season for every team, I thought we could use this section to check in on some on-pace stats. They are always fun to look at.
Three players are on pace to hit 50 goals, with one of them on pace for 60 goals. David Pastrnak is pacing at 64, Auston Matthews at 56 and Jack Eichel at 51. In the previous five seasons, 50 goals has been achieved only four times, three of them by Alex Ovechkin.
Nine players are on pace for 100 points. There have only been 11 such seasons in the previous five campaigns. Heading that direction this season are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Pastrnak, Artemi Panarin, Brad Marchand, Jonathan Huberdeau, Eichel and Patrick Kane.
Mika Zibanejad, despite missing 13 games already, is on pace for 39 goals, which would place him 16th in the league.
Despite already missing seven games, Zach Werenski is on pace for 30 goals. That's been achieved by a defenseman twice since 1990 - Mike Green in 2008-09 and Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93. Green missed 14 games when he did it.
Alex Ovechkin is the only player to top 400 shots in a season since 2000, but he hasn't done it in the past 10 seasons. He's on pace for 383.
The record for power-play goals in the 2000s is owned by Ilya Kovalchuk with 27 in 2005-06. Pastrnak is on pace for 29.
Only three players in the 2000s have managed 300 hits and at least 50 points. Dustin Brown did it twice and Tuomo Ruutu did it once. Brady Tkachuk is on pace to come very close to those thresholds (328 hits and 46 points).
Not since 2006-07 has a player topped 50 power-play points in a season - not even Nikita Kucherov's blistering campaign last year (48 power-play points). Both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on pace to get there this season.
Wayne Simmonds was close in 2015-16 with 60 points and 147 penalty minutes, but it's been since 2007-08 when a player had at least 60 points and at least 150 PIM, and it's actually only been achieved three times in the 2000s (Theo Fleury in 2001-02, Brenden Morrow in 2005-06 and Dion Phaneuf in 2007-08). Evander Kane is on pace to top both numbers this season.
Only seven times in the 2000s has a forward fired at least 250 shots on goal in a season and finished with 17 or fewer goals. The dubious achievement belongs to Brad Richards, Scott Gomez, Nathan MacKinnon, Jason Blake, Nazem Kadri, Patrick O'Sullivan and Michael Frolik. Taylor Hall is on pace to join them this season (and if he's not careful, Dylan Larkin could get there, too).
As hoped, Ilya Kovalchuk has a top-six role for the Montreal Canadiens and is also getting some power-play minutes. He has three helpers in three games and is playing closer to 20 minutes per game with the Habs, instead of just 15 or so with the Los Angeles Kings.