It happens every year. Often drafted early, a solid portion of those projected to tear it up come stumbling out the gates, forcing their respective fantasy managers to make some tough decisions. Stay the course with these reputed prolific performers or call it a day in lieu of other sleeper/wild card types? More than ever this contracted - and continually contracting - campaign allows for little wasted time.
Here's a roundup of several early underachievers and whether to show them some patience or the fantasy door.
Give it a minute
Mika Zibanejad, C/LW, New York Rangers (Rostered in 98.2% of ESPN.com leagues): I'm not concerned. Other than opting to pass on a couple of occasions instead of shooting on net, last season's dominating goal-scorer - who's feeling better day by day - looked largely his old self in Wednesday's OT loss to the Bruins. He had several good quality scoring chances and they're going to start going in. If not, coach Dave Quinn might throw Artemi Panarin on Zibanejad's wing to kick-start that engine. One fashion or another, I don't imagine it'll be much longer before the Rangers' top center finds his groove.
On the flip side, less should be anticipated from Alexis Lafreniere this season. Listen, the kid's going to be a star, no question, but probably not in the next few weeks. He's getting the chance to ease into figuring out big-league competition on New York's third line, which is exactly where he belongs. Outside of keeper/dynasty leagues, the NHL's No. 1 draft pick doesn't factor in large as a fantasy asset in the here and now.
Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks (92.9%): This isn't the first time Karlsson's fantasy managers have been frustrated with the still-so-labeled elite defenseman and it won't be the last. Missed games and substandard play, largely due to injuries, have been part of Karlsson's rhythm since he dominated at his peak with the Senators. Still, there's cause to believe (hope) the former two-time Norris Trophy winner will gather himself before long. First, he actually feels good this season and that's huge. Then there's the Sharks' erratic opening schedule to consider. They have yet to play a home game. Some players are affected more by such circumstances than others. San Jose's power play is also due to improve. Seeing a ton of minutes, the 30-year-old blueliner is bound to turn matters around shortly. Besides, dump Karlsson and pick up who?
Evgenii Dadonov, RW/LW, Ottawa Senators (59.4%): Finally skating in the Senators' top six where he belongs, a goal in each of his last two games suggests the winger isn't about to drop back to the third unit anytime soon. Whether Dadonov competes with Brady Tkachuk or up-and-comer Tim Stutzle, the 31-year-old is going to score. He averaged 0.81 points per game - a good number of them goals - with the Panthers the past three campaigns. It's hardly unusual to need a bit of warm-up time to get comfortable with a new squad. The Sens won't win much this year, but Brady Tkachuk, Dadonov and Stutzle will still do their bit in contributing on fantasy rosters.
Cause for concern
Mark Giordano, D, Calgary Flames (94.7%): A few factors are bugging me, fantasy-wise, about the Flames' captain. He's not blocking shots as often as was his routine. He's skating fewer minutes. He has only one goal and four assists through a dozen games - including just the two helpers in his past seven. But my largest concern is the veteran being replaced by Rasmus Andersson on Calgary's top power play. Competing with Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube isn't equal to skating with Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and company. This isn't to suggest jettisoning Giordano - again, for who? - but a lowering of expectation should be in order. If there's a stronger fantasy option on any given night, managers might instead shuffle the 37-year-old onto the bench.
Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, Montreal Canadiens (82.1%): The Canadiens boast one of the most balanced forward lineups in the NHL. Montreal's new "second" line has a combined 34 points through 13 games. Skating on the "third" unit, Tyler Toffoli heads the scoring table up front with nine goals and four assists. After leading his club by a substantial margin in production only a year ago, Tatar isn't seeing as many minutes and quality scoring chances. Wednesday's goal against the Maple Leafs was his first since Jan. 16. He isn't shooting the puck on net as often. His unit - also comprising of Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher - is commonly matched up against the opposition's top line. No doubt, Tatar will still enjoy the occasional productive evening, just not nearly as frequently as a year ago. Don't remain too committed in shallower leagues.
Juuse Saros, G, Nashville Predators (70.7%): The Predators are a mess. There may be no greater discrepancy league-wide than the gap between quality of personnel on paper and a team's inability to execute on the ice. This club should be so much better. Ranking 27th in league scoring, they're also giving up way too many quality chances in their own end. While Saros can't be shouldered with the blame for having lost four of a recent five, he hasn't exactly bailed out his teammates with a stolen win either. Veteran Pekka Rinne has been better of late. Still, I'm giving the 25-year-old netminder a bit before pulling the chute. Nashville faces a less punishing schedule over the next two weeks - including four tilts with the Red Wings, ahem - which could go a long way in restoring everyone's confidence and perhaps even salvage this season.
Tristan Jarry, G, Pittsburgh Penguins (61.8%): A fantasy liability through the first fifth of the Penguins' compact campaign, Jarry is somewhat justified in bemoaning certain conditions. Pittsburgh's defense is badly banged up. The club's February schedule hit an irregular cadence because of the league's COVID-related protocol. But Jarry - 3.95 goals-against average, .857 save percentage - also hasn't been good enough on his own.
The next stretch in which Pittsburgh faces the Islanders five times and the Capitals on four occasions will be telling. It's time to step up. Perhaps the new managing duo of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke enacts a move to help the blue line. Maybe Brian Dumoulin returns sooner than later. But the clock's ticking now on Jarry and perhaps the Pens' season as a whole. He gets one more week from me before earning the fantasy boot.
Cut 'em loose
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, C, New York Islanders (60.0%): Pageau is centering a third line with Leo Komarov and Oliver Wahlstrom. He's averaging a sniff above one shot per game and seeing limited minutes on a secondary power play. The Islanders rank 28th with 2.27 goals-per-game. Add it all up and little wonder Pageau has just the one goal and three helpers through 11 contests. Unless blocked-shots are a real big deal, the two-way center should be dropped in most leagues for some other fantasy wild card with greater upside.
Ryan Graves, D, Colorado Avalanche (62.2%): He's skating on the Avs' third pair and has one assist (and one healthy scratching) to show for 10 games. He's minus-five after boasting a plus-40 only one season ago. Coach Jared Bednar says he isn't the same player. If nothing changes when the Avalanche returns to action (hopefully) on Sunday, Graves merits an immediate kicking to the fantasy curb.