Fantasy hockey: Secondary scorers poised to benefit from NHL trade deadline

Casey Mittelstadt (L) and Jack Hughes battle for the puck, but each could see their chances rise after their teams traded key veterans. AP Photo/John Minchillo

Before slamming shut and shelving the book on this year's trade deadline, let's take one more tour of the league's fantasy landscape, now that clubs are more or less set. But, in examining this chapter's closing, spending some time with the less popular kids instead. Sure, Taylor Hall is bound to score more alongside David Krejci in Boston, ex-Wing Anthony Mantha is already off to a sizzling start with the Capitals, and Leafs Nation is predictably anticipating much-too-much from the latest Foligno to wear No. 71 in Toronto, but we know all of that.

What about the less-renowned figures to land elsewhere, players who might benefit from gaining a new linemate from another club, or those left behind, tasked with making the most of a non-contending campaign? Sometimes such dark horses offer the greatest fantasy bang-for-buck to wrap up a season. In that spirit, here's a look at some of the other guys who might help your fantasy club in both rotisserie and head-to-head playoff competition.

Boston Bruins: As riffed on above, never mind Hall and his quest to turn over a fresh scoring leaf in Boston - the former Hart Trophy winner is spoken for in nearly 90% of ESPN.com leagues. Instead, shift your view to the third banana on the Bruins' second scoring line, right wing Craig Smith. Smith scored a goal and assist in Hall's debut, stretching his current point streak to five games (three goals, five assists), and averaging 4.5 fantasy points per contest. As experienced fantasy managers are well aware, the veteran scorer tends to run hot/cold with volatility. Available in more than 75% of ESPN.com leagues, Smith should be exploited now. That refurbished, Krejci-centered second line looks the real deal.

Buffalo Sabres: There's a couple of forward figures worth paying fantasy mind in Buffalo as 2020-21 draws to a close. As Taylor Hall tries to flick the productive switch in Boston and Jack Eichel (herniated disc) looks ahead to 2021-22, the Jeff Skinner/Sam Reinhart/Victor Olofsson top trio is left to do a fair bit of heavy lifting in putting up (some) points for the basement-dwelling Sabres. While Reinhart and Olofsson are largely accounted for in ESPN.com leagues, Skinner is not. Before rolling your eyes at the suggestion of adding the underperforming winger, know that he's scored two goals and two assists in four games since slipping into that top-line role in place of Hall. Meanwhile, Casey Mittelstadt has five goals and two helpers in his past eight games. That's five more than the one goal scored to that point by the now second-line center. Perhaps, just maybe, the 2017 eight-overall draft selection - who reportedly adores playing for interim coach Don Granato - is finally figuring it out.

Colorado Avalanche: Just like that, Devan Dubnyk has become an incredibly important character for the Cup-contending Avalanche. Acquired ahead of the deadline as backup insurance, the former Sharks netminder has attained instant prominence now that No. 1 Philipp Grubauer has tested positive for COVID-19. Grubauer is anticipated to miss two weeks, minimum. I'd count on at least three. Which means, after earning the win versus the Blues Wednesday, Dubnyk will start most of Colorado's remaining 13 scheduled games. Unless he falters badly, forcing the club to turn to Jonas Johansson more often than they'd like. Johansson has been solid since joining the Avs from Buffalo, but he's still largely inexperienced. It's Dubnyk's gig to lose. And playing for one of the league's elite clubs, the veteran 'tender is rostered in only 13% of ESPN.com leagues. Just about any fantasy manager with goaltending issues should give him some thought, at least.

Dallas Stars Relatively quiet on the trade-deadline front - a waiver claim for defenseman Sami Vatanen registering a minor ripple - the Stars are standing pat with what they have, come what may. Unfortunately, that now means no Alexander Radulov (surgery pending) or Ben Bishop (knee); both the forward and veteran goalie have been shut down for the year. That leaves Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, Roope Hintz (when healthy), and Jason Robertson to make the most of the Stars' 15 remaining games. While the first three are mostly rostered, Robertson is not. The 21-year-old rookie is averaging nearly a point per game since early March - 10 goals, 13 assists in 24 contests - and quickly padding his fantasy resume. He's a true asset across the fantasy spectrum. Oh, and keep an eye on Tyler Seguin's upcoming healthy debut - could be soon and useful.

Florida Panthers: According to Panthers' reporter David Dwork, forward Nikita Gusev is poised to make his Florida debut on a top line with No. 1 center Aleksander Barkov. There are worse positions to hold. Remember, Gusev collected 44 points in 66 games in his first NHL tour with the Devils before stumbling this campaign. Placed on waivers after spending too many nights in Jersey's press box, the 28-year-old - a former prolific producer in the KHL - is likely all revved up to re-ignite his pro career on this continent. Playing alongside Barkov should help to that end. If nothing else, Gusev makes for an attractive outside-the-box Daily Fantasy asset in the foreseeable future. Keep a view on how he makes out, beginning Thursday in Tampa. Additional note: ex-Flame Sam Bennett - also worth watching - is expected to play his first game in a Panthers' sweater on Saturday.

New Jersey Devils: With Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and a pair of experienced defenseman dealt out the door, it's left to the kids to wrap up all matters 2020-21 in New Jersey. Up front, Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier are running the show, flanked by wingers in their early twenties. Of that youthful bunch, Hischier presents as the most attractive fantasy commodity, alongside winger Jesper Bratt. Before suffering injury in late February, the 21-year-old had scored in consecutive games. Frustrated at having to sit out for weeks, he's undoubtedly motivated to make up for lost time in a more loosey-goosey competitive climate brought on by zero expectations. The Devils have 15 games remaining on their schedule, including five against Philadelphia. Averaging 4.06 goals-allowed per contest, no team has behaved more generously - not even close - towards the opposition this past month than the Flyers. There are goals to be had for scoring Devils this waning month of the season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins appear in no hurry to rush Evgeni Malkin back to action, which feels sensible enough. Asked about a timeline for the center's return from injury, GM Ron Hextall suggested before the end of the regular season. So, not next week then. Which means Pittsburgh newbie Jeff Carter remains projected to center the club's second line until the end of April, at minimum. Adjacent Jason Zucker at even-strength, and perhaps eventually competing with Sidney Crosby on the top power play, Carter is going to score with his new club. While the 36-year-old's numbers have dipped in recent years, for that his supporting cast in L.A. is at least partially to blame. Overwhelmingly available in ESPN.com leagues, the former 30-plus goal-scorer, several seasons over, could serve as a late secret weapon in deeper leagues.