If we consider that 1.7 fantasy points per game (FPPG) is at least good enough for a player to be in the fantasy discussion, we can quickly come to the realization that there are some underrated assets still in your free-agent pool that could easily find room on your roster.
You just have to let go of scoring as your main focus.
Tough, stalwart defensemen have the ability to approach fantasy relevance through hits and blocked shots (H&BS) alone.
Let's check in on some names that are widely available despite nearly putting up a fantasy-relevant pace without the use of their stick factored in.
Mario Ferraro, D, San Jose Sharks (1.78 FPPG from hits and blocked shots): Overlooked, perhaps, due to the resurgence from household names Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, Ferraro is having himself a little breakout season. Forget the fact for a moment that he is worth a roster spot for his hits and blocked shots alone, Ferraro has picked up seven points in 16 games to make his total FPPG 2.4. Are you ready for this tidbit? That's equal to or better than Burns and Karlsson. Ferraro is available in 62 percent of ESPN leagues.
Zach Whitecloud, D, Vegas Golden Knights (1.66 FPPG from H&BS): His averages are spiked from a very successful small sample size, but there is no denying the potential from Whitecloud. In just five games surrounding a lower-body injury, Whitecloud has 14 blocked shots, 13 hits and three points. This pace will tumble some, as he currently sits second in the NHL in fantasy points per 60 minutes (five-game minimum). But there is no reason his 1.66 FPPG from hits and blocks won't be steady enough to use on your fantasy team. He's available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues. And a shoutout here for his teammate, Brayden McNabb, who has 1.48 FPPG from hits and blocks and is available in 82 percent of ESPN leagues.
Artem Zub, D, Ottawa Senators (1.45 FPPG from H&BS): Amazingly, Zub's 21:53 in average ice time is deceptively low for what he'll actually do. It's dragged down by a game in which he left after five minutes. Really, he plays closer to 24 minutes a night, throwing his body into opponents and in front of pucks. His baseline from hits and blocks is more than enough to have him on your roster. Zub is available in 83 percent of ESPN leagues.
Robert Hagg, D, Buffalo Sabres (1.43 FPPG from H&BS): I wouldn't bet against Hagg having the most fantasy points for the Sabres at the end of the season. In a muted role for the Philadelphia Flyers last season, he did show signs of his ability to maximize hits and blocked shots in minimal ice time -- so this isn't completely out of the blue. Unfortunately, Hagg is just borderline relevant for rosters, as we shouldn't expect much, if anything, for fantasy points to flow from his stick. That said, you could use him as a fill-in for injuries or on a good week for the Sabres schedule. He's available in 97 percent of ESPN leagues.
Fantasy Forecaster: Nov. 22 to Nov. 28
Assuming the Ottawa Senators are back in action as planned (more below), it's a busy week ahead with 12 four-game teams. There is also some disparity, as the Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings all play only twice. It should be relatively easy to fade some of the players from those clubs for a more stacked schedule. In weekly roster leagues, I don't know that I'm starting anyone from those teams save for maybe Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
Ottawa Senators: As of Friday morning, we still have no official word on the fate of the Sens current COVID break. But, the team does appear to be on track to resuming practice on Saturday in order to be in Denver to play the Avs on Monday. Drake Batherson and Nikita Zaitsev will be the exceptions, as they entered COVID protocol later than many of their teammates. It's probably safe to start some of the Sens on your roster like Josh Norris or Brady Tkachuk if you have to, but if your lineup locks for the week, it is probably better to play it safe with another option. It's not as if this West Coast road trip is packed with appealing options for the offense.
Minnesota Wild: Great news for those invested in Kirill Kaprizov this season. He was reunited with his main linemates from last year -- Mats Zuccarello and Victor Rask -- on Thursday and they reminded us all just how good they are together. They scored three goals in less than four minutes of total ice time at five-on-five. In total this season, they've played 7:36 at five-on-five as a trio and scored four goals. In hindsight, it's almost ridiculous they weren't immediately reunited to start the season. While Rask managed to collect a goal and two assists, don't get too excited about him. His value is what he provides for chemistry to his linemates. Despite the success of the trio last season, Rask was not fantasy relevant at all.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs have a four-game week on tap and will still be without Nathan MacKinnon. Logan O'Connor is worth deploying considering two of the games against the softer defenses of the Senators and Stars. He's filling MacKinnon's role with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, as J.T. Compher is also on the mend. In deeper leagues, I'd spring for Andre Burakovsky, as the Avs are using him and Nazem Kadri on the top power play.
Anton Lundell, C, Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov is going to be gone a while, though it appears he doesn't need surgery. Still, this doesn't sound like a short-term absence. Lundell has already shown he can hang in the NHL, but now the rookie is going to get every chance to showcase his top-six potential on the team's second line. Given time, Lundell could also crack the top power play while Barkov is out. He was skating with Sam Reinhart and Carter Verhaeghe in the first game post-Barkov injury.
Seth Jarvis, W, Carolina Hurricanes: Even after the Canes had their usual top six healthy again, Jarvis remained on a line with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov on Thursday, scoring for the second game in a row.
Seth Jarvis breaks the deadlock for the Canes
Seth Jarvis scores to put Carolina up 2-1 over Anaheim in the third period.
Scott Perunovich, D, St. Louis Blues: Sure enough, the Blues have given the rookie about half of the power-play minutes available through his first two games. While he only notched one assist so far, he was on the ice for three of the four goals against the Sharks on Thursday.