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Top fantasy hockey category specialists: Midseason edition

Calvin de Haan of the Chicago Blackhawks has blocked many shots this season, like this one. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Head-to-head category leagues are unique in that one goal, one shot, one digit of a save percentage can truly mean the difference between winning or losing an entire week. In that view, here's a fresh, mid-season round-up of fantasy's underappreciated category giants, who can help nail down a particular field, with no weighted points or formulas in play. Candidates who are both largely available across the ESPN.com spectrum and don't serve as fantasy liabilities otherwise. As usual, managers in Roto and H2H points leagues should also find the following useful.


Goals

Michael Bunting, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs (Rostered in 14.6% of ESPN.com leagues): There are worse positions to hold than on a top scoring line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Just ask Bunting, who has eight goals in his past 11 games, including a hat-trick against the Red Wings on Jan. 29. Injecting himself into the Calder conversation (as a long-shot, mind you), the 26-year-old rookie has 15 goals and 17 assists on the year, including four points with the extra skater. Averaging 2.23 fantasy points/game since Jan. 15 - largely because of his recent proclivity for finding the back of the net - Bunting could be extra productive in the next 10 days. The Maple Leafs face the Penguins, Blues, Canadiens, Blue Jackets, Wild and Red Wings between Feb. 17 and Feb. 26.

See also: Jeff Skinner, LW, Buffalo Sabres (15.2%)

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Michael Bunting scores a tough goal to give Leafs the lead

Michael Bunting scores a tough goal to give Leafs the lead

Assists

Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils (20.6%): Guilty of a few defensive blunders of late, Severson has nonetheless pitched in helpers at a remarkably steady pace. Seventeen of them though 22 games and counting, to be precise. If needing a boost in the assists and/or power-play points department, consider leaning on the New Jersey defender as a fantasy streaming option. At least until Dougie Hamilton returns from his jaw injury, which, admittedly, could be any day now.

Shots

Viktor Arvidsson, LW/RW, Los Angeles Kings (22.7%): The Kings' winger is firing up a storm, all season long and especially of late, averaging 3.9 shots/game since New Year's Day. He's also rounding out a point/game over that stretch, with seven goals and nine assists (plus-seven). The former Predator is enjoying a memorable season all around in his new California digs, humming along at a 1.9 fantasy points/game pace, and yet there he sits; unaccounted for in more than three-quarters of ESPN.com leagues.

Blocked shots

Calvin de Haan, D, Chicago Blackhawks (9.4%): Look no further than the Blackhawks' blue line for a bounty of blocked shots, embodied by two elite performers in that department (maybe even three, if you want to count Jake McCabe). Leading the NHL with 4.4/game since mid-January, de Haan not only serves as a difference-maker in H2H category competition, but just about any fantasy league that rewards blocked-shots. Fellow Chicago defender Connor Murphy - rostered in 23.1% of ESPN.com leagues - serves as another such solid asset, with a few more points and hits to boot. The aforementioned McCabe also has value in deeper leagues, and is overwhelmingly available.

Plus/minus

Christopher Tanev, D, Calgary Flames (3.1%): Contributing three goals and five assists himself, the top-four defenseman is plus-18 through his past 11 games for the sizzling Flames. The 32-year-old veteran also leads his squad in blocked shots (77) this season. While you're not going to jettison a more well-rounded asset just to gain a few positive ticks in this category, Tanev could be worth picking up in dropping a similarly modest commodity. It's also worth noting the veteran blueliner is enjoying the most productive campaign of his career. And, again, that Calgary club is searing hot at the moment.

Faceoffs won

Nico Hischier, C, New Jersey (67.9%): Boasting identical 54.9% winning rates, only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby has taken more faceoffs (288 vs. 246) than the Devils' centerman through 13 contests since Jan. 16. Hischier also has six goals, two assists, 27 shots and 11 blocked shots - a fair number for a forward - in that span. While the No. 1 overall draft pick (2017) is only available in a third of ESPN.com leagues, he may otherwise be worth a trade offer. Especially in leagues that reward success in the dot.

Goalie wins

Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues (45.4%): To win, they first need to play, right? While Jordan Binnington largely sits sidelined, the Blues' current No. 1 is playing - and winning - a lot. Posting a .946 SV%, Husso has emerged victorious in six of his past seven starts, and looks to steamroll through a few more in the foreseeable future. St. Louis plays the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Sabres and Blackhawks from now until February's end. Outside of this Saturday's tilt in Toronto, that presents as an overwhelmingly friendly schedule. Husso also serves as a hot commodity in the GAA category. Altogether, I'm a little surprised this high-performing fantasy netminder remains this available.

See also: Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars (31.7%)

Save percentage

Matt Murray, Ottawa Senators (6.0%): Wins don't carry too much weight? Goals-against not that big of a bother? Then investing in a solid goalie on a more defensively porous team isn't the worst idea. Murray, for instance, who's faced the sixth-most number of shots in the league since Jan. 15, despite playing one to three fewer games than all five with more. The math specifically works out to a busy 35 shots-against/contest. And, more importantly, Ottawa's top netminder has stopped a good majority of them. Before Tuesday's less impressive showing against the Blues, Murray boasted a .949 SV% through nine starts spanning Jan. 13 to Feb. 13. Not bad. Scheduled to skip Thursday's contest in Buffalo, he's loosely expected back from an undisclosed ailment shortly.