Midseason fantasy hockey leagues: Do-not-draft-early list

Phil Kessel of the Vegas Golden Knights has a disappointing 12 points in 32 games this season. Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire

Maybe you initially found the 2,624-game NHL regular season exceedingly overwhelming. Perhaps your fantasy football team proved too much of a distraction. Or perchance your current fantasy hockey squad isn't performing to the level of your liking. I have good news! It isn't too late -- in fact, you have until Jan. 13 -- to form a private ESPN.com fantasy league with fellow managers and draft a fresh, new team. Only now with the added intel of knowing how well, or not, players and teams are managing to date.

While my colleague Sean Allen examines a selection of most improved and consistent players with the view to drafting a fantasy squad in the here and now, let's have a gander at those dawdling at the opposite end of the success spectrum: Players who haven't lived up to expectation in correlation with their consensus draft position back in October. The relative duds, so to speak. Skaters and goalies who, knowing what we know now, shouldn't be selected nearly as high, or even at all, in most fantasy leagues. Not only because of what they haven't accomplished to date, but in also considering their limited prospects of turning matters around. They haven't contributed much already and likely won't erupt anytime soon. To avoid repetition in our NHL fantasy space, I'm steering away from figures examined in Sean's own recent look at underachievers. So, for the fullest picture, read that study too.

Before getting to my selected gaggle of disappointments, keep in mind that competing in a shortened fantasy season is more of a sprint than a marathon. Individual schedules matter. If the Kings have five fewer games than other teams -- as is the case today -- consider bypassing a Los Angeles skater and selecting a relatively equal asset with more contests in hand. Plus, give the IR a good, hard look. When is Tom Wilson expected back? Nikolaj Ehlers? What about goal-scoring darling Max Pacioretty? If your fantasy league starts in early January and Maximillian is set to join the Hurricanes two weeks later, he might very well be worth selecting before other more middling assets.

Phil Kessel, F, Vegas Golden Knights: Remember back to early October, when we suspected the veteran goal scorer might slip in on a top line with center Jack Eichel? Yeah, well, that's not how matters have unfolded in Vegas to date. Instead of ripping them by goalies alongside the No. 1 center, Kessel is instead tucked in on the Golden Knights' third line, playing around 12 minutes/night. With six goals and six assists in 32 games, his contributions to the scoresheet are too few and far between for any manager's fantasy liking.

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Oliver Bjorkstrand, F, Seattle Kraken: Three goals. After leading Columbus with 28 only a year ago, the 27-year-old was projected to lead the Kraken in similar fashion while skating on a top unit with rookie sensation Matty Beniers. Instead, Bjorkstrand is seeing limited minutes on the club's third line and has three goals (11 assists) to show for 29 contests. At this stage, there are about five or six other Seattle forwards I would draft before the former Blue Jacket in any fantasy league.

Juraj Slafkovsky, F, Montreal Canadiens: No doubt, this year's No. 1 draft selection is going to contribute in a handsome manner to Montreal's winning cause at some point. But the 18-year-old isn't yet where some of us prematurely thought he would be. As in, skating on a top Habs line with Nick Suzuki. I know too many fantasy managers in redraft leagues who reached for Slafkovsky and now regret it. Competing in the bottom six, the youngster is on pace for only 30 points his rookie season.

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John Klingberg, D, Anaheim Ducks: So far, the Ducks are paying their new defenseman $700k per point -- which doesn't exactly serve as a great deal for GM Pat Verbeek and crew. Truth is, the Ducks score less than any other team in the league, at even-strength or with the extra skater. Now that Klingberg has been supplanted on the top power play by Cam Fowler, there's little cause to expect a surge in production from the former Star. Before Thursday's atypical two-goal effort, he was point-less in seven games while logging an average of fewer than 20 minutes of ice-time. Goodness knows the 30-year-old won't make anything near $7-million with his next deal. As it stands, there are two Anaheim skaters who deserve rostering in most ESPN.com redraft fantasy leagues: Forwards Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras. End of list.

Jeremy Swayman, G, Boston Bruins: Jim Montgomery's goaltending cooperative is becoming less tandem all the time. Boston's net largely belongs to Linus Ullmark and for good reason. The early Vezina candidate has been spectacular. Even when Swayman has been healthy, he's been the lesser and lesser-used netminder for the East-leading Bruins. I like Boston's backup as a fantasy spot start, when the matchup makes sense, and that's about it. As long as Ullmark remains fit and fabulous.

Jordan Binnington, G, St. Louis Blues: The streakiest netminder in the league has two recent wins under his socks after losing seven straight. Ahead of that ugly run, he lost five in a row before winning six. No thanks. Unless you're prepared, and able, to sit Binnington when he's running cold, there are less damaging goaltending assets available. This is a figure who can easily earn your squad a weekly loss all on his own. Also, bear in mind big-picture-wise, the Blues' No. 1 has been in steady decline since winning the Cup back in 2019.

Carter Hart, G, Philadelphia Flyers: Turns out, coach John Tortorella hasn't been able to magically turn the Flyers into a winning side as many fantasy managers had hoped/anticipated. Injuries to key figures like Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier haven't helped either. Hart is a good, young goaltender who -- while capable of stealing one here and there -- suffers as a fantasy asset by competing for a not-great team. And it's too bad, because the 24-year-old plays a lot.

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