Special to Yahoo Sports
If you’ve made the playoffs in your fantasy league, congratulations! The hard part now begins, and that’s bringing home the championship. The end of the season can be a tough time to figure out. After the Rangers acquired Patrick Kane, the assumption was that they would transform into a bona fide Cup contender, but that hasn’t been the case. On the other hand, you have a team like the Predators, who were hit by injuries and dealt some veteran players, only to increase their points percentage and seemingly unearth a top-six center in Tommy Novak.
Here are eight under-the-radar players who could help you bring home the championship.
Tommy Novak, C, Predators
Since the trade deadline, Novak has been the Predators’ top-scoring forward with 17 points in 15 games, leading the team in points per game. Novak is averaging 16 minutes per game, playing on the top line and on the top power-play unit with Matt Duchene. Ryan Johansen’s leg injury, Mikael Granlund’s move to Pittsburgh and Cody Glass’ low-ceiling offense paved the way for Novak to be the team’s best scoring option at center, and he’s since run away with the job. He scored the game-winner Tuesday against the Wings, adding three shots, and won 75 percent of his faceoffs.
While Novak has battled Juuso Parssinen for the top job at certain points, Parssinen’s injury and Novak’s strong play has made the decision very easy for John Hynes. Look for Novak to finish the season as one of the Preds’ top scorers, as he’s already tied Johansen for fourth in scoring on the team despite playing 21 fewer games. Entering Tuesday’s game, Novak and Duchene combined for a 54.15 5v5 CF% and 71 shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, compared to 47.81 5v5 CF% and 57 shot attempts for Johansen and Duchene, per naturalstattrick.com.
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Everyone knows about Clayton Keller, who has been excellent over the past two months with 30 points in 18 games, but how about his linemates? Schmaltz is day-to-day with an injury but since last season has scored at a 0.93 points per game pace, tied with the likes of Timo Meier and Claude Giroux. Brett Ritchie has skated in Schmaltz’s spot and it certainly dampens the line’s effectiveness, but look for Schmaltz to return to this line once he’s healthy.
Hayton was drafted as a two-way player, but since being the fifth overall pick in 2018 has shown little improvement until this season. Playing with Keller and Schmaltz has obviously helped, and since the All-Star Game he’s scored 18 points in 19 games. The lack of any other scoring centers also ensures Hayton will play a top-six role, as only Keller and Schmaltz have averaged more ice time per game. On Tuesday, Hayton assisted on both of Keller’s goals against the Flames.
With another goal Tuesday against the Canes, Niederreiter has now scored four goals and seven points in eight games for his new club. Though his line was benched and the Jets have started to fall off the wagon, leading Niederreiter to play just 10:30 in that game, he was averaging more than 18 minutes per game in his first seven games as a Jet. It’s the most ice time he’s ever gotten since his trade to the Canes in 2019, and he’s quickly supplanted Nikolaj Ehlers on the depth chart and often playing on a line with Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele.
Given his scoring prowess and hits, Niederreiter is a multi-category contributor whose fantasy value has significantly increased since moving on from the Preds. Rick Bowness’ grinding, defensive style is tailor-made for Niederreiter, and his benching in Tuesday’s game is likely just temporary.
Sandin’s assist Tuesday against the Rangers now gives him nine points in five games for the Capitals, including a pair of games in which he recorded three assists. He’s turned out to be one of the best acquisitions by any team at the trade deadline, piling up the stats in virtually every category and reinvigorating a Caps power play that was missing John Carlson. Sandin played 26:43 against the Rangers, six more minutes than Trevor van Riemsdyk, who had the next highest total, and they were the only defensemen to play more than 20 minutes. Sandin should be rostered in all formats for the rest of the season.
The Ducks (and other lowly teams) don’t draw much attention in fantasy but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any good players. Fowler is a long-time Duck and often gets lost in the shuffle because he’s not a flashy player, but since Feb. 15 he’s scored 15 points in his past 13 games, tied with Vince Dunn for best in the league. With another point, Fowler will tie his career high in points set the previous season, and no one else on the Ducks comes close to playing the amount of minutes he does.
What a turn of events for Quick, who’s a perfect 4-0-0 with the Knights after going 11-13-4/.876/3.50 with the Kings. True to his word, Quick looks motivated and ready to prove the Kings wrong after the only franchise he had ever known felt prudent to move him for another goalie (see below). The Knights are known to play a goalie-friendly system, meaning they do a good job of keeping shots to the outside, and with Adin Hill and Logan Thompson still recovering from injuries, it looks like Quick will be the Knights’ starter going forward. At his best, Quick relied on his athleticism to make saves, and playing on a new team has been like finding the fountain of youth. Even if Hill returns and takes back the starting job, Quick has at least proven that he can be relied on, making him a strong streaming option for the rest of the season.
The knock against Pheonix Copley as the Kings vie for the division title is that he has zero playoff experience. Korpisalo at least has some — nine games, to be exact, including an upset against the Leafs in the 2020 qualifying round of the bubble playoffs — and so far has been flawless with the Kings, allowing just six goals in three starts, all of which were wins. The Kings are operating a 50-50 split at the moment with Korpisalo starting Tuesday against the Isles, and it’ll be interesting if they go back to Korpisalo on Thursday when they host the Jackets, his former team. If they do, it’s a hint that Korpisalo may have emerged as the 1A even though the Kings wouldn’t be in their current playoff position had Copley not relieved them of both Quick and Cal Petersen earlier in the season. Given how weak the Pacific Division has been, Korpisalo’s fantasy value is certainly on the rise.