This time of year top scoring lines around the NHL are coming into focus. Some late draft gambles are already looking shaky and some big names like Jack Eichel, Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Huberdeau have already hit the IR. Fantasy hockey managers in every league are sifting through the players who weren’t taken on draft day looking for gems.
And this time of year there are always plenty of players that deserve a look available in free agency. If you bungled draft day, free agency offers you a chance to improve your roster and take a chance on players who are off to a hot start.
Thomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings
In the offseason, the Red Wings took a chance on the aging sniper and hoped that a change of scenery would do him some good. The early returns on their $2.6 million investment in Thomas Vanek have been outstanding. In his first four games playing in Hockeytown, Vanek has three goals, three assists and four points on the man advantage. That power play production is what sets him apart from the pack.
That power play production is what sets him apart from the pack.
Vanek has been making his mark in front of the net. His size and deft hands will keep him on a top power play unit that is off to a hot start. But it looks like Vanek’s production will be dependent on the man advantage. His average ice time per game is just 13:02 and his even strength linemates are Gustav Nyquist and Darren Helm. He’s playing a sheltered role in Detroit. The Red Wings don’t want Vanek to be a star, they just want him to generate scoring chances.
You can do a lot worse for your third left winger than a sniper who had 41 points and 146 shots in his worst season. Vanek also has added value in Yahoo leagues where he is eligible to play both wings.
Artem Anisimov, Chicago Blackhawks
Artem Anisimov was the understated two-way forward on one of hockey’s most dynamic lines last season. And Joel Quenneville liked what the big Russian center brought to the mix. This year Anisimov is back on the Blackhawks’ top line with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. He put concerns about his surgically-repaired wrist to rest thanks to a four-point game against the Flyers on October 18th.
Anisimov’s power play production held him back from cracking the top-200 players in fantasy hockey last year. He had just 10 points on the man advantage despite the talented wingers he skated with. Anisimov has already picked up two assists on the man advantage this season. If he can build off of last year’s success he should finally eclipse the 50-point mark.
If you took a third center in the draft it’s unlikely that Anisimov will be an upgrade on your roster. He plays a squeaky clean game and doesn’t put pucks on net. He leaves that to his linemates. But Anisimov is still an option worth keeping an eye on because he fits so well with Panarin and Kane.
If you need a band-aid after stashing Eichel or another hurt center on the IR, Ansimov is a solid pick-up.
Lee Stempniak, Carolina Hurricanes
Stempniak already looks like he’s ready to be one of fantasy hockey’s biggest surprises for the second straight year. Last season he was a top-150 fantasy player. He was a gem in Yahoo leagues because he can play both wings. Stempniak had 51 points with the Devils and Bruins and earned himself a contract and spot in the Carolina Hurricanes’ young top-six forward group.
The journeyman is off to a cracking start with his 10th team. Stempniak has five points in four games and is skating on Carolina’s top line with Jeff Skinner and Viktor Rask. He already has as many goals as he scored in his 19 games with Boston last season. Clearly, playing a featured role in an offense again agrees with him.
If Stempniak stays healthy he’s good for 50 points and 150 shots. You’re unlikely to find many players who didn’t go on draft day that can boast those kinds of numbers still available in free agency. If you need a left winger go grab Stempniak.