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NHL Risers and Fallers: Calling It Spades

The calendar has flipped to November and the fantasy hockey season has hit full stride. It’s important to call a spade a spade and look critically at your teams to assess where improvements can be made. Here are a handful of risers and fallers who’ve caught my eye.

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Fantasy Hockey Risers

Jeff Skinner, C, Buffalo Sabres

Relocating to Buffalo was expected to be a boon for Skinner’s fantasy stock, as he spent the majority of the 2017-18 campaign on the third line and recorded just 24 goals and 49 points. Fast forward, and the 26-year-old winger is riding shotgun to Jack Eichel atop the depth chart in all situations. Skinner and Eichel have connected for 6.46 goals per 60 minutes while driving possession with a 57.2 Corsi For percentage at even strength.

Skinner’s marked the scoresheet in seven of his past nine contests for seven goals, six assists, four power-play points and 32 shots. While his current pace will likely prove difficult to maintain over the long haul, as long as Skinner is receiving top-line minutes and skating with the No. 1 power-play unit, he’s positioned to post big numbers. He’s clearly an excellent fit alongside Eichel, and Skinner’s well on his way to the fourth 30-goal showing of his career.

Washington Capitals

With a four-game road trip through Canada in the rear-view mirror, the Caps begin a five-game homestand Saturday. Washington is 31-12-3 on home ice dating back to the beginning of last season and have scored 3.41 goals per 60 minutes in the process. Braden Holtby has also thrived at Capital One Arena with a 127-43-15 record, .924 save percentage and 2.21 GAA, so he shouldn’t be overlooked despite facing five strong opponents during the home stand: Dallas, Edmonton, Pittsburgh Columbus and Arizona.

Washington has also juggled its lines of late with Jakub Vrana joining Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin, and Andre Burakovsky skating with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie at even strength. The shifts should prove to provide a fantasy boost for Vrana and Burakovsky, and both wingers are promising waiver-wire adds.

Quick Hitters

Mikko Koskinen, EDM: With Thursday’s 40-save shutout, the 30-year-old Finn has now won his first two starts of the season and stopped 64 of 67 shots. He’s still clearly locked into a backup role, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Cam Talbot ceded a few more starts to Koskinen. After all, Talbot’s .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA since the beginning of last season are underwhelming marks.

Derrick Pouliot, VAN: With Alexander Edler (lower body) out with a long-term injury, Pouliot has stepped into the quarterback role on the No. 1 power-play unit. The former eighth-overall selection owns tremendous offensive upside and is still just 24 years old, so it’s far too early to write him off. Additionally, the Canucks are icing an impressive top group with the man advantage.

Fantasy Hockey Fallers

Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings

The veteran was an obvious candidate for negative regression after recording a career-best 35 goals and 92 points last season. However, his underwhelming start to the 2018-19 campaign stands as a serious concern. Kopitar has recorded just three tallies and two helpers through 11 games, and his 0.94 points per 60 minutes at even strength is minuscule next to last season’s 2.71 mark.

Obviously, Kopitar is capable of rebounding from the discouraging start, and he probably will to a degree. Unfortunately, while his minutes are already up with an average of 23:03 and 3:41 on the power play per game, he’s registering just 6.39 shots per 60 minutes and currently skating with underwhelming linemates in Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown. Expectations should probably be tempered for a major bounce back.

Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

While just a game removed from a three-point outing, Stamkos is still off to an underwhelming start. He’s collected just two goals, six assists and 2.3 points per 60 minutes. Further concerning, No. 91 has been on the ice for the fewest high-danger scoring chances per hour among all Lightning forwards. Following last season’s 86-point showing there’s a legitimate chance he’s now on the wrong side of his offensive prime.

Still, it’s hard to imagine Stamkos falling down the ranks too far. He’s logging power-play minutes with the No. 1 unit and there’s positive regression ahead of his 5.9 shooting percentage. Additionally, he’s combined with frequent linemate Nikita Kucherov for an unsustainably low 0.931 PDO at even strength. Unfortunately, as high as Stamkos’ fantasy floor is, his upside could be capped.

Quick Hitters

Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI: With just a single assist and 11 shots through his past seven contests, Gostisbehere is in a major scoring funk. He rattled off 65 points — 13 goals — last year to boost his points per 60 mark to an elite 2.02 over the previous three years. What’s most concerning is his 4.44 shots per hour during his recent seven-game slump. Although, if there’s a panicked Gostisbehere owner, this could be a ripe buying opportunity.

Ryan Donato, BOS: The Harvard product burst onto the scene last season with nine points — five goals — through 12 games before suiting up for three playoff games. Big things were expected for Donato this year, but after scoring a single goal through the first 11 games of the campaign, he’s now skating with Providence in the AHL. He’s only worth holding onto in deep settings.

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