As the calendar switches over to 2020, the fantasy hockey season is starting to hit its stride. With just about eight weeks to go until playoff time, its time to emerge as a contender or a pretender. The following six players are guys who are either still available in most leagues and are poised for a big few weeks or months, or guys who may have been claimed thanks to a good first half of the season but may slip.

Up

Nikita Gusev, F, New Jersey: Claim anyone on the Devils with caution. Their season is obviously not going the way they wanted, and they have struggled to put the puck in the net ranking 30th out of 31st in goals scored per game. But since trading Taylor Hall three weeks ago, Hall’s production will be picked up in one way or another and in the last three weeks a lot of it has come from Nikita Gusev. He skates on the second line with Blake Coleman who is on pace for 26 goals, and he has filled in for Hall on the top power play unit. Since Hall’s departure on December 16, Gusev has as many multi-point games as he does games without a point and was on a five-game scoring streak before Saturday’s loss to Colorado. This is the 27-year old’s first season in the NHL after being a point per game player in the KHL over the last four years. He is worth the pickup and is available in more than 80% of leagues.

Nikita Gusev has 24 points in his first NHL season (photo: northjersey.com)

Roope Hintz, F, Dallas: Hintz is a bit hard to figure out. Many hockey pundits have called for the 23-year old rookie’s breakout tear and at least to this point, it has not really happened. But you can tell why it seems inevitable that it will happen. He is big, strong, physical, and is still very much molding into an impactful NHLer. He exploded at the beginning of the year with four goals in five games and is currently on a four-game point streak. His numbers were not nearly as good between those two stretches but still, the longest he’s been held off the score sheet this year is four consecutive games. He is being derailed a bit by his line mate Joe Pavelski who only has six points in the last month but the Stars may look to move the aging Pavelski down the lineup which could spark Hintz. Daily Faceoff also has Pavelski as the center on the Stars’ powerplay which is converting at just 18%. If they look to make a change there, Hintz likely gets the promotion which improves his fantasy value drastically. Keep an eye out for that and if either of those things happen, swoop up Hintz.

Neal Pionk, D, Winnipeg: Pionk was the key piece the Jets received from the Rangers in the Jacob Trouba trade from this past summer. Pionk has been everything Winnipeg has wanted and more, at least from an offensive perspective. He skates on the top power play unit with Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Patrik Laine, all of whom at times have proven to be dominant scorers throughout their career which helps Pionk rack up the assist totals. He’s seventh amongst defenseman in that category and has 14 points in 15 games since December. 9 of those points came on the man advantage. He is currently ranked 15th for his position according to ESPN and is clearly trending up. He is likely already been scooped up if your league is paying attention, but he’s still available in 40% of ESPN leagues so double check and if he’s there, he’s a must add.

Pionk seems to have found a home in Winnipeg and on their top power play unit scoring 15 points with the man advantage through the half way point of his first season with the Jets (photo: NHL.com)

Down:

Anthony Duclair, F, Ottawa: Duclair is currently position rank 14 according to ESPN and I’m not sure how sustainable that is. The Senators are obviously not very good so that ranking is likely going to drop unless they load up the top line with him, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, (another guy I don’t have much faith in) and Brady Tkachuk. But that is not what the Senators have done the whole season so there’s little reason to think they will start anytime soon especially based on the direction their season has gone. Daily Faceoff had Duclair on the third line in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Tampa. Pageau, Tkachuk, and Duclair obviously all play together on the power play, but Ottawa has the worst power play in the league at just 11%. Duclair had a monster December with 11 goals and has shown elite offensive ability at times throughout his career but he’s never sustained it for an entire season, and I don’t think this is the right situation to reverse that trend.

The Senators are the fifth team the 24-year old Duclair has played on in six seasons. (photo: NHL.com)

Bryan Rust, F, Pittsburgh : Rust has been a major contributor to a Penguin’s team that despite dealing with numerous lengthy injuries to its best players, is sitting in second place in the Metro and third overall in the Eastern Conference. Rust has assumed a much bigger role and has excelled, racking up 34 points through 27 games on the team’s top line and power play unit. That is good for an average of 3.5 fantasy points a night, the tenth highest mark in the league. But with Jake Guentzel sidelined, Alex Galchenyuk slides up to Rust and Malkin’s line which is a significant downgrade since Guentzel was having a career year and Galchenyuk has yet to find his footing in Pittsburgh with just 14 points in 32 games. When Crosby comes back, Rust may or may not find himself off the first power play which will have a real impact on his value. Plus, his career high in points in a season is 38 and while he will definitely shatter that, he’ll also likely come back to Earth. He could be still be a viable option for the entire season, but his value will not get much higher than it is right now, so trading him and maximizing the return might be the best decision.

Tom Wilson, F, Washington: Wilson plays on the top line of the team that currently has the most points in the league. Anyone that has Alex Ovechkin and Nickolas Backstrom to his left is going to have a substantial amount of fantasy value. The problem for Wilson and his fantasy owners is that he gets almost no power play time and that is not going to change in the foreseeable future. Wilson only has 11 power play points in his career and for a team whose offense is fueled as much by the man advantage as Washington’s, that is a bit of a cause for concern. The Caps are getting to score up and down the lineup thanks to the emergence of Jakub Vrana and Evgeni Kuznetzov becoming a sure-fire point-per-game player which means Wilson is not needed to provide an offensive spark. Despite being owned in 90% of leagues on ESPN, he averages just 1.8 fantasy points per game which puts him squarely in the waiver wire mix. This season he’s been held off the score sheet 19 times in 42 games compared to just four where he has more than a goal or an assist. He’s not the worst guy to have in your lineup, but if your team has championship aspirations, giving him the slip might not be the worst idea.

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