It’s still October. Even if your fantasy hockey team is struggling mightily, don’t panic. Instead, prey on others’ panic. The sample sizes are just large enough now to make the more skittish poolies legitimately worried about certain slow-starting stars, so now’s a fine time to see if you can nab some of them for 80 cents on the dollar. Consider targeting these five players.
(Note the absence of slow-starters Erik Karlsson, Patrik Laine, Steven Stamkos and Sergei Bobrovsky on this list. They’re too obvious and still carry enough brand-name value that their owners likely won’t sell them off for cheap.)
JADEN SCHWARTZ, LW, BLUES
Schwartz’s numbers scream buy-low. He is generating lots of chances. Among the 294 forwards with at least 100 minutes played at 5-on-5 this season, Schwartz ranks fifth in high-danger Corsi For per 60 minutes. Pucks fly toward the other team’s net in prime scoring spots when he’s out there, so the goals or assists should come pouring in soon. Schwartz, an accurate shooter at 13.5 percent for his career, has scored on just 5.5 percent of his shots this year. He’s due for a huge rebound in luck, as is linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. A scoring explosion looms.
BROCK BOESER, RW, CANUCKS
Boeser couldn’t miss last season, and the 16.2 shooting percentage always felt sustainable, because his release was so elite. That’s his game. He will never blow people away with his skating. He’s all about sneaking into good shooting lanes to uncork that shot, which ranks among the league’s best in the same tier as Patrik Laine’s and Auston Matthews’. Boeser perfected that skill. He told me last year that he used to specifically practise bobbing and weaving around targets to master the art of surprise attacks.
We thus can count on this season’s shooting percentage rocketing north of its current mark of 7.7. The goals will come. Shooters can be streaky. Boeser did sustain a pretty scary back injury to halt his rookie season at 62 games, and he’s shooting the puck less this year, so there are some red flags. He’s also generating significantly fewer high-danger attempts in 5-on-5 play than he did last year. But the positive regression in his accuracy alone makes him worth a buy low, and we can hope the decline in his shooting volume can be chalked up to sample size. He's also dealt with a groin injury, so we can count on him to be more mobile and thus more adept at finding shooting lanes going forward if he's truly healthy now.
NIKOLAJ EHLERS, LW, JETS
For whatever, reason, lengthy slumps have become a defining characteristic of Ehlers’ career to date. His one goal this season ended a 26-game drought. He scored twice in a 14-game stretch from October to November last season. The season before that, he endured a 13-game goal-less streak and eight-game point-less streak. The cold spells are common for the speedy Ehlers, and this year’s just happened to arrive the start of the season, making his overall numbers look particularly ugly.
But fear not. It’s always smart to bet on talent, and Ehlers has it in spades as the 2014 draft’s ninth overall pick. Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice is now trying Ehlers in the Kyle Connor spot on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler in hopes of lighting a spark. Ehlers, like pretty much every buy-low candidate in fantasy pools, is converting on his shots at a much lower percentage than normal, too. As cold as he gets, Ehlers also is known for big-time hot streaks in which he can win you weeks in head-to-head leagues.
IVAN PROVOROV, D, FLYERS
Don’t blame Provorov. The entire Flyers offense is sputtering right now. For whatever reason, extreme slumps followed by huge winning streaks have been common under coach Dave Hakstol. We know the opportunities are there for the mega-talented Provorov. He’s playing 25 minutes a night and still getting second-unit power play work. His shots are way down, but once the Flyers as a team get themselves back on track, he’ll have more shooting opportunities. The ability and, more importantly, the role aren’t going anywhere. Just ride out the storm with Provorov, whose 17 goals tied for the NHL lead among blueliners last year.
MATT MURRAY, G, PENGUINS
Some buy-lows carry risk. We can’t say with absolute confidence that the back-to-back-Stanley-Cup version of Murray will return. By 24 years old, he’s dealt with eight different injury absences in his NHL career, three caused by concussions. He hasn’t been the same since the start of the 2017-18 season. Over that stretch, among the 57 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played at 5-on-5, he’s 54th in save percentage and 53rd in goals saved above average.
Murray, however, still finds himself in a highly fantasy-friendly environment on a good team that wants him to be a workhorse and start at least 50 games. There’s no denying the numbers are ugly, even the under-the-hood advanced ones. But the reason to buy low on Murray is he’ll never come so cheap, and he still has an elite ceiling in fantasy leagues. It’s worth sending out a lowball offer to a frustrated GM to see if you can get him for more like 60 cents on the dollar.
Don’t buy low…
Mike Smith, G, Flames: Murray has youth on his side. Smith is 36. Maybe he turns things around, but it’s equally possible he’s hitting an age-related wall. The downside outweighs the upside.
Sean Couturier, C, Flyers: Philly as a team should improve, but was Couturier miscast as a budding offensive star after he broke out last year? There’s no denying his shutdown defensive ability but, dating back to last season, he has 10 goals in his past 50 games. It feels like last season’s first-half scoring surge was an anomaly when juxtaposed with the rest of his career.