NHL Fantasy: Players to watchlist going into Week 1 of the regular season

Fantasy hockey draft season is nearing its end and Week 1 of fantasy—and of course the NHL regular season—starts up in just three days now. As soon as drafts end, it’s time for managers to start scouring the waiver wire to keep an eye on any undrafted players who could be sneaky waiver wire adds going forward.

Every year there are a few players that go undrafted only to breakout in the first week of the season and remain fantasy relevant all year. Being the first one to get your hands on one of these players can provide a massive boost to your fantasy team going forward. Let’s take a look at five players to watchlist in your fantasy league as we head into the first week of the fantasy season.

Cole Sillinger – C – Columbus Blue Jackets

One of the more interesting storylines to track throughout preseason has been the play of some of Columbus’ top prospects. Presumably entering a full on rebuild this season after an offseason of shipping out lineup regulars, the Blue Jackets lineup is wide open for younger players to take on prominent roles.

One of the players who has taken full advantage of that is the Blue Jackets’ 10th overall pick back in June, Cole Sillinger. Most people presumed Sillinger would return to the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers for his D+1 season, however as preseason has gone on, that seems less and less likely.

Sillinger has been taking reps and lining up as the team’s first line centre between Patrik Laine and Jakub Voracek. He’s also seeing time on the team’s second power play unit.

The Blue Jackets are completely devoid at centre, so Sillinger is being given every opportunity to claim a top-six role with the team. As it stands now, Sillinger looks primed to claim a top-six role on the team given his performance in the preseason. He may not have the point totals, but Sillinger is currently second on the Blue Jackets in preseason in terms of shot attempts with 16 in four games and has been generating plenty of chances for himself.

Columbus certainly doesn’t have a deep roster, but they are pretty solid on the wing. Obviously it would be preferable as a fantasy pickup if he stays playing on the team’s top line with Laine and Voracek; however, even on the second line between Oliver Bjorkstrand and Gustav Nyquist, he could provide some solid value.

It’s too soon to use a draft pick or waiver claim on Sillinger just yet until we see where he ends up in the Blue Jackets lineup—if at all—but he’s certainly a player to watch as the season gets underway. Sillinger offers a ton of skill an upside and on a weak Columbus team, he could get a ton of ice time and opportunity. At just 2% owned right now, Sillinger would be an easy add in your league both early on or down the line.

Tyler Johnson – C – Chicago Blackhawks

The Tampa Bay Lightning were finally able to shed Tyler Johnson’s salary, shipping him to the Blackhawks for Brent Seabrook’s contract. Out of Tampa Bay and their stacked depth chart, Tyler Johnson has the opportunity to become fantasy relevant once again in 2021–22 on an improved Blackhawks team.

Johnson has been operating as the Blackhawks’ number one centre throughout preseason, playing on a stacked line with two superstars in Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane. There aren’t many better spots to land across the entire league to gain fantasy relevance than alongside perennial top-10 scorer Kane. By gaining exposure to two top-30 fantasy forwards, Johnson has been given an excellent chance to become must-own in fantasy hockey once again.

Johnson is no stranger to producing alongside elite talent when given the chance. It’s easy to forget the 2014–15 season in which Johnson exploded for 72 points in 77 games playing alongside Nikita Kucherov, becoming one of the best waiver wire pickups in fantasy hockey history. Although he’s never been able to replicate that season as he’s been pushed further down the lineup in Tampa Bay, Johnson posted at least 45 points in five of six seasons between 2013–14 and 2018–19.

The main reason his production has stalled offensively is the fact that he has seen his ice time steadily decline in Tampa Bay over the years. During his breakout 2014–15 season he averaged 17:14 minutes a game; however, over the last three seasons he hasn’t averaged over 16 minutes once. Last season, he had his lowest average ice time since his first season in 2013–14, averaging just 13:40 on Tampa Bay’s fourth line which contributed to him putting up just 22 points in 55 games.

As it stands right now though his ice time is set to go up in a big way. He’s even been operating on the Blackhawks’ number one power play alongside a stacked unit that includes Kane, DeBrincat, Johnathan Toews, and Seth Jones. The Blackhawks’ power play ranked 11th league-wide last season, and with Toews and Jones in the mix now it should only get better this season.

Johnson is currently just 17% owned on Yahoo right now, as fantasy managers wait and see if he can stick on the team’s top line. There is some concern he may not hold his spot for long, as the Blackhawks have both Toews and Kirby Dach returning from major injuries at centre this year. The Blackhawks may just be easing them into preseason action and letting Johnson hold down the top centre spot until one of them is ready come the regular season.

That said it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on Johnson as we enter the regular season to see how he performs playing in the team’s number one centre spot while he is there. If he gets off to a hot start, the Blackhawks will have no choice but to keep him there long term.

Moritz Seider – D – Detroit Red Wings

Just like Sillinger, super prospect Moritz Seider has been making waves in preseason action and looks primed to take on a major role on a weak roster. The sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Seider looks ready to make the jump to the NHL for the 2021–22 season, and brings a ton of hype and potential with him.

Seider is coming off an impressive 2020–21 season playing in Europe and in the World Championships for Germany. He led all U20 defenceman in scoring in the SHL last season with 28 points in 41 games. He then followed that up with an outstanding showing at the 2021 IIHF World Hockey Championships, posting five points in 10 games and earning defenceman of the tournament honours. He’s also already earned a spot on Germany’s upcoming Olympics roster.

The Red Wings don’t look to be easing Seider into the NHL either, as he’s been lining up on the team’s second pairing alongside the newly acquired Nick Leddy. He’s also been logging time on the second power play unit. He’s taken full advantage as well as he’s posted a solid three points in five games in the preseason.

The sky is truly the limit for Seider, who looks like a future number one defenceman in the NHL. Time will tell how effective Seider will be in his first year in the NHL, however the Red Wings look poised to give him every opportunity to succeed this season. He’s without question the most talented player on the Red Wings blueline, and as the season goes on he may get increased opportunities on a thin Red Wings roster starved for offence and skill.

At just 17% owned right now Seider is still available in many leagues. It’s tough to decipher how rookie defencemen will fare in their rookie seasons, so his situation is worth monitoring over the first couple weeks of the season.

Owen Tippett – RW – Florida Panthers

Could this finally be the season Owen Tippett breaks out lives up to his potential? The 2017 10th overall pick has had an up and down career to date, struggling to earn a full time lineup spot in the NHL. There’s no denying Tippett possesses a ton of skill, he just hasn’t been able to put it together in the NHL yet.

That said, the Panthers may be giving him the opportunity he needs to finally break out and become relevant in fantasy leagues. Throughout training camp and the preseason, Tippett has been skating on the Panthers’ second line with Sam Bennett and superstar Jonathan Huberdeau. He’s also getting time on the Panthers second power play unit.

Last season, Tippett finally earned a full time lineup spot in the NHL, playing in 45 games in the Panthers’ bottom-six. In those 45 games, he posted 86 shots, but suffered some bad luck and shot just 8.3%. Tippett has typically been a lights out shooter, as he registered a shooting percentage of 15% the year prior in the AHL. He also played just 36:40 on the power play all season last year, and is set to see that total go way up. With increased power play time and some better luck, Tippett could see a big jump in his goal totals this year.

Tippett has been able to produce big point totals at every level he’s played at, and finally getting the chance to play with talented linemates at this level could be the recipe for a big year for Tippett in the NHL. Huberdeau is among the best playmakers in the entire NHL, posting over a point per game for the last three seasons, and could be a perfect fit alongside a sniper like Tippett. Anytime you can gain exposure to a player of that stature, your fantasy value instantly increases.

Tippett has already been taking full advantage of his new role. In the preseason he’s been lights out on the second line, posting three goals and five points across four games. Last season, Tippett averaged just 11:29 of ice time a game, a number that could be set for a huge bump if he sticks on the second line.

Tippett has the skill and potential to be a must-own fantasy asset, however we’ll first need to see how he performs in the regular season in his new role, and if he can stick there. The Panthers also have Patric Hornqvist and Anthony Duclair on the left side, so Tippett will have to prove he deserves the bigger role. He’s currently just 3% owned, so he’s a perfect candidate to monitor in the first couple weeks of the season.

Act fast for full benefits

The first week of fantasy hockey is always action packed with managers hustling to snatch up players that go undrafted. Getting in on the waiver wire early often adds immense value as players can easily turn into permanent fixtures on a fantasy lineup. Keeping your eyes on the undrafted players in your league can lead to found gold.

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