With the playoffs approaching, you should expect some crazy numbers. For example, how often is Adam Henrique going to be named one of the three stars of the week by the NHL two weeks in a row or Kimmo Timonen post a five point week. I rest my case. Some weeks in fantasy hockey just go absolutely insane when it comes to numbers.
Today, we focus on the defensive side of the equation. This fantasy hockey season has seen the most injuries since the 2010 season. I am not surprised by this. However, it has opened the door for some fantasy hockey players to have standout seasons that no one saw coming.
Here are just a few of the players that have surprised this fantasy season. Will they be around beyond this year? That is a question best left up to the hockey gods.
Matt Niskanen — Pittsburgh Penguins
It is hard to believe but Matt Niskanen was once a 35 point producer for the Dallas Stars. That feels like a decade ago and yet it is not. In just 63 games, the blueliner has 37 points and is a whopping +31. He has also managed to fire 116 shots at the net while being Pittsburgh’s most dependable defenseman. With all the injuries, it was amazing to see Niskanen produce 15 points in 16 games in a stretch around Christmas. No one could believe it and I mean no one. Anyone who picked him up early when the Penguins started losing players left and right benefited immensely. His blocks and hits are okay but it is that overall play which stands out. Where would Pittsburgh or your fantasy team be without him? It is a pretty scary thought.
Erik Johnson — Colorado Avalanche
This is another bizarre one considering the golf cart accident, Kevin Shattenkirk, and the expectations seemingly unfulfilled. Yet, this season, head coach Patrick Roy has changed the script. His first two seasons in St. Louis had such promise but then there were the injuries and the lack of progression. Last year was a total mess as Johnson limped to four points in 31 games. Colorado actually thought of using a compliance buyout on his contract. This is a 2006 first overall pick ladies and gentlemen. This year, he has become a leader, been a force in many fantasy categories, and is on his way to a 40 point campaign. The good part is Johnson is only 25. He will get a little better too. That is always a good thing for a guy that should, at his apex, play around 25 minutes a night with 40+ point seasons.
Olli Maatta — Pittsburgh Penguins
Olli Maatta is only 19 years old. Please let this sink in a bit fantasy hockey fans. The defenseman has played a bit of a sheltered role but does see occasional power play and penalty kill time. Playing 18 minutes a night has kept the Finnish wonder away from the dreaded wall that most rookies hit. His 27 points in 62 games is otherworldly at this stage of the game for someone who just came over from overseas. The calm and cool customer is what intrigues me most about Maatta going forward. He seemingly can only get better from here as his minutes slowly increase in the coming years. You never know but this revelation was a fantasy hockey surprise if I have ever seen one.
Next up this week will be a look ahead to a weekend in Pennsylvania from a fantasy perspective as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers get reacquainted. Thanks again for reading.