As we’ve mentioned several times in our pre-season content, defenders are more important than ever in ESPN’s new standard fantasy game. A manager who doesn’t pay much attention to his blue line is almost certain not to win at the end of this abbreviated and bizarre season.
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The ongoing problem of juggling bodies in the face of match postponements, COVID-related absences and increasingly frequent injuries in this ultra-pressure campaign only reinforces the importance of continued work on the blue line.
From this perspective, as the 2020-21 season begins, we see some defenders moving up the ranks and the ugly backlash from some fantasy leaders going the other way.
Jacob Cichrun, Arizona Coyotes (78.8% listed in ESPN.com leagues) : With Oliver Ekman-Larsson dropping out each week with a lower-body injury, Chychrun will have even more responsibilities, including ensuring maximum performance for the Coyotes. So far (so far!), the 22-year-old has scored five points on 18 shots in seven games, including two assists with an extra skater. Since joining the league in 2016, Cichrun has steadily increased his productivity each season. This campaign should be no exception.
Alec Martinez, Vegas Golden Knights (54.1%): Only Adam Larsson of the Edmonton Oilers (28) has more blocked shots than Martinez (25) entering the 2020-21 season, and the Vegas guard has played one less game. Add to that his five assists, Shea Theodore’s four best partners and the Knights’ occasional lead in a matter of minutes. Reminder: Last year, the veteran scored eight points in ten games for the Kings. Underrated in many fantasy circles, Martinez presents as a complete package.
Confession: I listed him as a free agent in both leagues this week.
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Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils (22.3%) : This week on Waiver Watch, Smith is quickly gaining popularity among fantasy film sets. A goal and five assists in six games have allowed the 20-year-old rookie to play a role on the Devils’ power play and increase his total minutes. He played Tuesday at 8:53 p.m. against the Flyers. Smith hasn’t quite got it together yet, but coach Lindy Ruff seems willing to give his young protégé the freedom to make mistakes. A jewel of a tutelary dynasty, the 17th. The overall goalie (2018) should also have a place in many Raiders leagues.
Noah Dobson, resident of New York (16.0%) : It’s Dobson, not Ryan Pulock, who has performed the most on the power play for the Islanders so far, collecting two passes with an extra skater. After scoring just seven points in 34 games in his rookie season, the secondary, who just turned 21, has already notched four in six games.
I really think this kid will become a star sooner or later. If he continues to contribute to special teams, Dobson is destined to be in Les Bleus’ top four before the end of this compact campaign.
Justin Schultz, Washington Capitals (12.2%): The new show is going well. After a week of warming up outside, Schultz now has two goals and two assists (plus three) on nine shots in the last two games. Washington’s lead role won’t last long once Alex Ovechkin returns from his VIDOC suspension and takes on a lead role alongside Zdeno Chara. And Schultz could use some more minutes with an extra skater. Here, the former Penguin/Oiler is expected to have a rebound season after last year’s Pittsburgh campaign, which was marked by injuries. Schultz should be playing in the deepest leagues in the world.
See also : John Klingberg, Dallas Stars; Justin Falk, St. John’s, St. Louis. Louis Blues.
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets (94.8%): An urgent question is that he no longer plays for the Bluejackets. That role was recently assumed by defensive partner Zach Werenski. Besides, we don’t make much money in Columbus. While there is no doubt that Jones – one of the best defenders in the league – will always play plenty of minutes and play a leading role, the fantastic managers in the scoring leagues may want to temper their expectations until the 26-year-old comes out of his early-season slump.
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (88.4%) : It was not a good start for the 20-year-old defender. A pass and a minus seven in seven games is not enough after last year’s remarkable campaign and his previous performance as a rookie. Dahlin is frustrated and is swimming in defense. He only played 10 minutes against the Capitals a few days ago. Until the young blueliner cracks – and he will – Dahlin deserves to be sidelined, given the other options.
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Tyson Barry, Edmonton Oilers (81.1%) : Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs have to wonder if this wasn’t an unnecessary pressure on their market after all. After failing to score a point in the five-point game, Barry was recently dropped from the Oilers’ roster and replaced by Darnell Nurse. On Tuesday, he lost to Winnipeg 6-4 in just 14 minutes. I’ll keep him on the bench until he shows signs of going with his second new team in as many years.
Ryan Graves, Colorado Avalanche (79.0%) : He is not the same player for 2019-20 – coach Jared Bednar himself has stated this publicly. Graves is only a help to a good one, who has already made a part as a healthy scratch. He played just 15 minutes in Colorado’s 7-3 victory over the Sharks on Tuesday. The 25-year-old, who led the Championship last season with over 40 goals, is currently part of a team with a goal differential of over 7. Perhaps the biggest fantasy of this new campaign, Graves could soon be on many lists with good reason.
Tony DeAngelo, New York Rangers (56.5%): The lockout last week was not the warning DeAngelo had hoped for from the Rangers. In the three games in which DeAngelo played like a healthy zero in two consecutive games, DeAngelo averaged zero points and a minus four rating in 18 minutes of ice time. There are better options on the New York Blue Line. Alongside Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba (24 hits) at the head of the Fantasy Journeyman, rookie K’Andre Miller also deserves attention in deeper leagues (Keeper Leagues). The rookie has one goal and one assist (plus three) in her last three games.
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