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CULLEN: 20 FANTASY POINTS – Fantilli takes on more responsibility – Rasmussen stepping up – Zary providing scoring punch – plus much more ..

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 26: Columbus Blue Jackets center Adam Fantilli (11) waits for a face-off during the Columbus Blue Jackets versus the Montreal Canadiens game on October 26, 2023, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

Each week, I dive into the numbers to help make decisions when it comes time to make fantasy hockey decisions.

This week, Adam Fantilli takes on more responsibility in Columbus, Michael Rasmussen is stepping up in Detroit, Connor Zary is providing scoring punch for Calgary, and Edmonton has a goaltender offering fantasy value once again.

#1 It can be difficult to make the jump straight from college hockey to the NHL and it’s even more challenging when the player is asked to handle major responsibility at the NHL level. Columbus’ Adam Fantilli has recorded six points (4 G, 2 A) and 17 shots on goal in his past seven games and with Boone Jenner injured, Fantilli has now been thrust into the role of top line centre, skating with Johnny Gaudreau. Patrik Laine has also been recently injured and that has opened up a spot for Justin Danforth to play right wing on that line. Fantilli played a career high 19:29 in Thursday’s win at Toronto and he is looking at significant ice time for at least the next few months, as long as he can handle it.

#2 At the start of the season, Michael Rasmussen was languishing on the bottom half of the Red Wings depth chart, managing just five points (2 G, 3 A) in 19 games. December has brought more production from the 6-foot-6 centre, as Rasmussen has eight points (5 G, 3 A) and 15 shots on goal in seven games this month. With Dylan Larkin and J.T. Compher injured and David Perron appealing his six-game suspension, there is more ice time available in Detroit and Rasmussen is doing his part to earn it.

#3 Calgary Flames rookie winger Connor Zary has produced 15 points (6 G, 9 A) in 20 games since getting called up from the American Hockey League early in the season. His 0.75 points per game ranks second among rookies, behind some character named Bedard, and is skating on a line with Nazem Kadri and fellow rookie Martin Pospisil. There is a warning sign, however. Zary has failed to record a shot on goal in three of his past four games and has a total of 24 shots on goal in 20 games. That is not the ideal path to sustainable offensive production.

#4 Surrendering five goals on 22 shots in Thursday’s loss to Tampa Bay put a damper on the recently improved play of Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner. The Calder Trophy runner-up last season, Skinner started poorly this year and, with Jack Campbell demoted to the AHL, the Oilers were still pushing Skinner out there, hoping for better results. Before Thursday’s loss, they were getting those better results, as Skinner had seven straight wins with a .935 save percentage in his previous seven starts.

#5 Arizona Coyotes winger Matias Maccelli continues to produce. He had 49 points in 64 games last season and is up to 21 points (5 G, 16 A) in 28 games this season after scoring five points (2 G, 3 A) in his past six games. What is more compelling about Maccelli’s production is that he is shooting the puck a lot more. HE has 22 shots on goal in his past six contests, which is a substantial upgrade over his 36 shots on goal in 22 games before that.

#6 With Winnipeg Jets sniper Kyle Connor out 6-8 weeks after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Ryan Strome, the Jets will need Nikolaj Ehlers to handle more of the offensive load. He has tended to be underused in the past couple of seasons but does have 15 points (7 G, 8 A) and 38 shots on goal in his past 15 games. Now, the challenge will be maintaining that kind of production with Gabe Vilardi moving up to the top line to fill in for Connor.

#7 It is fair to say that Mason Marchment’s first season in Dallas did not go according to plan, as he finished with 31 points (12 G, 19 A) in 68 games. He scored on just 8.1 percent of his shots on goal, which contributed to his lower than anticipated output. This season, Marchment has scored on 16.1 percent of his shots on goal and has put up 12 points (6 G, 6 A) and 30 shots on goal in his past 12 games. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to score at nearly double the rate of shots on goal! Nevertheless, Marchment has found a good fit alongside veterans Matt Duchene and Tyler Seguin in Big D.

#8 New York Islanders captain Anders Lee got off to an abysmal start this season, managing just two points (1 G, 1 A) through his first 15 games. For a player who lives at the top of the crease, that’s not making the most of his opportunities. Lee’s production is starting to improve, though, as he has eight points (6 G, 2 A) and 34 shots on goal in his past 13 games. Lee is back on the Islanders’ top line, with Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal, so that should provide more consistent scoring opportunities.

#9 Coming off a career high 27 points last season, Vancouver Canucks winger Sam Lafferty is getting a great opportunity to skate on Vancouver’s top line with Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev. Lafferty has contributed five points (3 G, 2 A) in his past six games, and his situation makes him appealing in the short term but his track record and the possibility that he could easily get bumped down the depth chart does put a limit on his appeal in this scoring role.

#10 With Philipp Grubauer injured, Joey Daccord is looking at his best opportunity to establish himself in net for the Seattle Kraken. Daccord, 27, does have a .912 save percentage in his past eight appearances, so he could be an upgrade on the underachieving Grubauer. If Daccord falters, Chris Driedger might get some time, too. The 29-year-old missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL at the 2022 World Championships. Driedger was squeezed out of Seattle at the start of the season but had a .916 save percentage in 15 games for Coachella Valley in the AHL at the time of his recall.

#11 The Carolina Hurricanes are not scoring enough and one of the reasons is that Andrei Svechnikov had managed just one goal on 41 shots in 16 games. He is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, so Stefan Noesen has moved up the Carolina depth chart. Noesen has six points (3 G, 3 A) and 14 shots on goal in his past eight games and played a season-high 16:38 in Thursday’s win at Detroit.

#12 A top checking centre for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Anthony Cirelli is at his best when he is contributing at both ends of the rink. He is having a good run recently with seven points (5 G, 2 A) and 16 shots on goal in his past 6 games. Cirelli is playing with Tanner Jeannot and Brandon Hagel, a trio that is giving the Lightning legitimate secondary scoring behind their powerful top line.

#13 Detroit’s injuries have provided not only an opportunity for the aforementioned Michael Rasmussen, but also for Joe Veleno, a 23-year-old centre who has mostly been a fourth liner to this point in his career. In his past four games, Veleno has contributed three points (1 G, 2 A) while playing more than 21 minutes in every contest. He is centering Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, while also getting first unit power play time. That may not last, especially once the Wings get healthy, but in the short term, Veleno suddenly finds himself offering potential value for fantasy managers.

#14 Boston Bruins centre Pavel Zacha is injured and that has opened the door for Morgan Geekie to take on a bigger role, skating on Boston’s top line with wingers Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak. Geekie had a career high 28 points (9 G, 19 A) in Seattle last season, so his offensive track record is limited, but he has played more than 17 minutes in back-to-back games contributed goal and an assist in those two contests.

#15 A big hit from Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon has landed Buffalo Sabres left winger Jeff Skinner on the injured list with an upper-body injury. That does create an opportunity for rookie Zach Benson who has shown flashes of skill on his way to a modest eight points (3 G, 5 A) in 20 games, but Benson is on a line with Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozens, along with second unit power play time so, at the very least, it is worth monitoring his progress.

#16 Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot is out for at least four weeks with a leg injury, which comes on the heels of a broken hand that cost him time earlier in the season. He has appeared in just nine games as a result, and his current injury opens the door for Jake Sanderson to step up as Ottawa’s No. 1 defenceman. Sanderson opened the season with 12 points (4 G, 8 A) in 14 games but has managed just two points (1 G, 1 A) in 10 games since. However, with the chance to quarterback the Sens’ top power play, Sanderson becomes more valuable for fantasy managers.

#17 Among players that have played at least 50 minutes in December, the leaders in individual expected goals per 60 minutes: Kyle Connor (2.81), John Tavares (2.67), Zach Hyman (2.30), Anders Lee (2.09), Quinton Byfield (2.03), Dylan Larkin (2.02), Austin Matthews (2.01), Colton Sissons (2.01), and Carter Verhaeghe (2.00). While there are familiar and expected names in that list, it should be an encouraging sign for the likes of Lee and Byfield, that their production could be sustained, while Sissons could be worth watching in deeper leagues as he has five points (3 G, 2 A) and 13 shots on goal in seven games this month.

#18 It has been a running theme here this season how unpredictable goaltenders can be. Among the 27 goaltenders that have appeared in at least four games this month, here are the leaders in save percentage: Juuse Saros (.953), Filip Gustavsson (.944), Connor Hellebuyck (.939), Petr Mrazek (.938), and Joey Daccord (.934). You will be forgiven for doing a double take at the last two names on that list. Then take a look at the other end. Here are the bottom five goaltenders for save percentage in December, minimum four games: Arvid Soderblom (.844), Igor Shesterkin (.865), Jake Oettinger (.868), Sergei Bobrovsky (.878), and Joonas Korpisalo (.884). Shesterkin and Oettinger are unexpected entries but consider that this is a very small sample size and not representative of a goalie’s overall value.

#19 Among defenceman to play at least 50 minutes this month, the leaders in individual expected goals per 60 minutes: Jacob MacDonald (0.93), Charlie McAvoy (0.61), Darnell Nurse (0.57), K’Andre Miller (0.55), and Drew Doughty (0.54). Leaders in shots on goal per 60 minutes: Mike Reilly (11.73), Justin Faulk (11.27), Jacob MacDonald (10.24), Rasmus Dahlin (9.47), and Morgan Rielly (8.90). MacDonald does have three goals in five games in December, but it is still tough to trust that he will have regular ice time in San Jose. Reilly is making the most of his opportunity with the Islanders. He has four points (1 G, 3 A) and 15 shots on goal in his past five games and played a season high 20:37 in Wednesdays win over Anaheim.

#20 Forwards who have yet to score in December with the highest total of shots on goal: Cole Caufield (29), Dylan Cozens (22), Yanni Gourde (22), Carl Grundstrom (18), Timo Meier (18), and Cam Atkinson (18). This should be encouraging, that these players are still generating shots on goal and that eventually leads to actual goals. In the case of someone like Caufield, who has established his credentials as a finisher, it would seem to be just a matter of time before he breaks through.