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NHL: CULLEN – 20 FANTASY POINTS – Juraj Slafkovsky is stepping up for the Canadiens, Shane Pinto is making his mark for the Senators, Vikor Arvidsson returns to the Kings, the Penguins lose Jake Guentzel, and much, much more!

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 30: Juraj Slafkovsky (20) of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the third period of the NHL game between the Florida Panthers and the Montreal Canadiens on November 30 2023, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC(Photo by Vincent Ethier/Icon Sportswire)

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

This week, Juraj Slafkovsky is stepping up for the Canadiens, Shane Pinto is making his mark for the Senators, Viktor Arvidsson returns to the Kings, the Penguins lose Jake Guentzel, and much, much more!

#1 Montreal Canadiens sophomore winger Juraj Slafkovsky took a lot of flak for a rookie season in which he finished with 10 points in 39 games. It’s not as though the 19-year-old man-child is suddenly a star, but there are very encouraging signs, not least of all is that he is on a seven-game point streak. Skating on Montreal’s top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, Slafkovsky has 11 points (6 G, 5 A) and 18 shots on goal during the streak and he is now getting played like a primetime player, with more than 19 minutes of ice time in each of his past four games.

#2 After missing the first half of the season due to a suspension for gambling, Ottawa Senators centre Shane Pinto has made an immediate difference, producing eight points (3 G, 5 A) with 25 shots on goal. Pinto’s ice time and shot rate have increased and, in addition to a spot on the top power play unit, he is skating on a line at even strength with Ridly Greig and Vladimir Tarasenko, so Pinto has some skill to support his offensive endeavours.

#3 Veteran Los Angeles Kings winger Viktor Arvidsson is a five-time 20-goal scorer who has made his way back into the lineup after missing 50 games while he recovered from back surgery. He is back with Trevor Moore and Phillip Danault as his linemates and had five shots on goal in his season debut Thursday night at New Jersey. Over the past three seasons, Arvidsson has averaged 10.85 shots per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, which ranks ninth among skaters to play at least 1,000 five-on-five minutes.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jake Guentzel is expected to miss up to four weeks with an upper-body injury after taking a hit from Florida Panthers defenceman Niko Mikkola Wednesday night. Before Thursday night’s action, Guentzel was tied with Sidney Crosby for the scoring lead on the Penguins, as both had 52 points in 50 games. With Guentzel out, Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell are handling the wings on Pittsburgh’s top line with Crosby while Reilly Smith gets a spot on the Penguins’ first power play unit. Rust has nine points (5 G, 4 A) and 34 shots on goal in his past 11 games, Rakell is mired in a 12-game goalless drought but did have two assists in Thursday’s win at Chicago. Smith scored a goal Thursday at Chicago but before that had one point (1 G, 0 A) in the previous 10 games.

#5 Minnesota Wild centre Joel Eriksson Ek has finished in the top ten of Selke Trophy voting for three straight seasons and is now having the best offensive season of his career. Since January 15, Eriksson Ek has tallied 16 points (9 G, 7 A) with 37 shots on goal in 11 games. He is skating on Minnesota’s top line with Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy and has already scored 24 goals, two away from his career high. Eriksson Ek is averaging a career high 3.70 shots per game, which is a jump of more than half a shot per game from last season, when he had his previous career high of 3.17 shots per game.

#6 St. Louis Blues winger Jake Neighbours continues to shine. He picked up three points in Thursday’s win over Edmonton, giving him nine points (5 G, 4 A) with 14 shots on goal in his past eight games. Neighbours is skating on the Blues’ second line, with Brayden Schenn and Kasperi Kapanen, but has moved to the top power play unit and five of those nine points have come via the man advantage.

#7 When Calgary Flames left winger Jonathan Huberdeau saw his point total drop from a career high 115 points in 2021-2022 down to 55 points last season, it was hard to imagine it getting much worse but, with 32 points in 53 games, Huberdeau is on pace for even fewer points this season. To his credit, the veteran winger does appear to be snapping out of his season-long funk. Since January 6, Huberdeau has 15 points (3 G, 12 A) in 15 games, and is skating on Calgary’s top line with newcomer Andrei Kuzmenko and Yegor Sharangovich.

#8 Upon returning from a neck injury, Colorado Avalanche left winger Artturi Lehkonen managed just one assist in his first six games back in the lineup. In the past two games, though, Lehkonen has put up six points (3 G, 3 A). He had career highs of 21 goals and 51 points in 64 games last season, so there are expectations for Lehkonen to be an offensive contributor and it’s starting to look like he might be up for that challenge once again.

#9 After going through some lean stretches earlier in the season, Edmonton Oilers winger Evander Kane appears to be pulling it together. He has produced eight points (5 G, 3 A) and 33 shots on goal in his past 10 games. That is dramatically better than the three points (2 G, 1 A) that he had produced in his previous 14 games. Kane is skating on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Dylan Holloway, and it appears to be working.

#10 Known more for his checking prowess, Tampa Bay Lightning centre Anthony Cirelli is starting to make his presence felt on the offensive end as well. Over the past month, Cirelli has played 11 games, producing 13 points (4 G, 9 A) with 21 shots on goal. He has a good thing going with linemates Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel. Hagel has 13 points (7 G, 6 A) with 24 shots on goal during an eight-game point streak.

#11 It was among the safer bets entering the season that Florida Panthers blueliner Brandon Montour would run into the regression monster after scoring a career high 73 points (16 G, 57 A) last season. It was the first time in his career he had surpassed 40 points in a season and Montour was recovering from shoulder surgery at the start of the season, so he did not play until mid-November. In his past dozen games, Montour has four points (1 G, 3 A) to go with 35 shots on goal. While the point total is nothing special, it’s that shot rate that makes Montour an intriguing buy-low option right now because he is still playing a lot and getting chances, they just haven’t been leading to goals in the same way that they did last season.

#12 Winnipeg Jets sniper Kyle Connor suffered a knee injury on December 10, and it caused him to miss five weeks of action. He scored in his first game back and since then has managed one point (1 G, 0 A) with 29 shots on goal in the past eight games. That shot rate is very encouraging, and Connor is averaging 3.91 shots per game, the second highest rate of his career, so it should be just a matter of time before pucks start finding the net when Connor is on the ice.

#13 Last season, it appeared that Buffalo Sabres centre Tage Thompson had made the leap to stardom. He set career highs with 47 goals and 94 points and seemed well on his way to being an unstoppable force, a 6-foot-6 centre who could really fire the puck. This season has been a step back and Thompson has just two points (1 G, 1 A) and 36 shots on goal in his past 11 games. Like Connor, the shot rate offers reason to be hopeful for Thompson to produce down the stretch, but some of Thompson’s decline is just based on regression of percentages, both his own shooting percentage, dropping from 15.9 percent to 10.3 percent this season and his five-on-five on-ice shooting percentage, which has dropped from 10.8 percent last season to 7.6 percent this season.

#14 Since returning to the Toronto Maple Leafs in mid-January, after a couple of weeks trying to regain his confidence, goaltender Ilya Samsonov has won six of eight starts and has a .917 save percentage. A player that fantasy managers could not shed fast enough – he started the season with a .862 save percentage in his first 15 appearances – Samsonov has suddenly rebounded and is giving the Maple Leafs a quality option in goal.

#15 One of my favourites to target in deep or banger leagues, Arizona Coyotes left winger Lawson Crouse has run into hard times over the past month, managing two points (2 G, 0 A) with 19 shots on goal in 11 games. Crouse still gets consistent ice time, skating on Arizona’s second line along with second-unit power play time, and he is on pace to set a career high in goals, but his value is at a relative low point.

#16 Although he is no longer skating on Dallas’ top line, after a brief bump up the depth chart, second-year centre Wyatt Johnston continues to make his mark for the Stars. After putting up four points in Dallas’ 9-2 win at Nashville on Thursday, Johnston has 13 points (6 G, 7 A) with 34 shots on goal in his past 12 games. He is skating on a line with Jamie Benn and Ty Dellandrea. For the record, Johnston has played more than 99 five-on-five minutes with Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz on the Stars’ top line and they controlled 82.5 percent of expected goals, the best rate for any trio that has played at least 50 five-on-five minutes together.

#17 Veteran Anaheim Ducks winger Frank Vatrano is enjoying his most productive season, playing a career high 18:15 per game. After a three-point night in Ottawa on Thursday, Vatrano has 13 points (5 G, 8 A) and 33 shots on goal in his past 14 games and is now one goal away from his career high of 24 goals, set in 2018-2019. Not only does Vatrano have quality linemates, Mason McTavish and Troy Terry, at even strength, but the sturdy winger is on Anaheim’s top power play unit, too.

#18 Often a premier fantasy hockey forward, especially in banger leagues, Washington Capitals right winger Tom Wilson is stuck in a terrible slump. In the past 23 games, Wilson has just three points (2 G, 1 A) and 42 shots on goal. This is despite averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time per game. Some of this is related to Washington’s lack of proven playmakers up front, especially with centres Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov unavailable, but Wilson had 10 goals and 18 points with 82 shots on goal in his first 28 games, so this decline has been stark and makes it easy enough for fantasy managers to cut him loose.

#19 After the Boston Bruins acquired Tyler Bertuzzi last season, he produced 26 points (9 G, 17 A) in 28 games, covering the regular season and first round of the playoffs. That kind of production made him a very appealing free agent addition for the Toronto Maple Leafs but they are not getting that kind of offensive production. Bertuzzi has gone 19 straight games without a goal, managing seven assists and 30 shots on goal in that span.

#20 When the Winnipeg Jets acquired Sean Monahan from the Montreal Canadiens, there was some expectation that Monahan and second year forward Cole Perfetti would form a second scoring line for the Jets. Perfetti was slumping before the deal, with one assist in the seven games before Monahan arrived and has now gone four games without a point since Winnipeg made the move. Perfetti had 29 points in 40 games before this slump, so it’s not like he is incapable of providing the secondary offense that Winnipeg needs, but it has gone missing for the past month.