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NHL: CULLEN – 20 FANTASY POINTS – Lafreniere, Doan, Garland, Joshua, Zellweger, Cirelli, Mantha plus much, much more

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 22: New York Rangers left wing Alexis Lafreniere (13) skates with the puck during a game between the against the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils on February 22, 2024 at Prudential Center in the Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire)

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

This week, with the NHL season winding down and fantasy titles on the line, a look at Alexis Lafreniere, Josh Doan, Conor Garland, Olen Zellweger, Anthony Cirelli and much, much more!

#1 There are challenges that come with being the first overall pick in the Draft and one of those is that if a player is not immediately successful, like Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid, there is a rush to describe the player as a bust and worry about what that player could possibly become. Throughout his first three seasons, Rangers winger Alexis Lafreniere was a middle six winger who could score a bit, but not nearly enough to warrant being the first pick overall in 2020. In his fourth season, the 22-year-old has emerged as the kind of player who may not be Matthews or McDavid, but at least has the production to warrant a first-line role. He has 15 points (8 G, 7 A) and 31 shots on goal in his past 11 games and Lafreniere has scored 24 of his 26 goals at even strength. His 24 even-strength goals is tied with Dallas Stars centre Wyatt Johnston for 17th and puts Lafreniere ahead of the likes of Kirill Kaprizov, Sebastian Aho, J.T. Miller, Elias Petttersson, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl, and McDavid.

#2 It is something out of a fairytale – maybe an obscure fairytale, but a fairytale nonetheless – for the son of a franchise legend to grow up in Arizona, play college hockey at Arizona State and then land in the NHL with the Coyotes. Josh Doan has also contributed five points (2 G, 3 A) and 12 shots on goal in his first four games, which might make him worth a flier if you need instant offence at this late stage of the season. His shot rate is intriguing and while Doan does not have the same physical presence as his father Shane, the younger Doan did have 46 points (26 G, 20 A) in 62 AHL games to earn his late season promotion to The Show.

#3 Vancouver Canucks winger Conor Garland has been a quality contributor in a supporting role, especially late in the season. In his past dozen games, Garland has chipped in 11 points (4 G, 7 A) with 34 shots on goal. He has hit 40 points for a third consecutive season in Vancouver, though his ice time has dropped to 14:19 per game, his lowest average time on ice since 2019-2020. In addition to his place on Vancouver’s top power play unit, Garland is skating on the Canucks’ second line, with J.T. Miller and Dakota Joshua. While Miller has obvious fantasy appeal, after years of high-level production, Joshua is showing that he can be more than a depth forward. He has missed time due to injury, but Joshua does have five points (3 G, 2 A) while playing more than 16 minutes per game in his past five games.

#4 The Anaheim Ducks have a strong crop of young defencemen in the organization and they are giving 20-year-old Olen Zellweger a good look down the stretch. He has contributed five points (1 G, 4 A) in his past six games, scoring his first NHL goal in the process. This is the start of what should be a productive career. Zellweger had 37 points (12 G, 25 A) in 44 AHL games, a monster of a first pro season, to earn his shot with the Ducks.

#5 Although he is known more for his defensive acumen, Tampa Bay Lightning centre Anthony Cirelli can contribute offensively, too. It certainly helps that he has Steven Stamkos and Brandon Hagel on his wings. Cirelli has seven points (4 G, 3 A) with 12 shots on goal in his past six games, giving him 43 points on the season, one off his career high, set in 2019-2020.

#6 After he was acquired from the Washington Capitals, towering winger Anthony Mantha managed a single point, a goal, with eight shots on goal in his first seven games for the Vegas Golden Knights. He has found his footing since that slow start, however, putting up seven points (1 G, 6 A) with 11 shots on goal in the past six games. Mantha fulfills a supporting role in Vegas, skating on a line with William Karlsson and Pavel Dorofeyev.

#7 When the Calgary Flames acquired winger Andrei Kuzmenko from the Vancouver Canucks earlier in the season, the hope was that the Flames could get Kuzmenko back to the form that saw him score 39 goals as a rookie last season. It has not been the smoothest process. He had eight points (5 G, 3 A) in his first 12 games for the Flames, followed by a six-game drought with zero points. He has seen his ice time tick up recently, skating on a line with Nazem Kadri and rookie Martin Pospisil, and has six points (2 G, 4 A) in his past three games.

#8 A valuable piayer in Vegas’ Stanley Cup run last season, Ivan Barbashev has had some ups and downs during this regular season. He does seem to be heating up, though, with six points (4 G, 2 A) in his past six games. He is one of 21 forwards to record at least 160 hits in each of the past two seasons and, of those 21, is one of just four to have produced more than 40 points in each of the past two seasons. Along with Barashev, that group includes Brady Tkachuk, J.T. Miller, and Vincent Trocheck.

#9 It has been a tale of two seasons for New Jersey Devils winger Timo Meier, who had just 18 points (9 G, 9 A) with 98 shots on goal in 34 games going into the All-Star break. Since then, Meier has racked up 30 points (16 G, 14 A) with 90 shots on goal in 29 games. Despite his slow start it is the third straight season in which Meier has tallied at least 25 goals.

#10 Injuries have limited Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen to just 14 starts this season, but he has 11 wins and a .927 save percentage in those games. Among goaltenders to appear in at least 10 games, the only one with a higher save percentage is Colorado’s Justus Annunen (.930).

#11 The assists may be few and far between, but in his past 16 games, Anaheim Ducks left winger Alex Killorn has buried nine goals (with one assist). This has not been a banner season for Killorn, who has 33 points (17 G, 16 A) in 57 games in his first campaign with the Ducks. He is skating with rookie Leo Carlsson and veteran winger Troy Terry, giving him a good chance to finish the season on the right note.

#12 Arizona Coyotes rookie Logan Cooley has had a strong rookie season, albeit in relative obscurity. With nine points (6 G, 3 A) and 17 shots on goal in his past nine games, including his first hat trick, Cooley now ranks second among rookie forwards with 39 points (17 G, 22 A), leaving him behind only Connor Bedard. Cooley is skating on a line with Lawson Crouse and Dylan Guenther.

#13 While Cooley is the second highest scoring rookie forward, the second highest scoring rookie overall is New Jersey Devils defenceman Luke Hughes. He has 10 points (1 G, 9 A) and 26 shots on goal in his past eight games to give him 43 points (9 G, 34 A) in 76 games. In the past decade, the list of rookie defencemen to have more than 43 points is: Moritz Seider, Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Rasmus Dahlin, Will Butcher, Zach Werenski, and Shayne Gostisbehere. Aside from Butcher, that is rather strong company that Hughes is keeping.

#14 There may be a correlation between Fabian Zetterlund playing more than 18 minutes per game and the San Jose Sharks getting buried on a nightly basis, but the 24-year-old winger is establishing his credentials as an NHL player. Over the past month, he has 13 points (6 G, 7 A) with 42 shots on goal in 15 games. He is skating on San Jose’s top line with Klim Kostin and Mikael Granlund. Zetterlund isn’t the only Sharks player getting plenty of reps for his development this season. William Eklund, the seventh pick in the 2021 Draft, has similarly averaged more than 18 minutes per game and is finishing with a flourish, contributing seven points (2 G, 5 A) in his past seven games.

#15 If fantasy managers need a late scoring boost, perhaps Winnipeg Jets right winger Gabriel Vilardi is a player to target. He didn’t produce any points in his first two games back in the lineup following a month-long absence due to an upper-body injury then an enlarged spleen, but then he erupted for a hat trick, with nine shots on goal, in Thursday’s win over Calgary. The 24-year-old has produced 33 points (19 G, 14 A) in 41 games in his first season for the Jets and while the injuries seem to be part of the package, there is no denying his ability to contribute when he is in the lineup.

#16 Buffalo Sabres left winger Jeff Skinner reached the 1,000-game milestone for his career, a tremendous accomplishment. He is also fading late in the season. Since scoring a hat trick in Seattle on March 18, Skinner has zero points and 15 shots on goal in seven games. He is playing 13 minutes per game and is currently skating on a line with Peyton Krebs and Lukas Rousek, which is not exactly the same as riding shotgun with Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch. This is the tenth season in which Skinner has scored at least 20 goals, and he has 357 goals in his career, but he may be one to avoid in the final few weeks of this campaign.

#17 While there has been plenty of focus in Philadelphia on the declining production, and healthy scratches, of captain Sean Couturier, who has just one assist and 18 shots on goal in his past 15 games, he is not the only Flyers forward whose offensive well has run dry. Joel Farabee has a career-high 21 goals and 49 points this season but has zero points in his past six games and has been dropped to the fourth line.

#18 Since the March 8 trade deadline, the leading scorer in terms of points per 60 minutes of five-on-five play is Mark Jankowski of the Nashville Predators, who has 11 points (5 G, 6 A) with 21 shots on goal in his past 11 games. Jankowski spent most of the season in the American Hockey League, where the 29-year-old put up 47 points (15 G, 32 A) in 40 games for Milwaukee, earning another look in the NHL. Jankowski’s 14 points in 26 games for the Predators is his most in an NHL season since 2018-2019. The rest of the five-on-five points per 60 leaders since the trade deadline (minimum 50 minutes): Josh Doan (4.52), Pavel Zacha (4.47), Auston Matthews (4.41), David Pastrnak (4.33), Connor McDavid (4.18), Artemi Panarin (4.07), John Tavares (3.91), Mattias Ekholm (3.91), and Nikita Kucherov (3.88). That is a fascinating mix of Hart Trophy candidates along with a rookie, Doan, and complementary players like Zacha, Ekholm, and Tavares.

#19 The most productive lines during five-on-five play this season (minimum 100 minutes), per Evolving Hockey: Owen Tippett-Morgan Frost-Travis Konecny (7.36 GF/60), Alex DeBrincat-Dylan Larkin-Patrick Kane (6.14), Danton Heinen-Pavel Zacha-David Pastrnak (6.06), J.T. Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser (5.72), Zach Hyman-Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl (5.50), Warren Foegele-Leon Draisaitil-Ryan McLeod (5.27), Nikolaj Ehlers-Mark Scheifele-Gabriel Vilardi (5.04), Jason Robertson-Roope Hintz-Wyatt Johnston (4.95), J.J. Peterka-Dylan Cozens-Jack Quinn (4.91), and Jonathan Marchessault-Nicolas Roy-Ivan Barbashev (4.89). While there are some names that one might expect in that group, there are plenty of others there that are not exactly prime fantasy hockey draft picks, so offense can come from many places, especially in short spurts if a line is only together for a few weeks.

#20 Also per Evolving Hockey, here are the leaders in individual expected goals during five-on-four play (minimum 50 minutes), essentially, who is being put in position to score on the power play? Joel Eriksson Ek (4.35), Zach Hyman (4.10), John Tavares (3.97), Kyle Palmieri (3.76), Chris Kreider (3.69), Barrett Hayton (3.67), Gabriel Vilardi (3.46), Matthew Tkachuk (3.42), Sam Reinhart (3.38), and Shine Pinto (3.30). Columbus’ Alexander Nylander has only played 36 minutes at five-on-four, but has 4.50 ixG in that time, so he is getting great opportunities to score and while he has 10 goals in 18 games for Columbus, only two of those goals have been on the power play.