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NHL: DADOUN – THE FANTASY WEEK AHEAD (January 15th – January 21st) – Bedard injury impact – Teams and players to target

Florida Panthers center Sam Reinhart (13 (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire)

It would have been an exaggeration to say Connor Bedard was running away with the Calder Trophy before he suffered a fractured jaw last Friday -- after all defenseman Brock Faber is having an amazing season in Minnesota -- but it was at least fair to think of him as the frontrunner. Chicago is undergoing a classic rebuild, which began with a fire sale that even saw the Blackhawks trade the still-young Alex DeBrincat in 2022 with an eye toward starting fresh through the draft.

Phase One of that was a success -- the Blackhawks got their man in Bedard, who has been the subject of intense hype that he’s largely lived up to with 15 goals and 33 points in 39 outings. The fact that he’s set to miss the next six-to-eight weeks after undergoing surgery will cost him a chance to play in his first All-Star Game, it might rob him of the Calder Trophy and of course on top of that, you just never want to see someone get hurt. However, underneath all that lies another truth: For as great as Bedard has been, his absence won’t change much in Chicago.

The Blackhawks are just frankly too bad to make any use of Bedard. Sure, they’re even worse without him, but Chicago was so close to the bottom as it was, that there isn’t much further to fall.

Injuries have certainly played a role in that. On top of Bedard, Chicago was also without Andreas Athanasiou (groin), Anthony Beauvillier (wrist), Nick Foligno (finger), Taylor Hall (knee), Tyler Johnson (foot) and Seth Jones (shoulder) when it faced Winnipeg on Thursday. It would have been interesting to see what the Blackhawks might have been had they stayed healthy, but the reality is they were unlikely to contend either way.

You might even argue that this is in some ways better for the team’s future. Rather than end up with, say the 10th overall pick had the Blackhawks stayed healthy, they might receive another No. 1 selection. That would certainly help their rebuild.

At the same time, there are dangers to that mentality. Building a winning culture is tough and the clock to do that started the moment they drafted Bedard. The Blackhawks have two more seasons with him at an entry-level deal and after that, if his first 39 games were any indication, he’s likely to get a massive payday. Connor McDavid jumped straight from his entry-level contract to a $12.5 million cap hit, Jack Eichel went to $10 million while Matthews ascended to roughly $11.6 million. Bedard still has a lot to prove, but he has the potential to be that caliber of player, and if he continues to grow as Chicago hopes, then he will not be at a discounted salary for long.

Of course, Bedard getting a big payday isn’t the end of the world. Chicago can still build around him at that point, albeit with some more difficulty, but these things can sneak up on you and a slow burn rebuild runs the risk of ending with a failure to launch, as the Sabres experienced with Eichel and Ottawa is now in danger of with its core of Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk and Jakob Chychrun. The Blackhawks can write off this year and just hope for another win in the draft lottery, but as early as next season, they’ll want to start showing some progress.

Anaheim Ducks – MON @ FLA, TUE @ WAS (BTB), SAT @ SJS, SUN VS NYR (BTB)

The Ducks will begin the week on the road with games against the Panthers on Monday, the Capitals on Tuesday and the Sharks on Saturday. They’ll then return to Anaheim to host the Rangers on Sunday. It’s not an easy schedule overall, but the Sharks are one of the worst teams in the NHL while Washington has been something of a mixed bag.

The Ducks made waves by acquiring Cutter Gauthier from Philadelphia on Monday in exchange for Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round pick. Gauthier has tremendous potential and is having a great campaign with Boston College, scoring 13 goals and 23 points through 17 NCAA contests as a sophomore, and he was named the best forward of the 2024 World Juniors, helping Team USA win gold by supplying two goals and a team-high 12 points in seven games. Ducks’ fans should be happy with that trade, but in the short term, Gauthier will remain with Boston, and the Ducks’ current roster is worse off without Drysdale.

Anaheim’s defense was stretched even thinner when Pavel Mintyukov suffered a separated shoulder Tuesday that’s projected to shelve him for six weeks. With Drysdale gone and Mintyukov unavailable, Urho Vaakanainen has suddenly found himself in a top-four role. The 25-year-old has averaged just 16:17 of ice time this season, but he logged 22:26 in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Nashville. Vaakanainen hasn’t been a great fantasy option this campaign with seven assists, 13 hits and 31 blocks in 33 outings, but if you’re in a deeper league, you should take note of his dramatically increased role.

Cam Fowler is averaging 25:12 with Anaheim this year, so he can’t be leaned on much more than he already is, but the Ducks might deploy him even more on the power play -- he's currently logging 2:30 per game in that regard -- and Jackson LaCombe might become a regular with the man advantage as well after getting 4:27 of power-play ice time Tuesday. LaCombe has just six assists in 37 contests in 2023-24, but the 23-year-old did excel with the University of Minnesota, contributing 12 goals and 65 points in 76 games over his final two NCAA seasons, so he’s worth keeping an eye on to see what he does with this opportunity.


Buffalo will stay at home next week, hosting the Sharks on Monday, the Blackhawks on Wednesday and the Lightning on Saturday. I’m highlighting Buffalo over some teams with four games because it’s facing the two worst squads in the NHL in San Jose and Chicago, which creates some juicy opportunities, especially for the Sabres’ forward corps.

Unfortunately, Jeff Skinner (upper body) isn’t going to be around to take advantage of those upcoming contests. Tage Thompson (undisclosed) is also in doubt after exiting Thursday’s 5-3 win over Ottawa, though coach Don Granato told Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic after the contest that he thinks Thompson will be okay, so perhaps the elite forward will still be an option next week.

Regardless, this might be a good week for Jack Quinn. After scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 75 contests as a rookie last season, he missed the first two months of the 2023-24 campaign while recovering from Achilles surgery. Quinn returned Dec. 19 and while his four goals and six points through 10 outings isn’t amazing, it’s a solid start. He’s also averaging 16:20 of ice time this year, up from 13:51 as a rookie, and given his potential, the 22-year-old should take advantage of the increased responsibilities, especially given the quality of Buffalo’s upcoming adversaries.

This might also be a good week to grab Devon Levi or Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen if either is available. While neither is having a great season, you don’t have to be an elite goaltender to beat Chicago (2.29 goals per game) or San Jose (2.00). The duo is likely to split the two starts.

Colorado Avalanche – MON @ MTL, TUE @ OTT, THU @ BOS, SAT @ PHI

The Avalanche have a full four-game set ahead of them, though they will spend the full week on the road, playing in Montreal on Monday, Ottawa on Tuesday, Boston on Thursday and Philadelphia on Saturday. While an extended road trip is far from ideal, it does help that neither of the first two opponents -- the Canadiens and Senators -- is in a playoff position.

If you’ve been holding onto Ryan Johansen in the hopes he’ll eventually rebound, it’s likely time to drop him. While Johansen has had his moments with Colorado, he has 11 goals and just 16 points through 42 games and his playing time is trending in the wrong direction. The 31-year-old logged a season-low 9:34 against Vegas on Wednesday, making it his fourth straight contest with under 14 minutes logged. He’s averaged 13:58 in 2023-24 and just 12:42 over his last 10 appearances.

One of Colorado’s other free agent gambles from the summer of 2023 is paying off, though. Jonathan Drouin is red hot with six goals and 14 points in his past 14 games. In contrast to Johansen, Drouin’s responsibilities with the Avalanche have grown to the point where he’s on the first line and top power-play unit. As long as Drouin maintains a spot alongside Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, he should continue to be a steady offensive presence.

Dallas Stars – TUE VS LAK, THU @ PHI, SAT @ NJD, SUN @ NYI (BTB)

Dallas will open the week by hosting the Kings before visiting Philadelphia on Thursday, New Jersey on Saturday and the Islanders on Sunday. None of those are easy games, so this is a bit of a borderline team to highlight, but the 24-11-5 Stars can contend against any adversary.

The Stars are also on the brink of getting a huge boost with the return of Jake Oettinger (lower body), who might even return before next week’s set. Scott Wedgewood has been a mixed bag, but ultimately his 3.03 GAA and .887 save percentage in 12 outings since Oettinger suffered the injury Dec. 15 is simply not good enough to alter how Dallas will handle how it handles the goaltending situation once Oettinger returns. In other words, Oettinger will be leaned heavily on, and if you picked up Wedgewood to collect extra starts, it will soon be time to replace him.

In contrast, Mason Marchment has a great chance to remain effective next week. He’s been outstanding recently, providing three goals and 11 points over his last six games to bring him up to 13 goals and 32 points through 40 appearances in 2023-24. The 28-year-old has been somewhat streaky this campaign, so you’ll need to exercise some caution with him, but he should remain an effective forward overall.

His linemate Tyler Seguin is on a roll as well, scoring six goals and nine points over his last six contests. If you have him, though, it might be time to start exploring the possibility of selling high if you can find a taker. He’s having a strong campaign with 16 goals and 32 points in 40 outings, but of course, those numbers have been pumped up by his recent hot streak and his 18.6 shooting percentage this season is unlikely to be sustained -- his career average is 11.0.

Florida Panthers – MON VS ANA, WED VS DET, FRI VS MIN

The Panthers will play just three games next week, but all those contests will be at home. They’ll face the Ducks on Monday, the Red Wings on Wednesday and the Wild on Friday. Detroit is a tough opponent, but the Wild are in a freefall, losing six of their last seven games while being outscored 11-2 over their last two contests and Anaheim is near the league’s basement.

Sam Reinhart has never scored more than 33 goals in a single season, but at this rate, the 28-year-old might set a new career high before the All-Star break. He’s contributed at least one goal in five straight games and eight of his last nine outings, totaling 12 markers in that span. Reinhart’s goal in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over LA was his 30th of the campaign, putting him behind just Auston Matthews’ 33 in the goal-scoring race.

It remains to be seen if Reinhart can sustain this, though. His shooting percentage of 27.5 is by far the highest of any player with at least 100 shots -- next is Brock Boeser at 23.3 -- and more than double his 2022-23 finish of 13.7. Digging a little deeper, Reinhart is selective with when he shoots, firing 40.4 percent in high-danger areas. By contrast, Nikita Kucherov has nearly the same number of goals (28) while firing nearly double the shots (amounting to a 15.4 shooting percentage), but just 18.1 percent of his shots are in high-danger locations, so by that measure, Reinhart’s higher shooting percentage makes some sense.

Reinhart’s shooting percentage, if maintained, would go down as the highest of the salary cap era (min. 100 shots) and the best since Rob Brown and Craig Simpson in 1988-89, so some regression has to be expected, but given how the Panthers forward plays, that shooting percentage isn’t as big a red flag as it might otherwise be.

Meanwhile, Florida’s other Sam, Bennett, isn’t having nearly as good of a year with seven goals and 14 points across 28 outings, but he’s been effective recently with three goals and five points in six games, so he’s worthy of a short-term pickup if he’s available.

New Jersey Devils – MON @ BOS, WED VS MTL, FRI @ CBJ, SAT VS DAL

New Jersey will open the week in Boston on Monday before traveling back home to host the Canadiens on Wednesday. The Devils will then play in Columbus on Friday and host the Stars on Saturday. Boston and Dallas are tough adversaries, but that’s counterbalanced by the games against Montreal and Columbus -- neither of which is in a playoff position.

Injuries have become the story of the Devils’ 2023-24 campaign with Ondrej Palat (lower body) and Jack Hughes (upper body) becoming the latest victims. Neither is likely to return next week, and Timo Meier (abdomen) might not factor into the upcoming contests either.

Michael McLeod is getting an increased role due to the injuries. Although he’s averaged 14:42 of ice time this year, McLeod logged 18:14 on Saturday and followed that up with 17:46 on Thursday. The 25-year-old also has three goals and four points over his past four contests, so he’s hot at an opportune time.

Erik Haula has also seen his playing time jump, and he’s even seeing time with the man advantage, which hasn’t been a role the 32-year-old has held with any regularity this year. Haula has a goal and five points over his last four games while averaging 20:12 of ice time (his season average is 16:02), so he’s not a bad pickup while the Devils are missing some key forwards.

New York Islanders – MON @ MIN, TUE @ WPG, FRI @ CHI, SUN VS DAL

The Islanders will begin the week on the road with contests in Minnesota on Monday, Winnipeg on Tuesday and Chicago on Friday. They’ll then host the Stars on Sunday. Given the Wild’s recent struggles and the sorry state of the Blackhawks, this is a decent schedule, even after factoring in the tougher matches versus Winnipeg and Dallas.

If Semyon Varlamov (lower body) isn’t able to return before Tuesday’s contest against Winnipeg, then Ken Appleby might make his Islanders debut. The 28-year-old goaltender has a 2.88 GAA and an .897 save percentage in 11 contests with AHL Bridgeport this year, so he’s not an ideal option, but the Jets are vulnerable without Kyle Connor (knee) and might also be without Mark Scheifele, who left Thursday’s outing versus Chicago because of a lower-body injury. If Scheifele ends up missing that game too and Appleby is poised to start, then the goaltender might be a decent situational pickup.

It also helps that Appleby would likely receive solid goal support from Mathew Barzal. The Islanders forward is on fire, collecting two goals and nine points over his last five appearances. As long as he can stay healthy, Barzal could surpass his career high of 85 points, which was established in his rookie campaign.


The Senators get to spend most of the week in Ottawa, hosting the Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canadiens on Thursday and the Jets on Saturday. They’ll then finish the week with a game in Philadelphia on Sunday. The three home games are what help make the Senators’ schedule worth mentioning. Ottawa has a 4-13-0 record on the road but is an okay 10-10-0 at home.

I mentioned at the top of the article that the Senators have had a failure to launch. Despite a talented young core, Ottawa is on track to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight year. Replacing bench boss D.J. Smith with Jacques Martin has done nothing -- the squad is 3-8-0 since the coaching change. However, Martin has mostly coached the Senators on the road and as noted above, the team does tend to be at least decent at home.

Brady Tkachuk is one of the most dramatic examples of that shift. He has 11 goals and 19 points in 20 home contests compared to six markers and 10 points in 17 away games, so look for Tkachuk in particular to have a strong week. Josh Norris missed Thursday’s game versus Buffalo due to an upper-body injury, but if he’s healthy next week, then he might also be effective. He has eight goals and 14 points in 18 outings in Ottawa versus just four goals and six points in 15 road appearances.