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Fantasy Hockey players getting hot after slow starts

Goalie Scott Darling should see his numbers improve as Carolina’s young defense gains experience. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

The One-Timer: Players getting hot after slow starts

By Evan Berofsky, RotoWire Hockey Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports

With a certain holiday highlighted by poultry and pigskin having come and gone, the next installment of this column would like to continue the tradition and focus on showing appreciation. Many pundits have praised this season’s standout performers, but let’s also give encouragement for those players who may have posted slow starts but are trending in the right direction based on recent numbers.

Here are a few players primed to break out. We’ll limit the candidates to one per team and exclude superstars. Also, anyone returning from a significant injury doesn’t count, as that’s an obvious excuse for underachievement. We want to target those who have seen enough action but haven’t caught as many breaks as fantasy owners would have liked …

Scott Darling, G, Carolina

Darling served an important role as the backup in Chicago, but a looming expansion draft and the strong play of Corey Crawford forced a trade. Hurricanes management immediately signed the 6-foot-6 netminder to a four-year deal and made him their starter. Success hasn’t been as instant for Darling (7-6-1, 2.71 GAA, .901 save percentage), although that may be related to Carolina’s young defense (26 and under). The organization already boasts a solid offense, but the young group at the other end of the ice hasn’t performed as well. As the blue-line contingent continues to gain experience, they will be able to build a rapport with whoever handles the majority of the work between the pipes. With the club’s significant investment in Darling, his confidence – and stats – should inevitably improve.

Alex Galchenyuk, F, Montreal

For someone who was selected third overall in 2012 after plenty of junior fanfare, Galchenyuk’s path has been difficult to predict in the pro ranks. He steadily increased his numbers in each of his first four years in Montreal, culminating in a 30-goal, 56-point campaign. And while 2016-17 continued the same trend (17 goals, 27 assists in 61 appearances), there was the belief the former OHL Sarnia Sting standout would be set to meet those once-high expectations. Unfortunately, it’s tough to build on progress if you’re punching the clock on the fourth line. Galchenyuk has recently returned to the top six and seems to be producing at a decent rate (four points in six contests). At 23, he’s still learning what it takes to play at the top level, but his immense talent should compensate for other perceived shortcomings.

Oscar Klefbom, D, Edmonton

When discussing Oilers defensemen, the offensive conversation starts and ends with Klefbom. The Swede didn’t make an instant impact in the NHL when he arrived in 2013, but slowly improved to the point where he developed into a reliable contributor (38 points – including 16 on the power-play – last season). Although the reason for Edmonton’s underwhelming performance these first two months can be traced to several factors, Klefbom’s subpar stat line (six points, minus-13) isn’t necessarily one of them. And even if the shoddy team D is affecting his play, he still skates significant minutes (averaging just under 23) in all situations. As the club snaps out of its collective lull, so will Klefbom.

Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit

The soon-to-be 37-year old continues to assert his physical presence (17 hits and 20 blocked shots in 21 games), but injuries have stunted his point prowess the last two seasons (from 44 down to 26 and 13) and into this year (six). The Wings aren’t as formidable as they once were, but have displayed an exciting and quick attack. While neither of those two qualities would ever be attributed to Kronwall, he looks to be in a position to benefit. The current overall ice time is lower than his peak days (hovering around 19 minutes), but power-play duty remains a staple of his repertoire. Kronwall has recently been used as the lone blueliner on the first man-advantage unit, resulting in a boost to his totals (three points in his last four, included two PPPs).

Bryan Little, F, Winnipeg

Little’s current stats (12 points in 23 contests) wouldn’t necessarily be described as terrible, but look disappointing when compared to past numbers (averaged 0.76 points per game the last four seasons). And when you consider Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers (each with 17) regularly line up as his wingers, the veteran should probably be finding the scoresheet more often. That said, Little remains within the main core of one of the best offenses and probably won’t lose that spot unless he gets injured. He has also experienced success during a recent stretch (six points in seven) and fits on Winnipeg’s second – and equally strong – power-play unit (three PPPs in his last four).

Sam Reinhart, F, Buffalo

Drafted as a center, it’s been tough to figure out if Reinhart fits better down the middle or on the wing. His first two full years in Buffalo proved impressive enough (42 and 47 points, respectively), at least for someone skating in the shadow of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. There’s a reason he was taken No. 2 in 2014, and it’s not simply because of his hockey bloodlines. He entered this fall as the third pivot on the Buffalo depth chart (and started with five points in 17 games), but has subsequently been shifted to a higher level on the right side (notching five points in the last seven). Reinhart possesses the skills to become a consistent scorer, but that has not yet materialized. Be patient — the points will certainly come.

Daniel Sedin/Henrik Sedin, F, Vancouver

The Canucks’ young contingent, led by Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, may be the primary driving force of the team, but the Sedins can still provide enough to justify their fantasy worth. Now in their 17th season, the twins appear content to serve in a diminished capacity. While the figures from their first 13 appearances were abysmal (combined eight points, minus-8), the output from the next 11 (16 points) makes up for it.

(Honorable mention: Matt Duchene, F, Ottawa; Nick Foligno, F, Columbus; Dougie Hamilton, D, Calgary; Matt Murray, G, Pittsburgh; Brandon Saad, F, Chicago; Nikita Zaitsev, D, Toronto)