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Fantasy Hockey pickups: Weighing options before NHL trade deadline

Tobias Rieder could receive a fantasy boost after being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

By Neil Parker, RotoWire Hockey Writer
Special to Yahoo Sports

Deals are beginning to trickle in ahead of the NHL trade deadline, and while there’s been more bark than bite in recent years, it’s still an exciting time of year.

The swap between Arizona and Los Angeles was interesting and could provide a notable boost in value for Tobias Rieder. On the flip side, considering how many netminders are nursing injuries and the number of teams in need of an established goaltender, the Coyotes might have gotten ahead of the market and landed a coveted asset.

For fantasy purposes, staying ahead of your opponents is the name of the game. It’s time to take a long look at the strengths and weaknesses of your competition; remaining active on the waiver wire is one means of preventing competitors from improving.

This can be particularly important in goal. Similar to last week’s recommendation of Anton Khudobin, handcuffing your own top goalie’s backup and/or another solid No. 2 is in play at this stage of the season. Additionally, looking two or three days ahead at potential streaming options is also a sneaky way to take advantage of the free-agent pool.

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Here’s the schedule for the next scoring period from Feb. 26-March 4:

Two games: Ducks, Coyotes, Sabres

Four games: Hurricanes, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Panthers, Kings, Wild, Canadiens, Predators, Devils, Flyers, Lightning, Golden Knights

All other teams play three games

Remember to keep an eye on who is cut in your leagues because potential upgrades come in all forms. Also, remember to check the players previously covered in this space listed below.

(Yahoo ownership rates as of Feb. 22).

FORWARD

Bo Horvat, VAN (33 percent): The top-line center’s recorded four goals, two assists and two power-play points while logging a hefty 19:35 of ice time (3:15 with the man advantage) through his past five games. Horvat has also connected with linemate Brock Boeser for 4.22 goals per 60 minutes this season, so a prolonged hot streak isn’t out of the question.

Clayton Keller, ARI (46 percent): Offensive peaks and valleys are part and parcel for most rookies, so catching Keller in the middle of a heater could provide a nice boost. He’s collected three tallies, five helpers and a plus-8 rating through his past six games, and the Coyotes also have a favorable upcoming schedule, including five consecutive home games.

Zach Aston-Reese, PIT (10 percent): A carryover from last week, Aston-Reese is worth a look in the majority of fantasy settings. The 23-year-old winger should be able to post serviceable numbers as long as he’s flanking Sidney Crosby at even strength, and there is enough talent in Pittsburgh that he could be demoted and still move the needle. Additionally, in settings including hits, the Northeastern University product has been credited with 25 body checks through his past seven games.

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Bryan Rust, PIT (22 percent): Sticking with the Pens, Rust has recorded five goals, eight assists and 26 shots while averaging 17:18 of ice time through 12 games since returning from an upper-body injury. He also has long-standing chemistry with current center Evgeni Malkin, and it also helps that Pittsburgh is pacing the league in goals per game (4.33) since the All-Star break.

Kevin Hayes, NYR (10 percent): The 25-year-old American has marked the scoresheet in five of his past six contests for three goals, four assists, three power-play points and 18 shots. There’s uncertainty surrounding the Rangers heading into the trade deadline, but Hayes should stick in a top-six role and receive more consistent power-play time moving forward.

Tobias Rieder, LA (1 percent): As noted, there’s potential for Rieder to shine in the City of Angels. He was just finding a groove this season with two goals and three assists through his final four contests with the Coyotes, and the Kings are desperate for a talented and speedy winger to play in a top-six role.

DEFENSE

Nate Schmidt, VGK (25 percent): It’s surprising Schmidt is available in so many leagues. He’s picked up two goals and seven assists through his past 10 games to improve to a respectable 1.35 points per 60 minutes for the campaign. Additionally, Schmidt offers a solid cross-category profile with 85 shots, 93 blocks and a plus-18 rating.

Justin Braun, SAN (9 percent): There’s a good chance prospective owners will have missed the offensive outburst from Braun, as he’s unlikely to extend his current four-game point streak much longer. However, he’s been receiving more minutes of late and is a solid source of hits, blocked shots and plus-minus. It’s definitely worth adding that Braun is also in the midst of the best offensive season of his career.

Vince Dunn, STL (1 percent): St. Louis continues to lean on the rookie in more offensive situations, including with the goalie pulled against the Sharks on Tuesday. Dunn is also quarterbacking the No. 1 power-play. It hasn’t translated to noteworthy scoring success yet, but both he’s too talented not to land on the scoresheet more frequently if his current role remains intact.

GOALIE

Antti Raanta, ARI (39 percent): The Finn is 7-3-4 with a .937 save percentage and 1.97 GAA since the calendar flipped to 2018, and as mentioned, the Coyotes have a favorable upcoming schedule. Considering his form, the addition of Darcy Kuempershouldn’t significantly cut into Raanta’s workload, either.

Petr Mrazek, PHI (50 percent): Expect Mrazek to receive the bulk of starts through the end of March. The Flyers are making a strong push for the playoffs, and Mrazek has been a solid fantasy asset in the past. His ownership is probably going to skyrocket over the next week, too.

Ryan Miller, ANA (30 percent): The veteran has stopped all 61 shots through two appearances (one start) since John Gibson sustained a lower-body injury. Gibson’s considered day-to-day, but he also missed time earlier this month with a lower-body issue. As a result, Miller is a relevant asset in most settings — especially with Anaheim allowing just 1.93 goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five since the beginning of January.

Curtis McElhinney, TOR (9 percent): The Maple Leafs have three back-to-back sets remaining on their schedule and should clinch a playoff spot over the next few weeks. McElhinney stands to receive a handful of starts through the end of the season and has won seven of 10 starts with a .932 save percentage, 2.24 GAA and two shutouts. He also boasts tremendous upside if Frederik Andersen were to ever miss time.

Players to consider from past columns: Evgenii Dadonov, Sam Reinhart, Micheal Ferland, Ondrej Kase, Nico Hischier, Anthony Mantha, Matt Duchene, Teuvo Teravainen, Tom Wilson, Mathieu Perreault, Ryan Spooner, Timo Meier, Kevin Fiala, Alex DeBrincat, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Zach Hyman, Kyle Palmieri, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Alex Goligoski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jeff Petry, Mike Matheson, Esa Lindell, Alexander Edler, Travis Dermott, Juuse Saros, Kari Lehtonen.