Like Patrice Bergeron, I’m back!  After a long flight back home, it’ll be difficult for me to return in the style he did.  Bergeron had a goal and three assists with six shots in his season debut, a 6-3 win over the Canucks.  There’s not much to be said about Bergeron; get him back in your lineup immediately.  Look for his linemates to take off as well.  Let’s take a look at what happened over the last two nights:

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All everyone talked about in the preseason was wondering how bad Vegas was going to be in their expansion year.  Sure, it’s only two games, but boy did they have some excitement.  On Friday, Dallas was dominating Vegas in their franchise opener but was only up 1-0 in the third.  Down goes Ben Bishop which opened up the door for James Neal to give the people of Las Vegas some relief in an awful time.  Neal scored two goals in the third period to propel the Golden Knights to victory.  To top off the weekend, Neal scored another goal, this time the game winner in overtime, to give Vegas two wins to start the season.  Neal is still available in over 40% of leagues and if you are in one of them, grab him.  The shot rate is going to be elite along with solid penalty minutes and goals.  At least for now, I’m not overly concerned about the top guys on Vegas having bad plus-minuses either.  Let’s take a look at what else happened in the first (long) weekend of the NHL season:

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Once you get outside of the top 200 overall, you’re looking at the last 2-3 picks in a standard 12 man league.  There are a few different ways you can go about making your last few picks.  You can shoot for upside, get a couple safe players if you already have plenty of upside, fill out your last couple defensemen, grab a goalie out of desperation.  I’m going to list a bunch of players in different categories that fall outside of my top 200 that you can target depending on what you’re looking for.  I’m not going to go into detail on these guys but I will put them in my order of preference.  Here is my list:

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Amazingly, the Ottawa Senators were one goal away from making The Stanley Cup Finals last season.  It was a simple formula: have the best defenseman in the world on your team, a hot goaltender and nice forward depth (only one forward had more than 11 points in their 19 playoff games).  This year, they bring back the entire core from last season while adding a couple veterans and at least one, potentially two elite young talents.  There is clear room for improvement given that the Senators actually had a negative goal differential last season.  It’s fair to say that Ottawa overachieved last season but it’s also fair to say that their run wasn’t a complete fluke.  For fantasy, their team is very much like real life.  They have one elite player, solid forwards and a goaltender that can carry you for stretches or bury you.  Let’s take a look at what Ottawa is working with:

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Bartender! Shot of Jack. Man, I loved that call growing up, RIP Stuart Scott. This shot is of Jack Eichel who is lapping the entire league when it comes to points over the last month. Eichel now has the second longest point streak of the season after another big game on Tuesday night. He was seemingly the only Sabre who could get anything going scoring two goals and an assist with three shots in the 6-3 loss to the Flyers. Eichel now has 45 points (18+27) in 46 games with over four shots per game. If he has stayed healthy all season, he’d be recognized in the same light as the two rookies going off this season. Eichel has been carrying fantasy teams for weeks now and he has the potential to do that the rest of the season. For where Reid and I think we’ll rank him for next season, listen to Tuesday’s podcast . Here’s what else happened the last two nights around the league:

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I call Joe Pavelski “Mr. Consistency” because every season you can make him down for 30 goals, 40 assists and solid contributions elsewhere. It’s generally not flashy, just a consistent point with three shots, but at the end of the year it’s good enough to justify a first round pick on him. Pavelski showed on Wednesday night that he’s capable of dominating a game. Pavelski had a monster outing, scoring two goals and two assists with four shots in the 6-5 OT loss to Florida. The Sharks looked like they were dead before Pavelski scored 2 goals in the last 3:21 to force overtime. He’s on pace for right around 30 goals, a small stepback, but he’s compensating by playing at a career high assist rate. The shots are also over three per game, he’s +9 and the PPP are coming in per usual. Expect Pavelski to provide the value you hoped for drafting him in the back end of the first round and for him to be ranked in that same ball park going into next season. Here’s what else I saw around the league the last two nights:

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Jeff Carter has been a top 100 fantasy player for almost ten years running. His high floor of 25 goals and 30 assists with great shots made him a staple of the early rounds. That said, I don’t think anyone saw this type of upside from him at 32 years old. Carter had one of the best games of this season with two goals, two assists, four shots and two PIM in the 6-3 win over the Panthers on Thursday. This puts him one goal off the league lead and into the top ten in points. Carter is playing like a top 20 player and I see no reason for that to drastically slow down for the rest of the season. Sure, his shooting percentage will probably drop, but his workload is conducive to top end production. Next season, I’m not sure he’ll even be in my top 50 but the stability shall remain. Here’s what else happened the last two nights:

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On a Thursday night that lacked in big performances in comparison to recent weeks, Tyler Toffoli’s night was probably the best. In the dominating 4-1 win over the Red Wings, Toffoli found the back of the net twice on three shots and added an assist with two penalty minutes. That brings Toffoli’s totals to 7 goals and 12 assists in 29 games with almost three shots per game and an elite +14. It’s a significant decrease in goals for a 23 year old who buried 31 last year. Toffoli was one of the most polarizing players in preseason, at least to me because I had him ranked much lower than other experts (97th overall, highest rank was 29th, nobody else lower than 69th). It’s nice to see the assist rate and shot rate up and apparently he’ll be able to post a +20 or better every season of his career but Toffoli will need more games like this where he finds the back of the net to come anywhere near his 59th overall ADP. Can it happen? With the minutes his line is getting and with how much the Kings depend on his line for offense, definitely. I’d be a bit surprised if it happened though because the goals will probably come at the expense of assists and the penalty minutes are non-existent. Toffoli is a great example of a player who is better in real life than fantasy. That’s not to say he’s a dud in fantasy, he’s a top 100 player, but Toffoli should be mentioned among the best young snipers in the game more frequently than he is. Let’s take a look at what else happened around the NHL on Wednesday and Thursday night:

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There have been plenty of defensemen this season who have frustrated their owners due to lack of performance. A player who looked on the verge of a breakout after last season was Rasmus Ristolainen. The Sabres agreed with that take giving him a 5 year deal and early dividends were not there. Risto was accumulating assists but not much else. However, things are starting to change and it’s no coincidence that it has occurred when Jack Eichel returned to the lineup. On Tuesday night, Ristolainen scored his first goal of the season, an amazing slapshot in overtime, and added two assists and three shots in the 4-3 OT win against the Oilers. That gives Ristolainen 1 goal and 6 assists in the 5 games with Eichel in the lineup. He played almost 30 minutes in each of the last two games showing how important he is to the Sabres depleted blue line and with how the top power play unit moves the puck, I expect Ristolainen to be a #2 defenseman the rest of the way with the upside to be a #1. Let’s take a look at what else developed over the last two nights.

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When Johnny Gaudreau underwent surgery for his finger injury, the expectation was that he was going to miss six weeks. Flames fans and fantasy owners had to be thrilled when he came back on Sunday in less than three weeks. The team did surprisingly well in the 10 games Gaudreau missed, mostly due to Chad Johnson between the pipes, but they didn’t score than 3 goals in any game during that stretch. That changed in a big way Sunday night against a strong Ducks team. The Flames scored a whopping 8 goals beating the Ducks 8-3 with Gaudreau scoring the opener and adding an assist later on. He was finally playing well before his injury so hopefully this is a sign of things to come. We know that he’s a top end player but the impact of his return will be felt throughout the lineup. More on those guys later in the Sunday section, let’s get to the games!

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