Long term hockey relationships can be the source of fantasy gold. Consider the illustrious history of such legendary lovebirds as Gretzky-Kurri, Hull-Mikita, Hull-Oates (yes, “Hull & Oates”), Trottier-Bossy, Lemieux-Jagr, Lindros-Leclair, and those-were-the-days when Crosby-Malkin, and Toews-Kane were linemates.
The less romanticially-inclined out there might simply call them ‘Pairings’. Call them what you will, when you see chemistry like that on the ice, it’s something to behold. And when you successfully draft one of these duos to your fantasy team, it feels like an absolute coup, doesn’t it? You sit there basking in your 3rd round glory: “I’ve got Ryan Getzlaf AND Corey Perry!” and dreaming of doubling up your point total on almost every Anaheim goal this season. But in a deep redraft or dynasty league, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get both, even with your first two picks. So what’s a deep leaguer to do? For every Gretzky to Kurri, there has always been that third wheel, catapulted into short term fantasy relevance as long as they stay on that line. Correctly identify the answer to that trivia question and you’ve got yourself a bona fide sleeper, and maybe even a keeper. So who are the candidates a quarter-way into the season?
First, the ground rules. I’m talking about proven duos here. There are some trios that play well together – and have similar high ownership percentages (think LA and Ottawa) – but we’re looking for diamonds in the rough, players that might still be unowned, even in a 16-20 team league.
After a rough start, these two seem to be back on track.
Rickard Rakell – Currently on the top line. He’s a young, clever scoring winger, inconsistent but looks good in spurts.
Nick Ritchie – The 2012 first round pick was just called up, and is worth a spec add if you’ve got a free roster spot, as you have to think he’ll get his chance.
Frank Vatrano – He’s an undrafted free agent, currently getting a shot on the top line, but gets no PP time.
Brett Connolly – The 2010 6th overall pick had some success on the line and is still the best bet in the long term, but patience is advised as he recently went a month between goals.
Veering from the dynamic duos for a moment – this line is heating up. Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask are virtually unowned, but can help you right now. Lindholm in particular is a sneaky pickup. He’s been ice cold all season, but is now in the midst of a four-game point streak. Add him now.
Artem Anisimov can still be found on the wire, and centers the red hot Kane-Panarin duo.
Toews usually plays with Hossa and a revolving left winger (currently Andrew Shaw), but that ‘3rd Wheel’ hasn’t been productive.
The return of Pavel Datsyuk may have you wondering who his wingers are. With three strong lines in Detroit, Henrik Zetterberg and Datsyuk are of course on separate lines.
Brad Richards – Is there any gas left in the tank? He’s getting the opportunity, but pointless in three straight.
Tomas Jurco – Definitely worth a spec add, especially in dynasty leagues, as he’s just been called up and looks like he’s riding shotgun on the line for now.
Until Connor McDavid returns, this is the only dynamic duo in town.
Teddy Purcell – has been a steady presence on the top line lately.
But worth mentioning would be Jordan Eberle, who is a great buy low candidate if you can snag him in a trade. When McDavid returns, you’re looking at three duos that look like this: Draisatl-Hall, McDavid-Yakupov (both currently injured), Nugent-Hopkins-Eberle. The wingers could get shuffled obviously, and with Yakupov on the shelf, Eberle would be an obvious candidate to try on McDavid’s wing.
Devante Smith-Pelly – is getting first line time with Brendan Gallagher on the shelf for six weeks. He’s worth a grab but temper your expectations. He scored two goals in his first game on the line, but no points in the two since. And he gets zero PP time.
Brock Nelson – He’s been streaky, but seems to have a hold on the top spot with Tavares, and gets first unit PP time as well. You could do worse.
Derrick Brassard – This is more of an upgrade due to Derek Stepan’s injury. Look for an uptick in Brassard’s numbers as he now center’s the top line.
This one is just painful to write about. In short:
Jakub Voracek has been moved off of Claude Giroux’s wing, which has suddenly made Voracek productive. The irony is that will probably get him bumped back up to the spot where he was having trouble scoring. Meanwhile, 3rd wheel Michael Raffl can’t seem to score even by accident. It’s really a puzzling situation.
Pittsburgh (Crosby-Hornqvist) (Malkin-Kessel)
Pascal Dupuis is currently on Crosby’s “other” wing (and has played well in the role previously). He’s not a prolific scorer, but as Crosby heats up (points in his last 5 games), Dupuis is worth an add if you’re hurting at LW.
David Perron is a classic third wheel, he’ll get you a few points but not as many as his linemates.
Jannik Hansen – is worth a short term add, but don’t break the bank here. He’s been productive with the Twins lately, but we’ve seen this before and it just doesn’t last. He also doesn’t log any meaningful PP time.
In conclusion: There are more combos out there. In fantasy hockey, it is a viable strategy to double up on linemates. We’re shooting for the moon here, obviously, but another great strategy can be to target lower profile duos (and ignore their third wheel). Pairs like Zajac-Palmieri or Eichel-Kane fit the bill. The great thing about hockey rosters are that on any given night, a duo that doesn’t score won’t hurt you, not in the same way a dud game from a football QB-WR combo will do you in. You can even stack 2 or 3 line combos on your roster, knowing that you’ll usually get points from somewhere – and on the weeks when that line is on fire, your team will be unstoppable.