In seven seasons since the Flames took Mikael Backlund 24th overall he has failed to live up his draft position or the hype that followed. Not once has he topped 40 points or 20 goals, so it might seem odd to peg him as a second half sleeper now, but after he returned from an abdominal injury recently he’s been on fire. Since January 7th he’s put up three goals, two assists, a game winning goal, a shorthanded goal, 11 faceoff wins, three hits, a plus-3 rating and a block in three games. That pushes his season line to 4/5/9/+3 in just 14 games and it looks like he might finally be ready to live up to the high expectations heaped upon him nearly a decade ago.

When you’re talking in terms of a decade, or in this case, seven years, it’s might seem like the train already left the station on this guy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Backlund is a highly creative playmaker with incredible hands and the ability to finish when necessary sporting an explosively quick release and a wicked wrister to go with it. He’s fast on his skates, too, able to turn on the after burners quickly reaching high speeds whenever he needs to. What’s more, he protects the puck like whoa, showing a fierce ability to stick with a play even when he’s being hounded by the defense. With all that talent you’d assume he would have long ago put it all together and become a productive member of the fantasy hockey world, but injuries have limited him in almost every season so far. First an grade 2 MCL sprain, then a broken foot that just wouldn’t heal, follow that up with a dash of abdominal surgery and you’ve got yourself seven years of woe to start a career.

Now that’s he’s 100% healthy Backlund is going to need to be more consistent to stay in the Flames and Fantasy lineups alike, but if last week was any indication, he’s ready to put up stats across the board. He’s currently skating with Johnny Gaudreau and David Jones on the second line and getting time on the first power play, too. So I’m not the only one who thinks Backlund has some serious upside to cash in on moving forward. I know detailing a lengthy injury history isn’t exactly the best endorsement for fantasy gold, but if you’re looking for a decent sleeper you can grab off the wire for free for a second half playoff push, Backlund is definitely worth a flier. Anyway, here’s what else I saw in the world o’ fantasy hockey recently:

Calvin Pickard was recalled to the Avs and will start tonight. Reto Berra was sent down to the AHL for a five game conditioning stint and the Avs plan to recall him when he’s done, so Pickard is only good for two starts; one against Carolina tonight and maybe another game before Berra is recalled. If Berra looks terrible in the AHL, Pickard could stick on big ice finally, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the plan for the time being.

Olli Maatta is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. First Cancer, then Mumps, now a shoulder injury which spells disaster for a defenseman, this poor bastard just can’t catch a break. I think his injury riddled season will leave him undervalued come next season’s drafts, so keep an eye on grabbing him in later rounds for some solid value, but otherwise, he’s off the radar until then. Get well soon, Olli!

Tyler Seguin is apparently suffering from the flu, so that explains his sudden slump over the last week or so. He was on the ice this morning for practice and is expected to play, but he might not be 100% yet.

Jamie Benn has, uh, something wrong and the Stars aren’t saying a damn thing about what “it” is, so he’s questionable for tonight. If the Stars have to go without Benn and Seguin, it’s not going to be pretty for Dallas.

Victor Hedman went down with an undisclosed LBI and my heart has officially stopped beating and I shant breathe a breath until I found out how long he’s out for this time. It doesn’t sound like he’ll play tonight, but that’s all we know. You’re killing us, Victor. If he’s out for a week or more Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman both get a bump in value and are worth adding in most leagues.

Tyler Johnson went down last night with his own LBI and he too is out for tonight with no word on just how bad his injury is. There is no replacing Johnson for the Bolts or his fantasy owners, so it’s a wait and see game for now. I will update again when I hear something on either Hedman or Johnson.

UPDATE: The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that neither Johnson or Hedman will be out long term with their current injuries. Hedman is dayish-to-dayish and Johnson is day-to-day. 

Karri Ramo practiced and is set to come off IR any minute now, so Joni Ortio will be sent back to the AHL soon. 

James Neal is back at practice for the Preds skating with Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, though I imagine it’s only a matter of time before he returns to his top line place with Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro.

Colin Wilson is heating up as of late and has six points (2 G, 4 A) over his last five games and 13 points (6 G, 7 A) over his last 10 games. I’d add him where you can while he’s scoring, though there’s no telling how long it will last.

Alex Galchenyuk isn’t hurt, but his production is going to be hurting as he gets pushed off the top line and tumbles all the way down to the third line skating with Brandon Prust and P.A. Parenteau. That’s a no-man’s land for offensive production, so if you own him be prepared for a continued cold spell.

Rob Zepp, G (W, 21 SV, 3 GA, .875%) – In two starts this season Zepp has allowed three goals in each contest and looked generally bleh doing it. That’s not surprising for a 33-year-old netminder making his NHL debut, so I wouldn’t rush out to add him from the wire anywhere. Ray Emery is likely to get the lion’s share of the starts with Steve Mason down for a few weeks, so that’s the guy you target if you’re crazy enough to bother. I know I won’t be.

Evgeni Nabokov, G (L, 9 SV, 4 GA, .692%) – There was a time, long ago, in not too distant land that Nabby was a stellar netminder. That time is past and now we are left with but a shell of the former Nabby. A shell that allows four goals on 13 shots and gets yanked shortly after the start of the second period in favor of Ben Bishop, G (L, 9 SV, 3 GA, .750%) who looked nearly as bad as Nabby did before getting the hook. I know the Bolts want to be careful with the development of Andrei Vasilevskiy, but unless they trade for a decent backup, they’re going to have to do something about this Nabokov situation sooner than later and that means calling him back up and sending Nabby packing.

Ryan Callahan, RW (1 G, 2 SOG) – Cally has cooled since he went off the chain and put up 16 points in 13 games in November, but followed that up with a more appropriate nine points in 15 games last month. That puts him on pace for around 25 goals and 60-65 points by season’s end and I’d say that’s about right, though I wouldn’t be shocked if his second half was a bit slow and he finished with around 60.

Michael Raffl, LW (1 G, 3 SOG, +1) – Mike hit the Raffl and played on the top line with Claude Giroux, C (2 A, 1 SOG, +1) and Jakub Voracek, RW (1 G, 1 A, 1 SOG) for a bit but he seems to have been pushed down a line in recent games and he’s currently skating with Wayne Simmonds, RW (2 A, 1 SOG, +1, 2 PIM) and yawnstipating rookie Scott Laughton, C (1 A, 3 SOG, +1) and that’s going to eat up what little value he had despite the goal last night, which pushed his season total to 11. That puts him on pace for 23 goals by the end of the season, which would be great, but he’s on pace for a total of 30 points. That’s terrible. In the deepest of leagues you can’t ignore 20 goals, even if it comes with little else, but otherwise Raffl is not worth owning.

Brayden Schenn, C (1 G, 1 A, 1 SOG) – It seemed like the Flyers just outright refused to put Schenn on the top line, but they finally did and he instantly clicked and put up two points, though he only put one shot on goal, it did go on, so that’s good. Schenn is on pace for 20 goals, 50 points and a bunch of hits and a decent plus/minus, but if he can stick on the top line for even a week or two, I could see him going on a run so pick him up now if you can. If he drops off that top line, he’s only valuable in deeper or hits leagues.

Mark Streit, D (1 G, 2 A, 1 SOG) – He might be 37-years-old but he’s still an offensive force to be reckoned with. Last night’s three point game extends his point streak to four games and pushes his season line to 5/26/31/+2 in 43 games. There’s no signs of slowing down for the second half so expect more of the same going forward and a final tally of around 55 points for the year.

Braden Holtby, G (W, 31 SV, 1 GA, .969%) – Guys like Pekka Rinne, Corey Crawford and Roberto Luongo are overshadowing Holtby’s strong 2015 campaign, but it can’t be overlooked, he’s a beast this season. After last night’s solid performance he sports a beautiful season line of 21-8-7/2.23/.923% and while I expect his SV% is going to come down a bit, he should continue to provide lots of wins and stellar peripherals in the second half. He might even be worth a Vezina vote or two, too.

Semyon Varlamov, G (L, 36 SV, 2 GA, .947%) – Varly is clearly 100% healthy and the Avs are clearly 100% hot garbage in the possession and defensive game still. Varly turned away 36 of 38 for the win but received little offensive support from the perpetually struggling Avs. His GAA has risen to a heady .921% largely on the high volume of shots he faces and the stellar work he’s done since returning from his 47th groin injury this season. Right now he’s going good, but when he stumbles it’s going to be brutal and his numbers will rise once again. I’d consider selling high now, before that happens, because it will.

Alex Tanguay, LW (1 G, 4 SOG) – Tanner was one of the few Avs clicking offensively early on and he has since slowed a bit, but that’s not a hue surprise at his age. He peaked last month with 10 points in 13 games and I’d say that’s the month-to-month ceiling for him, though I’d expect more in the seven or eight points a month range moving forward. Still, he’ll finish his 2015 campaign with around 55 points and that’s valuable in most deep leagues.

Jay Beagle, C (1 G, 1 SOG, +1) – Sit Booboo, sit. Good dog. Woof.

Martin Jones, G (W, 19 SV, 1.000%, 19 SA) – After coughing up ten goals in his last two games Jones pushed away all 19 shots the Leafs sent his way for a shutout last night. Jon Quick remains King o’ the Crease in LA, but Jones remains a valuable backup despite his recent struggles.

Marian Gaborik, RW (1 G, 3 SOG, +2) – It’s tempting to hold on to Gabby while he’s scoring, but now is the time to sell. He has four points (3 G, 1 A) over his last five games and after last night’s tally he has 14 goals in 30 games putting him on pace for 32 in 69 games by the end of the season. That’s great, but he’s going to get hurt. Also, he’s currently firing away at a 19.7% clip, which is a whopping 6.6 points above his career average of 13.1% so expect a bit of a correction there. Sell high, my friends. Sell high.

Anze Kopitar, C (1 G, 1 A, 1 SOG) – On the other side of the Kings top line coin, those of you who stuck it out with Igor this long have been justly rewarded for your patience. Igor has eight points (2 G, 6 A) in his last five games and has scored at least two points in three of his last four games. He’s on pace for 20 goals and 67 points by season’s end and that’s more than doable. He should continue to produce and have a monster second half.

Jeff Carter, C (2 A, 3 SOG, +2) – With Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli both down with injury and illness That 70’s Line became the Jeff Carter line and it was lonely, so the Kings bumped him up to the top line with Gabby and Igor and things have gone pretty well for all parties involved since. I don’t know if this combo will stick once the kids are healthy again, but given how good they looked last night it will only take a few more games to solidify the trio for a second half surge. That being said, Pearson has a broken leg and Toffoli has mono, so they’ll both be out for a while.

Jonathan Bernier, G (L, 18 SV, 1 GA, .947%) – Oof, Bernie. His up and down season continues with a solid game, but zero offensive support left him in the lurch and he took the loss. His season line now sits at a meh 16-11-3/2.67/.917% and if you look at his month-to-month stats, his peripherals are basically in that ballpark, so I doubt anything’s going to change here. He might go on a run, but the Leafs are looking pretty rough right now, so expect a lot more of the same moving forward. Yawn.

  1. Hoc says:
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    Another solid write up. I started following this site because of Gray and while hockey is my 3rd sport for fantasy sports I really like the advise you give and your reasoning’s for it. I’ve been palying fan hoc for 4-5 yrs now and you are the beat place to get info/advice. Keep up the good work.

    • JD

      JD says:
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      @Hoc: Thanks for the kind words. Razzball is here to help you win, spread the word!

  2. goodfold2 says:
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    i’ve either streamed or owned (or both) backlund in a lot of deep leagues this year (and stashed while injured, since we have so many IR/IR+ slots), esp in faceoff leagues. only reason i got beat to him in razzball league is since i’m so deep at C there. He does a decent job at contributing in a lot of categories, AND in case of SHP he kills penalties too. In really deep leagues with a lot of stats i wouldn’t even drop him (20 teamers etc)

    • JD

      JD says:
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      @goodfold2: Yeah, if he can stay healthy he’ll be a solid guy to own in the second half. If he does well in the second half, his sleeper status will carry over to next season, too.

      • goodfold2 says:
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        @JD: did have to drop trocheck (with was mildly obv once trocheck started getting scratched all the time) to keep mitchell and backlund, but they both have value right now. I did keep Burakovsky in active lineup slots during his fairly lengthy scratching days, but he’s a higher end prospect.

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