Fantasy hockey wish list: Players who deserve a bigger role

Juraj Slafkovsky scores goal for Canadiens (0:45)

Juraj Slafkovsky scores goal for Canadiens (0:45)

I can't tell an NHL coach what to do.

I tried. They don't respond to my emails.

But sometimes I wish I could.

Maybe you, like me, have players you believe in. Whatever the reason: Maybe you liked their stat line from junior. Maybe you appreciate how they move on the ice and make plays. Maybe you read a story that resonated about their approach to the game. Maybe you liked a scouting report.

For fantasy hockey, however, they have to have both that intangible quality and, crucially, opportunity in order to actually have success for your team. There's no reason to keep them around on your roster if they aren't getting the chance to shine you think they should have. Eventually, you have to cut bait or at least scale back your expectations.

We can wish though.

This is my wish list for depth charts. This is NOT how depth charts currently look; it's just how I wish some did.

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Nikolaj Ehlers, W, Winnipeg Jets (Wish: Top power play)

He has speed, he has goal-scoring ability, he finished inside the top 100 for fantasy in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, but Ehlers is on the outside looking in when it comes to connections on the Jets now. The formerly formidable top six has been reduced, with Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Gabe Vilardi representing the top line. There is some muted opportunity for Ehlers on the second line with a developing Cole Perfetti and Nino Niederreiter, but it is unlikely to be a catalyst position for top of the fantasy food chain. To add insult to injury, Ehlers isn't even being included on the top power-play unit at the moment, with Alex Iafallo joining the top line as the fourth forward. So here's hoping Ehlers can at least get looks with the top Jets players on the advantage.

Matias Maccelli, W, Arizona Coyotes (Wish: Top six and first power play)

More than a few of Maccelli's 38 assists as a rookie last season were spectacular, seeing-eye passes. In the early going as a sophomore, however, Maccelli has been skating on the Coyotes third line and second power-play unit. It would be great to see those bumped up a tier. It may be more difficult for the Coyotes to find room on the top advantage, as it makes sense to keep the top line together and add Logan Cooley to the mix. But there is a case for Maccelli to leapfrog Alex Kerfoot or Jason Zucker to play on the second line with Logan Cooley.

Juraj Slafkovsky, W, Montreal Canadiens (Wish: Top line)

Be careful what you wish for. The path to joining Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki on the top line got a little shorter with word that Kirby Dach's injury will take him out of the running for a significant period of time. The Habs started with Josh Anderson on the top line, but appear open to tinkering, with Rafael Harvey-Pinard getting a look. But what I still want to see is Slafkovsky being thrust into the role and elevating the young trio.

Noah Hanifin, D, Calgary Flames (Wish: power-play quarterback)

Maybe it's just me, but I still think there is a 60-point defender here who just needs to be atop the depth chart to achieve it. Rasmus Andersson, however, remains a fixture of the Flames blue line, so I don't actually see much hope for Hanifin. Maybe, if their trajectories from last season continue, Hanifin can edge out Andersson for the top unit, but this is a slow burn.

Lucas Raymond, W, Detroit Red Wings (Wish: Power-play role)

The wish here is for the first unit, which currently features the core three of Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Larkin and Moritz Seider supplemented by David Perron and Shayne Gostisbehere. In a perfect world, Raymond, who already spends his time at even strength with DeBrincat and Larkin, would replace either Perron or Gostisbehere. Having access to the top unit is probably the only ingredient missing from a massive Raymond breakout in his third NHL season.

Nils Hoglander, W, Vancouver Canucks (Wish: Top six)

Everyone on the Canucks has spiked metrics thanks to the double-date with the Oilers going so swimmingly to start the season. That said, Nils Hoglander collecting a goal and two assists in barely 21 minutes of total ice time across both games reminded me that he was fun to watch in 2020-21 with Bo Horvat. Hoglander got a couple Calder Trophy votes that season for his 27 points in 56 games. His NHL returns have been dismal since, but he did turn in a decent showing back in the AHL last season. Moving up the depth chart could take time though, as the Canucks hot start bought some time for current top-six forwards like Conor Garland and Phillip Di Giuseppe.

Anton Lundell, C, Florida Panthers (Wish: Second-line center)

I absolutely get why he is on the third line. But when Lundell does get to flash the offense, it makes me wish for more. There is a world in which he and Aleksander Barkov are the one-two punch down the middle, but I understand the Panthers are better when they keep Barkov, Matthew Tkachuk and Lundell on three separate lines. Maybe they can play around with the combinations more once Sam Bennett gets healthy.

Pyotr Kochetkov, G, Carolina Hurricanes (Wish: NHL role)

I think we saw enough last season to be confident in Kochetkov taking over this crease, but Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta are definitely blocking the path. It's not really fair to point out that the Hurricanes have allowed a league-high 14 goals against, as some teams have only played once and the Hurricanes have played three games. But I do think it's fair to point out that the Blackhawks have played four games and allowed only nine goals. Maybe we do get to see Kochetkov if this keeps up.

Lightning Round

Ivan Barbashev, W, Vegas Golden Knights (Wish: Top power play)

The former Blues bottom-sixer is forming a serious bond with Jack Eichel on the top line. It's a pity he doesn't get to use it on the advantage.

Brandt Clarke, D, Los Angeles Kings (Wish: NHL chance)

His level of dominance in the OHL last season should translate to the NHL, and I think he's wasted in the AHL. They should give Clarke as much time as possible to learn from Drew Doughty.

Kent Johnson, C, Columbus Blue Jackets (Wish: Top six)

It's fun that Alexandre Texier came back to the same club after a season in Europe, but can we please get Johnson playing in the top six?

Luke Evangelista, W, Nashville Predators (Wish: Top line)

He's getting some power-play time on the top unit, so no complaints there. But why not go all in and have Evangelista play with Ryan O'Reilly and Filip Forsberg.

Matthew Knies, W, Toronto Maple Leafs (Wish: Top six)

The Leafs have already started to tinker, so this could happen sooner or later -- maybe sooner after an embarrassing loss to the Hawks.

Alexander Holtz, W, New Jersey Devils (Wish: top six)

This could also happen sooner than later after some third-period benchings were handed out to some Devils on Monday in a loss to Florida. Holtz has a shot that should be on display on a scoring line.

Shane Pinto, C, Ottawa Senators (Wish: Sign a contract)

Strike while the iron is hot already. With Josh Norris still not ready to play, the Sens could use an upgrade at second-line center.

Scott Perunovich, D, St. Louis Blues (Wish: Chance on power play)

Missing almost all of last season really cramped his momentum, but don't forget his entire AHL body of work across two seasons adds up to 42 points in 39 games. And don't forget he plays defense, as I sometimes do when I see that stat line.