Nashville Predators' Ryan Johansen
Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux, left, and Nashville Predators' Ryan Johansen chase the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

FIVE WAIVER WIRE PICKUPS FOR THE NHL PLAYOFFS

Mike Shara

The NHL trade deadline is Monday March 21, meaning that there are only about 20 games left for each team and that – more importantly – fantasy hockey pools will be heading into the playoffs soon. With winning your league title in mind, there are a few players who remain under-rostered on Yahoo! that could contribute more for your team than players you’ve been coasting into the playoffs with to this point. Remember, fringe Top Six forwards on good teams may get squeezed for playing time if their team acquired players for the stretch run and young players on bad teams may get more playing time/scoring chances if their team recently shed a few veteran contracts. If you’re going to stay ahead of the game going into the playoffs, you have to stay nimble and open-minded with your lineup, even if it means parting with players who helped you get there.

RYAN JOHANSEN, C, Nashville
His low ownership numbers continue to be difficult to understand, given that he has 45 points in 59 games this season with neutral plus/minus numbers and is winning 55% of his face offs so far this season at a very high volume. Even more reason to get him – he was recently promoted to centering a line with Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene, increasing his five-on-five usage for a Nashville team that has been scoring more frequently lately and will continue to fight for a playoff spot over the next six weeks.

RYAN STROME, C, Chicago
For the last two months, Strome has been playing on a line alongside Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane and, unsurprisingly, his numbers have skyrocketed in every department. What is surprising is that most fantasy hockey folks don’t seem to have realized it yet. He had a 4-point night against Anaheim less than two weeks ago that included three goals and he’s winning 53% of his faceoffs this season with a shooting percentage at a career-high 17%. At just 25 years old, he looks to be a major part of the Blackhawks’ blossoming future and with Brandon Hagel’s trade to Tampa on Friday, his ice time while playing alongside two good scorers seems destined to continue growing.

LAWSON CROUSE, LW, Arizona
The 11th overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, Crouse has been perceived as a bit of a bust almost immediately since then. He was traded away to the Coyotes by Florida just one year after the Panthers selected him and has failed to score more than 25 points in any of his six NHL seasons. Much like his team, though, this year he appears to have turned a corner. The Coyotes have been scoring in bunches over the last few weeks and Crouse has been a big part of that – including a hat trick against Ottawa just a week ago. He’s seeing more ice time than he ever had and is still just 24 years old. His advanced metrics all show a player whose arrow is pointed upward. Make sure you’re not ignoring him to hang on to a better-known player who might play less as the season winds down.

MATTIAS ECKHOLM, D, Nashville
Since the calendar turned to 2022, Eckholm has been playing much better. He was understandably on the waiver wire in big numbers during the first few months of the season with just 6 points in 31 games, but since January 1 he has recorded 14 points and he continues to play over 23 minutes per game. Like Phoenix, the Predators have been scoring at a much higher rate lately, and Eckholm’s position on Nashville’s number one defensive pairing alongside Roman Josi means he could easily outperform the fourth defenseman on your fantasy team during the final games of the regular season.

ANTTI RAANTA, G, Carolina
Granted, if the playoffs started today, Raanta would not be the Hurricanes’ starting goalie. Frederik Andersen was acquired last offseason to be Carolina’s #1 and his 2.08 GAA and .928 save percentage this season have been elite, even though they’re not all that much better than Raanta’s. Andersen missed a few games recently and Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour will have to juggle wanting to win games down the stretch with making sure Andersen is rested and healthy for the postseason. Raanta’s recent play (just 6 goals allowed in his last four games) will make it easier for him to do that. If your #2 or #3 goalies aren’t playing much or have struggled lately, Raanta would be a better option, even if he only plays once a week.

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