Waiver watch: Pickups to make based on early impressions

Every week, we’ll mine the waiver wire for lesser-rostered assets to help your squad, whether you favor dynasty or the redraft format, and we’ll also toss in some tips for DFS players out there. Finally, we will look at some former go-to fantasy assets who may be overvalued – in the short- or long-term – for one reason or another.


Phil Kessel, RW, Arizona Coyotes (Rostered in 32.1% of ESPN.com leagues): Remember him? The highly coveted asset of old lost a good deal of his fantasy luster in falling flat during his first season as a Coyote, collecting only 14 goals and 24 assists. Well, it seems Phil the Thrill is back, in view of his scoring three times already to launch 2021. Further inflating our expectations for a bounce-back campaign are reports that Kessel feels good physically after working hard this offseason (he was pretty banged up last year). Scoop up the gifted veteran before it’s too late.

Alex Killorn, LW/RW, Tampa Bay Lightning (27.3%): There’s much to appreciate, or sometimes not, about the on-ice company a skater keeps. For instance, Killorn – no slouch in his own right – is competing on a Tampa Bay scoring line with Anthony Cirelli, and a top power play with Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and defenseman Victor Hedman. He’s going to score. Perhaps even more than last year, when the then 30-year-old amassed 26 goals and 23 assists in only 68 games. Killorn is one of those underrated fantasy types that can make a discernable difference in deeper leagues.

Pavel Buchnevich, LW/RW, New York Rangers (25.9%): After a dud of a debut for all involved on the Rangers’ side, Buchnevich scored two even-strength goals and contributed a power-play assist in the club’s second game with the Islanders. Coach David Quinn appears satisfied enough with leaving the 25-year-old winger – who made a markedly positive impression in training camp – on a top scoring line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, settling instead for shuffling rookie Alexis Lafreniere onto the second unit. Seeing hefty minutes with Zibanejad and Kreider, Buchnevich is primed for his most productive campaign yet.

Jonathan Drouin, LW/C, Montreal Canadiens (25.2%): The Canadiens scoring line comprising of Nick Suzuki, Josh Anderson, and Drouin is going to tear it up this season, already combining for seven points (three on the power play) through two games. While Suzuki and Anderson are largely spoken for in fantasy circles, Drouin remains widely available.

Catch Drouin and the Montreal Canadiens tonight as they take on the Edmonton Oilers on ESPN+.

Dylan Strome, C, Chicago Blackhawks (22.3%): With Jonathan Toews out long-term, the Blackhawks need their new No. 1 center to step it up big time. That means producing on the regular at both even-strength and with the extra skater alongside Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. Rebuilding and missing a few key figures, Chicago isn’t likely to win a ton of games this season, but they’re still going to compete – led by that top trio. Sporting a power-play goal and assist already on 10 shots, Strome should again approach the point-per-game pace he flirted with two seasons ago. Bonus note: Sophomore defenseman Adam Boqvist is a fantasy sleeper to monitor, especially as a threat with the man-advantage.

Joe Thornton, C, Toronto Maple Leafs (16.3%): If only they awarded fantasy points for having a good time – the 41-year-old would sit top of the table. Skating on a No. 1 line and power play with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Thornton is having a blast, pitching in already with a goal and an assist. As long as this on-ice relationship lasts – probably not all season long – the weathered veteran is worth rostering in deeper leagues.

Bobby Ryan, F, Detroit Red Wings (1.0%): I’m extra keen to see what Ryan accomplishes this season in his fresh start with the Red Wings. While his role on the club’s top power play offers promise, so does his position on a line with Filip Zadina and Robby Fabbri (when not scratched because of COVID protocol). That trio intrigues me to no end. This isn’t to suggest fantasy managers rush out and drop other bodies in stashing Ryan on their rosters – only that he’s worth keeping on radar. Also, after all Ryan has gone through, he’s easy to root for.

See also: Drake Batherson, Ottawa Senators; Andre Burakovsky, Colorado Avalanche; Paul Stastny, Winnipeg Jets; Vincent Trocheck, Carolina Hurricanes


Matt Grzelcyk, Boston Bruins (37.0%): As projected here pre-season, Grzelcyk – not Charlie McAvoy – is skating on a Bruins’ No. 1 power play with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron (and eventually David Pastrnak) and has a power-play assist to show for his efforts thus far. The total of 10 shots through two games promises plenty more production is to come. Playing a pile of minutes, Grzelcyk should be spoken for in all but the shallowest of conventional leagues. I imagine he will be soon.

Erik Gustafsson, Philadelphia Flyers (24.7%): The newest member of the Flyers’ blue line seems to be fitting in well so far, contributing a pair of power-play points in the early goings. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago (2018-19) that Gustafsson collected 60 points as part of the Chicago Blackhawks. After last year’s mediocre campaign, this change of scenery should help Gustafsson rediscover that productive magic. Particularly in the company of the scoring talent on hand in Philly.

Noah Dobson, New York Islanders (2.1%): While displaying an inclination for throwing hits and blocking shots, the future of the Islanders’ blue line already has a power-play assist to show for his efforts on the club’s top unit. Last year’s 34-game taste is likely going a long way in helping the 21-year-old feel more comfortable this season round. A no-brainer of an asset in fantasy keeper/dynasty competition, Dobson could bring value to some deeper redraft leagues in the here and now. This kid is going to be a star.

See also: Rasmus Andersson, Calgary Flames


Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes (4.5%): I still think Darcy Kuemper earns the lion’s share of starts once we really get rolling. But Raanta performed well the other night against San Jose and appears fully fit. If in need of fantasy netminding, managers could do much worse.

Lowered expectations

Igor Shesterkin, G, New York Rangers (93.7%): It admittedly feels a bit silly to write off any healthy player as a fantasy asset this early in the season. So I’m not doing that. However, it may be worth noting that Alexandar Georgiev – rostered in 15.7% of ESPN.com leagues – shut out the Islanders 4-0 two days after Shesterkin allowed four goals in a collective team (non-)effort loss. If Georgiev continues to shine, coach Quinn could split his goalie starts more evenly. Let’s first see how Shesterkin fares versus the Devils on Tuesday.

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