At some point in a season, a team destined to miss the playoffs has to start thinking about the future. Let’s not go so far as to use the “T” word; you know, that thing people keep a pet fish in. But not only are teams considering their options with trade assets, but they are looking internally for which players could potentially do more with more opportunities.
Three prime examples stood out in the rankings this week, but I’m sure there are more and will be more to come as the season slips further away from some franchises. All three are getting increasing opportunities, whether they are converting them into fantasy points or not. And there will be more as some of the teams in the bottom of the standings start worrying more about next season than the current one.
Barrett Hayton, C/W, Arizona Coyotes (enters top 250 at No. 225): Hanging around on the verge of being a Coyotes regular since the 2019-20 season, Hayton broke through with a role by playing 60 games last season — turning him into a lineup mainstay. That said, he never topped much more than 17 minutes in average ice time in any month last season, when he peaked at 17:58 in December. This season, he started outside the scoring lines again, but his usage in late December spiked when the Coyotes started moving some pieces around the depth chart a bit. Initially landing with Nick Ritchie and Christian Dvorak, Hayton picked up six points in a four game stretch from Dec. 29 to Jan. 5. The result of that was a move to the top line with Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz on Jan. 8. Hayton scored in his first three games with that trio, but has been quiet the past two games. That promotion also came with a spot on the top power-play unit, which could wake up again at any time.
Mason McTavish, C, Anaheim Ducks (enters top 250 at No. 223): There isn’t a lot of positive to take from the Ducks offense this season. After letting things ride with Troy Terry, Adam Henrique and Trevor Zegras as the top line for most of the campaign, some tinkering of late has landed McTavish in Zegras’ role. The promotion was made on Jan. 4 and McTavish responded with one goal and one assists. The next game, he managed two goals and two assists. In the next game … I wish it was three and three, but no, McTavish doesn’t have a point in the three games since then. McTavish had a nine-game cup of coffee with the Ducks at the end of a very busy 2021-22 season in which he played for two OHL franchises, guided the Hamilton Bulldogs to…