To argue the Detroit Red Wings are nearly as good without Pavel Datsyuk (concussion) and Henrik Zetterberg (back issues) in the lineup is an exercise in idiocy. Not only are Datsyuk and Zetterberg the team's two best forwards, but the former is one of the world's elite (the finest of them all, some argue). The temporary loss of such talent and skill undoubtedly makes a significant ripple. But that doesn't mean the Red Wings are doomed to flounder in the meanwhile, only that a regrouping is in order. And others -- beyond fantasy favorites Johan Franzen, Daniel Alfredsson, and defenseman Niklas Kronwall -- are being asked to rise to the occasion.
With or without Zetterberg in the lineup, Alfredsson's line -- including center Darren Helm and left-winger Justin Abdelkader -- has been playing well of late, combining for 16 points and an individual average of plus-five in plus/minus in the Wings' last five contests. But never mind the numbers; that trio often looks to be the club's most dangerous at even strength. And while Alfie is universally spoken for in fantasy play, Helm is owned in less than half of ESPN.com leagues, and Abdelkader is available in all but a handful. Helm has been listed as day-to-day with a shoulder injury as of Thursday, so it would be wise to wait for MRI results before adding him to your own roster.
Meanwhile, Stephen Weiss is coach Mike Babcock's first choice to fill in for Zetterberg on a line with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist. Perhaps, just maybe, this latest promotion serves to get Weiss back on track. While the 30-year-old has certainly struggled with his new club, we're not yet ready to dismiss all that the former No. 4 overall draft selection (2001) has accomplished because of two dismal months. Weiss (owned in only 12 percent of ESPN.com leagues) could surprise as a cheap addition at this stage.
Finally, Tomas Tatar (owned in less than one percent of ESPN.com leagues) deserves his fair share of fantasy love, especially after the last couple of weeks. Earning a spot on the club's top power-play unit, Tatar has contributed regularly, capping off a recent stint of consistent play with five points in his past four games. And he looks good out there. This 23-year-old has "fantasy dark horse" etched all over him.
While Zetterberg is still expected to miss another two to three weeks, minimum, there's word Datsyuk could be back for the Wings in the next few days. That being said, there are no guarantees when it comes to recovering from head injuries, and he's still only one guy. As the saying goes, opportunity breeds success; the premium chances afforded Nyquist, Abdelkader, Weiss and Tatar in the next while could blossom into a season's worth of weighty production. And fantasy owners should pay close attention
David Desharnais, C, Montreal Canadiens (owned in 15 percent of ESPN.com leagues): We recently pointed to Desharnais as a growing fantasy commodity, playing with wingers Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher in Montreal. The 27-year-old center hasn't disappointed in the two weeks since, averaging a point per game. And he's still only owned in a small portion of ESPN leagues. Probably not for much longer.
Eric Gelinas, D, New Jersey Devils (owned in 44 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Coupled with Andy Greene on the second power-play unit and, occasionally, with Marek Zidlicky at even strength, Gelinas is already exceeding our hopes from earlier this season. Up to skating 22 minutes per game, the 22-year-old is comfortably on pace for a 40-plus point season.
Dmitry Kulikov, D, Florida Panthers (owned in less than one percent of ESPN.com leagues): Unless the cream of the NHL's media crop is way off the mark, the Panthers are very close to trading the guy they drafted 14th overall in 2009. And Kulikov's fantasy value instantly inflates once he's playing for any other organization. As we discussed in Wednesday's edition of Fantasy Grapevine, Kulikov has the talent and skill to average a point every couple of games as a top-four blueliner. It just isn't working out anymore in Florida. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, and Colorado Avalanche are among a gaggle of teams believed to have some degree of interest in the 23-year-old offensive defenseman.
Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers (owned in 21 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Giroux/Schmiroux. The Flyers' third line of Couturier, Steve Downie and Matt Read is the one to watch right now. Still developing chemistry, the trio has combined for 25 points in the past nine games. You can likely forget about snagging Downie for your roster, and Read is owned in 56 percent of ESPN.com leagues, but Couturier remains widely available. By the way, we're just kidding with the Giroux dis. The Flyers' captain is also playing marvelously as of late after a fairly horrid start.
Dany Heatley, RW/LW, Minnesota Wild (owned in seven percent of ESPN.com leagues): Wild coach Mike Yeo is again experimenting with playing Heatley -- instead of Charlie Coyle -- on the top power-play unit with Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and defenseman Ryan Suter. While the move is primarily intended to improve the team's secondary unit, by adding Coyle, the shuffling exposes Heatley to another opportunity to reclaim some of his productive glory of days gone by. And, altogether, Heatley has been less of a colossal disappointment of late, scoring four goals in his last eight games. If your fantasy team is really struggling, the 32-year-old former 50-goal scorer may be a wild-card option.
Kris Russell, D, Calgary Flames (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues) : The return of a healthy Mark Giordano (broken ankle) means, eventually, a reduction in power-play time, and offensive chances all around, for Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie. But while a younger Brodie continues to develop his game and improve, Russell has a pro history of being infuriatingly streaky. So, after two months of steady production from the 26-year-old, we feel a cold snap coming.
Milan Michalek, LW, Ottawa Senators (owned in 47 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Demoted to the Senators' third line, Michalek could be in for a significant dry spell. And it isn't like coach Paul MacLean made that move without good reason. On the flip side, if you're interested in taking a flyer on an unproven, young forward with plenty of upside, maybe look to Michael Hoffman. Recently promoted from the AHL after collecting 26 points in 21 games for the Baby Sens in Binghamton, the 24-year-old is skating on a forward line with Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris. Not a bad assignment.
Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver Canucks (owned in 93 percent of ESPN.com leagues): If the lack of production hasn't sufficiently lowered your expectations of Edler in 2013-14, the latest injury should. With only nine points -- and a minus-12 rating! -- on this season's resume, the 27-year-old defenseman is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Jason Garrison is the only Vancouver blueliner worth his fantasy salt at the moment.
Curtis McElhinney, G, Columbus Blue Jackets (owned in four percent of ESPN.com leagues): With Sergei Bobrovsky (groin strain) on the injured shelf for the next four to five weeks, the Blue Jackets will look to McElhinney for most starts.
Aside from wins (or deficiency thereof), and acknowledging the limited sample size, McElhinney's numbers have been good this season: a .925 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average. Plus, the team should soon get some help in the wins department, as both Nathan Horton (shoulder surgery) and Marian Gaborik (knee) are due to return from injury before the calendar flips to 2014.
Antoine Roussel, LW, Dallas Stars (owned in one percent of ESPN.com leagues): Need PIM? Look not further than a feisty, 24-year-old French fella skating in Dallas. In addition to the 70 penalty minutes on the season, Roussel is on quite the productive roll, notching three goals and one assist in his past four games. If interested, grab Roussel immediately; this scoring pace isn't likely to last.
Vladimir Sobotka, C, St. Louis Blues (owned in two percent of ESPN.com leagues): That Jaden Schwartz (eight points, plus-seven in seven games) is playing some pretty impressive hockey these days, eh? Yeah, well, Schwartz's availability is fairly limited within ESPN's fantasy universe, and with just cause. So maybe look to his linemate, Sobotka, instead. Sobotka has had his moments in the past, and he's clearly benefiting from playing with the 21-year-old winger. As far as a short-term substitute is concerned, you could do a lot worse.
Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury and will miss Thursday's game against the San Jose Sharks. Still, doesn't seem all that serious and there's likely no reason to panic … The Oilers have placed goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on IR with a suspected concussion. The club will turn to Devan Dubnyk for the majority of starts while Bryzgalov recovers … With Tyler Bozak (upper-body injury) out indefinitely, Nazem Kadri is back to centering the Leafs' top line with wingers Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. On the upside for Toronto, top-six winger Joffrey Lupul (groin) claims he may be good to go as soon as this weekend … Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (lower-body injury) is out for Thursday's game against the Panthers. Kane remains day-to-day …