Barring a last-minute change of heart, Ryan Strome will likely have to wait another couple of days before making his much-anticipated NHL debut. The latest report from Newsday suggests coach Jack Capuano is wary of throwing Strome out there without having him first practice with the squad. Fine. That seems reasonable enough. 'Til Saturday then, when the Islanders are scheduled to face the Montreal Canadiens. Regardless of whether it's Thursday, Saturday or early next week, the young forward will soon launch what could be an exceptional NHL career. And if he blossoms as anticipated, Strome is also expected to be a fantasy powerhouse for years to come.
The 6-foot-1 forward has found a way to put points on the board with a freakish sense of consistency at every level to date. After a ridiculously productive four-year stint in the OHL (336 points in 269 games, including playoffs), Strome made his full-season debut with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this autumn (he got a 10-game taste last spring). Three months later, the 20-year-old rookie is leading the American Hockey League in points, having developed good chemistry with linemates Anders Lee and Mike Halmo. The level of comfort is reminiscent of his days skating with Niagara IceDogs teammate Brett Ritchie (Dallas Stars 2011 second-round draft selection). Obviously, Strome doesn't have much of an issue with adapting to a new supporting cast.
So, once adjusted to playing at the highest level, where does Strome fit in with the Islanders? Assuming Capuano leaves his top line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek alone for now, Strome is likely to forge a spot on the second line with Michael Grabner. What we know for certain is the Isles aren't calling up their top prospect (drafted fifth overall in 2011) to serve as an everyday bottom-six forward for weeks on end.
The amount of time spent in acclimatizing to the NHL is the only variable here. Maybe he sticks with the Isles for the duration of the campaign. Maybe he's sent back down to the AHL is short order (although it's worth mentioning those paying attention have been impressed by Strome's maturity since joining the pro ranks). But sooner or later, this young lad is going to be a scoring force in the NHL. You'll want him on your fantasy roster. And he won't be owned in only 3 percent of ESPN.com leagues for long.
Olli Jokinen, C, Winnipeg Jets (owned in 8 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Skating on a line with Devin Setoguchi and (most recently) Chris Thorburn, Jokinen has been one of the Jets' more productive players of late. With three goals and two assists on 14 shots in his last four games, the 35-year-old veteran center is also garnering valuable minutes with the man advantage. And it wasn't that long ago (2011-12) that Jokinen enjoyed a 61-point season with the Flames.
Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (owned in 2 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Oh, it's certainly about the company kept in this case. He may not be the sexiest fantasy figure out there, but playing on a line with Martin St. Louis is enough to endear the 23-year-old rookie to us. Johnson has four points to show for himself in his past three games. Looking back at his two previous AHL seasons (Syracuse Crunch/Norfolk Admirals), this isn't coming from nowhere, as he was excellent on that circuit.
Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C, Montreal Canadiens (owned in 83 percent of ESPN.com leagues): If Tuesday's 6-0 shellacking at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings hasn't left too sour a taste in coach Michel Therrien's mouth, Galchenyuk should get another go at competing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. If that's the case, the 19-year-old sophomore will garner more minutes, and additional quality opportunities, to pad his current point total of 20.
Kris Versteeg, RW/LW, Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 31 percent of ESPN.com leagues): And he's baaaack in the top six. Skating on a second scoring line with Patrick Kane, Versteeg has six points in his past five games. The Blackhawks are so good, and so deep, there's fantasy value nearly to be had through the top nine. (See also: Andrew Shaw.)
Shane Doan, RW, Phoenix Coyotes (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): The Coyotes captain is not well. Out since last week with an undisclosed illness, Doan is set to undergo more tests. According to the Arizona Republic, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said Doan is "under the weather" and won't be "available for the foreseeable future" but "hopefully it's not long, long term." While it's worth noting that Antoine Vermette (owned in 41 percent of ESPN.com leagues) has stepped it up a notch in the veteran's absence, in the greater scheme of things, here's hoping it's nothing too serious and Doan bounces back without issue.
Jaroslav Halak, G, St. Louis Blues (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): There's word, compliments of TSN's Darren Dreger, that the Blues are keenly interested in trading for Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres; this echoes what we've been hearing from many other folks in the media all season. We probably don't have to spell out what such a transaction would mean for Halak's fantasy value. Unless, of course, the Blues' current No. 1 is shipped into a starter's role with another contender. Stay tuned.
Stephen Weiss, C, Detroit Red Wings (owned in 6 percent of ESPN.com leagues): After hearing the news that Weiss is out indefinitely with a groin injury, we can finally relegate him to the pile of fantasy duds without question. Weiss has been awful in his stint with the Red Wings, and now there's really no more hoping against hope that he might turn things around and rediscover his scoring touch from Florida days of yore. Small mercies, right? With Darren Helm also out another week (or so) and Henrik Zetterberg on long-term IR, your corps of top-six forwards in Detroit consists of Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Daniel Alfredsson, Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist and Todd Bertuzzi. Of the six, Nyquist and Abdelkader are potentially available and worth fantasy consideration.
Antti Raanta, G, Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Raanta takes on top-banana status in the goaltending department for the remainder of the calendar year, or for as long as Corey Crawford requires to recover from a suspected groin injury. Odds are Raanta is already spoken for in your league, but if not, and you can make roster space available, snag him quick. The starting netminder, if only temporarily, for the top team in the league isn't often available at this stage of the season.
Martin Jones, G, Los Angeles Kings (owned in 38 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Move over Ben Scrivens, there's a new deputy sheriff looking to take over in L.A, at least until Jonathan Quick (groin injury) heals up. The sample size may be miniscule, but boy, oh boy has Jones ever been good since playing his first NHL game last week. How do you not ride a guy who has allowed only three goals in four games? And, fun fact: The 23-year-old has twice as many shutouts as Carey Price (2:1)! That all being said, Jones is one lousy-ish performance away from handing the reins back to the more experienced Scrivens, who hasn't been too shabby himself in relief of Quick. So get what you can out of Jones before the fairy tale abruptly ends.
Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (owned in 4 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Erupting for two goals and two assists against the New Jersey Devils this week, Atkinson appears pleasantly in sync with linemate Brandon Dubinsky. Considering his habit of producing in fits and spurts, there's no time like the present in exploiting the 24-year-old diminutive winger as a fantasy asset. Especially with Marian Gaborik due back soon, and Nathan Horton expected to make his Blue Jackets debut near the end of the month. It's difficult to picture Atkinson keeping a grip on a top-six spot with both dynamic wingers back in the lineup.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson is set to carry the load in Detroit for the next couple of weeks, as Jimmy Howard has been felled by a knee injury (MRI pending). ... You can rule out Jets forward Evander Kane (lower-body injury) for another couple of games at least. Coach Claude Noel says Kane's recovery is moving along slower than anticipated. ... Alexander Semin is poised to make his return for the Carolina Hurricanes after missing nearly a month with a concussion. ... Forward Cody Hodgson of the Buffalo Sabres is sidelined for Thursday's game versus the Ottawa Senators with a minor ailment. Hodgson should be good to go again for the weekend.