Rest-of-season fantasy hockey rankings

Evgeni Malkin has 25 goals since the turn of the new calendar year. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Those in tight rotisserie league races will especially appreciate the push for just a couple more stats in a particular category. Those extra goals or that extra misconduct penalty could be the difference in your league between glory and defeat.

While we could go through the league leaders in these categories looking for potential available players to help you in the final month, that won't work. That's the first stop for fantasy managers as the season progresses, and any player making significant contributions in any category is probably no longer available in your league.

What we can do, however, is cut down our sample size and look at the league leaders in categories since Jan. 1. With that in mind, let's take a spin through each category and highlight any player who is widely available in ESPN leagues for help.

Goals since Jan. 1

Evgeni Malkin leads the charge with 25 goals in 2018, with Patrik Laine and Eric Staal hot on his heels with 22 apiece. We don't find a player with some availability until we get to Travis Konecny, who is tied for 12th in scoring since Jan. 1 with 14 goals (of his 18 total this season). Konecny has been parlaying a role on the top line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier into sustained success, and he remains available in 60 percent of ESPN leagues.

Assists since Jan. 1

If Malkin leads the league in goals, it should come as no surprise that his power-play partner Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in assists since Jan. 1 with 32 helpers. Mathew Barzal and Johnny Gaudreau are tied in second with 28 assists. The first player on the leaderboard available in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues is Sami Vatanen, who I highlighted in this week's Forecaster as a potential major contributor now that he's secured the power-play quarterback role for the New Jersey Devils. Vatanen is tied for 30th in the league with 19 assists since Jan. 1. Another player highlighted in Friday's Forecaster, Ryan Spooner, sits 36th in the league with 18 assists in 2018. Ten of those have come in seven games with the New York Rangers.

Plus/minus since Jan. 1

If you're looking to spike your plus/minus at the cost of all other categories, consider Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth. Paired up with Samuel Girard at even strength, Nemeth's plus-19 since Jan. 1 trails only William Karlsson (plus-23) and Malkin (plus-21). Of course, the rest of Nemeth's fantasy profile is lacking, but in the right situation, you could plug him into your lineup for a boost in plus/minus. The better choice, if you're not too late, would be Ryan Ellis. Still available (for some reason) in 23 percent of ESPN leagues, Ellis also has a plus-19 rating since Jan. 1. His also comes with six goals and 16 assists.

PIM since Jan. 1

There really isn't a huge difference among the penalty-minute leaders when you look at the entire season versus games since Jan. 1. If you are looking for help in that category, you want Tom Wilson and Micheal Haley in that order. Wilson comes with slightly lower PIM totals, but much, much better peripheral categories. Thanks to his off again, on again role with Alex Ovechkin, Wilson not only racks up the PIM, but also chips in more than his fair share in the other categories. Haley gets more total PIM, but is a fantasy wasteland outside that category. If neither are available or you would rather sacrifice a defenseman position to make gains here, consider Jamie Oleksiak. He's fifth in the NHL in penalty minutes since Jan. 1, but has a respectable 10 points and plus-9 rating in that same span.

Shots since Jan. 1

Brent Burns, back to his old usual self, leads the NHL in shots since Jan. 1 with 130. Connor McDavid is next with 123, while Seth Jones is showing hints of his future value sitting in fifth place since Jan. 1 with 112 shots. A little further down, Brendan Gallagher is tied for 11th with 105 shots this calendar year. Available in 56 percent of ESPN leagues, Gallagher has started to heat up a tad since Max Pacioretty went down for the remainder of the campaign. In his past nine games, Gallagher has managed six shots on goal on three occasions while notching six points.

Average time on ice since Jan. 1

This is a tougher category to make gains in because you are fighting against more than five months of accumulated data that has built your average in the standings. However, if you absolutely must attempt to fight for minuscule gains, there are options. If you can completely sacrifice your plus/minus rating, then Alexander Edler could help in average ice time. The Vancouver Canucks defenseman sits 13th in the league for average ice time since Jan. 1, but be wary of his minus-16 rating in that span. A safer option for your plus/minus -- but playing a fair bit less per game -- is Marco Scandella of the Buffalo Sabres.

Forwards on the move

Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues (up 12 spots to No. 27)

Tarasenko was struggling just as much as any member of the Blues for the past 10 games, but on Saturday, coach Mike Yeo finally relented on his two-line approach to the depth chart. Stacking Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn on the top line for the first time since December, the Blues blew out the Los Angeles Kings 7-2 for the worst loss the Kings have suffered all season. Whether this move has come too late for the Blues' playoff hopes is another matter, but it's coming just in time to get the top line rolling again in the fantasy playoffs.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers (up 11 spots to No. 182)

It's not very often that Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid have shared the ice at even strength. In fact, including Sunday's game when they were on the same line, they've played a total of 28 minutes at 5-on-5 together this season. All told, they've played fewer than 40 minutes together at 5-on-5 over the course of three seasons. However, McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Pontus Aberg looked like a pretty good line in a 4-1 defeat of the Minnesota Wild, so this may be a combination going forward for at least a little while. Nugent-Hopkins had two points in the win and stands to gain the most value here.

Defensemen on the move

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, New York Rangers (up 20 spots to No. 161)

Returning to a very different lineup than the one he left in January for knee surgery, Shattenkirk is skating with his teammates again and could be back Saturday when the Rangers visit his old team in St. Louis. While the Rangers are a new array of faces, they still have plenty of talent to ice a strong power-play unit that will feature Shattenkirk as QB when he returns.

Goaltenders on the move

Christopher Gibson, G, New York Islanders (enters ranks at No. 233)

Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss certainly haven't done the job with enough efficiency this season to hold off a late charge by Gibson for a share of the netminding duties. Gibson may just be riding the boost that comes from NHL teams being relatively unfamiliar with him, but it's getting the job done. In three starts for the Islanders, he's stopped 132 of 138 pucks thrown his way, which is an extremely high volume of action. Gibson had impressive stats for a middling Bridgeport Sound Tigers squad in the AHL this season. Of course, asking for any Islanders goaltender to contribute to your fantasy squad remains a tall order with this defense; Gibson had to make 50 saves to preserve a win against the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

Quick hits

Frank Vatrano made his Florida Panthers debut on the second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, scoring a goal in the process. Vatrano is a goal scorer at heart and could surprise down the stretch run playing with such heady company. ... The Chicago Blackhawks started experimenting with their defensive pairings during their California road trip at the start of the month. Out of that tinkering, Erik Gustafsson ended up being paired with Brent Seabrook for the past four games. The result has been two goals and four assists for the otherwise quiet defender. In fact, he even earned the top power-play duties on Sunday against the Boston Bruins and potted two assists with the unit in a 3-1 win.