You know how when you go on vacation for more than a week and return home to find out your house smells funny? That's how I feel every fall when I dive back into the rest-of-season rankings here at ESPN. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the break through the summer. I updated my dynasty rankings here a couple of times and contributed to a lot of other fantasy hockey draft kit content... but the rankings weren't mine.
Now that I have them back after a summer away, I have that return-from-extended-vacation feeling -- the rankings seem both familiar and foreign.
Standard beginning of season boilerplate: These rankings are based on a 12-team standard re-draft ESPN league, featuring nine forwards, five defensemen, one utility player and two goaltenders, which counts goals, assists, plus/minus, penalty minutes, power-play points, shots on goal, average time on ice, wins, goals-against average and save percentage. They are, by definition, rest-of-season rankings, so nothing a player will have done prior to the publication of the rankings will have any impact on the rankings, except by influencing how I feel about them on a go-forward basis.
Each week these rankings will be adjusted based on a number of factors, including performance, roles, depth charts, historical trends, injuries and special teams. I do not remove injured players from the rankings because, if they are returning at some point, they still have fantasy value that can be measured. I make adjustments to their rankings based on the type of injury and projected return date.
For comparison in the rankings this week, I have included each players top-300 draft kit ranking, which is where they were rank within the ESPN fantasy hockey game. But before we dive into the rankings, I wanted to highlight a few players who weren't in the top-300 draft kit rankings, but play prominently into mine.
Forwards on the move
Valeri Nichushkin, W, Dallas Stars (ranked No. 142): Older and wiser, Nichushkin still has a big frame and plenty of offensive skills. He scored 51 points in 86 games during his two years in the KHL and returns to the Stars as an experienced 23-year-old looking to readjust to the NHL. Nichushkin will be locked in on the Stars' second line with Jason Spezza and could earn himself a role on the top power play for his net-front presence. He scored 34 points as a rookie in 2013-14, so I don't think 50-plus points are out of the question here.
Kailer Yamamoto, W, Edmonton Oilers (ranked No. 152): A winger on the Oilers with a high ceiling for his talent will find a way to meet with opportunity. Yamamoto was returned to junior hockey before his entry-level deal kicked in last season, but looks to be sticking around for good this time. He has scored nine preseason points, only trailing teammates Connor McDavid and Ty Rattie for the NHL lead. And, while I don't buy too much into preseason action, I do buy into a talented winger only blocked by Milan Lucic and Jesse Puljujarvi for a role on the second line.
Robby Fabbri, C, St. Louis Blues (ranked No. 158): It was February 2017 when we last saw Fabbri play in the NHL's regular season. A knee injury, followed by another preseason knee injury last year, has kept the 22-year-old off the ice for what's getting close to two calendar years. Before he was injured in that 2016-17 season, Fabbri had 29 points in 51 games. I know there are other eager young players looking to crack the Blues top six, but I think Fabbri has the experience edge to push past the likes of Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and Sammy Blais.
Dylan Strome, C, Arizona Coyotes (ranked No. 199): There were enough flashes of potential in Strome's 21 NHL games last season, in addition to his absolute dominance in the AHL, that I don't understand why we would come off his potential for this campaign. I know it's been two false starts to the fantasy hockey career of Strome -- and it doesn't help that his brother, Ryan, garnered similar but ultimately disappointing hype -- but Strome is still only 21 years old and is needed on a young and improving team. Alex Galchenyuk's injury to begin the season should only put more pressure on Strome to come out of the gates strong.
Defensemen on the move
Noah Hanifin, Calgary Flames (ranked No. 180): Mark Giordano is 34 years old and showed some signs of slowing down last season. T.J. Brodie has his moments, but they usually only happen when he's getting ice time with the team's catalysts. And Juuso Valimaki is a much younger commodity. Those are the reasons I am calling for 21-year-old Hanifin to steal the spotlight on the Flames' blue line this season. Despite his youth, he already has three full seasons of NHL experience, and his 10 goals last season showed a glimpse of his offensive potential.
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators (ranked No. 194): The ice time will be there for the taking for the 21-year-old Chabot this season, with Erik Karlsson's throne now sitting empty. While few players have the upside and offense of Karlsson, Chabot does have what it takes to step into the vacuum and fill it with fantasy-relevant statistics. The plus/minus with this Senators club won't be pretty, but as the only real offensive weapon on the blue line, Chabot could be in line for a 45-point sophomore campaign.
Goaltenders on the move
Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils (ranked No. 114): Don't forget that Schneider coped to a hip injury impacting him for the entirety of the past two seasons. Don't forget that he finally buckled down and had the hip surgically repaired this offseason. Don't forget that Schneider was the second-best goaltender in the NHL (behind Carey Price) for the four years prior to when his hip starting impacting his performance. At 32-years-old, time isn't on his side, but there is still potential for another season or two of prime-era Schneider, if he returns at full health.
Robin Lehner, New York Islanders (ranked No. 166): This is the perfect setup for the ultimate redemption story. Lehner is only 27 years old, has a clear path to workhorse status with the Islanders and has a fresh outlook on life.
Alex Iafallo is a candidate to fill in for Dustin Brown while he's out with a broken finger. That means Iafallo gets to play with Anze Kopitar and Ilya Kovalchuk. He didn't do much with Kopitar and Brown last season, but it's worth monitoring. Prospect Austin Wagner is another candidate for the role after practicing there on Sunday.