Line shifts and other fantasy hints

Jakub Voracek, Brad Marchand and Stephen Weiss are off to rough starts this season. Getty Images

One of the keys to success in fantasy sports is knowing when to cut bait. Nailing the appropriate occasion to take a deep breath, call it a day, and move on from a grossly under-performing player can mean the difference between finishing in first place and, well, not first place. On the other hand, pulling the chute too soon can lead to months of regret. It's a tricky business. While the time has already arrived to bid some former fantasy heavyweights adieu -- Sergei Gonchar, perhaps -- we recommend holding on to the following early-season duds a while longer.

Jakub Voracek, RW, Philadelphia Flyers: Averaging the fewest goals per game in the league (1.57), the Flyers' offense truly stinks. Which suggests, considering the on-paper talent competing for coach Craig Berube, there's nowhere to go but up. And that's just one of several reasons you shouldn't be too quick to jettison Voracek from your fantasy roster.

First of all, the former seventh-overall draft pick (2007) is a notoriously slow starter. Voracek notched only the one goal and two assists in eight games last January to launch the lockout-shortened season. Then he exploded for 21 points through 15 contests in February. In 2011-12, Voracek started out with five points through his first 13 contests. He ended up one short of 50 on the season. The young Czech winger collected only three assists through the first 10 games in 2010-11 ... sense a trend here? This fall's poor showing on the scoresheet isn't out of the ordinary for the 24-year-old.

While we're on the subject of history, Voracek has never endured a bad season since joining the league as a teen in 2008-09. Why expect a drastic change in fortune now? Presumably healthy, he's set to skate on the Flyers' top line with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell Thursday against the New Jersey Devils and beyond. It would be a shame to cut Voracek loose just when he's on the precipice (maybe) of turning things around.

Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins: Marchand is off to an equally dismal start. As with Voracek, "The Little Ball of Hate II" (Pat Verbeek being the original LBOH) is also in decent position to burst out of his autumn-scented funk. Even with the healthy return of winger Loui Eriksson, Marchand appears fixed to remain alongside center Patrice Bergeron in a top-six role (at least for now). And no one is more exasperated with the four-point start than the 25-year-old himself. So, while health isn't believed to be a factor, a turnaround may soon be in the works for Marchand as well.

Stephen Weiss, C, Detroit Red Wings: Of the three players on whom we're focusing, Weiss is the hardest sell in convincing fantasy owners to remain patient. Signed to replace center Valtteri Filppula, the former Florida Panther has been just awful for Red Wings this season (two goals, one assist). But, he's still playing on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Daniel Cleary. And he's still seeing valuable minutes with the man advantage. Some players take longer in adjusting to new teams than others; Weiss could very well fall into that category. In any case, a scoring resume that includes 397 points in 670 career regular-season games should be sufficient in earning the 30-year-old another week or two before being shown the door by fantasy owners.

Sports fans in general -- and fantasy sports enthusiasts in particular -- are an impetuous bunch. But adhering tightly to the "what have you done for me lately" approach can come back to bite you over the course of a season. This isn't to recommend keeping a death-grip on these players for weeks on end, regardless of how much they struggle. Only that a sample size of 15 games or so isn't large enough, in our minds, to make any such severe move. Not when it comes to kicking players like those aforementioned to the dirty curb. It's a long season, and there's a lot of hockey left.

Trending up

Tyler Ennis, C/LW, Buffalo Sabres (owned in 22 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Just like that, Ennis is fantasy-relevant once again. Competing on a top line with Matt Moulson and Cody Hodgson, Ennis potted a goal and an assist in Tuesday's win over the San Jose Sharks. Remember, this guy notched 31 points in 47 games for the Sabres last season. And the 24-year-old's multi-positional eligibility only adds to his charm.

Nathan MacKinnon, C/RW, Colorado Avalanche (owned in 65 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Kicked back up into a top-six role in light of the injury to Alex Tanguay (knee), MacKinnon is poised to re-visit the numbers he enjoyed to start the season (five points in his first five games). The rookie's fantasy owners are right to be excited about what MacKinnon can accomplish alongside Paul Stastny and Gabriel Landeskog in the next while. And the Avalanche's docs are wary to put any sort of timetable on Tanguay's recovery period.

Also, take note that P.A. Parenteau has scored himself a sweet spot on a line with Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly following the trade of Steve Downie to Philadelphia. A "Trending down" candidate only a week ago, Parenteau is back to seeing plum minutes and scoring opportunities alongside one of the league's most dynamic players (Duchene). The 30-year-old could be worth targeting via trade.

Martin Erat, LW/RW, Washington Capitals (owned in nine percent of ESPN.com leagues): Earlier this season, ESPN Insider's Neil Greenberg assured us that Erat wouldn't last long as a bottom-six forward, and he has been proven correct. Recently skating on a top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Erat can look forward to more productive days ahead.

Alex Killorn, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (owned in 27 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Skating on Tampa's top line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, a player in your weekly beer league would likely manage to pot a point or two. And Killorn, we're going to hazard, is several cuts above "Fred" who plays wing every Wednesday evening at the rec center. The 24-year-old old has five points in his last two games, including two goals. If this guy is still available in your league, scoop him up quick.

Trending down

T.J. Oshie, RW, St. Louis Blues (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Replaced by Chris Stewart on a top line with scoring stud Alexander Steen and David Backes, Oshie appears somewhat entrenched on a forward unit with Vladimir Sobotka and Derek Roy. The demotion is a bit deflating, considering all that Oshie has offered to start the campaign (two goals, nine assists, and a plus-nine in plus/minus). On the flip-side, Stewart (owned in 25 percent of ESPN.com leagues) is worth an extra-long look these days.

Reilly Smith, RW, Boston Bruins (owned in one percent of ESPN.com leagues): Living the life in a top-six role until Eriksson returned from a concussion, the 22-year-old has since been demoted to the Bruins' third line with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. If coach Claude Julien continues to roll with Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Jarome Iginla and Eriksson-Bergeron-Marchand, that's where Reilly will remain, grossing about 12 minutes per game.

Seth Jones, D, Nashville Predators (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): On the upside, the healthy return of Roman Josi (concussion) hasn't cast Jones out the top defensive pairing with Shea Weber. However, the rookie defenseman is losing out on valuable power-play time to his recovered teammate. And four of Jones' seven points have counted with the man advantage. It's mildly concerning.

Jared Spurgeon, D, Minnesota Wild (owned in 68 percent of ESPN.com leagues): A parallel to the Jones/Josi situation, Spurgeon has tumbled down the Wild's defensive depth chart now that Jonas Brodin (face) is healthy and revving to go. But while Spurgeon should still see some time with the man advantage (second unit), he's no longer paired with Ryan Suter at even strength. And that's a significant downer.

Short-term substitutes

Tommy Wingels, C/RW, San Jose Sharks (owned in nine percent of ESPN.com leagues): Riding a hot streak in which he's collected two goals and three assists in his last four games (and has been a plus-six), Wingels has recently been rewarded with minutes on Joe Thornton's line. The 25-year-old, multi-positional forward should serve as a useful temp until Brent Burns returns from a mouth injury.

Philip Larsen, D, Edmonton Oilers (owned in under one percent of ESPN.com leagues): Earning heavy minutes with the power play, Larsen scored his first goal as an Oiler in only his second game of the season. As long as Justin Schultz continues to recover from a groin issue, Larsen is in good position to contribute (which will be another game or two). Frankly, the Oilers don't have many other worthy puck-moving options on their back end.

Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa Senators (owned 33 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Subbing in for an ailing Craig Anderson (neck), Lehner is, once again, the No. 1 netminder du jour for the Senators. As long as the 22-year-old continues to put in performances like he did against the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday -- stopping 32 of 33 shots for the 4-1 victory -- the Sens won't feel hurried in throwing Anderson back out there. Truth be told, you can make the argument Lehner is more suited as a "Trending up" candidate, but that depends on how long Anderson remains sidelined.

Reto Berra, G, Calgary Flames (owned in three percent of ESPN.com leagues): If Lehner or other more reliable options aren't available, Berra might serve as a decent fantasy plug, here and there. Two games into his NHL career, Berra has endured one excellent start and one not-so-good performance. We're not entirely sure what to expect from Thursday's contest in St. Louis. Even though Berra looks confident and capable, he still plays for the second-worst team in goals-allowed/game.