They may rank second within their own team's established hierarchy, but a handful of backup goaltenders are vying to become No. 1 in our fantasy hearts. For those of you who need help in the netminding department, the following candidates are worth serious consideration, at least in the short term.
Most fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs will eagerly tell you that Ben Scrivens is no slouch (.915 save-percentage, 2.69 goals-against average in 20 appearances last season). The Los Angeles Kings would never have agreed to relinquish Jonathan Bernier if they didn't feel the same. And now that Jonathan Quick is indisposed with a groin strain, Scrivens will get the chance to prove his proficiency to a largely unfamiliar West Coast audience. Owned in only 14 percent of ESPN.com leagues, the 27-year-old is a relatively low-risk pickup in most leagues.
Meanwhile, a changing of the guard appears to be taking place within the New York Islanders' regiment of goaltenders. While veteran Evgeni Nabokov flounders, we may finally be witnessing what looks to be the birth of the Kevin Poulin era on Long Island, so long as the 23-year-old doesn't mess it up, of course. Well, so far, so good, as Poulin is ready to make his third straight start. Owned in only two percent of ESPN.com leagues, Poulin has been solid (.920 save-percentage, 2.35 goals-against average) this season.
Goalie Justin Peters (owned in eight percent of ESPN.com leagues) also merits a shout-out as an early fantasy overachiever this season. With Cam Ward (lower-body) and Anton Khudobin (lower-body) out, Peters has adequately shouldered the load for the Carolina Hurricanes. Frankly, he's been better than adequate, particularly in the past 10 days. And while Ward is still about a week away from seeing regular duty for the 'Canes, you can probably squeeze another couple of appearances, at a minimum, from Peters.
Valeri Nichushkin, RW, Dallas Stars (owned in nine percent of ESPN.com leagues): For what feels like the third, if not fourth, occasion since training camp, Nichushkin is getting the opportunity to play on a top line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, proving that the Stars really want this threesome to jell. That's understandable, considering the 18-year-old's potential as an prominent power forward. Encouragingly, the three points garnered in his past five games hint that the rookie is becoming more and more comfortable competing in the NHL.
Valtteri Filppula, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (owned in 99 percent of ESPN.com leagues): There are several different avenues the Lightning can take in trying to adjust for the long-term loss of Steven Stamkos. While promoting a prospect like Nikita Kucherov is one viable option, forging a trade for a reputable sniper is another. But within the current corps of personnel, Filppula may stand the greatest chance of playing a more prominent role in Stamkos' absence. A top line of Alex Killorn (featured as a "Trending Up" candidate last week), Brett Connolly and Martin St. Louis is hardly etched in stone. Don't be too surprised if Filppula sees more minutes with St. Louis in the foreseeable future. If nothing else, the 29-year-old center will continue to be relied upon heavily with the man-advantage, and may be worth targeting via trade regardless.
Tyler Toffoli, RW/C, Los Angeles King (owned in 48 percent of ESPN.com leagues): We're admittedly slightly late to the party in saluting the youngster's performance to date, but Toffoli is still available in many ESPN.com leagues. Skating on a line with a smoking hot Mike Richards, the 21-year-old has six points since being recalled by the Kings in early November. We're talking only four games here, people.
Erik Johnson, D, Colorado Avalanche (owned in 61 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Don't look now, but Johnson is quietly losing the tag of "perpetual dud," and contributing with some regularity for the Avalanche. Considering his history, seven points and a plus-10 rating in plus/minus through 17 games is nothing at which to sneeze. And he's enjoying a fair share of power-play minutes with one of the more productive teams in the league. As long as you don't anticipate fantasy fireworks from the former No. 1 overall draft pick (2006), Johnson should serve as a decent depth defenseman in most leagues.
Carl Hagelin, LW, New York Rangers (owned in 63 percent of ESPN.com leagues): The eventual, healthy comeback of Rick Nash (concussion) is likely to result in Hagelin dropping out of the Rangers' top-six. As it stands, there's little chance coach Alain Vigneault messes with the Mats Zuccarello-Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan trio, and Ryan Callahan is conceivably more difficult to demote than Hagelin from Brad Richards' line. So, by process of elimination, that leaves Hagelin as the odd man out. Once Nash's return appears imminent -- and he's hoping to join team practice next week -- brace yourself for a dip in production from Hagelin. Or maybe trade the 25-year-old winger before then.
Dennis Seidenberg, D, Boston Bruins (owned in 91 percent of ESPN.com leagues): The ongoing development of young, puck-moving blueliners Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton is allowing for Seidenberg to revert to the role that suits him best: a responsible and reliable defensive presence. That's great for the Bruins, but hardly what you want from a fantasy commodity. Essentially out of the man-advantage mix altogether, Seidenberg has five assists on the season. If it's an option, dump the 32-year-old and snag Hamilton (owned in 42 percent of ESPN.com leagues) instead. Otherwise, shop around elsewhere.
Matt Carle, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Taking a back seat to Victor Hedman and others, Carle is no longer top banana as far as the Lightning's power play is concerned. And the former fantasy darling has all of one assist to show for his last seven games. The 29-year-old may better serve on your bench as long as this stretch of lackluster production lasts.
Cam Atkinson, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (owned in three percent of ESPN.com leagues): Collecting 12 points in his past nine games, Brandon Dubinsky is on one heckuva roll. But while Dubinsky is spoken for across the ESPN.com fantasy board, his linemates -- Atkinson and Ryan Johansen (owned in five percent of leagues) -- are widely available. Unfortunately, there's really no telling how long this trio remains intact, riding high. So don't delay in adding Atkinson or Johansen if such a move strikes your fancy.
David Moss, RW, Phoenix Coyotes (owned in less than one percent of ESPN.com leagues): Playing alongside Mike Ribeiro and Shane Doan, Moss carries greater fantasy value than his ownership numbers support. With five points in his past seven games, Moss arguably deserves more fantasy respect than he's currently receiving, at least in the short-term. Hey, sometimes "serviceable" trumps "sexy" in fantasy hockey.
Brock Nelson, C, New York Islanders (owned in less than one percent of ESPN.com leagues): With Thomas Vanek nursing a minor upper-body injury, Nelson faces at least one more game as the sub on an Islanders' top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Just be ready to cut ties with the 22-year-old once Vanek is ready to return.
Joel Ward, RW, Washington Capitals (owned in 14 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Competing on a line with Mikhail Grabovski and Jason Chimera, Ward has a goal in each of his past three games (13 points on the season). However, the 32-year-old's NHL resume suggests this explosive output won't last forever. Exploit Ward while he's hot.