We've passed the symbolic halfway point of the NHL season that is the All-Star break. No, it's not the mathematical halfway point, but it's the dividing line that is readily available for statistics and the point often used when fantasy teams buckle down and decide what they need to win.
In the spirit of renewal that the All-Star break represents, I am offering up four lines that have shown signs of being or are poised to be the post-All-Star break stars of the 2016-17 season.
Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: This trio has been out of control for the better part of two months now. Since Dec. 1, Granlund is third in NHL scoring, only three points back of Sidney Crosby, with 34 points in 29 games. In that same span, Koivu has 27 points in 28 games and Zucker has 26 points in 29 games. Combined, all thee forwards have an incredible plus-72 rating since Dec. 1. While Granlund and Koivu are available in about a quarter of ESPN leagues and you won't find them available in any competitive league, Zucker still is a possible free-agent addition in 57 percent of ESPN leagues. This line is primed to continue to crush competition, as they've started February with a combined 10 points in two games.
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: While these guys are all owned in every ESPN league, the key here is that Bergeron's owners might still be willing to part with him based on the entire season's return. Even as recently as December, Bergeron still hadn't found his form. Through Dec. 31, he had posted only 12 points in 36 games. He turned his season around in January and looks every bit the top-30 fantasy asset we expected at the start of the season. In 2017, Bergeron has 17 points in 16 games. It may not be too late to lock down the pivot for what will surely be one of the NHL's top lines for the remainder of the campaign with a clever trade offer. Fading assets, like Patrick Maroon, Jeff Skinner or Nick Foligno, all remain significantly ahead of Bergeron on the ESPN Player Rater thanks to his prolonged slow start.
John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee, New York Islanders: A perfect example of time together helping form the chemistry required to be a top scoring line, this trio first locked in together on Dec. 13. But it wasn't until Jan. 13 that they finally started clicking. Since Tavares broke out with a hat trick on Jan. 13 against the Florida Panthers, this group has accounted for 20 goals and 23 assists in their past 13 games. That compares very favorably with the 11 games they played together as a line between Dec. 13 and Jan. 13, when they collected eight goals and 11 assists. The Isles have fresh coaching behind the bench and confidence between the pipes to finally allow a scoring line to comfortably do its thing. Here's betting Tavares plays out the rest of the season as the top-25 fantasy asset he is, while Bailey and Lee remain relevant in shallow leagues as fringe forwards.
Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha, Detroit Red Wings: While they probably won't continue to score at the elevated pace of the previous three lines we've offered up, this trio for the Red Wings still offers some hope to help fantasy owners. It took a lot longer than hoped, and this isn't the trio most expected to rise to the top for the Red Wings, but Zetterberg, Nyquist and Mantha appear to be locked in as the club's top scoring line going forward. Together as a trio since Jan. 10 against the Chicago Blackhawks, they have combined for 8 goals and 18 assists in 12 games. But Mantha and Zetterberg were connecting prior to that, with Tomas Tatar as the third member of the line prior to Nyquist's promotion. While they might not be everyday players like Zucker or Bergeron for your fantasy team, Mantha and Nyquist are arguably deserving of a bench spot and occasional use in your lineup now that the Red Wings have seemingly found a rhythm.
Forwards rising and falling
Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings (up 14 spots to No. 34): The inexplicable and painful slump is over. After scoring seven points or fewer in each of the season's first three months, Kopitar finished January with 14 points in 12 games. As I've mentioned previously this season, he's been doing everything right this whole time and just not getting the results. His shooting percentage spiked up to a more Kopitar-esque 15 percent in January and the results followed. Getting Tyler Toffoli back to balance out the offense for the Kings can only help.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens (down 23 spots to No. 82): Sometimes your buddies can save your seat for you, sometimes they can't. After Galchenyuk missed more than a month with a knee injury, he didn't come back to find his regular spot in the lineup as the top-line pivot between Max Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov. Although the Habs skated him there to make his return welcome, he was quickly relegated to the second line, while upstart Phillip Danault was returned to the top trio. Galchenyuk still gets to see his pals on the power play, but that isn't enough for him to resume his quality campaign with confidence. This could change again, and Galchenyuk could replace Danault during a slump, but for now his value takes a big hit, as the Canadiens can offer only one dangerous line to their opponents as long as Pacioretty and Radulov are playing together.
Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers (up 53 spots to No. 97): Back in the lineup for a triumphant return on Friday, Huberdeau looked like he didn't miss a beat despite not having skated in a game this season. We had him ranked No. 77 headed into the season, and I anticipate him climbing up the rankings in the coming weeks -- I just want to see him in action for more than a game first.
Defensemen rising and falling
Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators (up 28 spots to No. 67): The return from a nine-game absence was enough to rocket Josi back up the rankings, but I'm singling him out to remind you that he's still not a No. 1 fantasy defenseman this season. We have him ranked 14th among defenders and, to be frank, that's higher than he deserves, based on the on-ice results. That said, he is still in a position to succeed and even though he was eased back into the lineup on the third pair, Josi still got about half the team's power-play duties on the blue line.
Goaltender rising and falling
Jimmy Howard, G, Detroit Red Wings (up 44 spots to No. 155): This ranking is being done with my head and not with my heart. In a perfect world, I'd have the confidence to rank Petr Mrazek here and leave Howard lower, but only two positive games from Mrazek -- no matter how impressive -- are not enough to give me clear confidence. Further complicating the issue is that Howard looked awfully rusty in his return to an AHL conditioning stint. Still, Howard boasted a 1.96 goals-against average in 17 games when he was hurt in December and logic would dictate he gets at least a 50/50 share of the Red Wings' netminding duties back later this week. Just remain wary of the fact that Mrazek has the talent and opportunity to go off at any moment and become fantasy relevant again.
Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets (down 17 spots to No. 204): Although the Jets have given the proverbial puck to Ondrej Pavelec to run with for now, I'm still giving Hellebuyck a week or so in the rankings to regain some standing in the Jets' net. In reality, Pavelec's ratios have been pretty pedestrian despite some success in the win column. That leaves the door open for Hellebuyck to earn back at least a share of the starts. He's got a great future ahead of him as a keeper, but I'm not completely giving up hope for this season.
There is some optimism surrounding Evgeni Malkin possibly returning this week and that's arguably enough to plug him into weekly lineups, given the stats he offers compared to his replacement on your roster. A reminder to check on the Pittsburgh Penguins' line combination after Malkin returns to see who truly could pick up extra value with Conor Sheary on the shelf. As predicted, the Pens went with a different lineup on Saturday, moving Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust to Crosby's wings. That feels closer to a permanent solution than the Matt Cullen-Patric Hornqvist duo, but it could change again.
Robby Fabbri had already been relegated to third-line duty lately, so fantasy owners probably won't take a big hit with his departure for the remainder of the season due to an ACL tear. Dynasty league owners may still want to stash him depending on their league rules, as he has a fantasy relevant future as a scoring winger. But he's probably not worth holding on to for the future if his roster spot hurts your competitive nature for this season.
While the Philadelphia Flyers' crease might look like a hot mess on the surface, Michal Neuvirth has earned at least a cursory look in fantasy leagues with his recent play. This could turn on a dime again, as Steve Mason runs as hot and cold as any goalie, but Neuvirth's three consecutive starts with only one goal allowed scream for more chances in the net.
Absolutely scoop up Sebastian Aho if you see him available. While the pace will cool as the Carolina Hurricanes' power play success ebbs and flows, Aho has a clear connection with fellow youngsters Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm on the the ice.
While the Wild are benching Charlie Coyle, fantasy owners should follow suit. He's been cool for a while now and was in the press box on Saturday. He could easily regain his stature as a scoring-line asset, however, so don't overreact by dropping him in deeper leagues.
Tomas Hertl is back on the San Jose Sharks' top line and has two points in four games since returning. He absolutely should be picked back up, as playing regularly with Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton tends to have its benefits.
Seventy percent of Zack Smith's 36 points last season came after Feb. 1. It's therefore notable that he started heating up a month early this season by producing 10 points in 11 games for the month of January. Since he is playing with Mark Stone and Derick Brassard, fantasy owners could do worse for a medium-to-deep league free agent find.