Fantasy hockey: Forecaster for the week of Feb. 17-23

Zach Werenski skates for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

There are around 25 games left in the season -- give or take a few -- for each team. And the injuries are piling up. The recent injury reports look more like an All-Star roster.

Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Seth Jones, Alexander Radulov, Brock Boeser, Cam Atkinson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nazem Kadri and Blake Wheeler are among the recently added names.

Some are more serious than others, but you need to be aware of all of them.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were without Kucherov, Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli from their top six on Thursday but still managed a 3-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers, who will be without McDavid for two to three weeks. The Bolts have elevated Yanni Gourde to the top line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat -- and Gourde stepped up with the game-winning shorthanded goal. We don't have any timetables for the three Lightning forwards, who are all "day-to-day," so Gourde's run in a prime role is unknown. But with three guys out, there is a better chance he gets some decent time. He plays into fantasy plans when he gets the opportunity.

As for McDavid, the Oilers will be limited to one serious line of offense in his absence, so it's Kailer Yamamoto that you could pick up on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That hasn't changed from several weeks ago, but the opportunities for the line will be concentrated with McDavid out. Sam Gagner will get some looks on the top power-play unit if you play in deeper leagues where Yamamoto was claimed a few weeks back.

The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to weather an injury storm that won't relent. Seth Jones is done for the rest of the season, while Atkinson is out another two to three weeks with a sprained ankle. Recalled from the OHL, Liam Foudy was thrust into a prime role with Gustav Nyquist and Boone Jenner. He's a speculative add in any league given the Jackets success since December and the opportunity he'll have with Atkinson out. On the blue line, Zach Werenski was doing most of the damage on offense anyway, so Jones' void won't have a great impact in fantasy by whoever fills it.

Radulov and Joe Pavelski are on the sideline for the Dallas Stars. That should add a few minutes of ice time for Roope Hintz. He's available in most leagues.

Jake Virtanen remains in play as long as Boeser remains out for the Vancouver Canucks.

Kuznetsov's absence means Lars Eller is a must-add for as long as Kuznetsov is out. Eller picked up a pair of assists in his first outing with Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie as linemates. Kuznetsov is day-to-day, but any game with Eller in the top six is worth using him in.

Kadri will be out for four to six weeks with a lower-body injury, leaving a gaping hole on the Avalanche's second line. J.T. Compher is the initial promotion on the depth chart, but we'll see how that manifests as the days unfold. The Avs haven't liked separating the top trio for long, and they have Gabriel Landeskog lined up on the second line in the current deployment. Valeri Nichushkin's modest value is wiped out, as his chemistry with Kadri was keeping him on a scoring line.

The least extreme of the ailing, Wheeler hasn't missed a game but was sick at practice. Nothing to worry about here.

Fantasy Forecaster: Feb. 17 to Feb. 23

We have 52 games on tap, with all but one team playing three-plus games. Twelve teams play four times, so we have a fairly balanced schedule that has only the Canucks at a disadvantage with the two-game schedule.

The Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings (don't buy it, the Kings lack of home games in the past month are skewing it) and Florida Panthers have the top offensive ratings for the week. The Arizona Coyotes, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars and Philadelphia Flyers have the top defensive rating.

For those new to the forecaster chart, here are some explanations: "O" (offense), which is on the left for each game, and "D" (defense), on the right, matchup ratings are based on a scale from 1 (poor matchup) to 10 (excellent matchup) and are calculated using a formula that evaluates the team's season-to-date statistics, their performance in home/road games depending on where the game is to be played, as well as their opponents' numbers in those categories. The "Ratings" column lists the cumulative rating from 1 to 10 of that week's offensive ("O") and defensive ("D") matchups.

In the notes below, the focus every week will be mainly on players that are available for potential use. Ownership below 50% of ESPN leagues is a good generalized cutoff. I'll try to also include players below 10% ownership whenever possible to cater to deeper formats.

Team notes

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs play two tough home games and then two softer road games that are back-to-back. Philipp Grubauer is playing like a workhorse again of late, but since he'll miss out on one of the two easier games, I don't know that he's a G1 this week. ... Andre Burakovsky is a must-start this week as the linemate to Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen for the time being.

Columbus Blue Jackets: While I like the longer-term prospects of Foudy and the continued success of the Blue Jackets' offense, shy away this week as they have two games against the strong-of-late goaltending of the Flyers.

Vegas Golden Knights: New coach, new ideas. Rather than do the easy thing and plug William Karlsson back into his familiar role between Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, coach Peter DeBoer put him between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. That's an even better spot to be and, even without a role on the top power play for the time being, he's in a good position for the coming week.

Player notes

Mikael Backlund, C, Calgary Flames: Heating up with Matthew Tkachuk at his side, Backlund has points in five straight (four goals, four helpers). Even with only three games, Backlund should be on radars. It would be even better if you could wait until midweek to pick him up for the Friday and Sunday contests -- reap most of the reward and use someone else to start the week.

Kevin Fiala, C/W, Minnesota Wild: Locked in so far in February, Fiala needs to be rostered in all leagues. He has 10 points in seven games this month while riding with Eric Staal and Zach Parise. He is available in more than half of leagues.

Jason Zucker, W, Pittsburgh Penguins: Zucker's style fits perfectly with Sidney Crosby, so this trade should raise his stock significantly. Don't wait to see if it works out. Jump now and then you can drop him later if things don't work out. But a fast winger with a 30-goal season on his résumé playing on Crosby's wing is a recipe for success.