So. It's been a touch chaotic of late, with players rotating in and out of COVID-19 protocol while the league postpones games, often on hours' notice. A frustrating (if still sensibly run) stretch, to be sure, for players, staff, fans, and fantasy managers alike. But, after an elongated holiday break, the league appears ready to return to action with three games slated for Tuesday. Which means managers are, once again, required to compete with whoever is on hand and active, in combination with a few useful substitutes.
This is when having several IR spots in play serves as a big advantage, since no right-minded fantasy contender is dumping a persistent performer in exchange for a handful of fleeting points. In fact, if you're in a custom league, your league manager has the power to add IR spots, even if the league is in progress.
In that spirit, while we all navigate this tumultuous period together, here are a few less-popular assets who should help your fantasy squad remain competitive, either in the long or (very) short term.
Alex Tuch, RW, Buffalo Sabres (Rostered in 49.2% of ESPN.com leagues): Five months after undergoing shoulder surgery, the newest member of the Sabres is finally "ready to go". Coach Don Granato's words, not mine. And not a moment too soon for a team ranked 24th with 2.67 goals/game. To start, the former member of the Golden Knights is poised to join breakout performer Tage Thompson on Buffalo's top line, along with Victor Olofsson on the club's No. 1 power play. Out from under the shadow of other leading Vegas skaters, the (still only) 25-year-old is finally able to showcase his scoring talents in a more prominent role. For Tuch, the days of averaging 16 minutes/game are well over. The first-round draft selection should be spoken for in all fantasy leagues of reasonable depth. The Sabres are scheduled to face the Devils, Islanders, and Bruins this week.
Anthony Duclair, LW/RW, Florida Panthers (39.5%): He's back and projected to compete on a Panthers' top line with Aleksander Barkov (also returning from injury). Before suffering a lower-body issue, Duclair burst out this season's gates, notching nine goals and eight assists in 19 games. After a recent pair of contests to warm up (with Barkov still sidelined), and the ensuing extra rest, the winger should feel fully fiddle-fit. Scoop him up.
Kevin Hayes, C, Philadlephia Flyers (8.6%): First of all, he's out of the league's Covid protocol and authorized to return in launching the Flyers' west-coast swing on Wednesday (should that game against the Seattle Kraken indeed go ahead). Then there's his current role of top-line center to consider, in light of other skaters' Covid-related ineligibility (ie. Sean Couturier). But even outside of what's going on now, I like Hayes as a fantasy spark plug, capable of putting up points in bunches. Finally healthy after a rough, absence-riddled start to the campaign, the 29-year-old center has value in deeper fantasy leagues when running hot. Goodness know, the Flyers will need him to be his productive best at present.
Conor Sheary, LW, Washington Capitals (5.0%): It's hard to argue with a five-game scoring streak, involving two goals and four assists. Especially now that Sheary is back on a line with Nicklas Backstrom, who missed two recent games (COVID-19) after making his own season debut. If needed, toss one of your sidelined stars into an IR spot, and add the Capitals winger for a good fantasy time (if not a long one.)
Warren Foegele, LW, Edmonton Oilers (0.8%): The former Hurricane is presently slotted in on an Edmonton scoring line with Connor McDavid. As was the case for a pair of games ahead of the break, in which the 25-year-old winger scored a total of three goals. As long as Foegele remains in that coveted spot for Wednesday's tilt with the Blues - and he practiced alongside McDavid Tuesday - he projects as an attractive option to plug into your own devastated lineup. Or as an outside-the-box Daily Fantasy asset.
Erik Haula, LW/C, Boston Bruins (0.4%): Haula once scored 29 goals and 26 assists in 76 games with the Golden Knights. Back in 2017-18, mind you, but it still happened. Let's see what the well-travelled forward makes of his fresh chance to center a Bruins' scoring line with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith. Haula presents as a somewhat intriguing streaming/DFS option, at least until Charlie Coyle (COVID-19 protocol) returns. Mind you, the Bruins don't play again until New Year's Day against the Sabres. Be sure to check back on Haula/Coyle's status then.
See also: Adrian Kempe, C/RW, Los Angeles Kings (47.7%); Max Domi, C/RW, Columbus Blue Jackets (8.1%); Taylor Raddysh, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning (1.9%)
Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild (33.4%): He won't be sidelined in step with the NHL's COVID-19 protocol forever, and once free and clear, should return to blocking shots and shooting pucks on net with comforting regularity. Brodin has also kicked up his productivity a notch of late, contributing seven points in his most recent 10 contests. Averaging 2.3 fantasy points/game since Nov. 24, the minute-munching defender should be accounted for in much more than a third of ESPN.com fantasy leagues.
See also: Zach Whitecloud, Vegas Golden Knights (25.1%)
Martin Jones, Philadelphia Flyers (4.6%): With Carter Hart (COVID-19 protocol) out for at least four games, Philly's crease now seemingly belongs to the Flyers' backup. That means Jones is loosely scheduled to play the Kraken, Sharks, Kings, and Ducks through the club's upcoming west-coast road trip. When offered the chance this season, the former Shark has been not-terrible most of the time. If you need an active goaltending body, Jones promises to at least serve in that capacity. Maybe gauge how the 31-year-old manages in Seattle, then against his former squad, and take matters from there.
Maxime Lagace, Tampa Bay Lightning (0.3%): Were you aware that Lagace started one contest for the Penguins in 2020-21 and subsequently pitched a 29-save shutout against the Sabres? I had completely forgotten about that outing, myself. Well, the 28-year-old minor league veteran will get another shot at perfection in facing an already-bad Canadiens team, now absolutely ravaged by COVID-19, on Tuesday evening. If that doesn't scream Daily Fantasy gem, I'm not sure what does. As long as the game goes ahead, of course.
See also: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (39.0%); Dan Vladar, Calgary Flames (6.8%)