Fantasy hockey forecaster: Jan. 3 to Jan. 9

Matt Duchene is averaging 2.9 shots a game this season. Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire

While most of the fantasy IR moves in the NHL of late have been of little concern, as they tend to be a COVID-related absence we know will be short, Max Pacioretty's wrist surgery is a big blow to fantasy managers.

In his 16 games this season, which has already been hampered by injury, Pacioretty is far and away the most productive fantasy player in the NHL on a per-minute basis. While a handful of players are doing slightly better than Pacioretty for fantasy points per game, he has a full point lead on Auston Matthews for the best fantasy points per 60 minutes (FPP60) in the league - 10.37 to 9.35.

We don't know details about his wrist surgery, but it's a fairly common procedure in general for the NHL. Auston Matthews needed about nine weeks after having wrist surgery in August, while Sidney Crosby needed seven and a half weeks after having wrist surgery in September. So we are likely talking two months before Pacioretty gets back to game action.

This presents an opportunity for the ultimate fantasy rope-a-dope in head-to-head leagues.

I would only advise such a strategy in head-to-head leagues, as you need the consistent production in rotisserie or overall points, but there exists a potential future where the two most productive fantasy players for the last two months of the season are on the injured reserve and likely available at a discount.

I know that's putting a lot of pressure on Jack Eichel's planned return to action, but we already have the stats from Pacioretty to prove the Golden Knights top line is explosive. If Eichel can make his Golden Knights debut just ahead of Pacioretty returning to the team, it sets up a deadly combination at the top of the Vegas lineup, which will also include Mark Stone.

Getting both Eichel and Pacioretty on your roster now is the cheapest it could be between now and then. Eichel's stock will slowly rise between now and mid-February, when he is projected to be ready to play again after his surgery. Pacioretty's value is at it's lowest just after surgery and without a timetable for recovery. In fact, you may be able to get Eichel for nothing, as he's available in 60 percent of ESPN leagues.

Burning two IR spots is not anything to sneeze at though, as we've seen this season and especially these past few weeks, the COVID protocol IR rules are very helpful for fantasy management. But the potential payoff from the Eichel-Pacioretty combination is enticing enough to try to make it work.

Depending on what kind of value you have to give up, the sacrifice to your roster between now and March is almost definitely worth it in head-to-head, where you just need to be in spitting distance of the playoffs for the plan to work.

Again, I wouldn't go all-in on such an endeavor in points or rotisserie, but it's still something to toy with. Bold moves are needed at this stage of the game if you aren't already in the mix for your championship.

Fantasy Forecaster: Jan. 3 to Jan. 9

The removal of games due to arena-capacity limits in Canada takes this from a kind of slow week to a very slow week. The poor Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders don't get to play at all. And the Toronto Maple Leafs would have been the week's only four-game team, but had two of them cancelled.

The Buffalo Sabres, Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks only have one contest, while the Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, Leafs, Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets all play twice.

Everyone else has three games scheduled.

Team notes

Buffalo Sabres: It wasn't a full lineup, but we've seen the Sabres debuts of Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs this week. Both had access to key catalysts in the lineup, both on and off the power play, so it looks like the Sabres want to use showcase their new assets. We'll have to see a game with Jeff Skinner back in the lineup to fully establish the plan, but it looks like Tuch might get Skinner and Tage Thompson to work with at even strength, while Krebs was with Victor Olofsson and Kyle Okposo. Yes, this is for deeper leagues, and yes, this is not a good week to dabble with them (one game).

Colorado Avalanche: It looks like the Avs will be more or less back to full strength when they resume game action this weekend, which primes them to be one of the better options next week. They have three games, two of which rate a 10 on the forecaster for offense. Valeri Nichushkin missed Friday' practice, but he is a fringe option with the top line back intact. Check on the deployment of Nazem Kadri versus J.T. Compher when it comes to the power play, as we've been waiting to see what the team does with all the main forwards healthy. Bowen Byram could be back in action for the Avs soon. His stats were fantasy-worthy earlier this season, but a lot of it came with Devon Toews sidelined, so he might not be as appealing now.

Nashville Predators: Also one of the best choices for offense next week, the Predators have most of their bodies back, too. Roman Josi is a question mark, but it will have been a week since he went into COVID protocol on Monday. With the first Preds game on Tuesday, he's worth the risk. In shallower leagues, Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, and Mikael Granlund could be available and are worth using here.

Player notes

Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils, 51% rostered in ESPN.com leagues: The Devils forward notched his second multi-goal game of the season in a win over the Edmonton Oilers on December 31. While the Devils have trouble with consistency, they've scored 10 goals since returning from the break, and Hughes is in the center of it all.

Mattias Janmark, Vegas Golden Knights, .3% rostered: Janmark has doubled his scoring total since the Golden Knights have returned to action, scoring in consecutive games. Keep an eye on him in deeper leagues, as he fills in for Mark Stone.

Adam Larsson, Seattle Kraken, 24.1% rostered: Perhaps there's a buy low opportunity here. The Seattle defenseman averaged 2.7 FPPG in eight December games before the pause, but has only managed two total points in two games since. As mentioned above, the Kraken are only slated for one game next week, but will see four the following week.