It's been a week of potential, prominent comebacks, promised or pending, in the NHL. Forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane, and goaltender Tuukka Rask all making headlines, once again, in advance of their respective/prospective returns to competitive play. There's plenty to mine here through the fantasy scope, so let's get to it.
Jack Eichel appears ready to let 'er rip: "I was actually thinking about suiting up tonight, but they wouldn't let me go," Eichel kidded with the media following Tuesday's emotional first skate on Golden Knights' ice. So next game against the Penguins then? Hahaha. No, seriously, are we to witness the former Sabres captain make his Vegas debut even before month's end? As the saying goes, there's a grain of truth in every joke, disguising genuine feelings etc. Whether it's another week or two, Eichel's return in the waning days of January doesn't feel nearly as far-fetched as before.
Particularly as the Golden Knights are scheduled to host Buffalo on February 1st. Considering all that's transpired between the two sides, there's little chance the ultra-competitive (and perhaps mildly and understandably bitter) 25-year-old misses that battle unless absolutely necessary. And he'll likely want a warm-up beforehand.
As a fantasy asset, Eichel should be acquired immediately. Like now, when there's still a chance. Available in nearly half of ESPN.com leagues, the prolific scorer will more than make up for whatever deficit your roster endures before his return to competitive play. Even if an injured reserve spot isn't open, stash him on your bench for now. By no means a 100% sure thing - artificial disc replacement surgery is a significant undertaking offering no guarantees of full recovery - Eichel's potential fantasy payoff remains well worth it.
Even during last year's catastrophic campaign in Buffalo, the injured center managed near a point/game, despite shooting 3.3% and potting two (2) goals. That's not who the No. 2 draft pick (2015) is as a player. The previous season Eichel scored 36 goals and 42 assists in 68 contests. A total of 82 points in 77 games the year before. And he wasn't skating on the line with the likes of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty at the time - which will (eventually) be the case in Vegas. Eichel also shoots a bunch and plays a ton of minuets. How often is a top-20 fantasy asset sitting right there, free for the free-agent taking, halfway through a regular reason? Scoop him up, as I recently did in my ESPN.com analysts league.
The Evander Kane saga rolls on: Matters are more complicated when it comes to Kane and his potential return to NHL play. Days after having his seven-year deal with the Sharks terminated as he was accused of breaching his NHL standard player contract and violating the AHL's COVID-19 protocol, the 30-year-old became a rumored signing target of other clubs in the league. Namely the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers, with the former reportedly the favorite. So the goal-scoring winger was expected to earn yet another chance in the NHL, but this time presumably on a line with the greatest player on the planet. Got it.
Not so fast. Edmonton GM Ken Holland had barely finished expounding on his belief in "second" chances when we caught word that the NHL is investigating Kane for his alleged unlawful crossing of the U.S.-Canadian border. While this investigation undoubtedly serves as a speed bump on Kane's route back to the NHL, that's all it might be. A (minor?) delay. For one, TSN suggests Kane is still on track to join another club (likely the Oilers) in short enough order.
It's a lot for fantasy managers to digest, as is the uncertain timeline, but Kane's fantasy upside is potentially chart-busting. A gig on Connor McDavid's left wing could result in game-changing numbers. This is a fantasy asset who would, in many cases, offer that extra edge in helping managers win their respective leagues. That's the truth of it. An imposing figure with an excellent shot, which he relies on frequently (another fantasy bonus), Kane has 87 goals in his past 212 regular-season contests with the Sharks. That's 0.41/game. Goals not earned on a line with McDavid. And he's available in 72% of ESPN.com leagues.
Once again, do with all of this what you will.
Tuukka Rask returns to the Bruins' crease: One week after fantasy managers were advised to "Stash Rask," the veteran netminder is set to make his season debut Thursday. On paper, the foundation is in place for a solid showing: the Bruins are scorching and the visiting Flyers are winless since Dec. 29 (0-4-1). Still, coach Bruce Cassidy warns against jumping to premature conclusions, whether Rask sizzles or fizzles in his first outing.
"We know that he hasn't played in months. He told us he's ready to go, in practice, and he looks good. We'll see where it leads. Whether he pitches a shutout (Thursday) or is average, we're not going to make a judgment based on one game."
But you know who will make a snap decision, particularly if Rask stands tall? A rivalling fantasy manager. So beat them to it, and snatch up the former Vezina winner asap - if such an improvement in net makes sense on your own roster. Even though Linus Ullmark has played well of late, the former Sabres goalie doesn't present as a dominant No. 1. He's also endured an uglier stretch already this campaign (late October to mid November). We could see more Rask/less Ullmark, or a healthy share of both, soon enough. The 34-year-old - who posted a 15-5-2 record, 2.28 GAA, and .913 SV% while paying though hip (since repaired surgically) and back injuries last year - is currently available in 66% of ESPN.com leagues.
As for the one left out in the AHL cold to make room for Rask, Jeremy Swayman no longer boasts much fantasy value in re-draft leagues (dynasty competition is whole other kettle of beans). While Swayman is pegged to be a No. 1 NHL netminder at some point, his recent demotion to the minors means we're in for a wait.