Fantasy hockey: Notable January lineup changes

When will forward Tom Wilson return to the Washington Capitals lineup? Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

It's already been a rather peculiar week in the NHL, and we're barely halfway through. While several prominent forwards are wading back into action - many for the first time this season - one club is making headlines for distancing itself from a skilled winger, at least at the big-league level. So, here's a look at this week's attention grabbing notes, viewed through our preferred fantasy lens.

Max All "Patched" Up

Of course he recovered ahead of the initial timetable. Why should we have anticipated any different? You, me, and every other regular lump would have needed well more than six months to recover after undergoing surgery to fix a torn Achilles. Patches? Five will do, thanks. Now, the hottest team in hockey not-based-in-Boston is about to benefit from incorporating one of the league's most dynamic goal scorers into its lineup. If not Thursday, soon. Regardless of the precise when, nimble fantasy managers need to strike now. First by grabbing the sniper, if possible - he remains confoundingly available in more than 78% of ESPN.com leagues - then through fallout analysis. As recently discussed in this forum by my colleague Sean Allen, Pacioretty is bound to replace a winger in Carolina's top six. The only question is who exactly?

Top-liner Seth Jarvis is one option. If that's how coach Rod Brind'Amour chooses to shuffle matters out, Jarvis himself - a fringe asset in the deepest of fantasy leagues - is the lesser issue. Instead, I would expect Pacioretty's two new linemates - center Sebastian Aho and winger Teuvo Teravainen - to profit immediately. Teravainen in particular, who's endured an uncharacteristically humdrum campaign to date. Rostered in only 60% of ESPN.com leagues, the 28-year-old would merit fresh interest as the former Knight/Canadien's running mate.

Another option is to leave the No. 1 line alone and, as alternative, tuck Pacioretty in on a second unit with Martin Necas, now at center, opposite winger Andrei Svechnikov. That would result in Paul Stastny dropping into the bottom-six - again, not a throbbing fantasy concern - but, more importantly, enhance Necas' value. Skating between Svechnikov and Pacioretty could only work in the young forward's favor. As of Thursday's morning, Necas remains available in nearly 20% of leagues across the ESPN.com fantasy hockey spectrum.

Eichel Re-enlisting

Unlike Pacioretty's accelerated race back to full fit-ness, this absence dragged on longer than predicted. However, after missing nearly four weeks with a lower-body injury, Jack Eichel is finally expected back in the Golden Knights' lineup. Wednesday's practice session suggests Eichel will suit up at center on a scoring line with Reilly Smith (rostered in 52.6% of ESPN.com leagues) and Nicolas Roy (1.1%) against the visiting Penguins. This fresh configuration not only serves as positive news for Smith's fantasy managers (and Roy's precious few), but those invested in Michael Amadio (3.0%). At least for now, the 26-year-old appears set to stick on a top unit with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone, plus the No. 1 power play with Eichel. Amadio has five goals and fours assists in his past seven contests, so why mess? At least until/when the production dries up.

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Capital Gains

We should get a view of Washington's new(-again) and improved top-six in short order, with Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom both expected to make their healthy 2022-23 season debuts any day now, presumably in joining Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie (probably) within that half-dozen group up front. So, one searing question remains: Who's the sixth? Will the privilege stick with Conor Sheary (8.6%)? Or Dylan Strome (30.5%), shifted left out of the center's spot? Enquiring fantasy minds will want to know, meaning managers should pay close attention to the Capitals' refreshed look in the coming days.

The Vrana Affair

In the week's oddest turn, Jakub Vrana (34.0%) remains a member of the Red Wings after being placed on waivers (a startling move to many) and then subsequently clearing, unclaimed (also, an arguable surprise).

I'm not getting into the possible why/how Vrana attracted zero tangible attention from other organizations, or the motive for tossing him on waivers in the first place - that gig belongs to other analysts with greater insight.

But, from a fantasy viewpoint, I will advise you jettison him from your roster immediately, unless festooned with an excess of IR spots (and he continues to remain IR eligible.) The 26-year-old could linger in the AHL a while, especially if the rest of the club stays relatively fit. Why place him on waivers otherwise? Hey, maybe he does return sooner rather than later, and continues his 0.82 point/game pace as a (historically part-time) Detroit forward. Also, maybe very much not. Instead, hitch your fantasy cart to current top-liner Michael Rasmussen (4.8%), or Tyler Bertuzzi (44.6%), who's due back in short order, or, better yet, a scoring winger from another club who's actually putting up numbers in the NHL right now.

Kane's Injury

Is he or isn't he? Hurt, that is, and if so, how badly? At the hour of pounding this out, the Blackhawks are choosing the coy route in justifying Patrick Kane's absence from practice as "maintenance". Word has it, he's been dealing with a lower-body injury for a couple of games, at minimum. The only Chicago forward worth rostering in most fantasy leagues - and nowhere near to the degree of years' past - Kane isn't worth gripping long-term if this ailment amounts to anything. Ideally, his fantasy managers should not only hope for good health, but also a trade elsewhere (and soon). Both still seem in the cards - just keep a close eye. As for the current state of Chicago's top line, Max Domi is centering Tyler Johnson and AHL call-up Lukas Reichel. Selected 17th overall in 2020, Reichel has promise, but still likely needs some seasoning after playing only 11 games in 2021-22, and one thus far this season.

Around the NHL

  • The Boston Bruins will have to make do without Jake DeBrusk for four weeks, as the winger deals with a lower-body injury. Early stages of this post-DeBrusk era sees Taylor Hall join a scoring unit with David Krejci and Pavel Zacha, while David Pastrnak fills the void in question alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Great news for Hall (79.3%) and his fantasy managers, a little less so for Krejci, who's been successfully feeding Pastrnak (65.8%) pucks all season. Hall also fills in full-time for DeBrusk on the Bruins' top power play.

  • Judging from Thursday's practice lines and power play units, Nikolaj Ehlers (68.1%), Blake Wheeler (63.5%), and rookie Cole Perfetti (10.8%) are all expected back healthy - returning to the top-six - on Friday. Great news for the Winnipeg Jets and invested fantasy managers alike.