Dealing with injuries is one of the game's greatest challenges for any fantasy manager - a test frequently racked with uncertainty. In that view, one month into the 2023-24 campaign, here's a roundup of several significant fantasy performers who are either on the edge of return, or will remain on the injured shelf for some time yet. And how we should address the fallout with respect to our own fantasy hockey depth charts.
Patrik Laine (concussion), F, Columbus Blue Jackets (Rostered in 67.9% of leagues): After skating three days in a row, Laine appears a couple/few solid team practices away from re-joining his team in game action. So not Thursday against Dallas, and probably not in Detroit or New York over the weekend, but maybe next Tuesday, back home, versus the Penguins?
Goodness knows the Blue Jackets - averaging only 2.67 goals/game - could use the extra scoring pop. At his best, although admittedly through stretches thick and thin, Laine is a point/game player in Columbus. He also likes to shoot the puck a-plenty. There's little question, when healthy, the top-line winger should be rostered across the board in all but the shallowest of ESPN.com standard leagues. Give the wire a looksee to see if he's available in yours.
Nico Hischier (concussion), F, New Jersey Devils (87.6%) Earlier this month, we learned Hischier would not travel with the team on their early-November, four-game road trip, and while we haven't heard anything all that definitive about the center's potential comeback since, the Devils are back home to face the Capitals on Friday.
"With Nico, you know what, he's on his timeframe," GM Tom Fitzgerald recently said. "We're just going to let him go about his business, and when he's ready, he'll tell us." Once rearing to go, he'll take over as top center on a competitive team that still has to manage without Jack Hughes for a while. That's well worth waiting for, knowing the 24-year-old sports robust point/game potential.
Brandon Montour (shoulder injury) and Aaron Ekblad (shoulder injury), D, Florida Panthers (87.7%/50.3%): Currently in a playoff spot, 7-2-1 through their last 10, the Panthers will soon benefit from having their two best defensemen back in the lineup for the first time this season. Confirming that both are "absolutely on time" in their recovery, coach Paul Maurice suggested they could return within the next couple of weeks. How about when the club sashays back from the west coast to host the Oilers on Nov. 20 (if not earlier)?
While Montour is probably unavailable in your league following last season's explosive showing, Ekblad could be. Remember, the No. 1 draft selection (2014) scored 38 points in 71 games this past season, and that was considered a big disappointment. If you need a blue-line boost, snatch him up before he does play and impresses all those fantasy managers paying less attention now. Also, keep in mind, Florida is a better squad all around with these two in the lineup. Which bodes promisingly for No. 1 netminder, Sergei Bobrovsky (57.4%).
Jared Spurgeon (upper-body injury), D, Minnesota Wild (55.8%) The Wild now hint that Spurgeon could make his season debut at home to the Stars on Sunday. Which, considering the current state of on-ice affairs in Minnesota, is not a moment too soon. A jack-of-all-fantasy-trades, Spurgeon contributes to the scoresheet, fires enough pucks on net, blocks a good number of shots, and logs considerable minutes. A prominent role on Minnesota's power play - undoubtedly in consideration following Calen Addison's trade to San Jose - should also result in a bump in Spurgeon's special teams' production.
Not the flashiest of fantasy assets, he just gets the job done. Swap him in for any defender not averaging, or capable of averaging, at least 2.0 fantasy points/contest.
Andrei Vasilevskiy (back injury), G, Tampa Bay Lightning (92.4%) American Thanksgiving. Two weeks from today. That's when we're to expect Vasilevskiy back between the pipes for the Lightning. Those of you relying on Jonas Johansson (65.2%) might start thinking about taking a new path now. The perennial part-timer won't play much post-feast unless Tampa's No. 1 suffers a setback. Lest you've had Vasilevskiy stashed on IR this whole time, in which case, as you were.
It could be a while
Frederik Andersen (blood clots), G, Carolina Hurricanes (54.7%): While everyone seems optimistic about Andersen making a full recovery eventually, nobody is pushing matters here. He could be out quite a while, and sensibly so. Leaving Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov to manage the Hurricanes' net for the foreseeable future. That is, if the club doesn't fully engage with Jaroslav Halak, currently signed to a PTO.
If he could stay healthy for any considerable length of time, Raanta would already be assigned to my own fantasy roster. But history tells us the 34-year-old is bound to fall hurt at some point - it's only a matter of when. If the NHL collective thought Halak still had the wherewithal to win more games than not, he'd be signed with a club already. That leaves Kochetkov, for now, who was lousy to launch Carolina's season, but has been spectacular in the AHL since. Unless the 'Canes bring in another body from the outside, the 24-year-old is my top fantasy choice, looking ahead to the season as a whole. As a streaming option, Raanta holds appeal as long as he's fit.
Adam Fox (lower-body injury), D, New York Rangers (99.6%): On the upside, coach Peter Laviolette isn't characterizing Fox's projected absence by a measurement of months, as in plural. Which tells us the elite defenseman could be back in action in a matter of weeks. Maybe early December? Soon enough to ride it out, regardless of your number of IR spots. Fox has too much to offer to let loose altogether. In the meanwhile consider streaming Rangers' blueliner Erik Gustafsson (10.9%), who's kicking in more production by way of seeing more valuable minutes, particularly on New York's top power play.
Jack Hughes (shoulder injury), F, New Jersey Devils (99.6%): He's back when he's back. As with Fox, it's not like you're going to dump the elite player/fantasy asset, no matter the number of available IR spots. So take some consolation in that the Devils are sticking with "week-to-week" language and not "month-to-month", forecasting a return in late November/early December. At which point, Hughes could continue to near his torrid 3.6 fantasy points/game pace in ESPN.com standard leagues. Stream wisely in the meanwhile.
Logan Couture (lower-body injury), F, San Jose Sharks (44.6%): The Sharks' captain is still considered week-to-week, off the ice once more, having suffered a recent setback. Unless you have an abundance of IR spots, rostering Couture, with no concrete timeline on the horizon, doesn't make good sense. But if you do, by all means, stash him. The 34-year-old earned 27 goals and 40 assists just this past season, and could kick that pace up a notch if, as rumored, he's traded elsewhere before early March.
The Ottawa Senators' blue line: Both Artem Zub and Eric Brannstrom are due back any day now. Thomas Chabot (fractured hand) is still another two to four weeks away. But if you've retained Sens' No. 1 Joonas Korpisalo while Ottawa has been without three of their top-six defenders, might as well ride it out until they return. It's not like the Senators will be worse defensively once they have their more prominent figures back in action.