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Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Open Ice: Replacing injured stars

By Sean Allen
Special to ESPN.com

Ryan Johansen
Ryan Johansen has a great opportunity to produce while Marian Gaborik is out.

Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Alexander Semin, Brent Burns, Marian Hossa, Matt Duchene, Jeff Carter, Thomas Vanek, Steven Stamkos...

The current list of injured forwards reads as a bit of a "who's who" in the world of fantasy hockey. The nine players listed here on one roster at the start of the season would have been enough to consider yourself a lock for the top spot in your league. It can be tough to deal with, especially if you have to start eating up bench spots with injured players.

But there is always someone else waiting to step up in the place of a hurting star. Whether it's Ryan Johansen with the Columbus Blue Jackets or Kris Versteeg ready to step into a new role with the Chicago Blackhawks or Tyler Toffoli playing great as a top-six forward for the Los Angeles Kings, you can be sure there will be fantasy value created by the absence of a star player.

In the case of Gaborik, Johansen and the Jackets, you should definitely have a look. Johansen cracked our top 200 rankings on Oct. 22, and stayed there for two weeks before being bumped out. But with Gaborik out for a declared four to six weeks, it's time to strongly consider Johansen as a fill-in option. Definitely a post-hype prospect now, Johansen was considered one of the game's top up-and-coming talents as little as two years ago, and he'll play on the top line with Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson while Gaborik is gone. Johansen is a candidate to break out and stay broken out once Gaborik returns, too.

Versteeg has minimal room for error with the Blackhawks, but so long as he is performing, he will play a key role. On a line with Patrick Kane and Brandon Pirri for now, there is some risk to owning Versteeg once Marian Hossa returns from injury. The Hawks have seven forwards worthy of a top-six role, so decisions will have to be made and Versteeg is the new kid in town. That said, the potential is painfully obvious in the meantime. Versteeg has three points in two games since his reunion with the Hawks.

Toffoli has been quietly and consistently producing on a line with Mike Richards since Carter was injured. With eight points in seven games, Toffoli is showing off his true potential as a scoring line winger in the NHL, and has a very good shot at keeping the role once Carter returns. Dwight King, who doesn't produce for fantasy, is currently the third member of the line, and will likely head to the bottom six so the Kings can keep Toffoli around. Frankly, Toffoli is giving the team the wake-up call it should have heeded during training camp, that he is ready to contribute.

The Top 200

Note: Sean Allen's top 200 players are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice for skaters, and wins, goals-against average and save percentage for goalies. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Alex Ovechkin, F, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, F, Pit (2)
3. Tuukka Rask, G, Bos (3)
4. John Tavares, F, NYI (4)
5. Henrik Zetterberg, F, Det (5)
6. Corey Perry, F, Ana (6)
7. Phil Kessel, F, Tor (7)
8. P.K. Subban, D, Mon (8)
9. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (9)
10. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Det (10)
11. Erik Karlsson, D, Ott (15)
12. Daniel Sedin, F, Van (11)
13. Henrik Sedin, F, Van (12)
14. Patrick Kane, F, Chi (13)
15. Evgeni Malkin, F, Pit (14)
16. Jonathan Toews, F, Chi (16)
17. Carey Price, G, Mon (17)
18. Chris Kunitz, F, Pit (18)
19. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit (19)
20. Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ana (20)
21. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Wpg (21)
22. Tyler Seguin, F, Dal (22)
23. Josh Harding, G, Min (48)
24. Zach Parise, F, Min (23)
25. Logan Couture, F, SJ (24)
26. Nicklas Backstrom, F, Was (25)
27. Kris Letang, D, Pit (26)
28. Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (29)
29. Antti Niemi, G, SJ (28)
30. Patrick Sharp, F, Chi (42)
31. Corey Crawford, G, Chi (31)
32. David Backes, F, StL (36)
33. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Pho (40)
34. Drew Doughty, D, LA (37)
35. Ryan Suter, D, Min (33)
36. Martin St. Louis, F, TB (38)
37. Patrick Marleau, F, SJ (39)
38. Semyon Varlamov, G, Col (34)
39. Bobby Ryan, F, Ott (41)
40. Alexander Steen, F, StL (45)
41. Taylor Hall, F, Edm (32)
42. James van Riemsdyk, F, Tor (43)
43. Shea Weber, D, Nsh (35)
44. Roberto Luongo, G, Van (44)
45. Matt Duchene, F, Col (30)
46. Alex Pietrangelo, D, StL (57)
47. Jamie Benn, F, Dal (49)
48. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Cls (53)
49. James Neal, F, Pit (47)
50. Evander Kane, F, Wpg (27)
51. Joe Thornton, F, SJ (50)
52. Joe Pavelski, F, SJ (59)
53. Rick Nash, F, NYR (135)
54. Marian Hossa, F, Chi (51)
55. Eric Staal, F, Car (60)
56. Thomas Vanek, F, NYI (54)
57. Jaroslav Halak, G, StL (55)
58. Claude Giroux, F, Phi (56)
59. Jason Spezza, F, Ott (52)
60. Niklas Kronwall, D, Det (58)
61. Jonathan Bernier, G, Tor (71)
62. Andrei Markov, D, Mon (62)
63. Matt Moulson, F, Buf (63)
64. Duncan Keith, D, Chi (75)
65. Ryan Kesler, F, Van (65)
66. Dustin Brown, F, LA (66)
67. Kari Lehtonen, G, Dal (120)
68. Nazem Kadri, F, Tor (68)
69. Gabriel Landeskog, F, Col (84)
70. Mikko Koivu, F, Min (70)
71. Keith Yandle, D, Pho (77)
72. Craig Anderson, G, Ott (64)
73. David Krejci, F, Bos (72)
74. Joffrey Lupul, F, Tor (73)
75. Justin Williams, F, LA (82)
76. Jimmy Howard, G, Det (74)
77. Brad Richards, F, NYR (92)
78. Jordan Eberle, F, Edm (76)
79. Max Pacioretty, F, Mon (69)
80. Radim Vrbata, F, Pho (79)
81. Kyle Okposo, F, NYI (80)
82. Braden Holtby, G, Was (96)
83. Alexander Semin, F, Car (81)
84. Dion Phaneuf, D, Tor (78)
85. Jason Pominville, F, Min (85)
86. Dennis Wideman, D, Cgy (86)
87. Andrew Ladd, F, Wpg (87)
88. Tobias Enstrom, D, Wpg (88)
89. Kyle Turris, F, Ott (89)
90. Jarome Iginla, F, Bos (90)
91. James Wisniewski, D, Cls (116)
92. Mike Smith, G, Pho (99)
93. Patrice Bergeron, F, Bos (91)
94. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, Edm (83)
95. T.J. Oshie, F, StL (106)
96. Milan Lucic, F, Bos (93)
97. Zdeno Chara, D, Bos (97)
98. Ryan O'Reilly, F, Col (98)
99. Mike Green, D, Was (61)
100. Jay Bouwmeester, D, StL (165)
101. Torey Krug, D, Bos (100)
102. Johan Franzen, F, Det (101)
103. Jaromir Jagr, F, NJ (122)
104. Cody Franson, D, Tor (95)
105. Mike Ribeiro, F, Pho (103)
106. Derek Stepan, F, NYR (104)
107. Brian Campbell, D, Fla (105)
108. Frans Nielsen, F, NYI (126)
109. Bryan Little, F, Wpg (124)
110. Pascal Dupuis, F, Pit (94)
111. Cam Ward, G, Car (157)
112. Mike Richards, F, LA (108)
113. Tomas Fleischmann, F, Fla (109)
114. Shane Doan, F, Pho (139)
115. Blake Wheeler, F, Wpg (110)
116. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, StL (140)
117. Jonas Hiller, G, Ana (125)
118. David Perron, F, Edm (111)
119. Jakub Voracek, F, Phi (112)
120. Cory Schneider, G, NJ (114)
121. Kevin Bieksa, D, Van (166)
122. Tomas Hertl, F, SJ (115)
123. Brandon Dubinsky, F, Cls (102)
124. Steve Downie, F, Phi (138)
125. Dan Boyle, D, SJ (117)
126. Ryan Callahan, F, NYR (118)
127. Sam Gagner, F, Edm (107)
128. Tomas Plekanec, F, Mon (121)
129. Jiri Hudler, F, Cgy (123)
130. Martin Hanzal, F, Pho (156)
131. Brent Burns, F, SJ (119)
132. Robin Lehner, G, Ott (131)
133. Paul Stastny, F, Col (151)
134. Loui Eriksson, F, Bos (127)
135. Brent Seabrook, D, Chi (163)
136. P.A. Parenteau, F, Col (128)
137. Scott Hartnell, F, Phi (129)
138. Jeff Skinner, F, Car (134)
139. Brad Marchand, F, Bos (130)
140. Erik Johnson, D, Col (150)
141. Brendan Gallagher, F, Mon (132)
142. Ben Bishop, G, TB (133)
143. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (46)
144. Martin Brodeur, G, NJ (178)
145. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Det (137)
146. Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ (141)
147. Patrik Elias, F, NJ (142)
148. Alexander Edler, D, Van (144)
149. Clarke MacArthur, F, Ott (145)
150. Pekka Rinne, G, Nsh (149)
151. Alex Galchenyuk, F, Mon (146)
152. Lars Eller, F, Mon (155)
153. Mike Cammalleri, F, Cgy (147)
154. Alex Burrows, F, Van (136)
155. Mikhail Grabovski, F, Was (154)
156. Cody Hodgson, F, Buf (152)
157. Jason Garrison, D, Van (153)
158. Cam Fowler, D, Ana (185)
159. Brandon Saad, F, Chi (143)
160. Teddy Purcell, F, TB (148)
161. Jussi Jokinen, F, Pit (158)
162. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Col (162)
163. Jack Johnson, D, Cls (159)
164. Justin Schultz, D, Edm (160)
165. Matt Carle, D, TB (161)
166. Jeff Carter, F, LA (113)
167. James Reimer, G, Tor (175)
168. Radko Gudas, D, TB (164)
169. Jiri Tlusty, F, Car (167)
170. Ben Scrivens, G, LA (397)
171. Patric Hornqvist, F, Nsh (NR)
172. Alex Killorn, F, TB (168)
173. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, Col (169)
174. Marcus Johansson, F, Was (171)
175. Seth Jones, D, Nsh (172)
176. Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dal (NR)
177. Mikael Granlund, F, Min (177)
178. Kris Versteeg, F, Chi (NR)
179. Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Edm (199)
180. Vincent Lecavalier, F, Phi (180)
181. Justin Faulk, D, Car (182)
182. Viktor Fasth, G, Ana (NR)
183. Milan Michalek, F, Ott (170)
184. Sean Monahan, F, Cgy (184)
185. Brandon Pirri, F, Chi (NR)
186. Ryan Johansen, F, Cls (NR)
187. Kris Russell, D, Cgy (189)
188. Steve Mason, G, Phi (190)
189. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Wpg (NR)
190. Valtteri Filppula, F, TB (NR)
191. Alex Chiasson, F, Dal (192)
192. Tyler Bozak, F, Tor (NR)
193. John Carlson, D, Was (NR)
194. Francois Beauchemin, D, Ana (194)
195. Antoine Vermette, F, Pho (195)
196. Charlie Coyle, F, Min (196)
197. Slava Voynov, D, LA (NR)
198. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D, SJ (198)
199. Mason Raymond, F, Tor (NR)
200. Tim Thomas, G, Fla (NR)

Although Duchene's injury is thought to be of the short-term variety, Nathan MacKinnon may get a chance to increase his value in the eyes of coach Patrick Roy during the absence. MacKinnon is a likely candidate -- although so is Paul Stastny or Gabriel Landeskog -- to permanently move to the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and P.A. Parenteau. Watch the shuffling over the next few games, as it could mean more ice time for MacKinnon.

Stamkos' leg surgery reportedly went well, but involved a metal rod in his leg. We have to think that might mean the longer side of the three-to-six month timetable that is being tossed around by reporters. Brett Connolly is getting the latest shot on the Tampa Bay Lightning top line with Martin St. Louis and Alex Killorn. But that may not last. Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov are still scoring in the AHL. Just saying.

If Vanek's injury continues to drag on, Brock Nelson may actually have some real short-term value. But without a timetable for Vanek, you just know he will come back the second you make a move on Brock. Semin's absence provides a similar window of opportunity for Tuomo Ruutu to enamor himself to coach Kirk Muller. And so long as Burns remains out, Tommy Wingels is worth owning, but it's always tough to act without that return timetable.

Finally, Rick Nash could be back on Tuesday. The Rangers aren't going to bust up the line of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, which has been one of the few positives with Nash gone. That means either Ryan Callahan or Carl Hagelin is out of the top six to make room for Nash to join Brad Richards. And logic would dictate that it's probably Hagelin that will be relegated to the third line. While we have to acknowledge that Hagelin scored a flurry of points when he returned to health this season, it was more of a case of him being in the right place at the right time. He is not an offensive catalyst, but rather a solid supporting cast member. That said, if it's Callahan that goes to the bottom six, you'll want a piece of the Hagelin pie. Solid supporting cast members tend to perform well with players like Nash.

Forwards rising and falling

Patrick Sharp, F, Chicago Blackhawks (up 12 spots to No. 30): The last time Sharp had a healthy season he finished among the top 10 fantasy forwards, and that was only two seasons ago. Sharp is currently on fire, and reminding us of the player he was in 2011-12. On pace for a career high in shots on goal and plus/minus, Sharp may even be trying to outperform his former self. On the top line with star centerman Jonathan Toews and (when healthy) Marian Hossa, there is no reason to think Sharp can't keep doing what he is doing. Remember, it was a broken elbow, not a nagging hockey injury, that cut his season short in 2013. And his prorated numbers from that campaign support the case that he is an elite player. While we've moved Sharp into our top 30 overall and top 20 among forwards, the rise may not be complete.

Pascal Dupuis, F, Pittsburgh Penguins (down 16 spots to No. 110): Even the fact coach Dan Bylsma is considering Dupuis on a line other than Sidney Crosby's would be enough to plummet his value. While Evgeni Malkin and James Neal are a solid enough consolation prize, Dupuis will spiral down the depth chart without Crosby at his side. Beau Bennett may not stick with Crosby and Chris Kunitz long term, but Dupuis was in trouble the second that line experiments started happening. The Penguins also boast Jussi Jokinen, who will be pushing for top-six ice time. To be clear, Dupuis needs to be on the top line to generate his "star by association" value. Keep a close eye on his role during the coming games, as it may be time to sell.

Jaromir Jagr, F, New Jersey Devils (up 19 spots to No. 103): It was inevitable that Jagr would eventually find a way to start putting up points. In his past 13 games, Jagr has 13 points; in his past four games, he has three goals and five points. Currently playing with Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus, Jagr may even be doing enough to bring both of those players back from the land of the fantasy dead. With no other line scoring for the Devils, this trio should continue to get a chance to shoulder the load.

Defensemen rising and falling

Mike Green, D, Washington Capitals (down 38 spots to No. 99): The way John Carlson has so casually stepped up in Green's absence is the biggest concern. In the past three games, Carlson has two goals, four points and a plus-6 rating (Green is minus-6 for the season). While Green has been getting the lion's share of power-play time so far this season, missed time with a lower-body injury has allowed Carlson to swoop in and usurp Green's role going forward. Do not be surprised to see Carlson manning the man-advantage blue line even after Green returns.

Jay Bouwmeester, D, St. Louis Blues (up 65 spots to No. 100): Yes, this is that Jay Bouwmeester that we thought went to the Calgary Flames to meander into oblivion, in the eyes of fantasy owners. But get over it. He is playing with one of the best defensemen in the league at even strength in Alex Pietrangelo, and that alone is enough for him to keep up his hot start to the season. Currently on pace for 65 points, there will be some dry spells, but not as many as you think. Bouwmeester may set some new career highs this season, even factoring for some eventual regression.

Goaltenders rising and falling

Kari Lehtonen, G, Dallas Stars (up 53 spots to No. 67): When it comes to fantasy goaltending, playing behind a winning team is a third of the battle. Quite literally. We play a game that tracks three goaltending statistics, and one of them is completely contingent on the team's offense scoring enough goals to win the game based on the goalie's ratios. While 33 percent of the value may be almost completely out of the goaltender's hands, we still have to react to and track that metric. It's why Mike Smith, despite lackluster ratios, remains solidly in the top 100 players in the rankings. It's also why Lehtonen makes the jump this week.

A better goaltender for ratios than Smith and, frankly, a long list of NHL starters, Lehtonen just wasn't getting the wins from his team. But now back from an early-season injury and behind a team that is winning more often than not, Lehtonen is poised for a strong fantasy campaign. As the 13th ranked goaltender in the list, Lehtonen is just a hair below No. 1 fantasy goaltender value here, but we expect him to rise further as the Stars' offense gets more pieces going.

Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes (up 46 spots to No. 111): He is a starting goaltender who doesn't have a history of frequently allowing more than three goals. That may be enough for you, the way that the fantasy goaltending realm is shaping up this season (what with undrafted backups earning all the NHL's stars of the week). Ward will win games, will keep his goals-against average under 3.00 with a respectable save percentage. He is an adequate No. 2 fantasy goaltender that was dropped in a number of leagues.

Now, if you need more than a No. 2 goaltender to help you -- and need to take a long shot for big upside -- skip past Ward and scoop up his backup. Anton Khudobin is working his way back from an ankle injury and, if you'll recall, was creating a mild goaltender controversy in the Hurricanes' crease before both he and Ward were injured. Khudobin, if he could wrest away the starter's job, has the same upside for wins as Ward, but with a chance for much stronger ratios. Of course, stealing away Ward's job is a huge mountain to climb. But, hey, you wanted a long shot.

Quick hits

• Ted Nolan hasn't had enough time to implement much with the Buffalo Sabres yet, but he has discussed making some wholesale changes by sending some younger players to the minors for more development. While those younger players such as Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons shouldn't be a part of your roster, you may want to look at who replaces them. Already with a strong NHL resume when he debuted on a line with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville in the 2011-12 season, Luke Adam currently is tied for the AHL goal-scoring lead with Kucherov.

• Go take a hard look in the mirror and repeat the phrase, "Dustin Penner leads the NHL in plus/minus." Maybe if you see yourself saying the words, it will stick. He is still available in many leagues, and still playing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

• Either the Dallas Stars' coaching staff reads ESPN.com's fantasy content, or it was a more obvious call then we thought at the time, but things have gone swimmingly for Valeri Nichushkin since the pre-emptive recommendation to pick him up the morning of Nov. 1 in the Fantasy Forecaster. Six of his eight points have come in the past seven games, and he has a plus-9 rating since then. Playing with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn has been just as beneficial as we hoped it would be for the rookie.

Johan Franzen has looked great since returning to the lineup for the Detroit Red Wings. You won't find Franzen available in many leagues, but Tomas Tatar has two assists since joining Franzen's line. Tatar is likely bumped by the return of Daniel Alfredsson in a week, but maybe not. He is a talented young player looking for a chance to shed his AHL label.

Radim Vrbata's return to the Phoenix Coyotes lineup not only means he should be back in your fantasy roster, it also means Martin Hanzal should be, too.

• Slowly but surely, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell are remembering their potential. The buy-low window is closing quickly. Please remember that buying low on Voracek or Hartnell would be much wiser, as the high cost for Giroux would make that move more risky.