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Thursday, November 21, 2013
Impact of the Canadiens' shuffle

By Victoria Matiash
ESPN.com

Canadiens
Max Pacioretty (No. 67), David Desharnais (51) and Brendan Gallagher (11) are back together.

All that's old is new -- and looking mighty fine -- again in Montreal. Hoping to inspire underperforming forwards Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais, Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien has reunited the two with last season's linemate Brendan Gallagher.

Mission accomplished!

The reassembled trio combined for three goals and four assists in Tuesday's 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild. We can guess the primary factor preventing Therrien from making this shift earlier was the effective play of the Gallagher-Lars Eller-Alex Galchenyuk unit. But now that the P-D-G combo has erupted so delightfully, Therrien has little choice but to stick with it. And the fantasy repercussions are well worth examining.

While Gallagher is nearly universally spoken for across the fantasy horizon, Pacioretty (owned in 88 percent of ESPN.com leagues) can still be attained with the click of the mouse for a handful of owners. Otherwise, this might be the ideal time to target the dynamic winger via trade request. After all, some will dismiss Tuesday's three-goal performance as a flash-in-the-pan act from an otherwise struggling former star.

That's not how we see it. Finishing at the top of the Canadiens' scoring table in two straight seasons doesn't happen by accident. If Pacioretty is healthy -- and all seems OK after several games were lost to a hamstring injury -- he has the aptitude to score 35 goals and 35 assists in a full season. The shot-happy 25-year-old still has plenty of time to make a whole lotta noise for the Habs in 2013-14, especially now that his spark has been lit.

No one benefits more from this arrangement than Desharnais (owned in 1 percent of ESPN.com leagues). The 27-year-old center has floundered so badly (one assist in 19 games before Tuesday night), even Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has publicly called for his relegation to the minors. However, Desharnais has jelled nicely with Pacioretty since their days with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs. And when Pacioretty is tuned in, so is his centerman. The Quebec native's combined numbers from 2011-12 and 2013 (88 points in 129 games) provide all the evidence required in that regard.

If you need to fill a void on your roster, Desharnais is a solid option, particularly now that his early-season fumblings have (hopefully) come to an end.

Trending up

Carl Soderberg, C, Boston Bruins (owned in fewer than 1 percent of ESPN.com leagues): While his spot on a regular forward line with Reilly Smith and Chris Kelly shouldn't strike your fantasy fancy much, Soderberg's role on the Bruins' power-play unit accompanying the likes of Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron should. What's more, coach Claude Julien feels the big, 28-year-old Swede is finally "coming around" this campaign, his first genuine NHL season.

Teddy Purcell
If Teddy Purcell gets a top-line assignment, we'll likely see him celebrating more goals soon.

Teddy Purcell, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning (owned in 69 percent of ESPN.com leagues): There's word, compliments of Tampa Tribune reporter Erik Erlendsson, that coach Jon Cooper is toying with the idea of playing Purcell on a top line with Martin St. Louis and Valtteri Filppula. If so, Purcell would average more than his usual 15-16 minutes per game and likely add to his 12 points on the season in a hurry.

Jeff Skinner, LW, Carolina Hurricanes (owned in 61 percent of ESPN.com leagues): After missing almost a month with an upper-body injury, Skinner appears nearly ready to return to the lineup. With Alexander Semin out indefinitely (concussion), the former Calder Trophy winner's presence as a potential top-line skater will be cherished even more. After averaging nearly a point per game before his injury, Skinner should be owned in the overwhelming majority of fantasy hockey leagues. (Update: ESPN.com's Craig Custance reports Skinner is active and set to skate on a line with Eric Staal on Thursday versus the Detroit Red Wings.)

Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Edmonton Oilers (owned in 11 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Hey, there's no time like the present to add Bryzgalov if you believe he has the wherewithal to put his best pad forward in Edmonton. After a short stint in the AHL, the former Flyer/Coyote/Duck is poised to make his first start for the Oilers, sooner rather than later. Obviously this funky fella won't suit every fantasy owner's palate, but those who are hurting in the netminding department could do worse. Underneath the media clown layers lies a pretty good goaltender. If he can focus on his game, Bryzgalov has the goods to not only steal the regular starter's gig from Devan Dubnyk but keep a developing Oilers squad in most games.

Alex Burrows, RW, Vancouver Canucks (owned in 64 percent of ESPN.com leagues): If Burrows sticks on a Canucks top line with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin, his fantasy value inflates considerably. But we're not convinced coach John Tortorella is fully committed to that arrangement. Friday's contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets will offer further insight.

Trending down

Mason Raymond, LW/RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (owned in 97 percent of ESPN.com leagues): True, he's riding a hot streak of five points in four games, but that flurry isn't likely to last. Not when the Maple Leafs' gaggle of top-six wingers -- including Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson -- are all in good health and ample active centermen are around to fill the gaps. Skating on a third line with Nikolai Kulemin and Peter Holland (or Trevor Smith ... whatever) doesn't offer Raymond the same opportunities to score. As well as the 28-year-old speedster has played this season, a dip in average time on ice and production feels inevitable. At least until coach Randy Carlyle gives his lines another good shuffling.

Tommy Wingels, C/RW, San Jose Sharks (owned in 33 percent of ESPN.com leagues): With Brent Burns (mouth) due back any game now, Wingels is already playing on borrowed time on the Sharks' top line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. Owners in most leagues should prepare themselves to cut the 25-year-old loose.

Carl Hagelin, LW, New York Rangers (owned in 46 percent of ESPN.com leagues): As anticipated, the domino effect unleashed by the return of Rick Nash is resulting in Hagelin's demotion from the realm of top-six forwards in New York. Until another prominent forward is hurt or flounders, Hagelin seems destined to skate alongside the likes of Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard.

Cory Conacher, LW, Ottawa Senators (owned in 13 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Playing on a Senators line with Chris Neil (or Mika Zibanejad) and Zack Smith isn't equal to skating with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. And that's why Conacher isn't the same promising fantasy gem he was a week ago.

Short-term substitutes

Kris Versteeg
Kris Versteeg has a goal and two assists in three games since being acquired by Chicago.

Kris Versteeg, RW, Chicago Blackhawks (owned in 33 percent of ESPN.com leagues): As long as Marian Hossa (lower-body injury) remains out of the lineup, Versteeg appears penciled in as a top-six forward with the Blackhawks. That assignment, along with the natural high brought on by jettisoning the floundering Florida Panthers for a top contender, adds additional spring to the 27-year-old winger's scoring step. Just keep a close watch on what transpires once Hossa returns. It should be soon.

Gustav Nyquist, RW, Detroit Red Wings (owned in fewer than 1 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Unless Mike Babcock is looking to seriously fake us all out, Nyquist will make his season debut on a line with Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen against the Hurricanes. The 24-year-old winger is also expected to see minutes on the power play. As reported by MLive.com's Ansar Khan, Nyquist's performance during Thursday's tilt will go a long way in defining his immediate fate with the NHL squad:

"The Red Wings said they will determine after the game whether Nyquist returns to Grand Rapids or stays. Once he plays two more NHL games, he will lose his waiver-exempt status. In that case, he would be here to stay."

Keep in mind, this young lad averaged a point per game in his last two seasons with Grand Rapids. AHL or not, that consistency is admirable. And the Red Wings have been eager to clear the necessary cap space to promote Nyquist this season (and finally did so by placing D Danny DeKeyser on long-term injured reserve). As a dark-horse fantasy asset, the diminutive Swede is worth watching.

Tyson Barrie, D, Colorado Avalanche (owned in 28 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Another chapter from the ongoing "let's give the young blue-line talent a look" periodic trials is unfolding in Colorado. After being recalled (once again) from Lake Erie, Barrie registered two assists and played nearly 19 minutes during Tuesday's 5-1 win over the Blackhawks. One of these days, the 22-year-old will stick in the NHL for good. Until then, Barrie can only be relied upon intermittently. And now is one of those times.