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Sometimes in fantasy hockey you attempt to use a free agent to replace an injured player, but the production just isn't there. You end up being forced to trade from another area (forward, defense, goaltending) to get a suitable replacement.
Such can be the case in the NHL, as well. With top-scoring forward Chris Stewart busting his hand and expected to miss a month of hockey, the Colorado Avalanche tried to turn to rookie Kevin Porter to help bolster the top line of offense. But, in the end, the team traded for Washington Capitals top-six forward Tomas Fleischmann. All he cost was veteran blueliner Scott Hannan and Hannan was somewhat irrelevant after the Avalanche acquired Matt Hunwick earlier in the week in a trade with the Boston Bruins.
Back to the point, which is Fleischmann. Here is a guy who has been stuck as a No. 6 forward on an incredibly talented team, yet still found a way to produce some points. Admittedly, this season has not been a shining example of Fleischmann's ability, as he has but 10 points in 23 games. But one needs to look no further than last season when Fleischmann posted 51 points in 69 games for the Caps. On a point-per-game basis, Fleischmann was easily a top-100 NHL player last season. His points per game were better than Danny Briere, James Neal and even new teammate Matt Duchene.
He has pedigree, too. Fleischmann was a standout in his one WHL season with the Moose Jaw Warriors with 75 points in 60 games and a plus-28. Two seasons later, as an AHL sophomore, he led the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup championship with 32 playoff points in just 20 games. Shortly thereafter, he established his role as an NHL forward. Unfortunately for Fleischmann, he landed in one of the few NHL franchises in which he would never get a shot at being a top-line forward no matter what he did; three guys named Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin would make sure of that.
But now, here he is with the Avalanche that currently have a gaping hole next to Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk on the top line. There is little doubt Fleischmann has until the end of December (when Stewart is due back) to prove he can be a top-line NHL forward. Fleischmann is available in about 75 percent of ESPN leagues, but that gap should close quickly as his Friday debut approaches.
The Avalanche are looking at in interesting first full week ahead with Fleischmann in the lineup that could simply be dubbed the Southeast Division week. The Avs are in for games against the Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers and (a quick homecoming for Fleischmann) the Washington Capitals. Look to some of the other offensive stars that have turned a corner lately for the Avs.
Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche: Duchene was getting a lot less love when he had nine points in 12 games to open the season. Not exactly a sophomore slump, but not exactly a step forward. After tearing off 13 points over his next 12 games, Duchene is now at a level that is garnering a little more respect. And thus, his linemate deserves a look. David Jones has been a model star by association since Duchene picked up his game. Going back 12 games, Jones has played in 10 of them and scored 10 points. While Duchene may be universally owned in ESPN fantasy leagues, Jones is available in half of them. The third member of the line changes on occasion, but Greg Mauldin has the inside track. While not as exciting as Jones, Mauldin does have seven points in 10 games this season thanks to a four-point outburst against the Minnesota Wild. Keep your eye on him.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Colorado Avalanche: In our fantasy hockey draft kit for this season I said of Shattenkirk, "The biggest stumbling block will be the transition straight from college hockey to the NHL, but that always goes a bit smoother for defensemen than it does for forwards." Apparently that transition takes six games. I also said, "He could easily skip past every other defender on the depth chart if he can prove he is ready for the NHL." Done and done. John-Michael Liles may still have him bested for the season, but if you count only the games since Shattenkirk started lighting the lamp, his 10 points beat Liles' seven. Act now (while he is available in 30 percent of ESPN leagues) or forever hold your peace.
Detroit rock city: The Detroit Red Wings have the best schedule next week on the Forecaster, including three games at home. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are already riding hot streaks with a combined 18 points in the past seven games. (Quick aside: How much longer can Tomas Holmstrom continue to not produce and stay on this line? He has two points over that same span while his linemates, off and on the power play, have 18. Wow.) Despite now being without Mike Modano for the bulk of the remaining season (wrist injury), Daniel Cleary is doing his best to remain useful to fantasy owners who rode his hot streak. Now with Justin Abdelkader and Jiri Hudler as linemates, Cleary continues to score and is still an option in more than 50 percent of ESPN leagues. If you are in a deeper league, go ahead and start Abdelkader for the coming week, too.
Ducks to get new wing: After nearly a year since he last played in the NHL, Joffrey Lupul is almost ready to complicate the Anaheim Ducks' top six. It could happen during the current Forecaster schedule. In returning from a blood infection, Lupul is currently on a conditioning stint in the AHL. Once back with the big club, the Ducks will have to decide between Lupul and Jason Blake as their sixth forward. While Blake provides some peripheral value for leagues that use shots as a category, Lupul has better overall upside. The downside for fantasy owners could be Bobby Ryan shifting to the second line to better spread out the offense. Not a terrible thing for his overall numbers, but working with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is preferable to Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne.
Wild west: The Minnesota Wild have a three-game road swing through the Pacific Division on this coming Forecaster, and while the ratings for the week don't stand off the page, this could be a very telling week for the Wild's fantasy value. Not only are the Phoenix Coyotes (lately), Los Angeles Kings (not so much lately) and Anaheim Ducks stiff tests for any team, but the internal shuffle for fantasy value is hitting a boiling point. I just wrote about Patrick O'Sullivan's Wild debut this week and he continues to take a lot of shots and has three points in five games, but now another offensively gifted teammate has returned. Pierre-Marc Bouchard returned from a 14-month bout with post-concussion syndrome and by the end of Wednesday's game was showing chemistry on a line with the red-hot Martin Havlat and Kyle Brodziak (Havlat is red-hot, not Brodziak). O'Sullivan, meantime, has been showing a connection with Matt Cullen on the ice. Given the sudden boon in offensive options, coach Todd Richards reunited his former top line of Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunette, stuck with Havlat-Brodziak-Bouchard and then went with Cullen-O'Sullivan and Cal Clutterbuck. These combinations look very good on paper and three relatively tough road games are just what the doctor ordered to test the potential of these combinations. Wait and watch the Wild this week.
•Even though some of them are looking a little more interesting lately (Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner), refrain from using any New York Islanders next week given the questionable offense has only two games.
• Steve Bernier snapped an 0-for-37 skid for the Florida Panthers' power play by connecting on both man-advantage opportunities against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. It was his first game back in almost a month since suffering an injured jaw. Is Bernier the long-lost catalyst of the Panthers' offense? Maybe. He played a solid game with David Booth and Michael Santorelli and the line also potted the team's only even-strength marker. I don't think Bernier is the one to pick up for fantasy rosters, but keep a close eye on the Panthers over the coming days as he may have provided the necessary spark. In fact, Booth snapped a 12-game goal drought on Thursday with Bernier providing an assist on the goal.
• Ales Kotalik is eyeing a return to the Calgary Flames from a knee injury that has kept him out all season. The only reason to watch Kotalik closely is his ability to mimic the production of a Jarret Stoll or Matt Cullen with his power-play prowess from the point.
• Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa will miss two to three weeks for the second time this season after suffering an injury in practice. Jeremy Morin was called up from the AHL and skated in Hossa's place on the second line. And, well, the second line combined for seven points. Ahem. Not that the Hawks are better off without Hossa, because they certainly aren't, but it was interesting to see the slumping Tomas Kopecky notch some points. Normally with Hossa and Patrick Sharp as linemates, Kopecky has done almost nothing for production in the month of November. In one game with Morin in Hossa's stead, Kopecky notched four points. At least keep an eye on the situation.
• Talented forward Colin Wilson was moved to the Nashville Predators' top line and has three points in his past four games after notching six in his first 20 games of the season. His ice time was dipping below 10 minutes a game and is now flirting with 18 minutes.
• Maybe Jeff Tambellini sticks around this time. The enigmatic forward was sent down to the AHL upon the return of Alexandre Burrows at the start of November. Recently recalled to fill a void, Tambellini has been skating with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. He has four points in three games since being called up. For the season, Tambellini has seven points in nine games. Four years ago he was considered a top prospect and he is still just 26 years old.
• Simon Gagne made an excellent second first impression with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Having gone pointless and minus-8 in his first six games with the team before succumbing to a neck injury, he was forgotten about as a big-name acquisition in the offseason. Returning from injury Tuesday night he set up a last-minute tying goal and then potted the overtime winner for the Bolts against the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, a reminder of his potential for disappointment came two nights later when he finished with a minus-3 and no points against the Boston Bruins. While I would have said to approach Gagne with caution two days ago, the possible broken ankle of Steve Downie means there is an opening next to Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis on the top line. Consider giving Gagne a second look even though it was Sean Bergenheim who finished Thursday's game on the top line. Gagne is the better talent.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.