The five fantasy gifts of the season

Updated: December 24, 2013, 4:58 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Fantasy owners didn't have to wait until Christmas to open plenty of presents along the way this season. What is a fantasy gift? Getting rewarded by a player who vastly exceeds even your most optimistic projections for him is a pretty good definition to start with. The fact that the player is a fantasy gift shouldn't take anything away from the savvy you required to pick him up. No, just the opposite. Getting a fantasy gift may feel like a stroke of luck, but you had to put yourself in the position to receive that luck by picking up the player at the right time. Just because someone calls one of your assets a fantasy gift, don't think you just got lucky. In fantasy hockey, you have to make your own good luck because it certainly feels as though there is enough bad luck to go around for everyone.

What are the best gifts that have been left under our hockey tree this season? Let's count down the top five fantasy hockey gifts that have been handed to clever owners and assess what exactly we have to deal with going forward.

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. Corey Perry, F, Ana (4)
4. Patrick Kane, F, Chi (9)
5. Evgeni Malkin, F, Pit (5)
6. P.K. Subban, D, Mon (6)
7. John Tavares, F, NYI (3)
8. Erik Karlsson, D, Ott (7)
9. Tuukka Rask, G, Bos (8)
10. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Det (10)
11. Ryan Getzlaf, F, Ana (17)
12. Carey Price, G, Mon (11)
13. Anze Kopitar, F, LA (12)
14. Daniel Sedin, F, Van (13)
15. Henrik Sedin, F, Van (15)
16. Chris Kunitz, F, Pit (16)
17. Josh Harding, G, Min (14)
18. Jonathan Toews, F, Chi (18)
19. Tyler Seguin, F, Dal (19)
20. Phil Kessel, F, Tor (20)
21. Patrick Sharp, F, Chi (25)
22. Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pit (21)
23. David Backes, F, StL (23)
24. Logan Couture, F, SJ (24)
25. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Wpg (22)
26. Henrik Zetterberg, F, Det (28)
27. Alexander Steen, F, StL (26)
28. Zach Parise, F, Min (27)
29. Nicklas Backstrom, F, Was (29)
30. Duncan Keith, D, Chi (44)
31. James Neal, F, Pit (30)
32. Patrick Marleau, F, SJ (32)
33. Claude Giroux, F, Phi (40)
34. Bobby Ryan, F, Ott (33)
35. Joe Pavelski, F, SJ (34)
36. Antti Niemi, G, SJ (31)
37. Roberto Luongo, G, Van (35)
38. Eric Staal, F, Car (36)
39. Semyon Varlamov, G, Col (38)
40. Drew Doughty, D, LA (39)
41. Shea Weber, D, Nsh (41)
42. Martin St. Louis, F, TB (42)
43. Ben Bishop, G, TB (54)
44. Ryan Kesler, F, Van (50)
45. Taylor Hall, F, Edm (43)
46. Jamie Benn, F, Dal (45)
47. Corey Crawford, G, Chi (88)
48. Joe Thornton, F, SJ (46)
49. James van Riemsdyk, F, Tor (37)
50. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, D, Pho (48)
51. Rick Nash, F, NYR (49)
52. Niklas Kronwall, D, Det (47)
53. Kris Letang, D, Pit (91)
54. Mikko Koivu, F, Min (51)
55. Andrei Markov, D, Mon (60)
56. Jaroslav Halak, G, StL (52)
57. Marian Hossa, F, Chi (53)
58. Alex Pietrangelo, D, StL (55)
59. Thomas Vanek, F, NYI (56)
60. Ryan Suter, D, Min (57)
61. Matt Duchene, F, Col (58)
62. Kari Lehtonen, G, Dal (72)
63. David Krejci, F, Bos (64)
64. Johan Franzen, F, Det (65)
65. Gabriel Landeskog, F, Col (61)
66. Keith Yandle, D, Pho (62)
67. Jason Spezza, F, Ott (63)
68. Jonas Hiller, G, Ana (80)
69. Evander Kane, F, Wpg (66)
70. Max Pacioretty, F, Mon (67)
71. Radim Vrbata, F, Pho (68)
72. Brad Richards, F, NYR (69)
73. Jeff Carter, F, LA (70)
74. Justin Williams, F, LA (71)
75. Kyle Turris, F, Ott (81)
76. Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR (59)
77. Jordan Eberle, F, Edm (73)
78. Nazem Kadri, F, Tor (74)
79. T.J. Oshie, F, StL (75)
80. Jaromir Jagr, F, NJ (89)
81. David Perron, F, Edm (76)
82. Jay Bouwmeester, D, StL (78)
83. Jarome Iginla, F, Bos (94)
84. Jakub Voracek, F, Phi (99)
85. James Wisniewski, D, Cls (79)
86. Dion Phaneuf, D, Tor (82)
87. Steve Mason, G, Phi (83)
88. Brandon Dubinsky, F, Cls (93)
89. Milan Lucic, F, Bos (86)
90. Dustin Penner, F, Ana (87)
91. Kyle Okposo, F, NYI (98)
92. Andrew Ladd, F, Wpg (90)
93. Cam Fowler, D, Ana (84)
94. Jonathan Quick, G, LA (135)
95. Jeff Skinner, F, Car (92)
96. Derek Stepan, F, NYR (95)
97. Braden Holtby, G, Was (77)
98. Bryan Little, F, Wpg (97)
99. Kevin Shattenkirk, D, StL (111)
100. Jonathan Bernier, G, Tor (113)
101. Brent Seabrook, D, Chi (117)
102. Shane Doan, F, Pho (100)
103. Jason Garrison, D, Van (119)
104. Pekka Rinne, G, Nsh (101)
105. Brent Burns, F, SJ (102)
106. Patrice Bergeron, F, Bos (103)
107. Zdeno Chara, D, Bos (104)
108. Torey Krug, D, Bos (105)
109. Mike Green, D, Was (106)
110. Ryan Johansen, F, Cls (116)
111. Jimmy Howard, G, Det (127)
112. Dustin Brown, F, LA (107)
113. Dan Boyle, D, SJ (108)
114. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Det (109)
115. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F, Edm (110)
116. Paul Stastny, F, Col (112)
117. Matt Moulson, F, Buf (114)
118. Jiri Hudler, F, Cgy (115)
119. Cory Schneider, G, NJ (96)
120. Jason Pominville, F, Min (118)
121. Brandon Saad, F, Chi (138)
122. Steve Downie, F, Phi (120)
123. Erik Johnson, D, Col (143)
124. Tomas Plekanec, F, Mon (121)
125. Martin Hanzal, F, Pho (131)
126. Joffrey Lupul, F, Tor (122)
127. Blake Wheeler, F, Wpg (123)
128. Mike Richards, F, LA (124)
129. Radko Gudas, D, TB (125)
130. Mike Ribeiro, F, Pho (126)
131. Clarke MacArthur, F, Ott (128)
132. Ryan O'Reilly, F, Col (129)
133. Mark Giordano, D, Cgy (168)
134. Chris Kreider, F, NYR (132)
135. Cam Ward, G, Car (133)
136. Ben Scrivens, G, LA (136)
137. Kevin Bieksa, D, Van (137)
138. Mikhail Grabovski, F, Was (139)
139. Mike Smith, G, Pho (157)
140. Cody Franson, D, Tor (141)
141. Craig Anderson, G, Ott (151)
142. Scott Hartnell, F, Phi (142)
143. Brian Campbell, D, Fla (145)
144. Ondrej Pavelec, G, Wpg (146)
145. John Carlson, D, Was (147)
146. Jonas Gustavsson, G, Det (148)
147. Pascal Dupuis, F, Pit (149)
148. James Reimer, G, Tor (144)
149. Brendan Gallagher, F, Mon (150)
150. Robin Lehner, G, Ott (134)
151. Patrik Elias, F, NJ (152)
152. P.A. Parenteau, F, Col (155)
153. Jussi Jokinen, F, Pit (156)
154. Sam Gagner, F, Edm (158)
155. Martin Brodeur, G, NJ (167)
156. Justin Faulk, D, Car (161)
157. Jaden Schwartz, F, StL (171)
158. Frans Nielsen, F, NYI (163)
159. Valeri Nichushkin, F, Dal (164)
160. Sergei Bobrovsky, G, Cls (174)
161. Alexander Semin, F, Car (165)
162. Victor Hedman, D, TB (214)
163. Andrej Sekera, D, Car (166)
164. Reilly Smith, F, Bos (186)
165. Hampus Lindholm, D, Ana (NR)
166. Justin Peters, G, Car (159)
167. Justin Schultz, D, Edm (160)
168. Andrew Shaw, F, Chi (162)
169. Brad Marchand, F, Bos (170)
170. Chris Higgins, F, Van (173)
171. Justin Braun, D, SJ (175)
172. Nathan MacKinnon, F, Col (172)
173. Valtteri Filppula, F, TB (189)
174. Nick Bonino, F, Ana (176)
175. Cody Hodgson, F, Buf (178)
176. Marek Zidlicky, D, NJ (180)
177. Patric Hornqvist, F, Nsh (179)
178. Chris Stewart, F, StL (190)
179. Matt Niskanen, D, Pit (NR)
180. Tyler Johnson, F, TB (181)
181. Steven Stamkos, F, TB (182)
182. Mason Raymond, F, Tor (183)
183. Alex Galchenyuk, F, Mon (184)
184. Vincent Lecavalier, F, Phi (187)
185. Andy Greene, D, NJ (NR)
186. Sean Couturier, F, Phi (191)
187. Derek Roy, F, StL (NR)
188. Ryan Miller, G, Buf (NR)
189. Roman Josi, D, Nsh (193)
190. Mike Santorelli, F, Van (196)
191. Jake Gardiner, D, Tor (197)
192. Sergei Gonchar, D, Dal (198)
193. Antoine Vermette, F, Pho (199)
194. Mats Zuccarello, F, NYR (212)
195. Wayne Simmonds, F, Phi (215)
196. Troy Brouwer, F, Was (275)
197. Anton Khudobin, G, Car (192)
198. Kimmo Timonen, D, Phi (200)
199. Travis Zajac, F, NJ (319)
200. Kris Versteeg, F, Chi (202)

5. Martin Jones, G, Los Angeles Kings: What a gift Jones was. It's as if Jones personally read the wish lists of all the fantasy owners who had lost their No. 1 goaltender to injury and decided to fix the problem himself. Before finally losing on Monday night, Jones started 8-0 and has provided fantasy owners who were gifted him off the waiver wire with a three-week run of dominance. But savvy fantasy owners will recognize an overhyped toy from the store when they see one. In fact, those who are ahead of the game will open their present up early, stand outside the toy store on Christmas Eve and sell it at an inflated price to desperate, last-minute shoppers. Then you can pick up the earlier model, Ben Scrivens, and go home happy. Jones' Cinderella run can't last and Jonathan Quick is eyeing up a return from the injured reserve very, very soon. Scrivens has a stronger track record and would have to clear waivers, which means Jones is headed back to the AHL when Quick returns, regardless of how stellar his record is.

4. Ben Bishop, G, Tampa Bay Lightning: Largely undrafted or a late-round stab in the dark, Bishop wasn't even necessarily expected to win the Bolts' starting job this season. Not only has he won that job, but Bishop only trails Josh Harding and Tuukka Rask on the ESPN Player Rater among goaltenders this season. He was a gift-wrapped present for fantasy owners who saw the potential in Bishop's five-game win streak to start the season and picked him up. This tall specimen of a goaltender has shown a penchant for more blowups than some of the other elite goaltenders, with five damaging outings so far this season. But Bishop has more than made up for the troubles with his 1.93 goals-against average and NHL second-best 20 wins. The best news is that you won't get tired of playing with this present. The situation for a team doesn't get much worse than losing its unquestioned catalyst on offense, and the Lightning are dealing with that situation as Steven Stamkos recovers from a broken leg. But guess what? Bishop's numbers are no worse for the wear.

3. Kyle Okposo, F, New York Islanders: Sometimes the present you end up appreciating the most is the one you overlook when you receive it. Okposo was picked up by many fantasy owners expecting to capitalize on a hot streak for the Islanders' top line, but probably not with expectations that they would still be riding him at Christmas. After all, Okposo went undrafted in most leagues even though we knew coming into the season that he'd be John Tavares' wingman. But now with 33 points in 38 games and a consistent output through the season, Okposo is the gift that keeps on giving. He had a few three-game point droughts in November, but has otherwise managed to stay very relevant. And he jammed in enough points in the other November games to remain a consistent double-digit threat in any individual month this season. Just 25 years old, this should be one more reminder not to throw in the towel on prospects just because they take a few years to earn a spot on the top line.

2. Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh Penguins: Then there are gifts and presents that are more about perspective. A knock-off brand tech toy or gadget might not seem that great if you had your heart set on the real deal. But if you have no expectations for something, the knock-off might not seem so bad. Niskanen is no Kris Letang when it comes to fantasy production. But with Letang hurting himself and missing extended periods of time, Niskanen hasn't been so bad in his stead. The 17 points isn't a revelation by a defenseman, but the plus-19 and 69 shots on goal are both very helpful to fantasy owners. Admittedly, Niskanen's production has only been solid for fantasy owners when Letang is out of the lineup, but that seems to be more often than not lately. Letang is expected back shortly after getting surgery for an infection in his elbow, but with Paul Martin still out, there is still a window for Niskanen to keep up the good work.

1. Alexander Steen, F, St. Louis Blues: Although he was drafted in most leagues, it was very, very late that owners scooped up Steen this season. The fact that he is second in the NHL in goals and is the eighth-best skater on the ESPN Player Rater is an absolute gift to his owners. Sure, he was drafted in hopes he could reproduce the 50 points he put up in his healthiest seasons with the Blues. But for Steen to have a career-high in goals before Christmas was the last thing on fantasy owners' minds when they drafted him. Steen has produced at a near point-per-game pace in the past and perhaps this should serve as a reminder to fantasy owners that once in a while, those players with an injury-riddled past can bring it all together for a magical breakout season. Then again, Steen is currently listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. He is expected to return when the team comes back from the Christmas break, but it's hard not to think about the fact that Steen usually misses 20 games per season.

Forwards Rising and Falling

Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets (up six spots to No. 110): Easy Marian Gaborik come, easy Marian Gaborik go. Expected to miss up to eight weeks with a broken collarbone, Gaborik's return from a knee injury lasted all of three minutes. That means Johansen gets an extended chance to act as leader of this team. He has 19 points in the 19 games since Gaborik hurt his knee in November.

Chris Stewart, St. Louis Blues (up 12 spots to No. 178): Don't get too amped up by the production from Stewart this past week. He should be owned in fantasy leagues for his subtle points and strong penalty minutes production, but his offensive outbursts are a bonus. The Blues were without David Backes and then Alexander Steen this past week, allowing for the line of Stewart, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow to step up their game. It will happen on occasion this season and Stewart is certainly capable of extended periods of big points, just don't overdo it when looking at him as a target.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (up seven spots to No. 33): He looks like himself again, no question about that. Giroux is rewarding those fantasy owners who had patience with his painfully slow start to the season. While it's noticeable that Giroux has pulled his linemates up by their boot straps, specifically Jakub Voracek, the impact on the defensemen has been more subtle, but there. Go have a look at the availability of Kimmo Timmonen and Mark Streit in your league and consider if they might be worth adding.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs (down 12 spots to No. 49): His numbers are so good for the whole season and the other Leafs have been getting by OK, which has made it hard to notice van Riemsdyk's recent slump. But the fact of the matter is that he has two points and a minus-9 in the past nine games. The Maple Leafs are struggling with no depth at center, but that could change when Tyler Bozak attempts to return this coming weekend.

Defensemen Rising and Falling

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks (up 14 spots to No. 30): Keith's rocketing up the ESPN Player Rater has a lot to do with his teammates. But those teammates aren't going anywhere. This Hawks' offense is as good as we've seen during the past couple weeks. There will be some peaks and valleys this season – and for certain, this is a peak – but Keith is a top-5 fantasy defenseman and this bump in the rankings puts him squarely in that territory.

Goaltenders Rising and Falling

Corey Crawford, G, Chicago Blackhawks (up 41 spots to No. 47): Due back in early January from his leg injury, Crawford will get a chance to quickly redeem himself from some rough starts before hitting the injured reserve. Don't doubt for a second that he is still the No. 1 for the Blackhawks, however strong the play of Antti Raanta has been. Now, if Crawford struggles in a couple of starts after returning, we can talk about Raanta again. But the job is Crawford's to cede to Raanta, not Raanta's to earn in Crawford's absence.

Ryan Miller, G, Buffalo Sabres (enters list at No. 188): Coach Ted Nolan needed a few days to get his systems in place, but since Nov. 19, the Sabres have allowed more than three goals only once – and Ryan Miller had nothing to do with that game. Miller appears to be a fantasy option with Nolan at the helm. In fact, in December, Miller has a 4-2 record with a 1.80 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. When there is a change in direction for a team as drastic as the head coach, it's more than fair to believe in a turnaround. While the offense might not have as much fantasy potential, that doesn't preclude Miller from being an asset.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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