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Fantasy hockey rankings: Top free-agent finds

Travis Zajac has three goals and four assists in his past nine games. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

We are coming right down to it now. Those fantasy players in head-to-head leagues are either in the semifinal or the start of a two-week final. Those of you in rotisserie or points leagues have a maximum of eight games remaining from any of your players (or as few as four games left in the case of the Edmonton Oilers). In fact, in this space next week you'll find our preliminary fantasy rankings for the 2016-17 NHL season.

But we have one more week here of exclusively looking at this season. In addition to adjusting the rankings for the remaining schedule, we'll also offer up some free agents here that can help you with your final push.

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Travis Zajac, C, New Jersey Devils (available in 47 percent of ESPN leagues): The Devils play six more times, with four of those contests at home. Zajac, though not doing quite as much scoring as his two linemates, is still reaping the rewards of having a trio with chemistry. Coach John Hynes is keeping Zajac with Kyle Palmieri and Reid Boucher both on and off the power play as the Devils' top scoring line. With Palmieri universally owned, Zajac is a bit more of a proven commodity when choosing between the remaining players. He's playing nearly 20 minutes a night and has three goals and four assists in the past nine games.

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Carl Hagelin, W, Pittsburgh Penguins (available in 61 percent of ESPN leagues): Of the seven games the Penguins have left on the docket, five of them look advantageous for the offense to make some noise. Hagelin and Phil Kessel found a real rhythm on the weekend with fill-in center Nick Bonino for the first time since Evgeni Malkin was lost for the regular season. While Hagelin didn't stuff the box score quite to the extent that Bonino and Kessel did, he offers a consistent threat for scoring with his speed. He's posted four goals and four assists in his past nine games.

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Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers (available in 67 percent of ESPN leagues): If you act on Monday, Couturier still has eight games to contribute to your stats. He hasn't been especially hot lately, but the Flyers' second line has been sustainably good for a while now. His ceiling for production over the last couple weeks may not be as high as other free-agent finds, but his floor is much better. His total of 35 points in 56 games is very respectable for the season and if you throw out his stats before he heated up in December, he has 30 points in 38 games.

Other to consider for your final push include: Martin Hanzal, C, Arizona Coyotes (available in 69 percent of ESPN leagues); Victor Rask, C, Carolina Hurricanes (65 percent); Cody Eakin, C, Dallas Stars (87 percent); Nino Niederreiter, W, Minnesota Wild (83 percent); Mike Green, D, Detroit Red Wings (20 percent); Trevor Daley, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (33 percent).


Forwards rising and falling

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Zach Parise, W, Minnesota Wild (up 18 spots to No. 47): With a first-period hat trick on Thursday and a two-goal follow-up Saturday, Parise reminded us that he can shake off a slump as fast as anyone in the NHL. His goals in those two games matched his total from the previous 33 games. But the key takeaway that suggests he will finish the season was his shot totals. When Parise is firing the puck with consistency, he gets a ton of points. In fact, we should have seen the outburst coming when he took six shots against the Blackhawks on March 20. In the nine games prior to that, Parise only averaged two shots per game. In the past four games, he's averaged five shots.

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Taylor Hall, W, Edmonton Oilers (down 12 spots to No. 48): By virtue of having only four games left to play this season, Hall bears the brunt of the Oilers schedule in the rankings. Connor McDavid would have been due for a leap this week, but we dropped him a few spots, too. A handful of teams have eight games remaining, so they literally play twice as many games for your fantasy team compared to what the Oilers have left. If you are relying on one of the stars from the Oilers, you might want to supplement your production in some way to keep up with your competitors for counting stats.

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Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche (down 25 spots to No. 70): The Avs have announced that MacKinnon and Matt Duchene will each miss another two games with knee injuries. That leaves the potential for only five games remaining for the star centers, with those contests against defensive stalwarts like the Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. Given the remaining schedule makes it virtually impossible for the Avalanche to push into the postseason, don't be surprised if this pair is shut down for the season.


Defensemen rising and falling

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John Carlson, D, Washington Capitals (up 154 spots to No. 58): Making a triumphant return to the lineup with an overtime winner on Friday, Carlson is clearly being eased back into the lineup based on his sub-20 minutes of ice time in both games on the weekend. His ice time should rise back to its regular level, which will push his counting stats and Carlson will find his rhythm with the power play sooner than later. He was a top-10 fantasy defenseman before getting knocked out for much of the campaign.

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P.K. Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens (down 26 spots to No. 108): Updates are few and far between for Subban's recovery from a neck injury. It's frustrating for fantasy owners to get strung along from one game to the next not knowing if he might return. We are knocking him down the rankings because the Habs are officially out of the hunt for the postseason and there is no reason for him to rush back to the lineup.


Goaltender rising and falling

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Brian Elliott, G, St. Louis Blues (enters ranks at No. 86): There's no better way to immediately establish a controversy in the crease than returning from the injured reserve with a shutout. Further complicating the situation is that Jake Allen had been struggling for three consecutive games before Elliott returned. And, of course, there is the fact that Elliott was the best goaltender in the NHL from January to the end of February. This is about as painful as the timeshare for the Anaheim Ducks for fantasy owners. But the bottom line for now is that there is a very good chance both goaltenders are worthy of your attention between now and the end of the season. Get Elliott back off the waiver wire if he's there.

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Cory Schneider, G, New Jersey Devils (up 72 spots to No. 71): In the AHL for a conditioning stint, Schneider will be back to seize his crease by Thursday's game. While the odds are long that the Devils can make the postseason, they'll keep pushing until mathematically eliminated. That means Schneider will play and be a valuable commodity for the final week of the season. He's been dropped in 30 percent of ESPN leagues, so have a peek.


Updated top 250 rankings

Here are the updated rest-of-season, top 250 rankings of forwards, defensemen and goalies, including position ranks.

Note: Sean Allen's top 250 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.