After getting off to a sludgy start out west, the New York Rangers appear to be finding their stride, closer to home, under new head coach Alain Vigneault. Unfortunately, the club will likely have to forge ahead for the foreseeable future without star forward Rick Nash. As noted by ESPNNY.com's Katie Strang, Nash was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with what's described as a suspected concussion.
Fact is, the dynamic winger is still dealing with unpleasant symptoms following a nasty hit to the head on Oct. 8 compliments of San Jose Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart. He has yet to return to practice. And while we can surely hope for a speedy recovery from Nash, the fantasy fallout among the Rangers' top-six -- both determined and unsettled -- deserves attention.
First and foremost, Ryan Callahan benefits nicely from a promotion to the top line alongside a smoldering Brad Richards and Derick Brassard. However, the odds of scooping up Callahan as a fantasy free agent, given that he's owned in 97 percent of ESPN.com leagues, are tissue-thin at best. Not only that, but he'll be out for up to another month with a broken thumb.
You can volley a trade offer for the Rangers captain (not a bad idea, if you can handle not having him for the next three to four weeks), or look beyond the Rangers' top trio. It's no secret that Vigneault hasn't been pleased with the performance of his second line, most recently made up of Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, and Benoit Pouliot. Which brings us to winger Carl Hagelin (owned in 0.9 percent of ESPN.com leagues).
Due to return from a shoulder injury before the end of October, Hagelin has the potential to make an immediate impact with the Rangers. Scoring 38 points in 64 games in 2011-12 -- and averaging a point every couple of games last season -- the 25-year-old Swede could easily carve out a spot on the second line, all the while earning treasured power-play minutes. Even once Nash returns, Hagelin is favored to remain a top-six forward.
Beyond Hagelin, young winger J.T. Miller belongs on a wider fantasy radar as a potential asset. While the 20-year-old was recently recalled from the AHL to skate as a bottom-six forward, Vigneault has promised and/or threatened to promote Miller if the team's other, more experienced forwards don't get up to snuff fast. This isn't to suggest you immediately drop what you're doing and add Miller to your roster, only that the kid is worth watching. Even if he's demoted again in the near future, the former first-round draft pick is expected to have a very bright future in the NHL.
Mason Raymond, LW/RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (owned in 81 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Already finding favor with savvy fantasy owners, Raymond is riding a better than point-per-game pace (four goals, four assists) with his new club. And while James van Riemsdyk remains sidelined with back spasms, Raymond becomes even more useful. Snag the speedy, versatile winger if you can.
Cory Conacher, LW, Ottawa Senators (owned in 24 percent of ESPN.com leagues): As long as he sticks on the Senators' top line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, Conacher merits ownership in most leagues. And coach Paul MacLean is looking to keep those three together, at least for now. Hopefully the 23-year-old's recent overtime game-winner against the Phoenix Coyotes is just a hint of more productive times ahead. Before joining the Senators last season, Conacher was mighty effective as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning (24 points in 35 games).
Dustin Penner, LW, Anaheim Ducks (owned in two percent of ESPN.com leagues): Following a clumsy start to the campaign, Penner is finally settling into his predestined slot on the Ducks' top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Now it's up to the veteran power forward to not bungle it up. If all goes well, Penner could be a genuine fantasy force this season. And judging from his latest post-game tweet, the 31-year-old is relishing his return to Anaheim.
Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs (owned in two percent of ESPN.com leagues): If the Maple Leafs opt to retain their under-age defenseman beyond the nine-game NHL tryout limit, a prominent role and spot on the secondary power-play will be his to lose. We're betting Dave Nonis and Co. don't send the gifted offensive defenseman back to the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors. And those in keeper leagues should give the 19-year-old an extra long look. For those who count power play points in their league, two of Rielly's three assists have counted with the man advantage.
Nino Niederreiter, RW, Minnesota Wild (owned in three percent of ESPN.com leagues): How much fun do you think this kid is having in his fresh start with the Wild, competing on a No. 1 line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu? After a dismal experience with the New York Islanders, the answer is: lots. Don't be shocked to see the 21-year-old really come into his own this season. There's no doubting his talent.
Brad Boyes, RW, Florida Panthers (owned in 21 percent of ESPN.com leagues): So far, the one-year, $1-million gamble made in late September is paying off handsomely for the Panthers. Skating on a line with current points leader Tomas Fleischmann and rookie Aleksander Barkov, Boyes -- roundly ignored as a free agent all summer -- is averaging nearly a point-per-game. In keeper leagues, Barkov is also worth more than a passing glance. The mature 18-year-old is owned in only six percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Jason Demers, D, San Jose Sharks (owned in four percent of ESPN.com leagues): Just because Dan Boyle says he "feels great" after being plowed head-first into the boards by Blues skater Maxim Lapierre doesn't mean we can reasonably expect to see the veteran defenseman back on the ice soon. Boyes was literally knocked out, and a couple of days off might not be sufficient recovery time. So, in the meantime, the Sharks will look to Demers to step it up in the role of offensive defenseman, particularly with the man advantage. And even if Boyle returns to the lineup sooner than expected, the addition of Demers to your fantasy team could still work to your benefit; the 25-year-old has already been enjoying a fairly productive campaign (four points, with a plus-5 in plus/minus).
Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins (owned in 94 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Supplanted by Reilly Smith within the Bruins' top six, Marchand is currently skating with third-liners Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron. Not the best position from which to better a dreary one-goal-through-five-game pace (with zero assists). But there's no need for panic; the feisty winger shouldn't remain in that position for too long.
Tyson Barrie, D, Colorado Avalanche (owned in 49 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Barrie has some work to do as far as impressing his new coach is concerned. So far, Patrick Roy hasn't seemed all that smitten with the promising 22-year-old, to the point of booting Barrie up to the press box for the club's past two games. If you can afford to be patient, keep the former Kelowna Rocket on your bench for now. Beyond Andre Benoit, Colorado's blue line lacks significant fantasy sparkle.
Matt Moulson, LW, New York Islanders (owned in 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Just about any player would drop in value once removed from a scoring line including John Tavares, and Moulson is no exception. Unfortunately for Moulson (and his fantasy owners), Jack Capuano is electing to skate Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo with Tavares at the moment. As an aside, it's worth noting that Okposo is currently available in the overwhelming majority of ESPN.com leagues. That doesn't feel right.
Matt Niskanen, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (owned in 90 percent of ESPN.com leagues) : While a healthy Kris Letang bumps Paul Martin from the Penguins' dynamic top power-play unit, the Penguins' No. 1 defenseman essentially body-checks Niskanen square into the realm of fantasy irrelevancy. And Letang is due back from a lower-body injury within the week. Once Letang is back, Niskanen can be ignored until another injury strikes.
Jiri Tlusty, LW, Carolina Hurricanes (owned in 51 percent of ESPN.com leagues) : Dropped from the top line in favor of a seemingly better fit Tuomo Ruutu, Tlusty loses a fair amount of fantasy luster away from Eric Staal and Alexander Semin. And with zero points in seven games, Tlusty's "shine" has been more dull than usual to start this campaign.
Karri Ramo, G, Calgary Flames (owned in seven percent of ESPN.com leagues) : The biggest knock on Ramo ahead of the regular season was that he competes for a team in the midst of a tear-down and re-build. Now, over two weeks in, the Flames are holding their own (3-2-1), but veteran Joey MacDonald is shouldering most of the goaltending load. Strike it up to lousy luck for the capable Finn. We can only suppose that if or when Ramo muscles the starter's gig away from MacDonald, the Calgary club will evolve into the sub-mediocre squad it's pegged to be this season.
Tye McGinn, LW, Philadelphia Flyers (owned in 0.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Recently called up from the AHL, McGinn has subbed in agreeably for an injured Scott Hartnell (lower-body injury) on the Flyers' top line with center Claude Giroux and winger Jakub Voracek. Even while Philly's offense has struggled as a whole, McGinn has managed to pot three goals in two games. And Hartnell isn't due back for at least another couple of weeks.
Sven Baertschi, LW, Calgary Flames (owned in 35 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Jiving nicely with linemates Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan, Baertschi has a goal and a couple of assists (and is a plus-2) in his last five games. Just keep in mind, this trio probably won't stay intact for long. Even if Monahan isn't sent back to the OHL, there are a lot of moving parts in Calgary right now.
Mattias Tedenby, LW, New Jersey Devils (owned in 0.0 percent of ESPN.com leagues): Not your archetypical fantasy figure, Tedenby carries potential value via the on-ice company he's about to keep, beginning Thursday against the Ottawa Senators. Recovered from a groin injury suffered in September, Tedenby is expected to make his season debut on a Devils forward line with Travis Zajac and Michael Ryder. We're more than a little curious to watch that story unfold.
Jonas Gustavsson, G, Detroit Red Wings (owned 15 percent of ESPN.com leagues). Emphasis on the short, in short-term substitute here. Gustavsson is due another start -- maybe two -- as the Red Wings ensure Jimmy Howard fully recovers from a swollen hand. But while the 28-year-old Swede has been more than solid in relief, Gustavsson should only see the very occasional start when workhorse Howard is back to form.
After taking a puck off his foot Tuesday, Lighting forward Martin St. Louis is listed as a game-time decision for Thursday's tilt against the Wild … Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets is listed as just day-to-day with a minor lower-body injury. That's great news, considering the winger was reportedly unable to put much weight on his right leg after getting hurt during Wednesday's skate … We'll have to wait a while longer for MRI results after Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty suffered a lower-body injury during Tuesday's win over the Jets. Stay tuned …