The 2014 Winter Olympics may be in the past, but injuries at the center position will have a lingering impact on what remains of the NHL season.
New York Islanders captain John Tavares, a top-five overall fantasy asset, sustained a season-ending knee injury while playing for Canada. Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, a clear top-15 forward when healthy, could miss eight weeks after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk. Florida Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov, who was in the thick of the Calder Trophy race, sustained a knee injury while playing for Finland and is reportedly out 4-6 weeks.
As this unfortunate reality begins to set in for fantasy owners, the outlook may seem bleak with fewer than two months remaining in the regular season. But, if your team is in playoff contention, the right waiver-wire approach could keep your championship dreams alive. There are a number of available center-eligible options with potential. Some may not pan out, but adding and dropping players wisely could help your team stay afloat in the midst of injuries.
The landscape could easily change with the March 5 trade deadline approaching, but fantasy owners should cross that bridge when they get there. As the NHL season resumes this week, here are five players worth eyeing the rest of the way in deep leagues.
Yahoo ownership: 3 percent
The Bruins' first two lines have been solidified, but that doesn't mean Soderberg isn't valuable to fantasy owners. The Sweden native has impressed during his first full NHL season (30 points, 9 PPP in 49 games) and is picking up steam of late with three goals and four assists over his past seven games. He's finding his niche on the team's third line with Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson and gives deep-league fantasy owners the peace of mind of having a steady point producer from a Stanley Cup contender.
Yahoo ownership: 1 percent
On a team with minimal scoring depth, Nelson has quietly eclipsed the 10-goal mark -- one of five Islanders to do so. Now, with the team's top two centers, Tavares and Frans Nielsen, sidelined by injury, expect the team to recall Ryan Strome and give young players like Nelson legitimate top-six trials over the team's final 22 games. Nelson, who had an impressive 10-game stretch in January (six goals, one assist), could assume a power-play role, finish the season alongside Kyle Okposo on the top line and see his fantasy value spike as a result.
Yahoo ownership: 1 percent
Pittsburgh recalled Gibbons (nine points, plus-3, 21 shots in 19 games) following the Olympic break, meaning he's in position to play significant minutes again for the top team in the Eastern Conference. Over 40 percent of his ice time this season has come alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, the NHL's most valuable point pair over the past two seasons. Pascal Dupuis (knee surgery) is done for the season and Beau Bennett (hand) is still working his way back, so Gibbons, 25, could pack some serious offensive punch if the Penguins stay put at the deadline.
Yahoo ownership: 22 percent
Roy charged into the break with points in four of five games (one goal, four assists) and sees a wealth of power-play minutes for a deep offensive team. The veteran center leads Blues forwards with 16 power-play points and is a steady multi-category producer. If the team's recent second-line combo of Roy, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko holds true, members of that trio could pay dividends for the fantasy playoffs.
Yahoo ownership: N/A
Kuznetsov, who currently plays in the KHL, is the true wild card of this bunch and should be monitored closely. Reports have surfaced indicating the 21-year-old forward could join Washington's playoff push once his season concludes in Russia, but his status remains up in the air at this point. He's currently available to be added in ESPN leagues but should only be added if you have roster room. That said, the 2010 first-round pick could provide owners with a late-season boost if he finally joins the team.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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