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Eriksson leads fantasy injury bounce-back candidates

by Pete Jensen

Year after year, injuries alter the fantasy hockey landscape. It's tough for fantasy owners to anticipate them and even more difficult for your team to remain in contention when your players are affected by them.

But it's important to not lose sight of the past once the following season rolls around. Proven superstars, sleeper candidates and top prospects carry the pizzazz that attracts fantasy owners, but there are always players coming off injury-plagued seasons who are primed to bounce back.


The 2014-15 NHL season is drawing closer by the day, so has you covered with all the fantasy hockey advice you'll need come draft day.

There are plenty of recent examples of this trend. Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens, who dealt with knee injuries over multiple seasons, regained form in 2012-13 to finish second in power-play points and tied for fourth in points among defensemen. Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene, who was limited to 58 games in 2011-12, has been nearly a point-per-game player since (113 points in past 118 regular-season games).

Last season, fantasy owners who took a chance on Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators in early rounds after his Achilles injury in 2012-13 reaped the benefits of the only defenseman League-wide to eclipse 70 points. Others who ascended in positional rankings after being sidelined for much of the shortened season were Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars center Jason Spezza (with Ottawa) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski.

These lessons are further proof that a clean slate can do wonders for a player's performance coming off an injury. Let's take a look at 10 injury bounce-back candidates with high upside for 2014-15. Skaters with fewer than 65 regular-season games played last season due to injury and goalies with fewer than 55 were eligible for this list.

NOTE: Top-tier assets who missed time in 2013-14 but produced at an elite level when healthy (i.e. Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, New York Islanders center John Tavares, Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Detroit Red Wings forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg) were not included on this list because fantasy owners can expect them to finish among the top 20 overall fantasy players if healthy for a full season.

Marian Gaborik, RW, Los Angeles Kings

Games played in 2013-14: 41 Fantasy rank: 53

Marian Gaborik
Right Wing - LAK
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 30
SOG: 103 | +/-: 7
Gaborik's situation is similar to Sharp's entering last season. The Blackhawks forward led all goal-scorers in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs after dealing with a wrist injury that regular season. Sharp, a borderline top-50 fantasy asset entering 2013-14, finished among the top-five left wings in standard Yahoo leagues. After missing stretches last season due to injuries and getting lost in a deep forward shuffle with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Gaborik rediscovered his game after being traded to the Kings (16 points in 19 regular-season games). Then, he and Anze Kopitar formed the League's best postseason point pair and Gaborik finished first in goals, second in shots and tied for third in power-play points to help the Kings win the Stanley Cup. The three-time 40-goal scorer signed a seven-year contract this summer and will remain in the same complementary role in which he thrived during the 2014 playoffs. If Gaborik feeds off Kopitar for 82 games, fantasy owners can expect 35-plus goals, 275-plus shots and a stellar rating.

Pekka Rinne, G, Nashville Predators

Games played in 2013-14: 24

Pekka Rinne
Goalie - NSH
RECORD: 10-10-3
GAA: 2.77 | SVP: .902 Fantasy rank: 61

Rinne had hip surgery following the shortened 2012-13 season and dealt with an infection months later, limiting him last season. The 31-year-old went 4-1-2 with two shutouts over his final seven games, but that doesn't change the fact his goals-against average and save percentage for the season were well below his career averages. Because of that injury concern and the departure of his longtime goalie coach, Mitch Korn, Rinne's Yahoo average draft position has plummeted, but he's still a lock to start 65 to 70 games if healthy. With the exception of last season, Rinne posted an even-strength save percentage of .925 or better in each of the five prior campaigns since becoming a starter in 2008-09. He has five seasons of five or more shutouts in his career and has a clean slate for a team with much-improved center depth, a promising young blue line and an offensive-minded coach in Peter Laviolette. Once Marc-Andre Fleury and Corey Crawford are off the draft board, it's wise to consider Rinne.

Kris Letang, D, Pittsburgh Penguins

Games played in 2013-14: 37

Kris Letang
Defense - PIT
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 22
SOG: 108 | +/-: -8 Fantasy rank: 76

Letang, a household name, belongs on this list because he's being taken lightly in fantasy drafts so far this fall. There are obvious concerns with his injury history, especially after he suffered a stroke last season and was sidelined for months, but he remains one of the most potent defensemen when manning the Penguins' power-play unit with Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Chris Kunitz. Despite playing 123 of a possible 212 regular-season games over the past three seasons, he has 102 points over that span, which ranks 17th among defensemen. He shot 10.2 percent on 108 shots last season and scored a career-high 11 goals in 37 games. Even if his shooting percentage regresses, he'll be a fantasy stud if he plays 70-plus games with anything resembling that type of productivity. Letang is a can't-miss asset once the sixth or seventh round rolls around (Yahoo Average Draft Position: 74) based on potential.

Evander Kane, LW, Winnipeg Jets

Games played in 2013-14: 63

Evander Kane
Left Wing - WPG
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 41
SOG: 250 | +/-: -7 Fantasy rank: 87

Matt Cubeta and I slotted Kane among the top-75 overall assets in our individual ranks, but his Yahoo ADP indicates many owners have lost patience with the 23-year-old wing. He has never excelled in power-play situations (26 points in 324 career NHL games) and is coming off a season in which he dealt with injury, but is still one of the most valuable fantasy assets in terms of points, penalty minutes, shots on goal and hits. He has had 50-plus penalty minutes in each of his first five seasons, is among the top-30 hits producers over the past three seasons and is second behind Alex Ovechkin in shots on goal per game since 2011-12. Trade rumors have swirled around Kane in recent months, but it appears the organization wants to exercise every effort to make it work for him in Winnipeg, especially given his chemistry last season with Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik. If Kane is moved his value could spike, but he still has a chance to be a multicategory anchor for the Jets in 2014-15 if he stays healthy.

Jimmy Howard, G, Detroit Red Wings

Games played in 2013-14: 51 Fantasy rank: 107

Jimmy Howard
Goalie - DET
RECORD: 21-19-11
GAA: 2.66 | SVP: .910
Last season was a forgettable one for Howard, who won 21 of 51 (41 percent) games with an ordinary .919 even-strength save percentage as the Red Wings dealt with injuries to him, Datsyuk and Zetterberg. But entering this season, Howard is a solid buy-low fantasy option considering he won over 57 percent of his games (130 of 225) from 2009-10 to 2012-13 and tied for the League lead in even-strength save percentage (.937) among goalies with 40-plus outings during the shortened season. Detroit is not as deep on the back end as in past years, so much of the onus this season will be on the team's collective health and Howard's individual improvement. He won 37 games in 2010-11 with worse numbers than last season, but Nicklas Lidstrom was a big reason for the success of Howard and the team back then. If Howard and his teammates avoid the injury bug and the team's young guns coexist with their veterans, the 30-year-old will --at the very least -- start 60 games, hit the 30-win mark and finish among the top-15 fantasy goalies.

Loui Eriksson, LW/RW, Boston Bruins

Loui Eriksson
Right Wing - BOS
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 37
SOG: 115 | +/-: 14
Games played in 2013-14: 61 Fantasy rank: 113

Jarome Iginla, who had 61 points, 209 shots and a plus-34 rating in 2013-14, left the Bruins to sign with the Avalanche in free agency. Given Reilly Smith's chemistry on the second line with Patrice Bergeron, Eriksson is the favorite to land a spot alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic. The 29-year-old Swede sustained a heel injury and multiple concussions last season and fell out of the top-six mix for Boston, which explains his current Yahoo ADP (145.9). But it's important to note Eriksson had three straight seasons with 70-plus points with the Stars and has a legitimate shot to bounce back for 60-plus in 2014-15 if he sticks on the top line. Eriksson has "fantasy steal" written all over him, so nab the right wing in the ninth round and beyond in standard drafts.

Pascal Dupuis, LW/RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

Games played in 2013-14: 39

Pascal Dupuis
Right Wing - PIT
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 20
SOG: 97 | +/-: 6 Fantasy rank: 138

Dupuis followed up his career-high 59-point season of 2011-12 with 38 points in 48 games during the shortened season alongside Crosby and Kunitz at even strength. He had 20 points in 39 games in 2013-14 but sustained a season-ending knee injury last December. He hasn't been cleared for contact and may not be ready for training camp, so he won't be targeted in fantasy drafts until late rounds. But if you're looking for a low-risk, high-reward wing with dual eligibility, Dupuis should be on your radar. There are plenty of options (i.e. Kunitz, Patric Hornqvist, Steve Downie, Beau Bennett) for Pittsburgh to fill slots on the wings of Crosby and Malkin this season under new coach Mike Johnston, but never underestimate past chemistry. While Dupuis is a non-factor on the power play, the veteran can be a valuable four-category asset (goals, assists, plus-minus, shots) if he overcomes the lingering effects of his injury.

Alexander Edler, D, Vancouver Canucks

Games played in 2013-14: 63 Fantasy rank: 205

Alexander Edler
Defense - VAN
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 22
SOG: 178 | +/-: -39
Fantasy owners will steer clear of Edler until late rounds after a disastrous season that saw him miss most of December due to injury and register the worst rating in the NHL (minus-39). But the silver lining for Edler is Jason Garrison is now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, so Edler will likely be running the show on the power play under new coach Willie Desjardins. Edler only had 12 power-play points last season under John Tortorella, but has been the team's leader in ice time per game with the man advantage in each of the past five seasons. If Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, the League's best point pair for five straight seasons (2006-07 to 2010-11) and a top-two duo in 2011-12 and 2012-13, shake off disappointing campaigns, Edler could facilitate a ton of that offense. Don't be surprised if Edler, who is being drafted on average in the 130 range overall, pans out to be a top-30 fantasy defenseman by season's end.

Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, RW, Montreal Canadiens

Games played in 2013-14: 55 Fantasy rank: 208

Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau
Right Wing - MTL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 33
SOG: 110 | +/-: 3
Parenteau was in the thick of the fantasy right wing landscape after a 67-point outburst alongside Tavares with the Islanders in 2011-12. He carried that production over to the shortened season while playing next to Duchene with the Avalanche, but then dealt with injury and lineup adjustments last year under Patrick Roy. Now Parenteau can feasibly earn a spot on the top line of his hometown team after being traded to the Canadiens this offseason. Montreal has parted ways with Thomas Vanek, so Parenteau has a chance to feed off a pass-first center in David Desharnais and also work with one of the League's best goal-scorers in Max Pacioretty. Parenteau is by no means a lock to beat out Brendan Gallagher for that top-line gig, but he's a player who will be available in the 15th round or later in fantasy drafts. Any potential top-line player with a recent track record needs to be atop your queue at that stage of the game.

Mikhail Grabovski, C/RW, New York Islanders

Games played in 2013-14: 58 Fantasy rank: 216

Mikhail Grabovski
Center - NYI
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 35
SOG: 81 | +/-: 6
Remember how valuable Frans Nielsen (25 goals, 33 assists, 20 power-play points, 167 shots on goal) was last season as the Islanders' second-line center? New York invested in Mikhail Grabovski and his former linemate, Nikolai Kulemin, this offseason, which likely shifts Nielsen, a two-way center, to the third line and creates an opportunity for the former Toronto Maple Leafs duo to rekindle past success. Grabovski and Kulemin formed a top-15 point pair in 2010-11 when they combined for at least a point on 32 team goals. An underrated possession player, Grabovski started fast for the Washington Capitals over the first three months of last season, but dealt with injury for much of the second half and was not re-signed. He's dual-eligible in Yahoo leagues and will get a fresh start with Kulemin and likely Ryan Strome on the second unit with chance to earn power-play time with Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Co. If things shape up in that fashion, Grabovski is likely to eclipse 50 points for the first time since 2011-12.


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