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Fantasy All-Access: Break for Olympics is over

by Matt Sitkoff

The NHL is back after the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. It was a great tournament, which that saw the St. Louis Blues' T.J. Oshie become a United States hero, the Russians come short of their goal of winning the gold on home soil and Canada win the gold medal.

Phil Kessel and Erik Karlsson led the tournament with eight points; they weren't the only players to make an impression and become fantasy-worthy for the rest of the season.

Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen helped his cause during the Sochi Olympics by leading Finland with five assists. (Photo: Getty Images)

Finland won the bronze medal with help from two Anaheim Ducks players, one old (43-year-old Teemu Selanne) and one young (22-year-old defenseman Sami Vatanen). Vatanen had a team-leading five assists while averaging a team-high 18:34 of ice time per game. Although he has spent time in the American Hockey League this season and has been a healthy scratch by the Ducks, his six goals are tied for the Ducks lead among defensemen and he should see a bump in playing time from his great Olympic tournament.

Austria was disappointed with its Olympic outcome but Islanders forward Michael Grabner put on a show with five goals in four games. With the season-ending injury to John Tavares, Grabner will need to step up offensively; his tournament showed he has the talent to do so.


Mikael Backlund (owned in 11 percent of Yahoo Leagues) -- As we get closer to the March 5th NHL Trade Deadline, now is the time to jump on the 2007 first-round pick (No. 24). The 24-year-old already has reached career-highs in goals (14) and points (29) while mostly centering a line with Jiri Hudler and Lee Stempniak. He also has been healthy for the first time in his career, only missing one game due to being a healthy scratch; it's a big turnaround for a player who skated in 73 of a possible 130 games the previous two seasons.

Tyson Barrie (owned in 30 percent of Yahoo Leagues) -- One of the suggested sleepers at the beginning of the fantasy season now is showing his value. After leading Avalanche defensemen with 13 points last season, the 22-year-old spent most of the first two months of the season in the press box or the AHL as he struggled to fit into the new system installed by coach Patrick Roy. However, he has 19 points and a plus-12 rating in his past 30 games. Colorado has three games this week, against the Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning; the expectation is Barrie will continue his strong play.

Cam Ward
Goalie - CAR
RECORD: 6-7-5
GAA: 3.15 | SVP: 0.895
Cam Ward (owned in 58 percent of Yahoo Leagues) -- Ward last played Dec. 31 and has been limited to 19 games due to injury. Anton Khudobin has started every game since the calendar flipped to 2014 but that likely will change this week as the Hurricanes play four times, starting Tuesday at the Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US). Expect to see Ward back in the crease in two of these games as we get closer to the trade deadline, where he also could come into play.


The Olympic effect -- Three teams had 10 players compete in the Sochi Olympics, the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues. The Blackhawks return with two games this week; that's good for your fantasy team as six of the 10 players skated in the gold-medal game Sunday and will benefit from the short work week. The Red Wings also have two games this week but they're back to back Wednesday and Thursday. The Blues have the busiest schedule of the trio with three games this week; they had four participants in the gold-medal game. If you have players on these teams expect less production this week from those players but this will be temporary.

Chris Kunitz
Left Wing - PIT
GOALS: 27 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 55
SOG: 162 | +/-: 25
Going back outdoors -- The NHL plays two more outdoor games this week. The 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series ends Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. And Sunday the Vancouver Canucks will host the Ottawa Senators at BC Place in Vancouver in the 2014 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic. For the Blackhawks former Penguin Marian Hossa has 44 points in 39 career games against Pittsburgh; Penguins forward Chris Kunitz has 12 points in 16 games against Chicago. For the Heritage Classic keep an eye on the Canucks' Henrik Sedin, who has 17 points in 16 games against Ottawa. The Senators' Bobby Ryan has 23 points in his 23 games against Vancouver.


Kristers Gudlevskis -- A fifth-round pick (No. 124) at the 2013 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Gudlevskis made a lasting impression with his 55-save performance for Latvia against Canada in the quarterfinals. This adds to what has been an eventful first season in North America for the 21-year-old. He has played in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades, the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch and has been recalled to the Lightning twice this season but has not appeared in an NHL game. With the organization cutting ties with Riku Helenius it shows the 6-foot-3 goaltender has moved up the team's internal rankings, and with the way Tampa Bay has had poor luck with injuries, it remains possible Gudlevskis could return to the NHL this season.

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