Forward Thomas Vanek, scratched by the Minnesota Wild in three straight games, returns to the lineup Thursday against the Calgary Flames with a whole lot to prove and very little room for error -- in fantasy and reality.
With the Wild locked into a battle for a Stanley Cup Playoff spot with the Colorado Avalanche, coach John Torchetti made the decision to bench Vanek, one of the better point producers of the past decade, in the midst of the wing's offensive struggles. Vanek, 32, is one of 18 active players with 0.80 points per game through 800 or more career games, but has gone 10 games without a goal, with three assists, a minus-3 and 14 SOG in that stretch.
Vanek (LW/RW, 51 percent owned) has been held without a SOG in each of his past two games, prompting the recent lineup omissions. His only four games missed this season have been healthy scratches, with the first one coming Feb. 6 under former coach Mike Yeo.
Now, with eight games remaining in their regular season, Torchetti is giving Vanek an opportunity to make an impact in a top-nine forward role Thursday in an effort to get his season turned around and the Wild back to the postseason. Vanek is more than capable of that, which makes him an interesting fantasy wild card for the final stretch.
Video: MIN@PHI: Vanek tips it by Neuvirth on the power play
Vanek (201st in Yahoo's performance-based rankings) has seen his ownership dive more than five percent in the past two days, but remains owned in more than half of leagues. That's because, despite his decline in production and mostly second or third-line role at even strength, Vanek has respectable totals in goals (18), assists (23), power-play points (14) and SOG (135) through 70 games.
So is Vanek's fantasy value salvageable at this point?
With Jason Pominville returning from injury to flank the productive duo of Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu are expected to reunite on the top line alongside breakout forward Charlie Coyle. That likely puts Vanek on the third line with Mikael Granlund and David Jones.
Though Vanek's linemate situation is not the most favorable spot for him in terms of projected fantasy success, he's dual eligible, averages 2:38 of power-play ice time per game this season, and is tied for the most multipoint games (nine) among Wild forwards despite his depth role. That, along with his track record and added motivation following the benching, leaves the opportunity for short-term value from Vanek in a number of fantasy categories.