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Fantasy Spin: Players with value to gain in Sochi

by Pete Jensen

Fantasy owners can take a break from setting their lineups during the NHL's hiatus for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but there's no time to rest when it comes to monitoring the waiver wire.

Olympic stats won't count in standard fantasy leagues, but strong performances could lead to positive momentum that could carry over to the stretch run of the 2013-14 season. Whether a young player expedites his development or an experienced player rekindles the fire, there's much to gain in Sochi from a fantasy standpoint.

The majority of prominent players from legitimate medal-contending countries are owned in Yahoo leagues. For Canada, 12 of 14 forwards have a fantasy ownership of 96 percent or greater. The goalie landscape, where most assets are owned in 80 to 100 percent of leagues, allows even less room for waiver wire additions.

While Olympic stats don't count in standard fantasy leagues, positive momentum gained could carry over into the stretch run of the NHL season. (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI, Scott Levy/NHLI, Joe Sargent/NHLI)

But beyond the elite-level and mainstream players are also undervalued options who are in position to excel for their respective national teams. If fantasy owners catch onto those commodities at the right time, they can pay major dividends in pursuit of a championship.

Here are six skaters who could rise to the occasion in this international tournament and see a fantasy value spike in certain league types as a result.

Ryan Callahan (RW, New York Rangers/United States)

Yahoo ownership: 42 percent

Considering how reliable Callahan has been for category coverage (points, shots, hits, power-play points) in the past, it's alarming to see his fantasy ownership plummet to this degree. Set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Callahan has missed 17 games this season due to injury and has seen a dip in point and shot production. But Callahan will likely be a key ingredient if the U.S. ends up medaling in Sochi, especially considering he skated alongside Zach Parise and David Backes on the United States' second line on Wednesday. For the Rangers, he has settled in on a line with Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards and could turn his season around and boost his trade value with a strong Olympic performance. Now is the time to buy low.

Gustav Nyquist (C/RW, Detroit Red Wings/Sweden)

Gustav Nyquist
Right Wing - DET
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 24
SOG: 84 | +/-: 4
Yahoo ownership: 32 percent

The Red Wings have been ravaged by injuries, but Nyquist's emergence has been one silver lining. Nyquist, 24, has been one of the most productive players in the NHL over the past month with nine goals and five assists over his past 11 games. Even with the return of Pavel Datsyuk, Nyquist (14 goals, 24 points in 33 games) has solidified his spot on Detroit's top line alongside fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg. After replacing injured teammate Johan Franzen on Sweden's national team, Nyquist can take things a step further by performing well on a global stage.

Ondrej Palat (LW, Tampa Bay Lightning/Czech Republic)

Yahoo ownership: 17 percent

Palat has been a mainstay on the Lightning's top line alongside Tyler Johnson and Martin St. Louis, but still has not yet gained the respect of fantasy owners. He's tied for third among rookies with 34 points and fourth with 116 shots. His plus-21 rating is among the top-20 League-wide. The Czechs have a ton of forward depth and Tomas Hertl's injury gives Palat a chance to crack the top six as a left wing. He could continue to boost his fantasy stock if he plays alongside David Krejci, Tomas Plekanec or Martin Hanzal.

Olli Jokinen (C, Winnipeg Jets/Finland)

Olli Jokinen
Center - WPG
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 32
SOG: 123 | +/-: -11
Yahoo ownership: 12 percent

Injuries to Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula have opened the door for the veteran Jokinen to center one of Finland's top two lines. Jokinen, 35, is representing his country in the Olympics for the fourth time and has a chance to revitalize his game after limping into the break with one point over his past 11 contests. He has had a fairly productive season despite that slump and will need to be at his best if Finland hopes to earn a spot on the podium. He has contributed points (32), shots (123), hits (97) and power-play points (7) through 60 games, a sign that he could emerge as a commodity in deep leagues for the resurgent Jets.

Nino Niederreiter (RW, Minnesota Wild/Switzerland)

Yahoo ownership: 11 percent

Niederreiter (29 points, plus-11, 32 penalty minutes, 6 PPP, 120 shots) is one of three NHL forwards (Damien Brunner and Simon Moser are the others) on the Swiss roster. Niederreiter is sure to have his hands full with the stiff competition in Sochi, but this will be a learning experience that could help him when he returns to the Wild. It could also prove to be the platform for the 21-year-old to help his country emerge as a dark horse candidate for the gold medal when you consider goaltender Jonas Hiller is familiar with the Olympic stage and the team's defensive front is no pushover. Niederreiter, the fifth pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has been a viable asset in deep formats after his fresh start in Minnesota. A strong showing in Sochi could put him on the map for good. His 139 hits (22nd among NHL forwards) only help his cause in such leagues.

Olli Maatta
Defense - PIT
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 23
SOG: 92 | +/-: 12
Olli Maatta (D, Pittsburgh Penguins/Finland)

Yahoo ownership: 11 percent

Maatta, as a rookie, has filled in at times on the top defensive pairing for the East-leading Penguins. He's emerged as one of the League's most efficient first-year blueliners and will continue to see prominent minutes when he returns to Pittsburgh given Kris Letang's ongoing recovery from a stroke. The 2014 Olympics will be another challenge for Maatta, who joins fellow youngster Sami Vatanen and veterans Sami Salo, Kimmo Timonen as the only NHL players on Finland's defensive corps. While the task could prove to be too large for this 19-year-old, his knack for shot-blocking and raw offensive flair give him a chance to put his promise -- and fantasy value -- on display for the world to see.


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