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Last year's injured crop poised for strong 2011-12

by Sergei J. Feldman
Telling fantasy hockey fanatics that injuries are part of the game is just adding insult to their knowledge of that fact. Many -- fantasy hockey team owners, that is -- are still recovering from having to put their lineup studs on the back burner for the better part of the 2010-11 season.

Moreover, given the cutthroat nature of fantasy hockey, many other players have emerged as potential point-producing machines, to the point that the former Mr. Dependables may have left the consciousness of team owners when it comes time to draft new squads.

But here's a reminder: The players who were put on the shelf are recovering -- quite nicely, in fact. Their message: Don't forget about me! fantasy expert Sergei Feldman breaks down the list of under-the-radar players who are poised to bounce back from injuries and reclaim their respective spots on the fantasy hockey throne.

Kyle Okposo, RW, New York Islanders
Kyle Okposo
Right Wing - NYI
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 20
SOG: 72 | +/-: 3

Since breaking into the League, the 2006 first-round selection of the Islanders has evolved into a potential perennial power forward. Okposo has hovered around the 20-goal mark for two seasons but didn’t get the chance to hover last season, as a preseason shoulder injury limited him to only 38 games. Okposo is healthy again and poised to reach career-highs in most categories. After all, before his injury last season, Okposo has shown improvement in consecutive years. A 39-point in 65 games season was followed by an 18-goal, 52-point outing. While his PIMs remained relatively unchanged -- 36 and 34 in those two years -- in last year’s limited action, Okposo amassed 40 PIMs, a sign of his growing physicality and hunger to be impactful shift in and shift out. On an Islanders team that figures to be as talented as it has in some time, Okposo should have more than enough support to break out this season.

Ales Hemsky, RW, Edmonton Oilers:  

It’s not uncommon to find Hemsky’s name in a story about injured players looking to bounce back. The highly-skilled Edmonton Oiler has yet to play a full 82-game season. What’s more, save for one 81-game outing, his second-highest total was 74 games. Still, when healthy and on the ice, Hemsky is a force to be reckoned with. The two-time 20-goal scorer and four-time 40-assist man is close to being a point-per-game performer. This upcoming season has the makings of a good one for the 28-year-old playmaker. Consider the talent around him, as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner and potentially 2011 first-overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are more than capable of making things happen. With that kind of firepower beside him, Hemsky could find himself with 30 goals, 50 assists, 80 points, 40 PIMs and 200 shots by season’s end. That kind of potential stat line is not one to ignore.

Jordan Staal, C, Pittsburgh Penguins:

In the shadows of bona fide superstars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin stands Staal, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound monster of a center. Understandably, Staal's value often slips through the cracks given the other centers in Pittsburgh, but don't let it slip too far. Staal is easily a 20-goal, 20-assist, 40 PIM, 150-shot performer. What’s more, he’s been one of the more reliable players in the League, missing just one game in four seasons between 2006 and 2010. Then came last season, where foot and hand injuries forced Staal to participate in just 40 games. Now, he’s as healthy and ready to go as he’s ever been on a team loaded with offensive talent, 2011-12 could mean big things for the big man.

T.J. Oshie, C, St. Louis Blues:

As the Blues look to take the next stop in the Western Conference, so too will T.J. Oshie, one of their top players. Before last season's 49-game showing (due to an ankle injury), Oshie was growing into a 20-goal, 40-assist player. Oshie has the hands to score highlight-reel goals, the speed to blow by defenders and the frame to play a power game. He was selected in the first round for a reason. What’s more, Oshie won’t have to be a fantasy stud all by himself, either, as there is plenty of support on the Blues roster. With his injured ankle healed, the sky is the limit for the crafty center. 

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, Florida Panthers:
Tomas Fleischmann
Left Wing - FLA
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 31
SOG: 98 | +/-: 2

The past couple of years have been somewhat of a whirlwind for Fleischmann. After just over five seasons with the Washington Capitals, Fleischmann found himself in Colorado for a brief stint in 2010-11 before being diagnosed with a pulmonary emboli. Despite that, the Florida Panthers signed him to a multiyear deal in the offseason. Now that things appear settled for the crafty left wing, 2011-12 could mean big things. Take into account the fact that Fleischmann has seen increased production every season with Washington, including a 23-goal, 51-point outing in 2009-10. When he arrived in Colorado, he collected 21 points in just 22 games before getting injured. Also, consider that the Panthers have completely transformed themselves via trade and free agency heading into this year. It’s safe to think that the 27-year-old will play with something to prove on a club that’s looking to do the same. Fleischmann isn’t an ideal fantasy performer, to be sure, but he can be a great complementary piece to your team.

Andy McDonald, C, St. Louis Blues:

Andy McDonald has played in 82 games three times in his 10-year NHL. It happened in consecutive seasons between 2005-07. They were among his most productive campaigns, as he amassed 85 and 78 points, respectively in 2005 and 2006. In other words, when healthy, McDonald can play. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the opportunity that often. Since those three seasons, McDonald has missed 63 games in the next three seasons, including 24 last year because of a concussion. Still, he netted 44, 57 and 50 points, respectively. Fact of the matter is, McDonald can be an asset for any fantasy squad.

Ryan Whitney, D, Edmonton Oilers:

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Injuries have plagued Ryan Whitney throughout his NHL career, but he’s looking forward to a strong, consistent showing in 2011-12 once his lingering ankle injury fully heels from last season. Solid point production from defenseman isn’t all that common in fantasy hockey, so take it where you can get it. And you can get it in Whitney, who broke out as an offensive-minded blueliner in Pittsburgh, where he posted double-digit goal totals twice. Then, after some struggles in Anaheim, he landed in Edmonton, where he aims to return to his true form. In limited action last season, Whitney collected 27 points in just 35 games, including 33 PIMs and 43 shots. Whitney first blossomed on a young, up-and-coming Penguins team and finds himself in a similar situation in Edmonton, which could mean good things for your fantasy team.

Mark Streit, D, New York Islanders:  

Whether in Montreal or New York, Mark Streit has delivered offensively. After missing all of last season with a shoulder injury suffered in a training camp scrimmage, the newly named Islanders captain looks ready to have a solid 2011-12 season. Streit had at least 49 points in three consecutive seasons before missing '10-11 and has scored double-digit goals in four straight seasons. As is the case with Okposo, Streit figures to be a beneficiary of a healthy dose of talent around him. In addition to the goals and assists, Streit throws about 160 shots on net per season and gets involved physically with 62 and 48 PIMs in the past two years, respectively.

Andrei Markov, D, Montreal Canadiens:

The Russian defenseman has been a Canadien throughout his 10-year NHL career and in that span has been one of the more productive offensive-defenseman in the League. He hasn’t collected any fewer than 23 points and that was in his rookie season. Until last year, that is, when he only appeared in seven games. Otherwise, Markov reached double-digit goal totals four times, including a 16-goal outing in 2007-08, when he appeared in all 82 games for the only time in his career. The 32-year-old will get his share of shots and PIMs throughout a season, as well. Don’t forget about this offensive defenseman for your fantasy team, once he recovers from a knee injury, given not only his history, but also the system in which he plays, as the Habs like to play a fast, up-and-down game that depends on defensemen joining the rush.

Marek Zidlicky, D, Minnesota Wild:
Marek Zidlicky
Defense - MIN
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 24
SOG: 53 | +/-: -6

The 34-year-old Wild defenseman is rarely mentioned upon the upper echelon NHL defenders, but one glance at his stats and you begin to wonder why. His NHL resume includes two 12-goal seasons, a 14-goal season, five 40-plus point seasons and at least six seasons of at least 60 PIMs. However, Zidlicky appeared in just 46 games last season, though he still earned 24 points on seven goals and 17 assists. If you’re looking for a capable, consistent defenseman who’ll contribute in many stat categories, look no further than Zidlicky.
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