The injury absence of center Ryan Kesler could have a far-reaching impact on the fantasy value of multiple Anaheim Ducks forwards.
Kesler, who finished 36th in standard Yahoo leagues last season, will miss the start of the season while recovering from hip surgery June 8. The Ducks hope Kesler will be back by Christmas, but there is no timetable for his return.
The 33-year-old was one of two players (Brad Marchand) with at least 55 points (58), 20 PPP, 80 penalty minutes (83) and 185 SOG (186). Kesler had added fantasy value in leagues that count hits (146 last season) and blocked shots (75; sixth among forwards). He was among NHL.com's top 100 fantasy assets prior to this injury update.
[FANTASY: Hits league draft guide | Top rookies to watch | Top 250 rankings for 2017-18]
Because of his top-notch coverage, Kesler is worth drafting in one of the final rounds of a multi-category league and stashing on injured reserve. That said, his Yahoo average draft position (136.9) was low to begin with and should plummet leading up to the start of the season.
Kesler's injury could open the door for dual-eligible forward Rickard Rakell (C/LW in Yahoo), who could be moved to center and play on the first power-play unit with center Ryan Getzlaf, right wing Corey Perry and defenseman Cam Fowler. Rakell led the Ducks in goals (33), was fifth in even-strength goals (28) and had respectable totals in plus/minus (10), power-play points (12) and shots on goal (177). He doesn't cover hits quite like Kesler (1.8 per game last season), but is still a solid contributor in that category (81 in 71 games; 1.1 per game).
Rakell was already a prime keeper-league target, but now warrants earlier consideration than his ADP (102.5) in other fantasy formats. With a greater opportunity for first power-play usage and experience centering Perry at even strength, you can justify reaching for Rakell among the top 75 overall.
Prior to this news regarding Kesler's injury, there was one spot up for grabs on the Ducks' first power-play unit, with Rakell and wings Jakob Silfverberg and Patrick Eaves being candidates to see time in those situations. Now, there are two available spots up for grabs. Although Kesler will be severely missed on both ends of the ice for the first few months of the regular season, his injury gives Anaheim's other forwards a chance to blossom.
Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Silfverberg slides home Rakell's dish
Silfverberg (RW in Yahoo; ADP: 151.4) and Eaves (RW; ADP: 162.8) each become more attractive as late-round picks. Silfverberg, who finished 115th in Yahoo last season, was tied with Rakell for second on the Ducks in even-strength points (39) behind Getzlaf (50). Power-play production has been the only category separating Silfverberg from top 100 territory to this point (NHL career-high nine PPP last season). Silfverberg has been a fixture with Kesler at even strength and has had strong Stanley Cup Playoff showings in each of the past three seasons, so he certainly warrants more power-play usage.
It remains to be seen whether Silfverberg's even-strength production will decline at all without Kesler, but having either Getzlaf or Rakell as his center for the first few months of the season could see him maintain similar 5-on-5 production and finally break out on the power play.
Eaves, who played most frequently with Getzlaf at even strength after being traded to the Ducks on Feb. 24, should remain on that line and could also see more power-play time than initially expected. The veteran right wing had NHL career highs in goals (32), assists (19), points (51), PPP (18) and SOG (209) last season with the Ducks and Dallas Stars. Eaves had 14 points (11 goals, three assists) in 20 games with Anaheim and thrived on the top line and first power-play unit in Dallas with Jamie Benn.
Ducks left wing Nick Ritchie can also emerge as a deep fantasy sleeper in the event that Rakell moves to center, potentially opening up a left wing slot with an elite distributor in Getzlaf. Ritchie, 21, scored four goals in 15 postseason games and covered goals (14), PIMs (62) and hits (247) well last season.