If you have a rooting interest in any given team, there are few more pleasant moments than welcoming a player back from injury. The longer they've been out, the more of an accomplishment it feels like to see them back on the ice (or field, or court).
A few fan bases in particular have had some reasons to be happy recently. Take Colorado -- Nathan MacKinnon has two goals and two assists in four games since returning from his upper-body injury. He hasn't solved the Avalanche's recent scoring woes, but they'll come around eventually. It's way easier to put up goals with him in the lineup than it is when he's in the press box.
Then there was the all-out swarm of returns for the Jets on Friday. Getting Nikolaj Ehlers, Cole Perfetti, Blake Wheeler and Nate Schmidt back all at the same time? That's like the scene just before the final battle in Avengers: Endgame, with all of the people Thanos snapped away coming back just in time to save Earth. Unsurprisingly, getting nearly a whole on-ice unit back -- and some significant players at that -- has helped the Jets win their last two games.
For the Capitals, it's been a slow-burn season so far. Earning 50 points in their first 42 games without a single appearance from Nicklas Backstrom (hip) and Tom Wilson (knee) while also missing players like T.J. Oshie and John Carlson for large chunks is nothing short of impressive. Carlson's still out long-term with a face injury, but this is a team that nearly has the whole band back together, and they're not fighting an uphill battle. I was skeptical of them in October -- no more, especially if Backstrom is anywhere near the player he was before his surgery.
The injury bug doesn't play fair. The Blue Jackets will likely be waiting months to welcome back some of their wounded, if it happens at all this season. For teams that can stay competitive against all odds, it's fun to see them get back to full strength -- unless they do so against your favorite club.
I highlighted Adam Larsson last week, but I'm still seeing Vince Dunn available in far too many shallow formats. It's understandable that people might not be ready to trust his breakout season after waiting for it for years, but he's at 26 points (nine on the power play) in 38 contests. That's better than a 50-point pace -- think Rasmus Andersson from last year. Dunn's still out there in 40 percent of Yahoo! formats; it's time to make that number shrink a bit.
If Mathew Barzal's lower-body injury costs him any time, Jean-Gabriel Pageau is the built-in replacement for your fantasy squad. Pageau's an all-situations beast, and he's hot with three goals and three helpers across his last seven outings. For the year, he's got eight power-play points and a pair of shorthanded goals, and he's also winning 57 percent of his faceoffs and laying out nearly three hits a game. He's already essentially a top-six center for the Islanders, but he's often a third-line option with Barzal and Brock Nelson around. Regardless of how the role looks on paper, Pageau typically outplays it.
As mentioned above, the Capitals haven't been this healthy all season. Where does that leave Conor Sheary and Dylan Strome? For now, it looks like Sheary will retain a top-six role -- he's picked up nine points over his last eight contests, but he's probably done seeing power-play time. If his offense dips, it won't be long before the aforementioned Wilson or Oshie get bumped up to the top line. Strome's outlook is a little cheerier, since he can play center or wing. The added versatility looks set to keep him in a top-six role over Sonny Milano, and Strome appears to also have a future on the second power-play unit. Strome has two goals and four helpers over seven games since the holiday break, and if you're choosing between him and Sheary, Strome's the better option. That said, this could very quickly become a team with three solid scoring lines if everyone stays healthy, so managers in deeper formats may want to check availability on both of them.
When I took a glance at the standings this week, I saw the Predators right in the hunt for a playoff spot. Going 6-2-2 over the last 10 games will do that for a team, but I don't trust the process very much. The exception is targeting whoever is alongside Filip Forsberg, as he's the most reliable forward on the roster. Right now, Juuso Parssinen is again earning a little fantasy buzz. He's picked up seven helpers over his last eight games in a variety of roles, but most notably is his even-strength role on the top line lately and a spot on the first power-play unit. He's at 12 points in 24 contests overall -- that's good enough to help in deep formats, especially with how his minutes are distributed.
I parted with Brady Skjei in a keeper league about a month ago, trading him and Jonathan Marchessault to get John Carlson and Patrick Kane in return. That deal looked good on my end -- I needed a defenseman and I'm in a position to compete. Skjei's doing his best to negate my advantage, picking up four goals (two on the power play) and four assists in 12 games since that virtual deal went down. There's no going back in time, but he's someone to add in most formats as long as his offense is hot. With 18 points in 39 contests, the defenseman could put up a challenge to match his career high of 39 points if he stays warm in the second half of the campaign.
Barrett Hayton has yet to show much in his NHL career, but he's been dialed in since the holiday break. The 22-year-old center has two goals and five helpers in that seven-game span, and it led to a promotion to a spot between Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Penguins. Hayton had the goal in that contest. He's a first-round pick from 2018, and if he's going to be with the Coyotes' top players in scoring-focused situations, he's worth a speculative add this week.
Due to Buffalo's blizzard around the holiday break, the Sabres had an extended time off. That appears to have allowed Dylan Cozens to slip some managers' minds -- he's out there in 47 percent of Yahoo! formats. This is a center seeing power-play time alongside the one-man army that is Tage Thompson. The rest of Cozens' minutes are mainly in a second-line role. He has six points, including three on the power play, over his last five games. He won't be on the waiver wire for long, even if that's small production compared to the 13 points he amassed in the first seven contests in December.
The results aren't there right now, but Seth Jarvis has pumped 24 shots on net and picked up three assists across his last six games. With Max Pacioretty making his season debut this past week, the Hurricanes' offense is about to get a lot more dynamic. There will be some shuffling until head coach Rod Brind'Amour settles on his preferred lines. With 20 points in 40 contests, Jarvis is a perfectly fine member of the supporting cast -- I'd be shocked if he slips out of a top-six role, and he's a virtual lock to remain on the second power-play unit. Grab him now, because it won't take much for this whole team to get going on offense. The Hurricanes are collectively averaging 3.10 goals per game while shooting 8.7 percent, both marks far below where a roster this talented should be.
Since the start of December, Filip Gustavsson has played eight times. He's allowed more than two goals just twice, surrendering 15 tallies in that span. It's not like the Wild are sheltering him either -- he's got the Lightning, Jets, Senators and Canucks on his ledger in that span. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to be back with the Wild this week after attending to a personal matter, but Gustavsson's play has been enough to force a 50-50 split lately. This is a team with playoff aspirations, so they'll go with their best option to win games. I wouldn't envy head coach Dean Evason's position having to name a starter right now.
Prior to Anton Forsberg's absolute dud -- three goals allowed on five shots -- versus the Kraken on Saturday, he'd allowed just 10 goals across his previous six outings. His 3.04 GAA for the season is nothing special, but he's put up a passable .909 save percentage in 20 games behind a suspect Senators defense. The 30-year-old isn't the most interesting option out there, but if he can keep getting half of the starts, he can help fantasy rosters.
In fantasy, I find there's only one tricky part to dealing with injuries. It comes when a player is activated after a long absence. If you have a top-tier roster, it can be tough to decide who to cut. I saw someone drop Jake Guentzel this week to open up a roster spot. Don't be that guy -- 40-goal scorers don't grow on trees.
As long as your league allows it, give a returning player a couple of games to get back into the flow of things. That gives you the time to evaluate your roster's weak spots -- maybe you need more assists and can part with a strong plus-minus player who isn't doing much else. Occasionally, everything works out just right and you can swap one injured player for another.
The downside is sometimes you miss out on a three-point effort or a strong goalie outing. Being slow to activate Jack Eichel bit me this week in a couple of places. These choices of who to drop are easier in deeper formats when you're getting a star player back, though you have to hope it's not too late if they've been absent for a while.
Next week, I'll name my picks for midseason awards, which means a slightly shorter list for waiver-wire adds. We're in that strange part of the season -- just after the holidays, with the All-Star Game and bye weeks becoming visible on the horizon. Hopefully, you've had good start to 2023, and I wish you luck in keeping it rolling in the week ahead.