I think it's safe to say we were collectively lucky on the injury front for just about the first month of the season. Most of what popped up was short-term stuff, although going without my top goalie Jake Oettinger for two weeks felt like a couple of months.
Then the bad news really started pouring in. Josh Norris: multiple months, shoulder surgery not yet ruled out. The Senators could use his help. Jamie Drysdale, shoulder surgery, maybe won't return this season. The Ducks may not want to rush him back since they're a disaster. The Blackhawks will be without Seth Jones (thumb) for a couple of weeks. Gabriel Landeskog needed knee surgery that'll keep him shelved past New Year's Day, while Valeri Nichushkin is out for a month after ankle surgery. Evander Kane's scary wrist injury will cost him at least three months. Sean Couturier's continued back problems sent him under the knife with a recovery timeline into February. Connor Brown's season is probably done after an ACL injury. That's just some off the top of my head.
In this modern age, it's easy to get numb to the bad news. Hockey's a tough game and injuries happen, but that doesn't change the fact that these things can linger and affect the players beyond their time in the NHL. I feel for them -- I'm fortunate not to have required a major surgery (yet), but the prospect of facing one wouldn't be easy for me.
At the same time, fantasy hockey managers have to be able to react in these situations. It was a point I hammered home frequently last year -- an injury to one player is an opportunity for another to take on a larger role, and sometimes that's all a young guy needs to take a star turn.
I usually prefer to spotlight a player who's been hot lately, but this week the focus is on Jake Bean. The Blue Jackets' defense corps resembles a MASH unit right now, but Bean's among the healthy players. Zach Werenski joined the list of significant injuries this past week, sustaining a separated shoulder and torn labrum that will cost him the rest of his season. It's not the first time Columbus has been without its best defender for a long stretch over the last few years. Bean, however, should be a natural fill-in on the top power-play unit, though the Blue Jackets are worst in the league at an 8.1 percent conversion rate with the man advantage. I'm a cautious manager myself, but Bean's going to have plenty of attention, so if you want him, grab him now.
Before the season, I wasn't sure about how head coach Lane Lambert was going to revitalize the Islanders. He'd been Barry Trotz's right-hand man for years, so it was safe to assume there would be some overlap in style, especially with the defensive focus. That's come true -- they're allowing 2.56 goals per game and 32.4 shots per game, which are solid marks, though likely the product of Ilya Sorokin making himself an early Vezina candidate. The 3.31 goals scored per game mark surprised me more, and Brock Nelson's been a big part of that. Nelson's posted five goals and three assists through seven games in November, and he's at 17 points in 16 contests overall. There are 65 players operating a point-per-game pace through Sunday's games, so roughly two per team. Nelson hasn't ever reached the 60-point mark, but this is more than just a hot start for the 31-year-old. Grab him if you can.
Not far off from Nelson's pace is his trusty left winger, Anders Lee. Fantasy managers remember him for his 40-goal effort in 2017-18 -- and the fact that he hasn't surpassed 28 goals in a season since. Guess what? He's got eight goals and seven assists through 16 games this year, while chipping in 44 shots on goal, 28 hits and 21 PIM. The toughness is nice, but that goal-scoring pace would get him back to 40 if he can sustain it and stay healthy. He's shooting 18.2 percent this season, a high mark but not a totally out-of-character level since he shot 17.6 percent last year. The key is that he's shooting more and the Islanders have a bit more freedom under Lambert. Count me in.
If you've been reading my work this year, you know I'm pretty bullish on the Devils. An ongoing nine-game winning streak is making that look smart. I mentioned Jack Hughes specifically as a favorite mid-round target in drafts, and I'm probably a little bit more of a fan of Yegor Sharangovich than most. Tomas Tatar, however, seems to be the Devil to deal with lately. He's riding a seven-game point streak of two goals and seven assists while working alongside Nico Hischier on the top line. After back-to-back 30-point campaigns, Tatar wasn't on my radar this year -- he looked done, but things change fast. Of course, it's an injury that opened the door for his sudden resurgence, as Ondrej Palat's groin surgery will keep him out of action until at least January.
Injuries to defensemen lately have been a particularly tricky part of the game. Three times in the last week, a team sustained injuries of varying severity to three blueliners in the same game. The Penguins had it so bad, Jeff Carter almost had to play the third period alongside Marcus Pettersson. The thing with defensemen is that if you lose a high-scoring one in fantasy, chances are, you're not coming anywhere near the same level of production. You can mostly stream your way through a forward's injury, but defensemen are tough to replace.
Consider going with a specialist instead. If you want to boost your blocked-shot totals, the best place to look is Alec Martinez of the Golden Knights. The 35-year-old has always been a stud at stepping in front of pucks, but with 70 blocks through 16 contests, he's taken that to a ridiculous level. He had only 68 blocks in 26 outings during an injury-riddled 2021-22, so this is a massive jump. The downside is he's only produced two points, both assists, despite Vegas looking like world-beaters. Maybe the offense comes around, maybe he gets hurt -- as long as he's healthy, he's a one-category machine that can help fill out your lineup on thin nights.
If you prefer your physicality to be more outright aggressive, the Canucks' Luke Schenn may fit your needs. He's been particularly pugnacious so far with 35 PIM, including three fights, through 16 games. He's also added 73 hits, which leads the NHL by a country mile over Jarred Tinordi (61, to go with his unlikely two-goal game versus the Ducks on Saturday). Schenn is a bruiser, but he's also added seven points this year. A role alongside Quinn Hughes at even strength certainly has its benefits, but you don't roster Schenn with the expectation of offense -- it's the hits that'll keep you spinning his record.
Quick trivia time. Without looking, who's the first rookie in the league to reach 10 points this year? The answer is surprising, probably because you're not expecting said rookie to be a Coyote. It's Matias Maccelli, who has a goal and nine assists through 15 contests. I've kept an eye on him from a distance so far -- he's earned seven of his points on the power play, so this doesn't seem very sustainable, but the Coyotes have vastly exceeded expectations while a man up. He still qualifies for rookie status by a narrow margin after playing 23 games last year, so the extra experience is paying off. I'd add him in my deeper formats if I needed a winger, but he's put only 13 shots on goal while adding almost no physical play. Proceed with caution, but don't be afraid to mix some optimism in there.
Gabriel Vilardi has rightfully received much of the love among young Kings forwards this year, but Arthur Kaliyev is also making some noise. He's picked up two goals and four assists in his last seven games, with three of those six points coming on the power play. The 21-year-old sees only fourth-line minutes at even strength, but that role on the second power-play unit is tempting. The criticism I have for Maccelli goes out the window with Kaliyev, who has 34 shots on net in 16 games this year after racking up 27 points and 194 shots in 80 contests last year. The Kings are one of those teams that have reliable depth, although I'd still like to see Kaliyev take Carl Grundstrom's spot on the third line before I'd make a larger investment.
Publicly, the Penguins haven't addressed their goalie situation, which is a controversy in the making. Tristan Jarry is winless in his last five starts after opening the year with four straight victories. They endured a brutal team-wide slump, and it was Casey DeSmith who got them out of it, winning two games in a row over the Capitals and Maple Leafs. Through six games this year, DeSmith's 2.67 GAA and .916 save percentage certainly aren't that exciting, but he's getting results right now. Jarry's collapse into an overtime loss in Montreal on Saturday was tough to see, but you have to ride the hot hand sometimes. Add DeSmith now and hope he gets a few weeks to at least split the starts evenly, if not grab a slight majority.
The Hurricanes knew the risk of taking the tandem of Frederik Andersen (undisclosed) and Antti Raanta into another season. Sure enough, Andersen "tweaked something" at practice last week and ended up on injured reserve. Head coach Rod Brind'Amour isn't saying much about the timeline, but this is a good team, and you need to have goalies that play on good teams. Raanta's the man for now. I won't fault him for a shutout loss to the Panthers and a 4-1 loss to the Avalanche -- he can't win a game by himself with no goal support. His own lengthy injury history often clouds the fact that Raanta is quite an effective goalie when healthy. He's finished above a .910 save percentage in every year he's seen more than 25 games. Run with it, and move on if he ends up in the trainer's room.
Above all, we are human. I wouldn't wish an injury on any player, be it a minor bruise or a broken leg. Hockey is better when the best players around are on the ice, and anything that deprives us of that is unfortunate. Still, injuries remain a silver lining for the player that gets a chance to prove himself. It's a bittersweet truth, but it's one we should be familiar with. I wish you luck in managing the impacts of injuries on your fantasy rosters, and I wish speedy recoveries for all those players who are on the mend at all levels of our fun sport. Let's hope this week sees more players staying on the ice. I'll have more for you next Monday.