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Special to Yahoo Sports
Welcome to Fantasy Hockey Roulette! The game where the rules keep changing, you have no idea what they are and winning or losing is mainly determined by chance.
That may not sound like fun or something in which you actually want to participate, but it's the reality we're currently dealing with. COVID is making its mark and it's made player selection extremely challenging. Heck, the way things are going, all upcoming decisions will involve complex equations.
So if you want to stay ahead of the pack, you better brush up on that high school calculus and trig.
But seriously, it's important to follow the latest news to ensure your rosters are as solid as possible in time for nightly/weekly lock. As statuses are frequently being updated, RotoWire should be your source for news and in-depth material.
If there's anything we've learned from the first few games back, significant personnel adjustments have produced plenty of goals. Different defensive pairings and a batch of new goalies have also sparked the scoring boom. As teams shake off inactivity and lineups get healthier, overall offense should start to decrease.
While we can't guarantee the following players will be active by the time you read this, they're generally reliable for fantasy consumption (also, not a guarantee):
(Rostered rates/stats as of Dec. 30.)
Alex Iafallo, LA (Yahoo: 32 percent rostered)
Double-digit goals and assists might not be that exciting, but there's something to be said about consistency — especially from a player who's not considered a top performer. Iafallo has gone about his business the last three years and has generally been provided with significant ice time and prime positions in all situations. In return, he's managed respectable totals in terms of points and shots. That hasn't changed this season as Iafallo has found the scoresheet in four of the last five games while averaging almost three pucks on net.
Alex Tuch, BUF (Yahoo: 31% rostered)
Tuch finally made his Sabres debut Wednesday and immediately contributed with an assist and four hits across 18-plus minutes. He also found his way onto Buffalo's lead power play and penalty kill, though didn't count in either area. One would've expected an adjustment period for someone who missed the first three months recovering from shoulder surgery, but Tuch wasted little time fitting into his new surroundings.
Phil Kessel, ARI (Yahoo: 12%)
Kessel's first season in the Desert wasn't up to his usual standards, though he rebounded with a solid 43 points in 56 appearances last season. He sputtered during the opening month this year with only five from 14, then sizzled with 10 across the next 12. But it's Kessel's last two efforts that have the fantasy world buzzing with six points — including four assists Tuesday.
If you're looking for a complete player, he's not your guy. But if scoring, shooting and power-play performance are your targets, few are better than Kessel at delivering.
Lars Eller, WAS (Yahoo: 12%)
Superstars often get the glory, but more love needs to go to the role players. Take Eller, who's quietly accumulated at least 36 points in each of his last three full years. Not impressed? How about a 19:24 average this month with almost nine faceoff wins and a seven-hit performance on Dec. 19? While Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom's reappearances Wednesday will cut into Eller's workload, the Dane is just too involved to be this overlooked.
Ross Colton, TB (Yahoo: 8%)
The ice time might not be that high and a spot in the lower half of the depth chart isn't exactly glamorous, yet Colton is working hard and has made efficient use of his minutes. The 118th selection of 2018 has come alive at the attacking end since Nov. 26 with two goals and seven helpers over 15:11 a game. Combine that with totals of 58 shots, 67 hits, 17 blocks and 157 faceoff wins and that sounds like someone who shouldn't be available in roughly nine of every 10 leagues.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, CAR (Yahoo: 5%)
The ex-Hab got a boost right before the shutdown when the Canes were missing a bunch of players and posted a goal and four assists in seven days. With the club back on the ice Thursday, Kotkaniemi is projected to skate on Jordan Staal's left side. That pairing may technically be on Carolina's third even-strength unit, but anywhere within its deep top-nine is ripe with upside.
Alexandre Texier, CLS (Yahoo: 4%)
Just when you thought I couldn't possibly mention another forward named Alex, here's one from Columbus. It appeared as though Texier would come off the layoff centering the first line until Boone Jenner was reinstated from the COVID list. While it's unknown where the French forward will line up Thursday, he's done well this month with seven points in eight contests. Texier has also been seen on the Blue Jackets' lead man-advantage in practice, though that could change with Patrik Laine and Jakub Voracek possibly returning.
Brandon Hagel, CHI (Yahoo: 2%)
Hagel is proving the hot run to conclude his rookie campaign was no fluke with an equally scorching December consisting of a goal and six assists. The team has put a lot of faith in the 23-year-old by allowing him prominent roles on both special-teams groups — including the daunting PP1 featuring Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, among others. Without any significant competition, Hagel is primed to retain his advanced standing — and find his way onto your roster.
Mark Giordano, SEA (Yahoo: 44%)
It's no secret poolies were expecting more points from Giordano, and the eight he's managed so far haven't cut it. Even though he's only recorded one assist in the last 13 games, the 25 shots, 16 PIM and 28 blocks over the same stretch are encouraging. The fact Vince Dunn was added to the protocol list Sunday and would continue to miss the next couple of outings means Giordano is inheriting that much more offensive responsibility.
Mattias Ekholm, NSH (Yahoo: 27%)
On the topic of underwhelming production, Ekholm has only tallied a goal and five assists in 30 appearances. Despite similar power-play ice time compared to previous years, he's gone scoreless with the extra man. That could change as Ekholm has taken over as the Preds' lead PP quarterback after Roman Josi tested positive Monday. The former 44-point achiever couldn't cash in Wednesday but gets more chances the rest of this week with the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks on the schedule.
Alexander Romanov, MON (Yahoo: 9%)
The Habs blueline has recently been hit hard by COVID with four of the starting six blueliners sidelined. Romanov hadn't been receiving a lot of offensive opportunities when they were available but was installed on Montreal's second man-advantage Tuesday. In that same game, he logged nearly 27 minutes of ice time while blocking four shots and dishing out three hits. Romanov should maintain his PP place short-term while significantly contributing to the physical categories.
Zach Whitecloud, VGK (Yahoo: 9%)
Like Romanov, Whitecloud is taking advantage of teammates' absences — namely that of Alex Pietrangelo. In the most recent three outings, Whitecloud's notched a helper in each while tacking on five shots, 10 blocks and three hits over an average of 25:48. It's a given Pietrangelo will take from Whitecloud's totals once cleared to play, though the latter has seen his duties continue to grow and will operate as a dependable lower-lineup fantasy player.
Tuukka Rask, BOS (Yahoo: 28%)
There were whispers last month about Rask's return from offseason surgery and the latest word says that could be sometime in January. The 2014 Vezina winner has been training with the Bruins and is slated to get a conditioning stint in the AHL. If all goes well, it would mark his first NHL appearance since June 9. It's not a given this will happen — either in a few weeks or at all — so you should probably only add Rask if you want to wait and have an open bench/IR spot.
Laurent Brossoit, VGK (Yahoo: 16%)
With Robin Lehner dealing with a lower-body injury, Brossoit has handled four of the last five starts. The last two haven't been great with seven combined goals allowed on 46 shots, but the Vegas attack supplied him with six on Tuesday. Lehner could be back for the weekend, though his season stats (3.03 GAA, .905 save percentage) have been well below his elite standards. For now, Brossoit represents the Golden Knights' main healthy netminder and that means a favorable chance to earn a win on any given night.
(Players to consider from past columns: Nazem Kadri, Brandon Saad, Jared McCann, Tage Thompson, Lucas Raymond, Ryan Hartman, Nico Hischier, Ryan Johansen, Trevor Zegras, Nino Niederreiter, Mats Zuccarello, Robert Thomas, Cole Caufield, Viktor Arvidsson, Evan Rodrigues, Boone Jenner, Troy Terry, Matt Duchene, Jesper Bratt, Ondrej Kase, Mikael Granlund, Sonny Milano, Rasmus Dahlin, Jamie Drysdale, Moritz Seider, Shayne Gostisbehere, Scott Perunovich, Jake Bean, Evan Bouchard, Matt Roy, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Alex Nedeljkovic, Jake Oettinger, James Reimer)