Rest-of-season fantasy hockey rankings

Can Joe Thornton return in time to make an impact in the fantasy playoffs? Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, fantasy managers are running low on outs to find value between now and the end of the season - whether you're playing rotisserie or head-to-head. However, there is still one opportunity for value that never goes away: injuries. More specifically, finding the right moment to pick up an injured player in which he doesn't languish on your bench, but you still beat your opponents to him.

There are still several significant, impact players that have been dropped in some leagues, but may make an appearance in time to help swing your fantasy fortunes before the end of the season.

Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres (rostered in 88.0 percent of ESPN leagues)

The Sabres' season isn't going to continue beyond the end of the regular season, so in theory there is no rush to get Eichel back on the ice. That said, he's a competitor and he'll do what he can to return to action. Fantasy managers should anticipate a return for the superstar, but when should you reach out and pick him up in leagues where he's become available? When he suffered a high-ankle sprain at the beginning of last season, the same injury he's suffering from now, he began skating on his own in early November 2016, was back on the ice with his teammates by Nov. 24, and played his first game of the season on Nov. 29, 2016. With news that he's skating on his own again, we can guess he's two weeks away from practicing and then another week until he plays. If he follows the same timeline as last time, that should have him back with the Sabres for the weekend of March 23 or so. Of course, no two injuries are the same and this is pure speculation, but it may be worth it if you can sneak Eichel onto your roster for the final eight games of the season. I'd guess that sometime around March 17 we'll get word he's practicing, which might be time to pick him up before your leaguemates do.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, New York Rangers (57.1 percent)

Shattenkirk has been skating for a week now, and was off crutches from his mid-January knee surgery by Feb. 7. This certainly sounds like one of the shorter-term meniscus tears we sometimes see from players (Taylor Hall last year). We know Shattenkirk has been suffering from this injury all season, but he managed the pain with a cortisone shot to start the campaign (and posted 17 points in the first 18 games). He's potentially returning to a torn-down Rangers roster, but one that can still put the puck in the net and ice a solid power-play unit. If he's been skating for a week, hopefully watch for news of him practicing again with teammates in the next 10 days, at which point it's time to scoop him up.

Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks (45.3 percent)

In theory, at least, Thornton could be just a few days behind Shattenkirk for the same recovery timetable. Of course, we are cancelling out Thornton's advanced age with the fact that he's a freak of nature as an athlete. General manager Doug Wilson expects Thornton back in the mix before the end of the season, and we're not doubting him. However, even if Thornton matches Shattenkirk's speedy return to action, he's still a week behind from when he had the surgery. Best-case scenario is probably an April return for Thornton, but that still makes him a pretty good pickup for head-to-head championships. There is no getting around the fact that Thornton is 38 years old, though, so maybe wait until we get actual word he's one the ice again before allowing optimism to set in.

Wayne Simmonds, RW/LW, Philadelphia Flyers (87.3 percent)

Simmonds is already back practicing with his teammates, putting him on track for a potential return this coming weekend. Now is the time to go see if he was dropped in your league. Nolan Patrick made some noise with his presence on the power play in Simmonds' absence, but don't doubt for a second that Simmonds will get his spot back.

Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning (32.4 percent)

It's no sure thing that Palat will return from a high-ankle sprain in mid-March to a scoring line role, but we also can't bet against it. Tyler Johnson has cooled off, while Vladislav Namestnikov was traded away and J.T. Miller is now in the mix. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are playing with Alex Killorn for now, but that's no guarantee once Palat is back in the mix. Palat is always an option for coach Jon Cooper's top six. While a lot can happen, both good and bad, in the next two weeks, deeper leagues should at least consider rostering Palat about 10 days from now to see where he slots in. It's probably not going to be power-play time, but the Lightning roll out two dangerous scoring lines in any configuration.

Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg Jets (36.3 percent)

Targeting a March 15 return after the current Jets' road trip, Trouba should be back on fantasy rosters by this coming weekend to stay ahead of the competition. Trouba is squarely deserving of a low-end roster spot among your defensemen, in parts thanks to his competitive ice time and shots on goal totals. It will also be interesting to see the dynamic now that Dustin Byfuglien has awoken from his quasi-slump and is leading the charge among all fantasy defensemen. This could be good or bad for Trouba's value upon his return, but it's worth rostering him to find out.

Brian Elliott, G, Philadelphia Flyers (30.6 percent)

While things looked pretty rosy for Petr Mrazek at this time last week, I was cognizant of the fact his first three games as a Flyer were against "lesser" squads in the NHL. After victories against the Blue Jackets, Senators and Canadiens, Mrazek has been squashed by the Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers. The latter three teams either dominate possession (Hurricanes), dominate on the power play (Lightning) or dominate everyone lately (Panthers). It showed, as Mrazek allowed four, six and four goals in the three losses. It was more than enough for fantasy managers to cast an eye back to the date Elliott had core muscle surgery and was declared out for five to six weeks. It was three weeks ago, so that means he has two maybe three weeks of recovery left. The Flyers offer more than enough fantasy value for their goaltender to be rostered, and Elliott will probably return to his workhorse status when healthy. It means that you could circle March 20 on your calendar for a possible pickup - at that point, he'll either be back imminently, or within a week.

Forwards on the move

Joe Pavelski, C/RW, San Jose Sharks (up 13 spots to No. 33)

The Evander Kane-effect has been significant for Pavelski. In three games since Kane joined him on the top line, Pavelski has three goals, four assists and a plus-6 rating. That kind of production puts him back into elite territory for the first time this season, as it's been a down-year on the whole. His current pace of 22 goals and 66 points is a five-year low, however, he could eclipse those numbers as his 82-game pace doesn't factor in his recent boost in production. After only 12 points in the first 23 games of the season, Pavelski has 41 points in the past 43 games.

John Tavares, C, New York Islanders (down 14 spots to No. 35)

As goes Tavares, so go the Islanders. Losers of six straight, Tavares has one assist in his past six games. Going back further, Tavares has two goals and one helper in his past 10, with his shots on goal in that span way below what we would expect (19). Not to mention, one of his two goals didn't even go in the net (empty-net awarded goal on a penalty). The slump should end eventually, but one has to wonder if the non-stop pressure surrounding Tavares' future and contract talks are getting to him - despite his protests to the contrary. He finished plus-2 in the loss to the Penguins on Saturday, so perhaps he's getting over the hump. Either way, there's not much you or the Islanders can do but weather the storm at this point. Don't consider benching him, as this week's swing through Western Canada looks good for offense.

Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers (up 17 spots to No. 54)

There are few players I'd rather have heading into the head-to-head fantasy playoffs than Barkov. Not only is he scorching hot on the Panthers top line with 21 points in his past 15 games, but the Panthers' schedule is stacked for the fantasy playoffs. I've noted it before, but it's worth repeating that head-to-head leagues would be well served to load up on Panthers for the fantasy postseason. While Barkov isn't available, his linemates are. Evgenii Dadonov (rostered in 65.0 percent of ESPN leagues) has 16 points in his past 11 games, while Nick Bjugstad (13.1 percent) has 10 points over that same span.

Defensemen on the move

Tyson Barrie, D, Colorado Avalanche (up 30 spots to No. 101)

The Avalanche power play has found another level of late, turning Barrie back into a fantasy monster. Remember, Barrie was dropped in a lot of leagues after missing most of December and then returning with sub-par numbers for most of January. But then, Nathan MacKinnon also returned to health. Since the two have both been back on the ice, Barrie has 11 points in eight games, including eight points on the man advantage. With MacKinnon borderline unstoppable by opponents, Barrie will continue to draft off his value.

Goalies on the move

John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks (up 12 spots to No. 40)

Back from a three-game absence with two more wins, it's crazy to see Gibson only rostered in 78.9 percent of ESPN leagues. While some injuries have kept his total stats subdued, he's among the best goaltenders in the NHL since Jan. 1. Among goaltenders with at least 10 starts since then, only Antti Raanta has a better save percentage and only Raanta and Pekka Rinne have a better goals-against average.