Commentary

Fantasy Forecaster: Week of Feb. 7

Updated: February 4, 2011, 3:47 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

While the All-Star break doesn't automatically turn cold players into hot players, or vice versa, the short layoff does provide a nice divider between the first half and the second half of the season, and some players do show a tendency (however slight) to ramp up their games after the All-Star break.

Last season's "post-break" leaders actually refer to how well the players performed following the Olympic break, so that sample size was only about 20 games. This year, the break comes with teams having approximately 30 games left in the season. Nonetheless, looking at last season's post-break stars, there are a few names worth pointing out:

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators: His 19 games following the Olympic break was about the only period Spezza provided decent fantasy value last season. With 24 points in those 19 games, Spezza had a great finish to the season. Unfortunately, many owners had given up on him by that point. Guess what? We're seeing the same situation this season. Spezza is available in more than 30 percent of ESPN leagues and is returning from a shoulder injury Saturday. Can he recreate the magic finish from last season? It's certainly worth a gamble if you see him on the waiver wire.

[+] EnlargeIlya Kovalchuk
Scott Levy/Getty ImagesIlya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils are lined up for a strong finish to the season.

Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils: It was only a matter of time before the Devils turned their season around -- bringing back coach Jacques Lemaire helped -- and it's probably time to formally declare this team back in business for fantasy purposes. Kovalchuk has 10 points in his past 10 games and is a plus-3 during that time frame. Last season, Kovalchuk finished the season with 22 points in 21 games after the Olympics, and should be a top option from here on out.

Chris Stewart, Colorado Avalanche: Stewart took two weeks longer than expected to return from his broken hand and didn't score a goal in six games before the All-Star break. In fact, before he potted a goal Thursday night, Stewart had not scored since Nov. 17. Thus, it's probably encouraging to hear news that he was one of the best players in the NHL down the stretch last season. With nine goals and 22 points in the final 21 games, Stewart put an exclamation point on a strong season. He needs to do something similar this season to reward his fantasy owners, and looking back to last season, it certainly wouldn't be unfair to expect it. With two points in one game since the break, he's off to a good start.

David Krejci, Boston Bruins: At less than a point-per-game pace, Krejci hasn't helped his owners as much as they expected him to. However, things are looking up for the remainder of the season. Much to the chagrin of Marc Savard owners, it does look like Krejci will have his run with the Bruins' "top" line for the rest of the season ("top" being in quotations to acknowledge Patrice Bergeron's unit as the team's true top line). That means a dynamic scorer and physical presence on both his wings for the rest of the season in Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. The good news from last season is that Krejci finished with 21 points in 22 games after the Olympics, and Savard was out then, too.

Nik Antropov, Atlanta Thrashers: Already on a hot streak, Antropov continued to score after coach Craig Ramsay swapped the lines around following the All-Star break. Antropov is now skating with Evander Kane and Anthony Stewart. He has points in nine of his past 13 games and six of his past seven. And last season Antropov had 17 points in the final 20 games to lead the Thrashers into the post-Kovalchuk era. There is nothing stopping Antropov from stepping into a leadership role again for this club. He is available in 49 percent of ESPN leagues and worth an investment if you are looking for someone who could sustain a point run.

Lee Stempniak, Phoenix Coyotes: This recommendation feels too much like hoping to strike gold, but it's hard to ignore some of Stempniak's hot streaks. After the Olympic break last season, Stempniak had 19 points in 19 games. That wouldn't even be worth mentioning if Stempniak weren't on a hot streak, but he is, with 11 points in his past seven games. Clearly this is a player who can catch fire, and he has a tendency to do so late in the season.

A 10 for the Hawks and Avs: A forecasted 10 on offense means you can start to look a little deeper down these two teams' depth charts for help. The Avs, unfortunately, will have to do the same following the loss of David Jones (shoulder). Ryan Stoa is the name that keeps surfacing alongside the established top two offensive pairings. He could be in for a career week with the openings on offense. Either that, or the Avalanche will need to turn to a former superstar for help. Don't hold your breath. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have plenty of names down the depth chart who find a way to contribute. Specifically, Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell continue to find ways to get points on the third line.

Too many cooks in the Rangers' kitchen? I know I endorsed this Rangers offense before the All-Star break, but after watching two games with Ryan Callahan back and one with Vaclav Prospal in the fold, I sense trouble for a couple of pickups of late. Wojtek Wolski was bumped to the third line with Sean Avery and Chris Drury, while Mats Zuccarello found himself on the checking line with Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle. It's not the end of the world for both players, though I did hope for a better depth-chart placement. Zuccarello still got lots of power-play time, and Wolski had a couple of opportunities on the man advantage, as well. Those aren't the lines I foresaw coach John Tortorella using, and it makes me a bit cooler on both players' future prospects. That said, I'm bullish on Wolski and Zuccarello, and things looked great for Callahan and Prospal. Prospal potted a power-play goal in his debut, while Callahan has two goals in two games since returning to the ice. Callahan reformed a line with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov that had been red hot earlier this season. Prospal skated with Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan.

It's Niitty-gritty time: To be fair, neither Antero Niittymaki nor Antti Niemi has been great from a fantasy perspective, but given a choice between the two goaltenders, I'll always side with Niittymaki. Niemi has the better save percentage, but Niitty has the better goals-against average this season. The reason I am posting this debate is that the Sharks have a four-game week and a 10 defensive rating above; one of these goaltenders is going to have a good week (and perhaps both). The reason I want to side with Niitty is also the fact Niemi never really slammed the door shut on the job despite having well more than a month to do so (with Niittymaki injured). I bet Niittymaki gets a chance to start a few games during the week to see where he is. Thanks to the good schedule, he should come off well.

Quick hits

It may be time to try out Max Pacioretty. The third-year forward has been making spirited spikes of offense this season, but coming out of the All-Star break, he was placed on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. That is a fantastic combination to be a part of and could spell fantasy value of the remainder of the season for Pacioretty. (It could also mean bad things for Andrei Kostitsyn and Scott Gomez).

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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