- Sean Allen
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After exploring some of my strange options for measuring players' fantasy hockey performance during the past few weeks, I think it's time to stop looking for a new way to do things and return to a tried-and-true method. At the risk of beating a dead horse with some of these players, we'll go through the ESPN Player Rater and pull out some names for consideration. I think some of them have been mentioned on a near-weekly basis, but that speaks to just how much they are underappreciated.
ESPN Player Rater sorted by entire season
Pekka Rinne, G, Predators: He ranks 27th on the Player Rater and seventh among goalies but is owned in only 31 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Rinne consistently has been better than Dan Ellis all season and has seen his minutes steadily increase. He has appeared in seven of the team's past 10 games and can be considered its No. 1 netminder. Unlike fellow high-ranking goaltenders Scott Clemmensen and Nikolai Khabibulin, Rinne has a real chance to keep his No. 1 spot the rest of the season and improve on his numbers.
Ty Conklin, G, Red Wings: Coming in at 49th overall and 12th among goalies, Conklin still hasn't caught the attention of enough fantasy owners. He is owned in just more than 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Conklin has just about taken over the starting job for the defending champions, to the point where Chris Osgood was given some time off to regroup. Osgood will earn one more shot to prove he belongs, but don't be surprised if Detroit goes into the postseason with Conklin as its starter.
Travis Zajac, C, Devils: At No. 65 overall, Zajac deserves to be owned in more than 75 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Could 25 percent of leagues be inactive? Zajac's recent play with Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner has been difficult to overlook. If you are one of the lucky few who still could pick him up, don't wait any longer.
David Backes, RW, Blues: Backes, who has 33 points this season, ranks 79th on the Player Rater thanks to his 137 penalty minutes, yet his ownership hovers at 36 percent. Yes, with seven categories, PIMs have become a bit watered-down in standard ESPN.com leagues, but players such as Backes provide a reward for chasing that statistic. Backes' production has slowed of late, but he is still getting chances on a line with Brad Boyes and on the team's second power-play unit.
ESPN Player Rater sorted by past 30 days
Chris Mason, G, Blues: Mason turned the corner on his season about a month ago and ranks sixth on the Player Rater for the past month. He is still available in 75 percent of ESPN.com leagues, thanks to the Blues' ability to fly under the radar. Mason has three shutouts in his past 13 starts and has allowed more than two goals only three times in that span. I can't stress enough how strong a pickup he is for some fantasy owners (cough, Ryan Miller, cough).
Ryan Kesler, C, Canucks: The second player in this article to have signed an offer sheet in the past three years (the first being Backes), Kesler ranks 12th on the Player Rater in the past month thanks mainly to one man: Mats Sundin. Playing on a line with Sundin and Pavol Demitra, Kesler has become a legitimate scoring threat. He has nine of his 18 goals in his past 10 games and is available in 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Snap him up, as Sundin should only improve Kesler's play as the season wears on.
Drew Stafford, RW, Sabres: With strong play in front of the net, Stafford has really taken off alongside Tim Connolly and (until recently) Thomas Vanek. In the past month, Stafford is 19th on the Player Rater, yet is still available in just more than 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues. With Vanek on the shelf until sometime in March, Stafford is the Sabres' top finisher, and when Vanek is in the lineup, he is the perfect complement. He should start in most leagues and may approach the 60-point season we've been waiting for.
ESPN Player Rater sorted by past 15 days
Alexandre Burrows, LW, Canucks: Because Mats Sundin is getting his game legs back, the Canucks have been allowed to ice two strong lines in recent weeks, something they couldn't do until his arrival. Burrows has seven points in five games on the top line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. That performance ranks him 35th on the Player Rater in the past two weeks or so. Burrows' rough style has complemented the twins' style of play, so he should stay on their line. He is available in 74 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Joe Pavelski, C, Sharks: Ranked 44th on the Player Rater in the past 15 days, Pavelski is riding a six-game point streak as of Saturday's contest. Going back 18 games, he has at least a point in 14 of them. Familiarity helps Pavelski's game, as he skates with Milan Michalek and Ryane Clowe both on and off the power play. With the attention that San Jose's top line draws from the opposing coaches, this second unit is able to exploit good matchups on a nightly basis. Pavelski is available in 36 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Jarret Stoll, C, Kings: The former Edmonton Oilers power-play specialist has really come out and made a name for himself in L.A. lately. Stoll has ranked 79th on the Player Rater in the past 15 days, but his hot play dates back a little further. In his past 14 games he has six goals and nine assists, with eight of those points coming on the power play. Stoll sticks close to the Kings' best player (Dustin Brown) at even strength and plays a fine point opposite Kyle Quincey on the power play. Available in 87 percent of ESPN.com leagues, you definitely should target him if garnering power-play points is your fantasy team's weakness.
ESPN Player Rater sorted by past seven days
Bryan Little, C, Thrashers: Could you please pass me a fork? Just one week after I wrote Little off in this same space, he has woken up from a slumber that saw him go pointless during a 10-game stretch. In his past four contests, Little has four goals and seven points. That performance ranks him 35th on the Player Rater for the past week. Apparently the Kahlua Line has some life left after all. Little is available in 46 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Tomas Plekanec, C, Canadiens: Plekanec has stepped back into the form he had last season that saw him post 69 points. In his past five games, he has eight points. Provided he has a (hopefully) rejuvenated Alexei Kovalev to work with, Plekanec will be key to the Habs' turning around their recent nosedive. His ownership percentage has dropped to just less than 62 percent, so see whether he is still available in your league.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
48mMichael C. Wright