- Sean Allen
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What would you do if Daniel Alfredsson, Shane Doan, Bobby Ryan or even Eric Staal was available in 96.6 percent of ESPN leagues? I'm pretty sure you would spend some time wondering why, but only after stopping by your league to pick up any of the players you could.
Why do I mention these names? Because if you took Benoit Pouliot's points-per-game stats and applied it over a full season with the Montreal Canadiens, he would be in the same ballpark as Alfie, Doan, Ryan and Staal. Unfortunately for Pouliot, he has played only 23 games for the Habs and was even injured in the weeks leading up to the Olympic break. That means fantasy owners aren't giving him the credit he deserves, and he is owned in only 3.4 percent of ESPN leagues.
He's back on the top line for the Canadiens, and has four points in four games since the break, with a total of 18 points in 24 games as a Hab. The trio of Pouliot, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta is complementing each other quite nicely and doubling as the first power-play unit.
Pouliot is the poster boy for "a change of scenery" doing a player some good. In fact, his 18 points since December with the Canadiens equal the 18 points he scored as a Minnesota Wild since 2006.
The bottom line is that Pouliot is producing and playing big minutes. He should be owned in most leagues at this point. If he manages to keep up his pace as a Canadien, he might be good for another seven goals and 12 points over the final 15 games of the season.
David Booth, LW, Florida Panthers (owned in 71 percent of ESPN leagues): A concussion kept Booth out of the lineup from late October until the end of January, but it wasn't until this past week that he was actually "back." Booth showed some signs of life with six points in two games and had a fight against Mike Richards, the player who gave him the concussion. Fantasy owners actually held on to Booth in large numbers during his injury, but now that he is healthy again he should be owned in every league. He is a shooting machine and can easily match a pace that would have produced 30-plus goals over a full season. For now, Booth is on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik. That could change when Nathan Horton returns, although he won't even practice with the team until March 15.
Pavol Demitra, LW, Vancouver Canucks (owned in 6.8 percent): I wasn't kidding about the Olympic momentum carrying Demitra into a strong finish to the season. It worked out even better than I had hoped, as coach Alain Vigneault promoted Demitra to the Canucks' second line with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. Demitra has one point in each of four games since the break, this after scoring 10 points during the Vancouver Games. He could be a difference-maker down the stretch in your league, so make sure you are the one who benefits.
Kurtis Foster, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (owned in 7.1 percent): Why no love for Foster in fantasy leagues? Here's a guy playing with one of the most talented power plays in the league who has also managed to keep his plus/minus respectable and is even firing a decent number of shots on goal. Is it the average ice time? While 15:48 is admittedly pretty bad for a defenseman, I don't know that it runs so strongly as to cancel out his good qualities. Foster has seven goals and 24 assists this season, with 60 percent of his points coming on the power play. While I can see your concerns over his ice time, go check what he's been playing the past few games. About 20 minutes a night is pretty respectable for most defensemen.
Alexander Steen, LW, St. Louis Blues (owned in 3.4 percent): Steen is currently riding a six-points-in-three-games wave since the Olympic break. Playing on what could be argued as the Blues' third line with Jay McClement and Brad Boyes, Steen has managed multiple points in all three games since the break. While none of his production has come on the power play, he is still playing time on the man advantage as part of coach Davis Payne's "five-forward" attack. Steen has been fighting to maintain value all season and has managed to find a way despite very few opportunities among the top six. I don't know that he can be a huge contributor down the stretch, but he is certainly someone to take a chance on.
Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Canucks (owned in 95.9 percent of ESPN leagues): This is mostly for those playing in a standard ESPN league or some other shallow format that has average ice time. In those formats, you simply cannot afford to play a forward who is not in the top six. Samuelsson has received a demotion to the third line and his ice time has dropped from an average of 17 minutes to as low as 13. There just isn't room for him. If you play in a deeper league, though, go ahead and hold on to him. Samuelsson actually has three goals in four games since being demoted.
I grow weary of bringing up his name so often this season, but I'll shout it from the rooftops one more time: Chris Stewart is still available in almost 65 percent of ESPN leagues. He has 51 points in 60 games and will easily finish with more than 30 goals. The St. Louis Blues are showing signs of life, and Paul Kariya has been leading the way. On a top line with T.J. Oshie and David Backes, Kariya has five points in three games since the Olympic break. Kariya is available in more than 81 percent of ESPN leagues. Chris Kunitz is enjoying a strong return from the break, with five points in four games, joining Sidney Crosby on the top line for the Pittsburgh Penguins and even playing on the first power-play unit with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while Bill Guerin was out with back spasms. Kunitz was dropped in a lot of leagues while hurt, and his ownership is down to 74.1 percent.
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 says that Bernie Pouliot has been as effective as some of the top players in the game today while healthy, which he is now.