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Fantasy Grapevine: Week 23

3/19/2014
Kris Letang may soon be back on the ice for the Penguins, and back producing in fantasy. Jeff Vinnick/NHLI/Getty Images

At first, the hope was Kris Letang would recover and enjoy a full and satisfying life with his wife, daughter and family. Then, word emerged the defenseman could return to the NHL again, you know, someday... in 2014-15, maybe. Now, not even two months after suffering a stroke, he is more than toying with the idea of making a comeback for the Pittsburgh Penguins this regular season.

As discussed by Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the defenseman, with the doctors giving him the thumbs-up, has the call on if or when he wanted to return to practice. Encouraged by the latest medical assessments, the Penguins wouldn’t stand in Letang’s way. Nor should they, contends Starkey.

Letang had five doctors looking after him, with team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas in charge.

"One for my brain, one for my heart, one for my vestibular [system] -- everything," Letang said, according to the newspaper. "It wasn't [left] to me if I was allowed to skate. They made that decision. It was [left] to me if I wanted to skate."

And skate he did. Comfortably, it would seem. So now what?

Now, according to Penguins reporter Rob Rossi, it’s up to the doctors on when Letang can return to game action. Once that medical clearance goes through, good luck keeping the 26-year-old competitor away from the rink.

There’s still no telling if this even happens this season. However, tracking Letang’s progress thus far, we’re willing -- with admittedly zero medical insight whatsoever -- to project a comeback before next fall. And everyone, the player and the coaching staff included, would prefer to have their top defenseman back before the playoffs get underway. So, yeah, barring a setback, we see Letang back at it in a couple of weeks.

From a fantasy perspective, it’s an intriguing situation, because we’re discussing one of the most prolific performers of recent seasons. Owned in less than half of ESPN.com leagues, Letang could prove to be a formidable force down the final stretch. Those in head-to-head leagues, in particular, might want to invest in the offensive defenseman immediately.

Quick hits from around the NHL

• The Boston Bruins seem content to stick with Reilly Smith on their second line. Skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Smith (owned in 77 percent of ESPN.com leagues) snapped a 15-game goal-less streak versus the Minnesota Wild Monday and added an assist in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

• The top six for the Colorado Avalanche appears somewhat set, especially with center John Mitchell out, nursing a suspected back injury. With Paul Stastny back in the lineup, the Gabriel Landeskog/Stastny/Nathan MacKinnon trio and Jamie McGinn/Matt Duchene/Ryan O'Reilly line seemingly make up the top two forward units for the Avs. Of the six players, McGinn is the only one not unanimously spoken for in the ESPN.com fantasy universe (available in more than 91 percent of leagues), and has three goals and three assists in his past four games.

• Bonus item: Here’s extra material on how awesome that MacKinnon kid is, compliments of ESPN Insider Corey Pronman.

• Following the stingy performance Anton Khudobin (owned in 54 percent of ESPN.com leagues) put on against the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday, we’re supposing Cam Ward -- who wasn’t great in his previous outing for the Carolina Hurricanes -- won’t see as much action in the next week or so. But the Hurricanes face the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, and the Blackhawks lead the NHL in goals per game. So we'll have another clue on the situation then.

• Wild coach Mike Yeo finally may be settling on his go-to combinations, as far as his forward lines are concerned, at least for the time being. As it stands, the top trio for the Wild features Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville, while the second forward unit sports Matt Moulson, Mikko Koivu and Justin Fontaine. That leaves Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter as the odd men out, on a third line with Dany Heatley.

Yeo was especially pleased with Fontaine’s two-point performance in Tuesday’s 6-0 victory over the New York Islanders.

“[Fontaine] showed a lot. We’ll have to make sure he stays on it. He’s got quick feet but he makes quick decisions. To play with guys like that (Moulson and Koivu), you need skill but you have to think the game at a high level," Yeo said. "He showed he’s capable of that tonight.”

While Fontaine (owned in less than 1 percent of ESPN.com leagues) was the only Wild skater to be completely excluded from power-play action Tuesday, that will change if the 26-year-old winger continues to impress.

• Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News suggests the corps of Dallas Stars defensemen is “unnerved” by the presence of newbie veteran Tim Thomas (owned in 71 percent of ESPN.com leagues) in net. Mind you, the Dallas defense wasn’t exactly at its collective best in front of Kari Lehtonen (owned in 98 percent of ESPN.com leagues) Tuesday, either. It will be fascinating to see if/how the defensemen's level of comfort influences coach Lindy Ruff’s strategies where starting goalie decisions are concerned.

• From where we’re sitting, Craig Anderson (upper-body injury) seems nowhere near ready to return for the Ottawa Senators. "I don't feel like I'm able to, I guess, track the puck and stop the puck at my ability," he said. "And I feel I'd be hurting the team if I tried to go out and play, at this point, the way I feel." Robin Lehner allowed five goals on 28 shots in Tuesday’s 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers.

• The Toronto Maple Leafs seem devoted to riding James Reimer, instead of giving AHL journeyman Drew MacIntyre a shot, for as long as Jonathan Bernier remains out. Indications from Wednesday’s morning skate suggest Reimer gets the start against the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite having faced the Detroit Red Wings the previous evening. On the upside for the Leafs, Bernier (lower-body injury) looks to be healing.

• While the Vancouver Canucks are feeling some heat for not promoting Nicklas Jensen earlier, there’s little argument the rookie forward has brought some pop to the squad’s top line, and the offense in general. Competing with Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows, the 2011 first-round draft pick has two goals and two assists in six games. After an initial two-game warm-up, he’s averaged more than 20 minutes per game, including precious time with the man-advantage. And the 21-year-old is available in more than 96 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

• Forward Dustin Penner is allegedly too slow to skate on the Washington Capitals' top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. However, coach Adam Oates is willing to keep somewhat of an open mind about that potential threesome in the future, or so he says, anyway. Ovechkin skated with Marcus Johansson and Jay Beagle (!) in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, while Backstrom formed a line with Troy Brouwer and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

• Sticking with the Capitals, Adam Vingan of NBC Washington points out that we may not see much more of goalie Braden Holtby (owned in 58 percent of ESPN.com leagues) this season, based on the way recent trade import Jaroslav Halak has been playing.

• “Teravainen Watch” continues in Chicago. Still no definitive word on when winger Teuvo Teravainen will play his first NHL game, but he’s scheduled to arrive in North America by week’s end. The 19-year-old prospect notched 44 points in 49 games with Jokerit in the Finnish league this season. A dynasty-league fantasy asset for down the road, Teravainen could be worth scooping up now, if you have little left to lose this campaign.