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Fantasy: 10 injury bounce-backs with high upside

NHL

Injuries are a fantasy owner's worst nightmare. They are impossible to predict and can decimate your roster in the blink of an eye.

That said, anticipating a bounce-back season from a player looking to overcome an injury is a worthwhile fantasy strategy.

A glaring example is Sidney Crosby , who came into last season having played 63 of a possible 164 games during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 regular seasons. It wasn't easy for fantasy owners to spend their No. 1 draft pick on such an injury-prone player, but Crosby's 56 points in 36 games (he missed the last 12 with a broken jaw) rewarded those who invested in his potential.

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Then there are the more surprising injury bounce-back players, guys like Andrei Markov and James van Riemsdyk . Markov suited up for 20 combined games for the Montreal Canadiens over a two-season span due to reconstructive knee surgeries. Van Riemsdyk was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in June 2012 after injuries limited him to 43 games with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-12.

The fantasy owners who took a chance on Markov (23 PPP in 2012-13, 2nd among defensemen) and van Riemsdyk (18 G, 14 A, 140 SOG) during the doom and gloom received a big boost from their production.

Moral of the story: Taking a chance on a player coming off an injury may be the road less traveled on draft day, but it has the potential to pay huge dividends.

Taking into account past performance, projected lineups and changes in scenery, here are 10 injury bounce-back candidates to keep an eye on in your upcoming drafts. NOTE: Only players with fewer than 30 games played last season were eligible for this list.

Steve Downie , LW/RW, Colorado Avalanche

Games played in 2012-13: 2

Steve Downie
2011-12 STATS
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 27 | PTS: 41
SOG: 140 | PIM: 137
Despite finishing with the League's second-worst point total last season, the Avalanche enter 2013-14 with the deepest fantasy forward group (nine players in NHL.com's top 300). Downie sustained a season-ending knee injury and missed 46 of 48 games last season, but is expected to be ready for training camp. Even if Downie is not 100 percent to start the season, he's projected to be on the team's third line with Jamie McGinn and No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon -- giving him immediate fantasy appeal. Downie is a three-time 100-plus PIMs producer and made a great impression in 20 games (13 points, plus-9, 16 PIMs, 41 SOG) after being traded to Colorado in 2011-12. That season, Downie was one of only eight players in the NHL with 40-plus points and 100-plus PIMs. He's dual-eligible in Yahoo! leagues and completely off the radar at the moment, so be sure to grab him with one of the final picks in your draft.

Tobias Enstrom , D, Winnipeg Jets

Games played in 2012-13: 22

Tobias Enstrom
2012-13 STATS
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 15
SOG: 21 | +/-: -8
Enstrom has a clean slate to work with after missing significant time last season due to shoulder and back injuries. When in the lineup (22 games), Enstrom finished with the NHL's fourth-best points per game average (.68) among defenseman with 20-plus games played, trailing only fantasy standouts Kris Letang , P.K. Subban and Mike Green . He saw 3:40 of ice time with the man advantage per game last season (seven PPP), so expect him to find his groove again with Dustin Byfuglien on the team's top power-play unit. Enstrom has eclipsed the 50-point, 50-PIM, 100-shot plateaus before, so there's a great chance he could put it all together this coming season with an array of offensive weapons around him in Winnipeg.

Jaroslav Halak , G, St. Louis Blues

Games played in 2012-13: 16

Halak, who missed time with a lower-body injury last season, needs to put his best foot forward as he enters a contract year. Brian Elliott made a strong case for time with a late surge in 2012-13 and Jake Allen is waiting for his opportunity, but Halak remains a top-20 fantasy goalie and St. Louis' primary option in net. Fantasy owners shouldn't put too much stock in Halak, but he's worth considering once the top 100 overall players are off the board for a couple of reasons: His goals-against-average has been under 2.15 in each of the past two seasons, and he should play at least 50 games barring injury. If Halak is traded during the season to a team for which he'd be the clear No. 1, his stock would rise significantly. He's not a lock to provide start quantity for your team, but, if healthy, Halak would likely end up the most valuable individual fantasy player among goalies currently in timeshare tandems.

Erik Karlsson , D, Ottawa Senators

Games played in 2012-13: 17

Erik Karlsson
2011-12 STATS
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 59 | PTS: 78
SOG: 261 | +/-: 16
Karlsson suffered an Achilles tendon injury on Feb. 13 and was expected to miss the rest of the season. But the 23-year-old defenseman showed near-superhuman healing power by returning two months later for Ottawa's final three regular-season games (four assists, 16 shots on goal) and 10-game postseason run (eight points, 28 SOG). While Karlsson showed some lingering effects of the injury as the Stanley Cup Playoffs progressed, there's no reason to question his fantasy value after he said he feels 100 percent heading into camp. When he went down with the injury, Karlsson led the NHL in shots on goal (63) and was one of seven defensemen with 10-plus points. While he doesn't carry the point-PIM potential of P.K. Subban , he's the only fantasy defenseman with legitimate 80-point capability, making him arguably the most valuable player at his position.

Ryan Kesler , C, Vancouver Canucks

Games played in 2012-13: 17

Kesler has been decimated by injuries over the last two seasons, sustaining a broken foot in 2012-13, undergoing shoulder surgery two offseasons ago and hip surgery in 2011. That said, the 29-year-old is worth taking a chance on as he prepares for his first training camp in three years. Kesler once reeled off back-to-back 70-plus point campaigns, including a 75-point, 104-PIM, 214-shot season in 2009-10 and a 41-goal showing in 2010-11, so he has shown game-breaking ability in the past. If healthy, Kesler will be the Canucks' second-line center and in position to make a difference. He's seen upwards of three minutes of power-play ice time per game when in the lineup during the past three regular seasons and has a chance to regain form as a premier goal-scorer. If Kesler makes a strong first impression under John Tortorella, the opportunities are endless.

Joffrey Lupul , LW/RW, Toronto Maple Leafs

Games played in 2012-13: 16

Lupul is a top-75 overall fantasy asset entering 2013-14 and has explosive offensive players surrounding him. Whether he plays with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel , or Nazem Kadri and newly acquired David Clarkson , his potential is worth investing in on fantasy draft day. This past season, Lupul totaled 14 goals in 23 games (regular season and playoffs combined), a slightly better goal-scoring rate (.608 per game) than League-leader Alex Ovechkin (33 goals in 55 combined games, 0.60 average). Lupul missed two-thirds of the 2012-13 regular season due to a broken right forearm, but if he ever manages to suit up for a full season, he could rack up 30 goals and 200 shots. There's no question that Lupul is a risky fantasy player to draft, but he's a middle-round asset that can help you win your league -- if he can stay healthy.

Patrick Sharp , LW/C, Chicago Blackhawks

Games played in 2012-13: 28

Patrick Sharp
2013 PLAYOFFS
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 16
SOG: 91 | +/-: 1
Sharp missed substantial time due to a shoulder injury last season, but fought through it to register League-leading playoff totals of 10 goals and 91 shots on goal. He's a top-50 fantasy player based on NHL.com's rankings and should be on your radar anywhere from the third to fifth rounds. Sharp, 31, may not strike fantasy owners as a high-upside option, but the bottom line is that you can count on him for 60-plus points, a quality rating and 250-plus shots on goal if he's healthy for a full season. He's expected to line up on the left side on Chicago's second line with rookie Brandon Pirri and top-10 right wing Marian Hossa , so expect Sharp to again benefit from the talented players around him within a system in which he's comfortable. Left wing lacks a clear-cut fantasy front-runner, so Sharp has as good a chance as anyone to make waves.

Jason Spezza , C, Ottawa Senators

Games played in 2012-13: 5

NHL.com's Matt Cubeta showcased Bobby Ryan as a bounce-back candidate because his move to Ottawa means he will join forces with Spezza. Many fantasy owners forget just how valuable Spezza, 30, was just two seasons ago when he finished fourth in the NHL with 84 points. He also tied for 18th in the League with 24 power-play points that season, touching on all six standard-league fantasy categories. Last season was a different story though, as Spezza played five regular-season games (two goals, three assists) due to a back injury and then sustained a knee injury during his recovery. Despite that setback, Spezza still returned to the Senators' lineup in time for their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins . If Ryan sees revitalized production with the man advantage upon his change of scenery, expect the ultra-motivated Spezza to hit his stride and finish as a top-15 overall fantasy asset.

Cam Ward , G, Carolina Hurricanes

Games played in 2012-13: 17

Anticipating a bounce-back year from a player who missed substantial time with an injury, like Joffrey Lupul, Jason Spezza and Cam Ward, can be a winning fantasy hockey strategy. (Photos: NHLI)

Ward has dealt with a heavy workload throughout his career, playing 60-plus games five times with 30-plus wins in each of those seasons. He has logged the fourth-most saves (4,585) in the NHL over the past three seasons, trailing only Pekka Rinne , Carey Price and Ryan Miller . His 2012-13 season was cut short due to an MCL sprain of his left knee, spelling doom for the then first-place Hurricanes. Carolina was weak on the back end last season, allowing 3.31 goals per game (second-worst in NHL). But the Hurricanes' blue line group, with the exception of Joni Pitkanen , is healthy and poised to benefit from the addition of Andrej Sekera and Mike Komisarek . Ward is a buy-low fantasy option as Carolina moves to the Metropolitan Division, but still remains a fringe top-20 goalie who knows how to carry a team. Don't expect a career year from the 29-year-old, but if he plays a full season, he'll be among the NHL's more valuable workhorse goalies.

Stephen Weiss , C, Detroit Red Wings

Games played in 2012-13: 17

This offseason had some high-profile movers and shakers, but Weiss' move to Detroit is an underrated one from a fantasy standpoint. The longtime Florida Panthers center signed a five-year contract with the Red Wings, putting him in position to anchor the team's second line with veterans Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson . Weiss had a forgettable 2012-13 (one goal, three assists, minus-13 in 17 games) before going down with a season-ending wrist injury, but he now finds himself in the most promising situation of his career. Weiss thrived on the Panthers' top line with Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg in 2011-12 (172 combined points), but has never had the luxury of operating within such a deep lineup. He's a two-time 60-point scorer who has compiled PIMs and shots in the past. Expect Detroit's depth to take pressure off Weiss, allowing him to reach his potential in Mike Babcock's system.

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