Fantasy Hockey Injuries: Which players should you gamble on in your drafts?

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Will you take a chance on <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/players/5967/" data-ylk="slk:Antti Raanta">Antti Raanta</a> this season? Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Will you take a chance on Antti Raanta this season? Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

By Jeff StottsRotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Erik Karlsson, D, San Jose Sharks

Karlsson agreed to a $92-million deal with the Sharks this offseason despite coming off groin surgery. The injury cost the defenseman 27 of the final 33 regular-season games and limited him throughout the postseason. He underwent surgery in early June.

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Groin injuries are an increasingly common problem in the NHL. The uptick in frequency is unsurprising considering the force required to make sudden starts and stops in skates places a high degree of stress on and through the muscle group. A 2001 study even developed a term known as “Hockey Groin Syndrome” to describe a specific groin injury seen in 22 NHL players over 11 years.

Fortunately, the success rate for surgical intervention is high with these types of injuries and Karlsson should be healthy and ready for the upcoming season. The Sharks’ financial investment in the 29 year old should serve as another strong indicator that Karlsson is ready to move past the problem.

Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

The 22-year-old center has accrued a myriad of accolades in his brief four-year career, including multiple Art Ross Trophies and Ted Lindsay Awards. As a result, he has become a fixture in fantasy hockey and a perennial contender for the top overall pick. However, there could be a reason for slight pause this season as McDavid continues to work his way back from a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his knee.

The PCL is the lesser known of the two cruciate ligaments, often taking a backseat to the more frequently injured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). However, the PCL is crucial to knee stability, preventing knee hyperextension while serving as the axis point for knee rotation. A sprain of the PCL results in pain and swelling and instability if the laxity of the ligament is compromised. McDavid’s sprain appears to have been a Grade 2 or partial tear that did not require surgery to mend. Instead, he has spent the offseason rehabbing the area and strengthening the surrounding musculature.

He has been skating for most of the summer but opted not to participate in several offseason camps. McDavid continues to target a return during training camp but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him limited throughout the preseason. A regular season return seems plausible though the lingering concerns may make Nikita Kucherov the top pick in some drafts.

Nick Schmaltz, F, Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes' acquisition of Schmaltz in a late November trade paid off immediately as the right wing tallied 14 points in 17 contests with the club. However, a knee injury prematurely ended his season and ultimately sent him to the operating room. Schmaltz’s injury involved the meniscus in his knee.

The menisci are two disks made up of a specialized type of cartilage that can withstand high amounts of stress while retaining their elasticity. Each meniscus serves as a shock absorber and stabilizer. When damaged, the surgeon often has two options: Removal or repair. True repairs are rare and require the tear to be in a specific location of the effected disc. A removal or meniscectomy has a quicker associated recovery but does increase the risk of potential problems down the road. The exact procedure required by Schmaltz has not been confirmed, but the injury was described as a minor tear. Regardless of treatment option, enough time has passed that Schmaltz should be cleared to be a full participant in training camp.

Antti Raanta, G, Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes had Raanta between the pipes for just 12 games last year as an undisclosed lower-body injury cost him the majority of the campaign. There was some late-season speculation that he could have returned for the playoffs, but that never occurred. Hockey injury reports are often vague by design, but there are several steps fantasy gamers can take to help decipher them.

Start by recognizing the differences in key terms like sprain and strain. A sprain involves a ligament, one of the stabilizing structures of the body, while a strain is an injury that occurs to a muscle or tendon. Beware of words like chronic, lingering, or nagging, as they often indicate the situation is unlikely to improve quickly. Finally, previous injury is often one of the biggest risk factors for a new injury, so the numbers of times a player shows up on the injury report could be just as important as the specifics surrounding the injury. Raanta has been limited in back-to-back seasons due to lower-body issues and will carry an elevated level of risk entering the season.

Taylor Hall, F, New Jersey Devils

The 2017-18 Hart Memorial Trophy winner was unable to defend his title after his season ended in late December. Hall underwent an arthroscopic knee debridement and was limited to 33 games played. A debridement is utilized to remove a variety of unwanted tissue, including scar tissue, bone spurs, or loose/floating pieces of cartilage. With the root of Hall’s pain removed, he should be in line for a bounce-back campaign. He’s already been seen skating and is optimistic that he'll be ready for training camp.

Mathew Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota defenseman missed 50 games last season after rupturing his pectoral muscle. The pectoral muscles fan across the chest and are generally associated with chest-related exercises like the bench press. However, tears here can also be considered a shoulder injury as the pectoralis major attaches to the upper arm bone and assists with shoulder motion. The pec is vital in almost all motions performed with a hockey stick, as it helps bring the arm across the body. Dumba was slated to miss three months following surgery but will have spent over nine months rehabbing when the Wild break for camp. As a result, the chest and shoulder should be ready to go and Dumba will look to return to top form entering the season.

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Mikko Koivu, C, Minnesota Wild

The veteran center underwent surgery in February to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. ACL tears are no longer the career killers they once were and the timing of the injury should minimize or potentially eliminate time lost in the upcoming season. Koivu has resumed skating, but the team has hinted he may not partake in any preseason outings to ensure he’s healthy for the start of the regular season. Anyone who invests in Koivu will be taking a calculated risk, but the 36 year old could be worth a late-round flier.

Vladimir Tarasenko, F, St. Louis Blues

The joy of winning the Stanley Cup likely eased the pain from the two troublesome injuries Tarasenko spent the majority of the postseason managing. He played through a shoulder injury during the Stanley Cup Finals and underwent surgery on his knee shortly after the season ended. The Blues remain tight-lipped regarding specifics of both injuries but Tarasenko is expected to be ready by Opening Night of the regular season. He’s historically been able to play through injuries but may be slow out of the gate as he works his way back to All-Star form.

Derek Stepan, C, Arizona Coyotes

Stepan missed a prolonged period of last season due to a moderate medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain in his left knee. The MCL provides lateral support of the knee and can often heal without surgical intervention, especially if meniscus damage is avoided. Stepan likely spent the offseason recuperating and should be cleared for the start of the year. He’s proven to be durable throughout his career and should be drafted accordingly.

Robert Thomas, C, St. Louis Blues

Thomas was another member of the Blues who went under the knife shortly after the team hoisted the Stanley Cup. Thomas’ surgery was needed to repair a torn tendon in his wrist. The team’s deep postseason run ate into potential recovery time and could make it difficult for Thomas to be completely ready for training camp. However, the team said he would be re-evaluated before training camp, and a better idea of his overall health should be provided then.

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