A fascinating element about the fantasy hockey season at this juncture: I suddenly preach a tactic I never would leading up to the draft.
As players prepare their pool rankings, I consistently insist not to chase rumored line combinations and to instead go by talent, as things can change on a dime, especially early in the season, rendering a sexy sleeper useless. Halfway through the fantasy campaign, however, when times become desperate for certain GMs, we can change course. Snagging an available player suddenly thrust into an important role could save your squad. Even if said player ends up cast to the fourth line a week later, he's worth the gamble, especially because the price is so low. It doesn't cost a draft pick, as it would in September. It's a mere waiver-wire grab, maybe even one to fill an open roster spot left by an injury.
Last season, lightly owned gems Andrew Hammond, David Pastrnak, Dennis Wideman and Radim Vrbata put many fantasy teams over the top in their championship pushes with second-half surges. What overlooked names might bring you back from the dead this time around? Here are 10 to consider, sorted by availability in Yahoo leagues. And don't be afraid to cut bait if they don't pan out. Most of these names are just as likely to fade back into oblivion as they are to help you – but every one of them at least has the potential to rescue you.
Brian Elliott, G (available in 32% of leagues)
A season saver doesn't have to stay with you all the way through the playoffs. He can merely be a guy who gets you there or, in roto leagues, who gives you a much-needed temporary boost in a few stat categories. Elliott is that guy. Owners of injured Blues starter Jake Allen likely grabbed Elliott already. Anyone else, though, should rush to snag Elliott right now. He should perform as a top-15 stopper as long as Allen sits, and Allen's knee injury is week to week, so it's possible he misses a substantial period of time. Elliott has never seized a full-time starter role in his career but is capable of piping-hot stretches. If he goes on a run this month, he'll carry some fantasy squads.
Jaden Schwartz, LW (51%)
Schwartz has no business being on this list. He's a top-75 fantasy asset when healthy and should be owned in virtually all pools. As the season wears on, however, many of our rosters get loaded up with wounded soldiers, and we only have so many IR spots. Schwartz's 51 percent availability suggests many owners were forced to drop him. He's slated to return from his broken ankle after the all-star break. Even if Blues coach Ken Hitchcock eases Schwartz back into the fray at first, he should reclaim his left wing slot on one of the top two lines, likely alongside his partner in crime Vladimir Tarasenko. Schwartz may only play another 30 games in 2015-16 but could easily post 20 to 25 points in that stretch.
Ryan Ellis, D (66%)
Nashville dealt 2013 first-rounder and future franchise blueliner Seth Jones to Columbus for Ryan Johansen last week. Before the trade, Ellis, the Preds' 2009 first-rounder, averaged 19:47 of ice time. Since: 22:59. It's only a three-game sample, but three-plus minutes per game is quite the significant bump. Nashville needs Ellis to play top-four minutes going forward. He's a gifted puck-mover with natural offensive instincts, and he plays more than two minutes per contest on the power play. He's a nice addition to fantasy squads as fourth or fifth blueliner.
Jonathan Drouin, LW (83%)
Drouin currently toils for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. Don't you dare forget about him. As I wrote recently, Drouin's per-minute production suggests he's quite a potent offensive weapon whenever he's given the chance, contrary to what the trade request might suggest about his reputation. Many other NHL teams know this and will attempt to acquire him before the season is up. And, considering the sticking point with Drouin is he doesn't get enough minutes, whoever trades for him will give him a much larger opportunity than he's had in Tampa. We still don't know how Drouin will pan out as an NHLer. He's a high-risk proposition. But his ceiling remains astronomical. Drouin opened 2015-16 with six points in five games and could end the season on a similarly torrid stretch if he changes addresses.
Mikael Granlund, C (85%)
Granlund's availability is a head scratcher, perhaps because he's a head scratcher of a player. His upside remains tremendous, but he can't seem to break out as a star NHLer despite playing 53 percent of his 2015-16 deployment centering Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.
That said, Granlund's production has inched forward. He has 20 points in 32 games since the start of November. And, hey, as long as Granlund centers a decent NHL team's top line, the sheer volume of opportunities should produce fantasy value. It's ludicrous to see him owned in just 15 percent of leagues.
Andrew Shaw, RW (87%)
Shaw comes with a disclaimer. Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville loves to juggle lines, and Shaw can play pretty much any forward position on any line. Right now, though, he's making things happen as a left winger (even though he qualifies as only a right winger in Yahoo) for Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on Chicago's top unit. Shaw has sizzled in the New Year, with five points in six games, and while plus-minus is an antiquated real-life stat, his plus-7 is handy in pools still using that metric. Shaw is a stat-sheet filler, with eight goals, 20 points, 34 penalty minutes and 103 hits in 45 games. And he's owned in almost no fantasy pools. Go get him.
Sam Bennett, C/LW (89%)
I feel like I'm reacting to the masses who would fume in the comments if I did not include the four-goal wonder on this list. Then again, it's Sam Bennett, the man Calgary picked fourth overall in 2014, the man compared to Doug Gilmour in his draft year.
As long as the Flames' first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler was intact, it was a fantasy death sentence for any player on the second line or lower. But with Hudler dropped to line 2, Bennett becomes far more interesting. Talent ain't the problem, and suddenly his company is decent. Two-goal games might be flukes in the NHL, and even the odd hat trick can be, but it takes a special level of ability to score four in a game.
Jimmy Hayes, RW (91%)
Wasn't Kevin, Jimmy's younger brother, the Hayes to own in 2015-16 pools? The gigantic Jimmy suddenly has a plum assignment in Boston, inserted on the first line alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. There's no guarantee Hayes will stick but, in the five games leading up to his promotion, he ripped five goals. His size makes him a nice complementary force to accompany speedy Marchand and defensively conscientious Bergeron. Hayes is the type of guy to keep on short leash in pools, though. Any drought of more than a few games could mean the hot streak is finished. But why not ride the wave for now?
Elias Lindholm, C (94%)
Like Hayes, Lindholm has opened the 2016 calendar year hot, but Lindholm deserves a much longer leash, as he may simply be doing what he was always supposed to do. Lindholm saw some first-line minutes late last season as a sophomore and teased with 20 points in 35 games after the all-star break. Now he's playing on Eric Staal's right side and getting into a groove. The Canes drafted Lindholm fifth overall in 2013 hoping he'd become their next franchise forward. Any time he produces in bunches, it's reason to believe he's taking another step forward.
Sam Reinhart, C (94%)
Sam Reinhart is owned in six percent of fantasy pools? What!? Did his nine-game flop in 2014, after the Sabres drafted him second overall, leave that bad of a taste in fantasy GMs' mouths? Jack Eichel is the best thing to happen to Reinhart in his young career because (a) Eichel is excellent at hockey and makes others around him better, especially players with great natural ability in their own right like Reinhart; and (b) Eichel attracts attention away from Reinhart, which takes pressure off Reinhart in real life and, in fantasy leagues, makes Reinhart overlooked.
The points aren't piling up in droves just yet, but Reinhart has 12 goals, including a hat trick last week. He's gelling nicely with Eichel and Zemgus Girgensons. Best of all, Reinhart has pedigree on his side. He's not a Shaw or a Hayes, given a new assignment because of a coach's experiment. Reinhart forging chemistry with Eichel is exactly what the Sabres organization wants. When your second-best prospect begins producing alongside your best prospect, the natural inclination isn't to split the pair up. So it's worth adding Reinhart as a fill-in forward in deeper leagues to see if he and Eichel make some second-half magic.
OTHER NAMES TO WATCH
James Reimer (51%), Seth Jones (62%), Teuvo Teravainen (83%), Brock Nelson (86%), Jakob Silfverberg (93%), Alexander Wennberg (97%), Andre Burakovsky (98%), Robby Fabbri (98%), Micheal Ferland (98%), William Nylander (98%), Kevin Fiala (99%), Derrick Pouliot (99%), Emerson Etem (100%)
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin