For the most part, I encourage fantasy hockey players to largely ignore what goes on in the pre-season. Ryan Craig got a hat trick for the Pens, so should I draft him as a sleeper? (no, you shouldn't). However, the one thing that you should not ignore at this time of year is the injury news. Preseason or not, those things don't just go away when October 10th rolls around. It's a risky proposition drafting an injured player, but you shouldn't automatically bypass every player that has a Swiss flag next to his name. Some players are so good they're worth stashing on your bench, even if you can't use him until the playoffs. Here is a look at some of the key injury situations that you need to evaluate going into your draft:
Michael Leighton (PHI)
It was reported over the weekend that Leighton has been sent for an MRI on his back. Goalie questions are nothing new to Philly, so this shouldn't surprise a soul. As it stood, Leighton was a fringe #2 goalie / solid bench option. With this shadow of doubt, you should look for other options for your backup needs. Philly will likely split starts between Boucher, Backlund and Bobrovsky. Eventually, one of those men may have serious fantasy value, but good luck predicting the winner here.
Mike Smith (TB)
Again, Smith wasn't a major name on your list, but after Smith broke his finger, Dan Ellis now becomes the go-to guy on an improving Tampa Bay squad. You can feel secure drafting Ellis as a late #2 option, or a solid backup.
Josh Harding (MIN)
Harding tore his ACL, making him a non-factor for your draft. The injury restores Niklas Backstrom's undisputed role as the #1 guy in Minnesota (until he gets hurt again). Bump Backstrom up a few notches on your list.
Marc Savard (BOS)
The news is all over the board here, so it's hard to know what to believe. However, when it comes to concussions, the safe bet is to say no. Last season, even when he was in the lineup, he was largely ineffective as he tried playing through various ailments. Take a chance on him very late in your draft, or spare yourself the head aches and take Krejci or Seguin instead.
Kyle Okposo (NYI)
It's still too early to say just how bad Okposo's shoulder injury will be. As it stood, he was a quality depth option on the wing, with some serious breakout potential. As long as you're not counting on him to carry the load for your offense, he's still worth late round consideration until the picture becomes clear.
Johan Franzen (DET)
Franzen is a tough one to call. He should return from this injury in time for the season, but you shouldn't plan on getting more than 60 games out of this guy, based on his history. On the positive side, you'll probably enjoy about 30 goals in those 60 games, so keep him on your list.
Peter Mueller (COL)
Mueller was looking like a great sleeper pick as of last week, before the concussion thing resurfaced. At this point, he should not be drafted.
Marian Gaborik (NYR)
Gaborik is already belly-aching about his back, so proceed with caution if you're thinking of spending a 2nd or 3rd round pick on him. If he slides to the 4th round, take your chances then.
Alex Burrows (VAN)
Burrows won't be contributing to fantasy rosters until November at the earliest. If you can stash him on your bench and get him in the 10th round or so, it's worth the wait. Most likely, an uninformed GM will grab him much too early anyway.
Matt Stajan / Daymond Langkow (CGY)
You probably hadn't planned on drafting Stajan or Langkow anyway, but the bigger picture to consider is the effect on other Flames. Calgary is now wafer thin at center, which means viable fantasy wingers like Rene Bourque may ultimately suffer without an adequate setup man.
Jordan Staal (PIT)
Staal will be back in a couple weeks and still should be considered a viable sleeper option, as the Pens may use him more on the 2nd line. I still see a career best in points for Staal in 2010-11.
John Tavares (NYI)
Latest word has Tavares being ready for the start of the season, so no reason to panic here. Maybe drop him a spot or two at most.
Mark Streit (NYI)
For those who drafted early this year, Streit may have dealt the first fatal blow to fantasy rosters with his near-season-ending shoulder injury. Despite his top-10 value, 6 months on a bum shoulder is too long to even tie up a bench spot with him. Take a pass and look for him on the waiver wire in February.
Andrei Markov (MON)
Markov is set to return at some point in October and has considerable value when healthy. The bigger concern is the fear that he'll be back on the IR at some point later in the season. He's played a full season only once in his 10 years with Montreal. I wouldn't chance a pick on him until the 10th round or later.
Chris Pronger (PHI)
Pronger is listed day-to-day right now with a knee injury. When it comes to Pronger, I wouldn't change a thing. He'll play through pain and should stay in your top 10 list at this position.
Niklas Kronwall (DET)
Were he completely healthy, Kronwall would be one of my picks for a sleeper this season. He may be ready for the start of the season, so I still have him ranked fairly high (25th) on my defense sheet. As with Markov, the bigger concern is that he'll be back on the injured list at some point later in the season.
Sami Salo (VAN)
No schedule for his return = do not draft.
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