Carter Ashton - F - Toronto
Ashton receives the call to replace Peter Holland on the Leafs' fourth line. The former first-round pick (29th overall) by the Tampa Bay Lightning has been playing very well with the AHL Toronto Marlies, so it was no surprise that he was the player chosen to return to the big club. On his last stay with the Leafs, Ashton managed only one assist in 18 games, compared to his 15 points (10 goals) in 14 games in the AHL. Now that Tyler Bozak is back and centering the first line again, Toronto's top six forwards have clearly been defined. Depending on where coach Randy Carlyle plugs in Ashton, it would be impossible to predict much of a fantasy impact. However, with some of the big boys struggling to find their touch, and Carlyle's team struggling to score goals on a consistent basis, maybe Ashton can seize this opportunity.
SHORT-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: As I mentioned earlier, the top two lines on the Maple Leafs are set in stone both at regular strength and on the power play. So for the immediate future, I cannot recommend Ashton to have any fantasy value. The only thing you can maybe grab onto is if your fantasy league counts PIMs. He has been known to play a very pesky, in-your-face type game.
LONG-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: No doubt about it, Ashton is a talented two-way player with the ability to contribute in all three zones on the ice. A first-round pick for good reason, he has displayed the ability to mix in offense with grittiness from the junior level to the majors. Toronto has some very talented players up front, and if Ashton is able to find his way into the lineup on a regular basis in the next few years playing with some of those offensive-minded skaters, he may be one to keep an eye on.
Tanner Pearson - F - Los Angeles
Passed over in the NHL draft two years in a row, Pearson ended up becoming a first-round pick (30th overall) by the Kings in 2012. Pearson was a very consistent scorer while in juniors, and has impressed the organization by improving his two-way game and getting quicker and stronger in the process. The former Barrie Colt is enjoying a very successful season in Manchester so far this year. His 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) so far in 30 games puts him in the top three on the team in scoring. Pearson only has six games of NHL experience, scoring one goal. It remains to be seen where Pearson will fit on the Kings' depth chart, but with the team struggling to score goals as of late, he has an opportunity to do what another young rookie, Tyler Toffoli, did before him for the Kings.
SHORT-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: The Kings are a very deep team up front, with good forwards at almost every position. Notable Olympians and proven scorers make it hard for a player like Pearson to push for a spot in the top nine at this time. Coach Darryl Sutter is known for his line juggling, and with the struggles of some of his go-to guys, maybe Pearson will get a chance to play some decent minutes.
LONG-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: As with most players with only six games of NHL experience, Pearson’s long-term outlook projects higher than the short-term. Pearson has made the necessary strides to put him near the top of the Kings’ prospect list, and if he continue to develop his game, he could be a serviceable NHL player down the road. Think Mike Richards.
Jonathon Blum - D - Minnesota
Fans might already recognize this name because Blum spent three seasons with the Nashville Predators from 2010 to 2013. The former 23rd overall pick never found his way with the Predators, who cut ties with the blueliner this offseason. He eventually signed a two-way contract with Minnesota, and has played very well for AHL Iowa this season. He has 17 points in 31 games so far and leads the Baby Wild with four power-play goals. Blessed with outstanding hockey sense and great vision, Blum is a talented defenseman that has the ability to play at the NHL level. He will have to earn his way into the Wild's lineup, but has the right blend of skill to impress if given the opportunity. Check the first few games he plays to see how many minutes he was on the ice for, and if any of that time was spent on the power play.
SHORT-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: It is undetermined who will be coming out of the lineup to make way for Blum, but with the Wild sending Matt Dumba to the WHL, Blum may be up with the big club for the time being. If he can make his way into the lineup and prove to be the offensively-gifted player he was drafted to become, he may be able to earn a regular spot.
LONG-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: With Blum on a two-way contract and not guarantee to hang on to an NHL roster spot, the long-term value is a bit hit or miss. What once would have been a great own in keeper formats, may now be a flash of the past. If he can somehow push another player out in Minnesota and be a regular NHL player again, then there may be something here. If not, it may be the end of the road for Blum.
Erik Haula - F - Minnesota
With the recent injury to Mikko Koivu to go along with the already injured Zach Parise, the Wild recalled the talented Haula. Born in Finland but having played in North America for Shattuck St. Mary's and the University of Minnesota, the former seventh-round pick will fill the third-line center spot for the Wild. Haula is a gifted playmaker with elite vision and passing ability, so it is not a reach to assume he will get some power play time as well. Haula's all-around ability and game sense will hopefully give Wild fans a welcome distraction to missing their number-one Finnish center in Koivu. Reports have Koivu to be out for a month, so Haula will be given every opportunity to play with skilled players and provide the offense that is missing while he is sidelined. Haula’s 17 points in 23 games in Iowa suggest he has the skills to contribute at the NHL level.
SHORT-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: Haula looks to be in the top nine in Minnesota, centering the third line. With the aforementioned injuries to the Wild's top players, there may be something to grab onto with Haula. Koivu occupied the Wild's first-unit power play, so assuming another player slides up to fill that void, Haula may find some time on the second unit.
LONG-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: Not having even one full professional season in North America under his belt, Haula does not have a sample size large enough to use as evidence for offering a clear long-term projection. However, he has been a point producer from across all his stops in the college and pro ranks, so it is not a reach to assume we will be seeing Haula in an NHL uniform for years to come. Also, getting to play with and learn from a fellow countryman in Koivu is not a bad way to develop your game.
Connor Carrick - D - Washington
Now finished with the World Junior Championships, Carrick will rejoin the Capitals after he was recalled Jan. 8. It’s unknown for how long he will be with the big club, as he was only able to skate in three games during his last stay. Carrick has explosive offensive talent and the ability to create plays in every situation. At the tender age of 19, Carrick does need to improve his defensive game, but he has the potential to be a household name in a few years while earning his stripes on the power play in D.C. The blueliner showed flashes of his potential in the earlier three-game stay with the Capitals, scoring his first career NHL goal and then notching four assists in 13 games upon returning to the AHL. Carrick is playing some good hockey for a defenseman of his age. He should come back from the World Juniors with some confidence.
SHORT-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: As mentioned before, the short-term fantasy outlook for a 19-year-old defenseman is not always rosy. (Unless your name is Seth Jones.) Although it looks like the Capitals got a good one in the fifth round with Carrick, I cannot recommend any use for Carrick in the short-term this time around.
LONG-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: Carrick’s long-term outlook is a different story. Given his young age, Carrick may be someone to target for your keeper league. He has the talent and offensive ability to be a threat on the deadly Washington power play in the years to come, as well as developing into the offensive defenseman he was in juniors.
Brian Gibbons - F - Pittsburgh
I was a little late to the party on this one, as Gibbons received his call to the parent club a while ago. Tabbed to replace the injured Pascal Dupuis, Gibbons has been carrying Sidney Crosby's clubs the last few games playing on the wing opposite Chris Kunitz. Moving from the AHL to playing with two Olympians is an opportunity most of us would give our left legs for. The undersized and undrafted forward out of Boston College was playing well in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 27 points in 22 games, and has continued that hot play with the Penguins with five points in his first 11 games. With the injured Beau Bennett due to return before the Olympics (and slated to play with Crosby and Kunitz when he returns), the dream may come to an end for Gibbons, but while he is playing with the best player in the world, he should get immediate consideration.
SHORT-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: Pick him up! If you have nothing to lose in your current league, then Gibbons is worth a grab. Playing on a line with the best player on planet earth should be enough reason to snatch him up if he's available in your league.
LONG-TERM FANTASY OUTLOOK: I can't imagine coach Dan Bylsma penciling in Gibbons for the rest of the season as the right wing on the Crosby/Kunitz line, so ride the wave while you can. Bennett’s impending return later this season and Pascal Dupuis’ thereafter limits Gibbons’ chances of sticking on the top line beyond the next month. If you have an IR spot in your league, it would be smart to grab Bennett as well as Gibbons to make sure you have a piece of Crosby for the foreseeable future.
Kevin Pedersen is a scout for the WHL's Everett Silvertips. Follow him on Twitter @the_kped for more of his hockey musings.