As we approach the end of the calendar year, a funny thing happens to players experiencing hot starts to the season: they tend to get rebranded by both the media and the fantasy community. They're no longer considered "fast out of the gate" at this point; their short-term patterns transform into season-long trends. Players having good years in December will tend to continue that on the rest of the season - assuming of course the injury bug doesn't hit them. We've seen this the last few years: Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jakub Voracek just to name a few. At some point in the year -- specifically this point -- people's perspectives about these players change. It's at this point that the fantasy community tends to buy in, and align ownership and ranking.
I wrote a few weeks ago about players having famously rough starts this year such as Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar. These players below are experiencing the opposite trends, and are underowned for their performance metrics -- indicating a wonderful opportunity to snap them up where available.
Mike Cammalleri W, NJD - A favorite on this column for the past few months, it seems Cammalleri has found impressive new legs since his arrival in the Garden State. With a 76 percent ownership rating, he's still owned in three-out-of-four leagues, showing his value is increasing. With 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points with a plus-eight rating in 26 games, he's ranked in the top 15 in most fantasy leagues. That combination of production and possible availability comes along rarely; it's almost a steadfast rule that players in the top 25 are drafted, not claimed off the waiver wire. This looks to be an exception; many fantasy GMs are scared away by the prospects of New Jersey long-term. At the time of writing, however, they sit only a point out of the last wildcard spot, and given Cammalleri's prolific totals this year, they will be in the hunt to the very end. If you're in one of those leagues where Cammalleri is still somehow available, grab him immediately.
Kyle Palmieri W, NJD - Should you be in one of the leagues where Cammalleri is not available, there's a much better chance that Palmieri is, and is a fantastic alternative in his own right. Much like the rest of New Jersey this year, Palmieri's numbers are above-trend for his rather young career. Should he continue his current production -- 10 goals and nine assists for 19 points in 26 games, along with 17 PIM and a plus-three -- he will eclipse his career totals before the All-Star break. That's a testament to the type of season he's putting up in his new surroundings. The benefit to fantasy GMs is that many haven't paid attention; his ownership rating is at 65 percent and growing quickly. By the end of the year, his ownership should reflect his current value, expected to be in the mid-to-high 80th percentile. Keep him on your checklist: if Cammalleri isn't available (which he isn't that frequently), grab Palmieri.
Lee Stempniak W, NJD - And not to be without a further Devils contingency plan, if Palmieri isn't available, Lee Stempniak is also having a phenomenal season. Playing on the opposite wing of Cammalleri, Stempniak has been able to post trends indicating career-best numbers, while maintaining a low 37 percent ownership rate. In 26 games this year, he has five goals and 15 assists for 20 points, along with a plus-five and 16 PIM. While he's running a bit long in the tooth at 32, he's finding a way to reinvent his game and find increased productivity. His game log has been incredibly consistent -- only going two games in a row without scoring three times this year. Most leagues have him in the top 50 in ranking -- amazing when you consider he's only owned in one-out-of-three leagues. So, between Cammalleri, Palmieri, and Stempniak, you should be able to garner at least one of the three -- and with each being in the top 50, that's a steal off the wire.
Frans Nielsen C, NYI - While Rodney Dangerfield made a career about "getting no respect," Nielsen really can't catch a break from fantasy GMs. Every season, I make a conscious note to check in on him to weigh the ownership-to-ranking formula, and every year he's underowned for most of it. This year, in 27 games he's put up nine goals and ten assists for 19 points, along with a plus-three, two PPG, and the all-coveted-but-never-predicted one SHG. He's fast, he's skilled, and he's got a lot of opportunity in New York; somehow, only one-in-three leagues have him owned, even though he's in the top 75 ranked as of this evening. He typically has a mid-year lull for a week or two, but he should flutter between 75 and 100 all year -- and he's probably available on your wire. Take a chance on him.
Justin Williams W, WSH - It's not often that Conn Smythe winners need to be overtly recommended on this column. Typically, that's because they get drafted and held on to for the majority of the season. Williams started somewhat slowly -- posting four gooseeggs in his first six games -- but found his stride in November, posting nine points in 13 contests, and setting his pace for the rest of the season. His 17 points in 24 games forecasts him out to 60 points -- one of the best years he's had in the last decade. That would be incredible considering he's only owned in one-of-three leagues, and fantasy GMs love the hard-nosed edge he brings to every single game.
Rasmus Ristolainen D, BUF - I've mentioned him many times in this column, but Ristolainen proves me right every single time. Not only is this kid a beast -- 6-foot-4, 207 -- but he plays a hard game with the size he has. He also has a wonderful offensive flair that is starting to get noticed around fantasy circles. His 18 points puts him tenth in league scoring for defensemen; his additional metrics of a minus-two rating and a pair of power play goals put him in the low 100s for ranking in most fantasy leagues. This ranking puts him typically in the top 25 for all blueliners in the league. Interestingly, he's only owned in half the leagues -- which is strange considering all the metrics that would suggest otherwise. I chalk it up to the Buffalo effect -- GMs staying away from good players on bad teams. Don't fear the reaper; Ristolainen is a great fantasy player that can be had on the cheap about half the time.
James Reimer G, TOR - Ever since the meltdown in game seven against Boston a few years ago, I've never been able to hold full faith in Reimer's ability to be a number one goalie for the Leafs. This year, he's starting to make a believer out of me. The Leafs are a fantastically weak team playing well above themselves, and the key to their current success (if you want to call it that) has been James Reimer. Through 16 games this year, and starting the season as the de facto backup, he's put up a .935 SV percent /2.01 GAA and posted seven wins -- prior to his injury, he recorded all the wins for the Maple Leafs this season. Between a crisis of confidence in previous number one Jonathan Bernier, and his incredibly improved play, Reimer has found himself secure in his starting goalie status, and when he returns from his current lower body injury, he'll be in prime position to continue proving his naysayers wrong. Finding a starting goalie is difficult in many deep leagues, but Reimer is only owned in half the leagues, and considering his ranked in the top 10 for goaltenders in most fantasy leagues, he's worth the risk.