It isn’t fantasy football, but fantasy hockey has grown quite popular over the past few years. Information on busts, sleepers, and future studs is hard to come by though—especially if you are in a dynasty or keeper league.
I am not a credentialed hockey writer but I have worked for an NHL organization, endlessly researched the league, and watched countless hours of hockey. The following is my opinion on some of this year’s hottest names and biggest question marks:
- Alex Ovechkin: He is basically a lock for 100 points. Nick Backstrom cannot have another year as poor as his last one. While the Caps are as good as they have been in the past, Ovi will put up great numbers. There is no better goal scorer in the NHL than Ovi. Not even Crosby or Stamkos are on his level. I go into every year assuming he will lead the league in goals. Remember that Ovechkin will rack up hits as well.
- Evgeni Malkin: The Russian superstar should join his country-mate as a 100 point scorer again this year. He is healthy for the first time in two seasons and will have the best linemates that he has ever worked with. Geno is a player who depends largely on linemates, so that point is key. The Penguins powerplay should also get a major boost with Steve Sullivan. Malkin has been unstoppable in the preseason and looks like his 2008-09 Art Ross winning self.
- Patrick Kane: Kane averaged the most points-per-game of any Blackhawk last season. That was in a down year. He also had second most powerplay points on the team. One reason for Kane’s poor statistical season was because of Duncan Keith’s struggles. The Norris Trophy candidate won’t be as bad again this year, meaning the defense will improve. Keith also plays on the first powerplay with Kane. His return to form this season will be important to Kane’s man-advantage points. Keep in mind that Kane also plays on a line with Jonathan Toews who deserved MVP consideration last year (although there is early talk of splitting the two players). Kane won’t be as valuable as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos but he should rank among the league’s leading scorers.
- Duncan Keith: He is probably the best defenseman in hockey. Despite a rare down season last year Keith was solid on the blueline for the Hawks. He is an extremely smart player with outstanding skill and a great team around him. It helps that he plays with Brent Seabrook—who is also a top 10 defenseman. I expect 12-15 goals with 50-55 points.
- Claude Giroux: The Flyer scored 25 goals as a 22-year-old in a secondary role for Philadelphia Flyers. He will be the main guy in Philly this season and should play on a line with either Jame Van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere, or Jaromir Jagr. Anyway you slice it, Giroux is in for a big season.
- Danny Briere: This guy is ridiculously talented. Has the ability to score 40 goals if given the opportunity. The downside to Briere is that he is absurdly streaky. Rumors surfaced that he finally got over his divorce last season and shined because of it. Unlike Giroux, however, I think his numbers go down without Jeff Carter and Mike Richards taking the pressure off him.
- Mike Green: He is simply the best goal scoring defenseman in hockey. Unfortunately, he is horrible defensively. If you are looking for points on the back end, go with Green. He scored 31 goals in 08-09! That is unheard of territory for a defenseman now. Last year’s top defenseman only had 20 (Byfuglien) and he used to play offense.
- Eric Staal: Like his brothers, Eric is a great defensive player on an improving Hurricanes team. His +/- numbers should improve this year. He last six season goal totals read like this: 45, 30, 38, 40, 29, 33. Those numbers are representative of how good the team usually is. I expect 35/50/85 this year.
- Drew Doughty: Behind Lidstrom and Keith, Doughty is the best defenseman in the game. What is scary is that he may have more talent than either of them. Plus, the Kings have one of the best powerplays in the league and are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this year. How many times have you heard of a holdout lasting in hockey? Almost never. If he slips at all because of his contract situation be sure to grab him.
- Martin Brodeur: Age is finally catching up with the future Hall-of-Famer. He also has always relied on great defense and a trapping system. Broduer certainly isn’t the goalie he once was. He has been slipping the past couple of seasons and is now the third best goalie in the division behind Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist.
- PK Subban: He may not be the strongest defensive player but he also isn’t a major liability. Offensively, few defensemen are as gifted. Subban registered 14 goals and 38 points as a rookie last season. Montreal always has a great power play and he should be the quarterback of it. The cocky Canadians defenseman is definitely worth a pick.
- Pekka Rinne: Nashville’s goaltender might be the best in hockey right now. Trouble is that he plays on an terrible offensive team. With emerging backup Anders Lindback in the picture Rinne might lose some stars. The Predators still feature a very good defense though and Rinne is an uber-talented player. He is certainly a top-5 goalie pick based on the fact that he will see a lot of shots this season.
- Jaroslav Halak: The former Canadian is great positionally but is dependent on great defense. He might have that in St. Louis. Even with as high as the Slovakian goalie is going he could be a sleeper pick. I’m not in love with his overall skill set. He did play amazing for his country in the Olympics and is capable of stealing the show—most will remember his 2010 playoff performance. St. Louis is a team on the rise and will be a contender very soon. It appears as though Halak is the goalie that they want to take them to the top.
- Carey Price: The definition of streaky. The NHL has plenty of good goalies. Honestly, there is probably no reason to risk a pick on someone like Price. When he is on his game he is a top-five goaltender. Price is a high risk, high reward pick. I’m not sure if the reward is worth the risk though.
- Chris Stewart: He put up 28 goals in 62 games playing for the 11th place Blues and 14th place Avs last season. It was his second consecutive 28 goal season. He totaled 15 goals and 23 points in only 26 games with St. Louis last year even though he came over after the Blues already lost Perron—basically the team’s best offensive player. Perron was only one of a handful of injuries for the organization. A healthy Blues team is almost on the level of the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders in terms of future superpowers. They are super young but have ridiculous talent. St. Louis will get better every year. If they are healthy, they are a fringe playoff team in 2011-12. Stewart, 24, has his best years in front of him. There is a ton of talent surrounding him and he should have no problem leading the team in goals this season. For a dynasty league, there are few better players.
Each of the 15 players listed above are sure to be high on someone’s list. Tomorrow I will post part two of the fantasy hockey series. The article will take a look at the sleepers, overvalued players, and dynasty studs of 2011-12 and beyond.