By Kyle Stevenson, Pure Hockey Marketing
So fantasy drafts are getting underway for this shortened season, and I thought I would throw out some of my humble advice for the upcoming year…
1) Evgeni Malkin- Not much explanation needed here, but last season’s leading scorer. He’s been playing, and playing well in the KHL, w/ 65 points in 37 games for Metallurg, and that’s when he doesn’t have arguably the world’s best playing on his line.
2) Steven Stamkos- Another stud playing the middle. Tends to start off hot right out of the gate with 54 points in the first 48 games of last year. Even with a shortened camp, Stamkos is one of the best-conditioned players in the league, thanks to trainer and former NHLer Gary Roberts, so expect him to be ready to go on day one.
3) Jason Spezza- One of the most criticized players in the NHL, but the guy has skill. With a short camp, there is going to be some sloppy play league-wide, look for guys like Spezza who are masters of creating space for themselves, to ravage teams working the kinks out of their D-Zone systems. Plus he uses the Pure Hockey Custom S19 Pure, and that’s gotta be worth something.
4) Pavel Datsyuk- Datsyuk is his own offensive system, one of the best sets of hands in the league, probably the best vision, and unbelievably creative on the ice. He’s missed some time the past couple seasons, but the shortened season should help some aging veterans like Pavel stay on the ice and stay productive. He is great in leagues that get points for things like FO% and +/-.
Sleeper Center- Patrice Bergeron- Not as much of a secret as a couple years ago, but he’s been putting up numbers, playing alongside the budding superstar Tyler Seguin who continues to improve. Look for both their numbers to rise this season. Another player who can get you numbers in side categories, Bergeron led all centers in +/- last year, and contributed goals on the PP, SH and threw a few GW’s in the back of the net.
Risk/Reward Center- Sidney Crosby- This advice is going to fall on deaf ears in many leagues, but be careful on this one. Concussion issues are going to be an even more drastic influence this season. A bump on the head for Sid could mean a couple weeks out, and with the shortened season, that could be a quarter of the year. He’s worth picking up, but I wouldn’t go higher than a low 2nd/high 3rd rounder.
1) Claude Giroux- Another top pick that needs little explanation. Giroux has proven that he’s the real deal, and proved in last years playoff that he wants to be a leader for Philly. Another guy who went and lit up Europe, even for a short stint (19 Pts. in 9 Games). A high Faceoff % (53.7%), and 6 PP goals last season help his draft stock.
2) Phil Kessel- As a Bruins fan I hate to write this, but I think the Leafs’ sniper is going to come up pretty big this year. The leafs added JVR from Philly, along with the continuing development of Nazem Kadri and a new GM who I believe will want to put his own fingerprint on this team by adding some fire power.
3) Ilya Kovalchuk- The only question mark becomes, how will Kovy perform without Parise in NJ, but in fairness, he put up huge numbers for years on what could have been accurately called the Atlanta Kovalchuk Show. Kovy has been playing for his hometown SKA in the KHL, and has been a more than point per game player over there.
4) Marian Gaborik- Although he’s been known as a bit of a band-aid throughout his career, and is seemingly always fighting injury, he is another guy who stands to benefit from the shortened season. Always a scoring threat, the Rangers have the capability to throw out what could be the most impactful line in the league in a long time with Gabby, Rick Nash and Brad Richards. And he will undoubtedly be a part of what will be a lethal first unit PP in Madison Square Garden.
5) Tyler Seguin- Look for Seguin to continue the leap forward he took last season, and assume a larger roll on the Bruins. Although Claude Julien’s system of rolling 4 lines relatively easily leads to a pretty big spread of the point wealth on the team, Seguin will see an increased roll on the powerplay and in situational play. Look for an increased roll, and increased points.
6) Jordan Eberle- In their first two years in the NHL, Eberle’s star has outshone that of the 2010 First overall pick Taylor Hall. With a sweet set of mitts, and great shot, Eberle has the potential to beat his career high of 76 points from 2011-12. Playing for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate this season, he amassed 51 points in 34 games so expect him to come out of the gates flying.
Sleeper Wing- Ray Whitney- In 2011-12, at age 39, Whitney fell just 6 points shy of his career high total with 77 points. He has moved from Phoenix to Dallas, who has a new, beefed up offense, featuring additions Jagr, and Derek Roy, Whitney should be able to put up some good numbers, especially in a shortened year.
Risk/Reward Wing- Rick Nash- It pained me to type that out, as I’m a huge Nash fan, the guy absolutely has it all, size, grit, hands and a rocket of a shot, but you always need to be a bit weary of a player who has spent his career in the obscurity of Columbus jumping to the media pressure and the bright lights of NY. Look for good numbers, assuming Nash can shut out the potential criticism that comes with having a big contract on the Blue Shirts.
1) Erik Karlsson- This stems from Karlsson flat out running away with the lead for points by a D-man in only his third season in the league. The guy is the real deal. He has improved every season and look for him to continue that trend this year.
2) Zdeno Chara- Z led all D-men in +/- last year playing in Julien’s Defense first system. And that will likely be the case again this year. A great passer, sets up the Bruins transition game, leading to a lot of assists, and the is the power on the backend of the B’s powerplay, where he scored 8 of his 12 goals. In leagues that factor it in, Z is a big body that blocks a ton of shots.
3) Dustin Byfuglien- A big guy, that isn’t afraid to wheel with the puck. Expect Claude Noel to continue to encourage that and send Byfuglien straight to the net. A big key to Byfuglien is staying healthy, he plays hard and throws his body around a lot and that can wear on a big guy.
4) Brian Campbell- If Florida can perform like they did last season and win the Southeast, expect Campbell and the points he puts up to be a big factor. A D-man who can fly and carries the puck, he is a key in jumpstarting the Panthers Offense.
Sleeper Defenseman- Kevin Shattenkirk- Expect Shattenkirk to continue progressing and to see his point totals go up this season. The former BU Terrier will be a great later round pick and add some depth to your D-core.
Risk/Reward Defenseman- Shea Weber- Could be an interesting year for the big D-man, new contract, losing his D partner Ryan Suter to the Wild, he’s still a great D-man on his own, but expect his points and +/- to dip without Suter across the line as more of the Defensive load falls on his shoulders.
1) Jonathan Quick- The former Umass Minteman is fresh off the cup win, and led the league in shutouts last season. Barring a cup hangover, Quick is a safe bet in the crease and can steal you a few matchups.
2) Henrik Lundqvist- The King is going to bring it again this season, probably the most consistent, yet overlooked goalie in the league. 39 Wins last year, a Sub 2 GAA and .930 Save Percentage. Combined with the Rangers bolstered Offense, expect a few more wins out of Lundqvist this year. (You also just know he’s fired up for not making Cosmo’s Sexiest hockey player list this year #motivation)
3) Mike Smith- Look for Smith to continue the impressive numbers he put up for the ‘Yotes last year. He tied Lundqvist’s .930 Save %, posted a 2.21 GAA and over 1900 saves. The 6’4 tendy, covers the net well, and is very athletic.
Sleeper Goalie- Kari Lehtonen- He reaffirmed himself as a top notch keeper last season on the Stars, and expect him to pick up a few more wins this season considering the Stars’ bolstered offense.
Tuukka Rask- Rask once had the starting job in Boston, and lead the league in Save % and GAA, before losing the job, not for his own performance, but because of Tim Thomas’ historic play in 2011. The question for Rask is durability at 6’3 and only 170 lbs., can he handle the rigors of a full season as the starter, luckily you won’t need to find out this year with the 48 game schedule. I think Rask’s technical, butterfly style is a perfect match for Julien’s system, which allows a lot of outside and long shots, where his angles, and ability to stay square will be a great asset.
Cory Schneider- Another goalie who is no doubt a top end goalie. Schneider filled in admirably in the stead of an injured and mentally struggling Roberto Luongo (Steer way ,way clear of him by the way) The question becomes can he handle the full time starting job. I think the answer is an overwhelming yes, but it’s still a bit risky.
Marc-Andre Fleury- After an abissmal playoff performance that has some questioning MAF’s mental toughness, the question becomes, can this premier goalie bounce back to his former level?
Pekke Rinne- Its tough for any goalie to lose his number #2 Defenseman, Especially when he would be the #1 on almost any other team. I expect this to have more influence on the Preds W/L than Rinne’s performance. But I expect his W’s to drop a bit.
Just a few of my humble predictions for the upcoming NHL season, I’m just glad the season is back and I get to make them!