- Tim Kavanagh, Fantasy and Insider
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Sleeper: Kyle Beach, C -- Chicago's first-round draft pick (No. 11 overall) in this June's draft, Beach could emerge as the second coming of Jeremy Roenick. His pedigree is sharp, as he notched 58 goals, 65 assists, 418 penalty minutes, as well as a respectable plus-23 rating over 125 games in the Western Hockey League during the past two seasons. It is unlikely that the 18-year-old will make a huge splash early, but given the "sink or swim" method the organization used with Toews and Kane last year, we should see quite a bit of Beach before season's end.
Bust: Duncan Keith, D -- Keith had a breakout campaign of sorts in 2007-08, finishing with 12 goals (up from two in 2006-07) and a plus-30, while firing 148 shots on goal. However, the offseason addition of Brian Campbell may take away some power-play opportunities for Keith. In the team's first preseason game, coach Denis Savard included Cam Barker on the top defensive pairing with Campbell, not Keith. While the pairings are not yet finalized, it would be detrimental to Keith's offensive output if he's stuck on the second pairing all season.
The Blackhawks finished 2007-08 as the 10th-best team in the league with 2.85 goals per game, and were fourth in penalty minutes. Offensively, the franchise took the league a little by surprise, paced by all-rookie team members Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The impressive twin debuts benefited frequent linemate Patrick Sharp, whose 36 goals were two more than his combined total from the two seasons prior. As long as Sharp remains alongside the two dynamos, he should have another strong season. The second line will be fun to watch as Andrew Ladd and Dave Bolland continue to develop their games alongside oft-injured, but tantalizingly talented Martin Havlat. It nearly goes without saying that you should avoid Havlat, or, rather, adjust your expectations to account for his 36 games played per season the past three campaigns. He's a point-per-game player when he suits up, but like baseball's J.D. Drew, he can never be counted on to last. That being said, if he's still on the board in the later rounds, he's definitely worth taking, just have a replacement ready when the inevitable occurs.
On the blue line, Brian Campbell gives the team a bona fide power-play quarterback, and he is probably licking his chops thinking of all the assists he'll earn this season setting up the youngsters up front. He is a great pick as a No. 1 defenseman in any format. Aside from Campbell, Duncan Keith -- as mentioned above -- can be valuable to your team, but it'd be ambitious to value him higher than a No. 4 fantasy defenseman, especially given his relative lack of contribution to the penalty-minute category. In fact, Keith's defensive partner, Brent Seabrook, provided similar offensive production last season, and nearly doubled him in penalty minutes.
Cristobal Huet had a wild ride in 2008. After winning 21 games for the Canadiens, he was dealt at the deadline to the Capitals, winning 11 of 13 starts and leading the team to the playoffs. In spite of this performance, he was not re-signed by the Capitals and wound up in Chicago. Overall, he finished 2007-08 10th in the league with a 2.32 GAA and tied for sixth with a .920 save percentage. Although he was the second biggest addition to the team this offseason (or perhaps third, if you count new senior advisor Scotty Bowman), Huet has already become the regular starter in Chicago, replacing the recently waived Nikolai Khabibulin, and ranks among the second tier of goaltenders, meaning he would make a great No. 1 for any team.
Sleeper: Derick Brassard, C -- He was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft after he scored 116 points in 58 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League during the 2005-06 season. In 42 games for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch last season he scored 51 points, and ended up skating in 17 games for the big club by season's end. However, the reason you should watch for him late in your draft is he has been placed at the pivot between Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius on Columbus' top scoring line during training camp and the initial preseason games. While both Nash and Huselius are known offensive commodities (and valued ones, at that), Brassard's potential for a breakout should make him a late-round selection in the hopes that his linemates carry him to the 50-60 point level this season.
Bust: Pascal Leclaire, G -- Looking at the stats -- and how much of an outlier, in every category, last season was -- this was a no-brainer. After starting 31 and 23 games in 2005-06 and 2006-07, respectively, Pazzy was the Blue Jacket starter for 52 contests in 2007-08, a testament to his relatively injury-free campaign. Additionally, his goals-against average (which was a whopping 3.23 in 2005-06) was 2.25, good for seventh in the league, and he was second in the league with nine shutouts (behind only Henrik Lundqvist) after recording just one overall for the two previous seasons. While it's heartwarming and tempting to say Leclaire finally realized his potential while avoiding the pesky pitfalls of injury, there are just as many cases of goalies coming back to earth after one standout season. Furthermore, it's hard to count on him in leagues that count shutouts as a goaltending category.
Let's face it: Columbus is not the first team that arrives in your greatest fantasy hockey dreams; matter of fact, they're probably the stars of your nightmares (Great Odin's Raven! I've got Nikita Filatov as my No. 1 LW!) It's really difficult to recommend anyone but the top scoring line, which is why R.J. Umberger's value will take a nosedive if the current line assignments stick. Fredrik Modin was once a 30-goal scorer, but injuries limited him to 23 games last season, and he turns 34 in October. On the other wing (and other end of the experience chain), Jakub Voracek scored 101 points in 53 QMJHL games last season, but has never skated one minute in the NHL. As for the top line, usually Rick Nash's scoring output is taken with the bitter pill of poor plus-minus, but he actually finished with a plus-2 in 2007-08. The addition of Huselius to the mix will enable the top line to open up the ice and be a real dynamic force. The only other big name to recommend among forwards is goon extraordinaire Jared Boll, whose five goals and five assists in his rookie campaign pale in comparison to his gargantuan 226 penalty minutes, becoming a rock in the enforcer ranks.
With the departure of Ron Hainsey to Atlanta via free agency, a hole formed on the Blue Jackets blue line, and the team does not have a natural heir to the power-play quarterback role. According to the Columbus Post-Dispatch, Jan Hejda will be given a chance to take over the position in spite of his scoring precisely zero goals in 81 games last season, and just one in two seasons. The other options will be Kris Russell, the slender 21-year-old who is still finding his game, and Fedor Tyutin, who may or may not be able to handle the role, given the limited sample of what we saw in New York. In any case, the issue might be a moot point given Columbus' 14.8 percent conversion rate on the power play last season, good for 26th in the league. Your best bet for defenseman productivity will be in the form of Mike Commodore, who will contribute penalty minutes, and Hejda, who will help out in ice time and plus-minus.
Between the pipes, Leclaire is a risky pick, and backup Fredrik Norrena shouldn't be relied on for any reason. Waiting in the wings for you keeper-leaguers is Steve Mason, who may be ready to make a big leap once he recovers from September knee surgery.
Sleeper: Valtteri Filppula, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler -- Although it's hard to label them truly "sleepers", given the fact two of them make the Top 220 rankings list (Samuelsson is No. 183, Hudler is No. 219), all three men on Detroit's third scoring line should have some fantasy relevance this season. With the arrival of Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg moves to the second line, meaning opposing defenses will now have to focus on two elite scoring lines. This leaves the third line room to operate, and they should all contribute, and thus are worth a spot on the back end of one of your forward slots or a utility role. Furthermore, if an injury were to befall a member of one of line 1A or 1B, one of these gents would slide into that role and enjoy the benefit of playing with All-Stars.
Bust: Johan Franzen, LW -- Franzen started the 2007-08 campaign with an injury and was not even rosterable for much of the season. Then, over the final 16 games of the regular season, he amassed 20 points, including eight power-play goals and six game-winning goals. For an encore, he scored 18 points in 16 playoff games, with six more power-play goals and five more game-winning goals. All I'm saying is his stock couldn't be any higher, given the fact he only scored 16 and 30 points, respectively, in the two seasons prior to last. Granted, he has been given a ticket for the Zetterberg express on Line 1B to start the season, but I don't see him finishing 2008-09 with more than 50 points.
With the development of free agency and salary caps in professional sports, it's hard to create and sustain dynasties. But the Detroit Red Wings prove it is still possible to have a dynasty if management makes smart decisions and scouts well. The cliché of "the rich get richer" was never more apt than this past offseason, when the defending Cup champs signed Marian Hossa, the premier free-agent name on the market. From an offensive standpoint, it is really fun to own Henrik Zetterberg, who will be anchoring Line 1B, and although I've given caution to a selection of Johan Franzen, he does have potential to have a career season, as does Daniel Cleary. On the top line, you have two names who should not last past the end of second round, and their third, "banger" linemate, Tomas Holmstrom, will again be owned in most fantasy formats as well. The only area where the team lags is penalty minutes, as resident goon Aaron Downey is usually good for only about 100.
With a team as stacked offensively, they must have questions on the blue line, right? Only if that question is: "Which Red Wings rearguard should I draft to be my No. 1 defenseman?" Both Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski finished 2007-08 in the top 10 in scoring among defensemen, with Lidstrom once again approaching the magical (for a D-man, at least) point-per-game ratio. Add to that the fact both men will again have ludicrously high plus-minus differentials as well, and it's easy to understand why their numbers are called so high every year in drafts. Behind the big two, you've got two solid No. 3 fantasy defensemen in Niklas Kronwall (who excelled in the spotlight last season after Lidstrom got hurt) and Brad Stuart, a former first-round draft pick who will look to get back to his 43-point season in 2005-06.
Backing everyone up will be Chris Osgood, whose 2.09 goals-against average led the league last season. The only issue with Osgood is his advanced age, and for those concerned, there is a choice in backups with Ty Conklin -- who kept the Penguins alive while Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt -- and Jimmy Howard, who has seemingly been waiting for decades for the old guys in front of him (Osgood and Dominik Hasek) to retire. While Osgood is certainly beyond the middle point of his career, he should be good for at least 40 starts, and with an offense like Detroit's, he'll have a chance to win each one.
Key additions: Patric Hornqvist, RW (rookie); Ryan Jones, RW (rookie)
Sleeper: Ville Koistinen, D -- In a half-season of work in 2007-08, Koistinen gave us a glimpse of his slick puck-moving abilities. Now, with Marek Zidlicky out of the picture, there will be a competition for the power-play quarterback role, and Koistinen would appear to have the early upper hand. While the team was not exactly lethal with the man advantage last season (finishing 27th out of 30 teams with a 14.8 percent conversion rate), Zidlicky finished with 21 power-play assists, which tied him with Brian Rafalski for 12th among defensemen. If Koistinen can duplicate that kind of success, owners who take a chance on him late in the draft will be very happy.
Bust: Shea Weber, D -- While the quartet of Koistinen, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis and Weber should all have a chance to contribute offensively, there won't be a ton of scraps to go around. The reason why Weber is a bust candidate is his high average draft position, which is currently 114.5, and is largely indicative of his success from two seasons ago, when he scored 17 goals and added 23 assists. If you look more closely at his stats from that season, you'll notice that his shooting percentage (goals per shots) was 11.2 percent, compared to 4.3 his rookie season and 3.9 in 2007-08. If you expect his shooting percentage to be over 10 again, you should also expect to be disappointed.
A balanced attack led Nashville to 110 points in the standings in 2006-07, with seven players scoring over 50 points; last season, that number dwindled to just four players, with most of the scoring coming from Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, who both finished with 72 points. With Steve Sullivan's back issues still unresolved, and Alexander Radulov off to Russia, the team will look to Martin Erat, David Legwand and rookies Patrick Hornqvist and Ryan Jones to shoulder some of the load. From a plus-minus standpoint, the top scorers should finish well within the positive, while third-liners like Radek Bonk (minus-31 last season) and Jordin Tootoo (minus-8 last season) will not fare as well.
As mentioned above, the blue line is somewhat of a logjam. Each of the four top defensemen has a chance to be a fairly productive No. 3 or No. 4 fantasy defenseman, but don't draft them any higher than that. The defensive corps tends to do OK but not great in plus-minus, and the ice time is split fairly evenly, so there won't be an average time on ice stud here. Weber, Suter and Hamhuis are unafraid to mix it up, and should be able to contribute at a reasonable clip in penalty minutes, whereas Koistinen will only be helpful in the offensive categories.
With Chris Mason headed to bluer pastures in St. Louis, the starting goaltending job is fully in the hands of Dan Ellis, who finished 2007-08 as the NHL's league leader in save percentage (.924) and 12th in goals-against average (2.34). Since last season was his first full one in the league, Ellis remains somewhat of an unknown commodity. Plus, his numbers in the AHL were not nearly as good as his rookie campaign in the NHL, with a career GAA of 2.80 and a .903 save percentage in the minors. The thing that is a little disconcerting is Nashville's middle-of-the-pack status for team goals-against, and that they'll have to play Detroit and Chicago six times apiece, two teams that plan on scoring quite a bit this season. Playing backup is Pekka Rinne, the Finnish giant (6-foot-5) who stopped all eight shots he saw in one appearance last season, but has been shaky this preseason, giving up three goals apiece to Atlanta and Columbus.
Key additions: Chris Mason, G (trade); Alex Pietrangelo, D (rookie)
Sleeper: Alex Pietrangelo, D -- The son of former Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers netminder Frank Pietrangelo, the No. 4 overall pick in this June's draft plays a game that has scouts drawing comparisons to former Blues captain Chris Pronger. If those comparisons prove true, Pietrangelo could be a fantasy hockey monster, capable of producing points, penalty minutes and adding a boon to ATOI. With a freak knee injury ending Erik Johnson's 2008-09 before it even started, there is an increased need for Pietrangelo to develop quickly, so we may see quite a lot of him this season.
Bust: Brad Boyes, C -- Although we have a very limited sample, it looks like Boyes may become one of the "every other year" fantasy studs we know and love/hate. In his rookie season, 2005-06 with Boston, he finished with 23 goals and 46 assists. Those 69 points put him third in rookie scoring behind two guys you may've heard of: Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. In 2006-07, he split time between Boston and St. Louis, and managed just 46 points in 81 games. Last season, he went largely undrafted, but those who took a chance on him were rewarded with 43 goals, which tied him for fifth in the league with Henrik Zetterberg. While no one really knows which Double-B will show up this season, Boyes lasted until the 14th round in our Experts Mock Draft, taken in the same round as superstars Pavel Kubina, Steve Downie and Kyle Turris. Take from that what you will.
The Blues are largely a one-line team from a fantasy perspective, as no one without the last name Kariya, MacDonald or Boyes is really that exciting to own, and quite frankly those are all No. 3 forwards in a standard-size league. There is a potential future star in the mix in David Backes, whose 99 penalty minutes in 2007-08 was just one minute shy of team leader D.J. King, and whose better-than-average offensive prowess should have him skating on the second line with Keith Tkachuk and rookie Patrik Berglund. With a minus-30 overall goal differential in 2007-08, this is not a team to find help within the plus-minus department; however, early returns on the team's five-forward power-play strategy have been positive, so Berglund could have some value if the unit is productive once the regular season begins.
The team's prospects for a successful 2008-09 took a big hit with the injury to EJ. Plus, with the trades of Bryce Salvador and Christian Backman last season, just two of the team's top five scoring defenseman will be suiting up this season. Eric Brewer is slightly more "ownable" than Barret Jackman, but neither will be of great benefit to anyone outside of but the deepest leagues. As mentioned above, Pietrangelo could one day be a superstar, but it's a bit ambitious to expect that out of the 18-year-old this season.
Last season, Manny Legace earned the nickname "Subaru" from a certain fantasy hockey writer based upon his dependability and his steady, if unspectacular play. Due to his middle-of-the-pack ratios (he finished last season 14th in goals-against average and 19th in save percentage) and the low win total engendered by his starting for a last-place team, Legace shouldn't be expected to be any more than a No. 2 fantasy goalie this season. Moreover, the team traded for Chris Mason to be Legace's backup this year (the Kia to his Subaru?) and so you can expect that Legace will have fewer starts to accomplish any winning that might occur.
Tim Kavanagh is a fantasy hockey analyst for ESPN.com.
Tim Kavanagh previews the Central Division from a fantasy perspective.