Open Ice: Early pickups from first set of real games
The information you can glean from just one box score of meaningful hockey flows almost as quickly as the beer in Prague. Four games are now in the books, yet there is plenty of tangible knowledge that needs to be passed along.
Welcome to Open Ice! I'll be your host for the season as we look at the ups and downs of the fantasy realm every week. You'll find pickups, put-downs, prospects, pine-riders, puck-finders and pool-winners here. We'll start with a look at those four games I mentioned as well as some preseason notes to get your first non-Rangers-Lightning-Penguins-Senators lineup ready.
As for format, we'll freestyle to begin the season and shape any recurring sections as we go. Fair enough? That means some feedback couldn't hurt. Find the link at the bottom of the column.
Filip Kuba, D, Senators: Brian Lee isn't ready yet. At least, that appears to be the opinion of coach Craig Hartsburg, who gave Lee barely 10 minutes of ice time, the fewest of any Senators defenseman. Kuba, conversely, played almost 30 minutes and manned the point for the Sens' power play (resulting in one assist). Kuba is available in 75 percent of ESPN leagues and is a must-add. Drop your worst defenseman for him if you have to. Clearly, Lee is going to be brought along slowly, so he is probably expendable in most formats right now. If he picks things up later, you can look for him then.
Paul Bissonnette, D, Penguins: This is a recommendation for those deep-league owners in leagues where upwards of 75 defensemen get drafted. Bissonnette knuckled his way into an NHL job this year after spending the past few seasons bouncing between the AHL and ECHL. He is not a smart acquisition in leagues using average ice time, as he'll play fewer than five minutes, but he finished the preseason with four fights and 40 penalty minutes. When you have to start five defensemen against 14 other owners, someone who just racks up PIMs as your No. 5 man isn't a bad idea.
Alex Goligoski, D, Penguins: The Penguins' power play almost went scoreless in 14 chances out in Europe. However, with two seconds remaining in Sunday's game, Goligoski slid a Sidney Crosby pass underneath Alex Auld to end that skid. Goligoski was a healthy scratch Saturday, but I'll bet he keeps suiting up as long as he is contributing on the power play. Given his prolific scoring last season in the AHL, that shouldn't be a problem.
Barry Melrose isn't sure of his line combinations yet. We saw just about every possible combination on the ice in all sorts of situations for the Lightning. Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis were even separated toward the end of Sunday's contest, as Melrose tried to spark some offense. That means we don't know which forward outside of those two stars (plus Steven Stamkos) are worth owning. Still, make sure you back the most talented of the runners by adding Radim Vrbata, Vaclav Prospal and Ryan Malone to your roster. But looking at the different combinations used by Melrose, I think Mark Recchi is a candidate to land in a decent role when things settle down.
Nikolai Zherdev is not worthy of a starting spot in ESPN standard leagues, at least, not yet. The conversion of Chris Drury to a wing spot alongside Markus Naslund and Scott Gomez appears to be sticking, which makes Zherdev a second-line player in New York. Zherdev isn't sniffing power-play minutes with the first unit either, as coach Tom Renney is using defensemen (Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival) on the point . His new linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Nigel Dawes are good options in deeper leagues, but in your standard 10-team ESPN format, none of the players should be starting for you. Zherdev still needs to be kept on the bench in case things change; and they'll need to change if he wants to go 30-30 again.
Ryan Hollweg, LW, Maple Leafs: Go out and add him right now if you are in an ESPN standard league. If there is one statistic that you can rely on -- whether it's preseason, AHL, OHL or anything else -- it's penalty minutes. PIMs can stay consistent from level to level, and those preseason stats can be a good indicator of what a player can do over a full season. Hollweg racked up five fights, 11 penalties and a league-leading 56 PIMs in four preseason games. The reason I am excited about his PIM potential in ESPN standard leagues is because Hollweg will play more minutes than other goons and won't drag down your average ice time as much. Hollweg averaged more than eight minutes a game for the Rangers last season and this Toronto team should have plenty of time to hand out to its checkers.
Andy McDonald, C, and Lee Stempniak, RW, Blues: The trio of McDonald, Stempniak and Brad Boyes lit up the entire preseason, as they all finished in the top three in points. In four games, they combined for 29 points; McDonald with 11 and Stempniak and Boyes with nine each. I have a hard time seeing that ridiculous production carry over, but it is possible that McDonald is finally acclimatized to his new surroundings in St. Louis and ready to build on his 2006-07 campaign. Last season was clearly a write-off for McDonald as he didn't perform in Anaheim without Teemu Selanne and then didn't pick things up after a trade to the Blues. Remember, McDonald has 163 points in 164 games in the two seasons immediately following the lockout. The bottom line is, McDonald (30 percent owned) and Stempniak (3 percent) need to be picked up in more leagues.
Jakub Voracek, RW, Blue Jackets: It wasn't Derick Brassard making noise in the preseason for Columbus, it was Voracek. With five points in four games, it appears the young winger will break camp with the Jackets. Keep him on your radar in the early going.
Toronto Maple Leafs: That's right. All of them. Coaches usually experiment with their lines throughout the preseason, but Ron Wilson set what looks like his opening night lineup on Sunday and, I have to tell you, I like what he has done with the lines. Mikhail Grabovski centered Niklas Hagman and Jiri Tlusty all night, resulting in three points for Grabovski. If that is the No. 1A unit, then the No. 1B unit is Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nik Antropov and Jason Blake, each of whom had a point in the 5-4 shootout loss to Columbus. The checking line is Matt Stajan centered between Jamal Mayers and Ryan Hollweg. The fourth line was Alexander Steen, converted defenseman Ian White and John Mitchell. The best part is that Wilson is letting the lines get used to each other and is not doing much more tinkering. For fantasy purposes, the top lines were also alternating on the power play, so both could have muted value this season. Also note that Anton Stralman was playing the point with Tomas Kaberle whenever the Leafs had the man advantage. Luke Schenn also looks to stick with the club to start the season. Remember, Toronto's first-round pick from this year's draft is not an offensive player, but his presence should help Vesa Toskala.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.