Open Ice: PIMs, PPPs and plus/minus
What do you need? That is the question you should be able to answer accurately at this point in the season. The sample sizes might be small, but still you can begin to gauge where you have a weakness.
With that in mind ...
Jared Boll, RW, Blue Jackets: Boll has the perfect combination of skills to rack up PIMs for a fantasy team. He is defensively responsible and even has a mild offensive flair. Most importantly, the kid will drop 'em. The former Plymouth Whaler is only playing about five minutes a game, but that only makes his one goal and plus-2 rating more impressive. After watching Boll fight, I have determined that he is old school; going after the "jersey" and firing upper-cuts. The Blue Jackets have just found a replacement for Jody Shelley and I expect Boll to be among the league-leaders for penalty minutes.
Douglas Murray, D, Sharks: By virtue of Murray always throwing a big hit or messing it up in the corners, he is going to rack up the PIMs. This Swedish behemoth (6-foot-3, 245) is going to be playing more than 10 minutes a game, which is a nice bonus for a fighter because it means he is on the ice longer to find a scrap. Murray also plays for an offensive juggernaut and will get his share of points by handing it off to the forward group.
Chris Gratton, C, Lightning: A good ol' Brantford boy, Gratton plays the kind of tough game that will make him an oversight in most fantasy leagues, but a value commodity in deeper ones. He'll stand in front of the net and get some goals, stay decent in the plus/minus department and, most importantly, drop the gloves once in a while. Gratton also takes plenty of two-minute minors and will be in the triple-digit PIMs range at the end of the season.
Scott Walker, RW, Hurricanes: Just like the Sabres, the Canes are rolling with a five-forward power-play unit. With all that creativity on the ice at once, the points will abound with the man-advantage. Walker has been on the second unit, but that is still a talented group. It's only been three seasons since Walker was a fantasy force with the Predators and he certainly seems to have some gas left in the tank after setting a career high for shots last season. Add Walker to your team if you are down in the "PPP" department.
Jeff Hamilton, C, Hurricanes: Hamilton should be flying off free-agent wires everywhere. The Carolina power play, as mentioned, looks amazing with five forwards out there. Hamilton and Matt Cullen have worked the point, and Hamilton has been playing the role of "Big Point Shot." Through four games, Hamilton has 13 shots on goal and two power-play goals, to boot. With limited playing time in Chicago (21st in ice time per game), he managed a near 40-point season. Given the opportunity he currently has in Carolina, I'm buying into Hamilton.
Lukas Krajicek, D, Canucks: Again, small sample size, but through three games, it's Krajicek, not Kevin Bieksa, who follows Mattias Ohlund for power-play time amongst defensemen in Vancouver. Krajicek has always looked like an undeveloped power-play quarterback, just waiting for the right place to unleash his potential. Considering that neither Ohlund, nor Bieksa, fit that mould, Krajicek may have found his place to break out.
Chris Kelly, C, Senators: He's on the most defensively responsible line of the most offensively prolific team, and Kelly has a scoring touch. That rare combination will drive up Kelly's plus/minus all season long, while he chips in a nice number of points along the way. If you need a bench guy for a team that depends on Blue Jackets or Blackhawks for points, keep Kelly around to sub in and mop up your plus/minus.
Brent Burns, D, Wild: By playing in the defense-first Minnesota system, Burns offers a good combination of just enough points and a strong plus/minus. Burns, now one more season into his conversion from right wing to defense, should be better defensively this year, and that's saying a lot for someone who finished plus-16. His offensive prowess from his days at right wing will help him find the scoreboard or break his forwards with smart passes. Deeper leaguers looking for some help keeping their defense in positive plus/minus territory should give Burns a look.
Joel Lundqvist, C, Stars: Joel, brother of Henrik, has been working on his defensive game in order to stay in Dallas this season (as opposed to Iowa of the American Hockey League). At the end of the day though, Lundqvist is going to be a strong offensive player. That combination can keep a player well above the "even" mark. Until he breaks out offensively (which might mean leaving Dallas), Lundqvist is a poor man's Chris Kelly.
Simon Gamache, LW, Maple Leafs: Gamache just got the call from the AHL for the hobbled Leafs. Gamache only played one game with the Toronto Marlies, but he had an assist in it after a strong training camp. He is undersized, but that hasn't stopped Martin St. Louis in the new NHL. Take a chance on him in deep leagues. In all likelihood you are going to whiff, but just maybe that's a home run swing you are taking.
Chuck Kobasew, RW, Bruins: I am completely sick of looking for a breakout year from Kobasew and have reserved myself to the fact that it will never happen. Wait! ... What's that? Kobasew was last spotted skating on a line with Marc Savard? OK, fine. Let's give Kobasew one more chance now that he is skating with one of the elite set-up men of the league. Watch Kobasew's power-play time though, because if he doesn't start getting some time with the man advantage, he'll once again be waiver-wire fodder.
Tobias Enstrom, D, Thrashers: Despite all the reports about a sub-par preseason, Enstrom leads all Thrashers in power-play time so far. Atlanta isn't clicking yet, but when they do this power-play quarterback from Sweden will start notching points galore. Pick him now to avoid the rush when Atlanta finally has a game when it scores five power-play goals and Enstrom has a helper on all of them.
Sean Allen is a fantasy hockey and baseball analyst for ESPN.com. You can Email him here.
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