Open Ice: Hudler playing big on power play
Who has my attention this fine Friday? Let's take our weekly trip around the NHL.
Peter Mueller, C, Coyotes: Hyped in the preseason, Mueller has probably been dropped by impatient owners after he managed only a goal and an assist through the first 11 games. In the 12th and 13th games though, Mueller has a hat trick and a two-assist game. The former Western Hockey League rookie of the year may just be getting started and still has time to come through on our preseason prediction for him to lead Phoenix in points.
Jiri Hudler, C, Red Wings: Although he does not have coach Mike Babcock's trust at even strength yet, Hudler is playing big minutes for Detroit on the power play recently. It's actually a very clever compromise by Babcock, as he is now able to take advantage of the scoring talents of Hudler while maintaining the defense that allows its goaltender to take half the night off. Especially if your league uses power-play points as a category, Hudler is going to be very useful as a No. 3 center.
R.J. Umberger, C, Flyers: He's not spectacular on offense, but Umberger plays a very positionally-sound game. Being in the right place at the right time doesn't always translate to points, but having linemates like Daniel Briere and the red-hot Joffrey Lupul certainly helps. The Flyers have the emerging talent to be able to spread out their scoring a bit, and Umberger is one of the big beneficiaries so far. As long as he skates with Briere and Lupul he is going to be at least somewhat useful.
Ian Laperriere, RW, Avalanche: This is a very short-term recommendation. Laperriere has a tendency to get on one brief hot streak each season. With two goals, three assists and five PIMs in his last four games, now might be the time. If you have the room and it doesn't cost you too much to pick him up, play Laperriere for the next week or so.
Trent Hunter, RW, Islanders: Coach Ted Nolan has been using Hunter to help spread out the wealth at the top of his forward crew. Mike Comrie and Ruslan Fedotenko are now Hunter's regular linemates. Although he is still playing second fiddle on the power play, Hunter has managed a four-game point streak heading into Saturday's game. Comrie is the most talented center on the Isles, and whoever plays on his wing will be good as a No. 2 winger in deeper fantasy leagues.
Michel Ouellet, RW, Lightning: Ouellet is back in the top six for the Bolts and, as such, should be picked up in most formats. On Wednesday he played with Brad Richards and Jan Hlavac, and on Thursday he switched with Martin St. Louis and played wing with Vinny Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal. It was Thursday when he picked up two assists, but so long as he is anywhere in the top six for the Lightning, this power-play specialist deserves attention.
Richard Zednik, LW, Panthers: I have been delaying talking about Zednik for a couple weeks, figuring he would just get hurt, and I wouldn't have to address him. It hasn't worked yet, and Zednik continues to play inspired hockey for the Panthers. He is playing regular minutes with Florida's second line of Jozef Stumpel and Stephen Weiss, and the same trio constitute the second power-play unit, as well. Zednik is on pace for more, but I think a reasonable finish would be 25 goals or so, with a bunch of them coming on the power play. He won't get a lot of helpers, but if your main need is goals, Zednik is someone to consider.
Tobias Enstrom, D, Thrashers: About a month ago, I recommended Enstrom in the "Hardcore" section of this column for deep leaguers. At the time, I noted that we'd have to revisit his situation when Atlanta's power play started clicking. Click. The Thrashers are putting some world-class players on the ice for their man-advantage, and this diminutive speedster is out there, as well, on the point. He doesn't have a big blast, per say, but Enstrom distributes the puck well. He's worthy of any size league now.
Braydon Coburn, D, Flyers: Coburn is going to be one of the great defensive-defenseman in this league someday. Normally, that particular hyphenation sends fantasy owners running for the hills, but I've always had a good feeling about Coburn, and now that we get to watch him play in the NHL that feeling has qualified itself. Coburn makes extremely smart passes out of his zone; shades of Scott Niedermayer smart. I am in no way comparing the young Flyers defenseman to the sure-fire Hall of Famer in limbo, but the way Niedermayer would get points by fueling a rush with one smart pass out of his end is also something Coburn has going for him. Coburn lacks any other offensive acumen that Niedermayer possessed, so the comparison stops there, but I see a decent number of assists for the former Thrashers first-round pick. Coburn has been playing more minutes than Kimmo Timonen or Jason Smith some nights, and although he won't be that involved on the power play, his points and PIMs will make a nice combo for fantasy owners.
Antero Niittymaki, G, Flyers: Goalies are a hard-to-come-by commodity. There just aren't enough good ones for every fantasy owner to be satisfied. That is why we have to be pro-active with our approach, and that is why I am recommending Niittymaki now, the same way I recommended picking up Ondrej Pavelec before Kari Lehtonen was hurt. Not that I am forecasting an injury for Martin Biron. Quite the contrary, I think Biron won't stumble that much at all. Niitty has an impressive history before his hips gave out (23-win rookie season, MVP of 2006 Olympics) and -- judging by his mobility -- the surgery has given him his hips back. I simply think that Niitty will continue playing so well that the slightest stumbles by Biron will open the door bit by bit. And hey, if he does get hurt, Niittymaki will be a great fill-in.
Drew Miller, LW, Ducks: While Todd Bertuzzi is out, Andy McDonald has been centering a line of Miller and Todd Marchant. While I am not overly enthused by such a combination, Miller and Marchant scored on Wednesday. Deep, "Hardcore" leagues should be all over Miller (even Marchant, to an extent) as the Pride of Strathroy can still set up goals without Teemu Selanne at hand.
Duncan Keith, D, Blackhawks: The juggernaut Blackhawks offense (who predicted using that adjective about Chicago?) breeds enough points that Keith has value from being on the ice so much. He's more of a stay-at-home-type defenseman, but as long as Keith is passing to Jonathan Toews, Pat Kane and the rest of the Hawks forwards, he'll get his fair share of points.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can Email him here.
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