Open Ice: Kid Crosby has a new linemate
When a player takes off and scores a ton of points in a short period if time, he usually gets at least some consideration for this column. When he doesn't make the cut, I don't always feel it necessary to justify myself. But with all the hoopla surrounding Dustin Byfuglien in the last week, I better at least go on record as saying he simply had a good game. That's it. He doesn't project as an offensive defenseman just yet. I could see him developing into a Tom Preissing-type of player, with a decent plus/minus and a few power-play points, but I don't think he is there yet. It was one good game that caught fantasy attention everywhere, and congratulations to Mr. Buyfuglieo Byfuligagi Bfyfgulin "Buff-Lin" on his natural hat trick, but I want no part of him for my fantasy teams.
Colby Armstrong, RW, Penguins: This is my "duh" no-brainer of the week. He's playing with Sidney Crosby and scoring a ton of points while doing it. Armstrong has more history than a lot of other Penguins as a linemate of Sid, so I give him a decent chance of keeping this spot.
Bryce Salvador, D, Blues: Salvador was logging around 15 minutes of ice time per game until about November 13, when he all of a sudden started playing closer to 22 minutes per game. In the 10 games since the change, Salvador has six points and is plus-11. Those are enormous numbers. I implore anyone looking for a No. 4 defenseman, even in a shallow league, to go after Salvador right now. The Blues have a good enough forward group to make any defenseman on the ice look good if he can get them the puck. Even if Salvador's offense is out of character, the plus/minus certainly isn't.
Dustin Brown, RW, Kings: Quite frankly, I was shocked to see Brown's ownership down at 75 percent in ESPN leagues. He has 11 points in his last seven games and is already an established commodity in fantasy thanks to flirtations with owners in the past. He is still pulling top-line duties with Mike Cammalleri and Anze Kopitar. Brown should have 100 percent ownership in ESPN leagues, and I won't rest until he does! Actually, that's a pretty silly reason not to sleep, but do me a favor and take 30 seconds to see if he is available in your league and pick him up.
Robert Nilsson, LW, Oilers: Sometimes it's the weirdest combination of events that actually gets a player going. Nilsson is finally showing his stuff with five points in his past six games, and through most of this mini-streak he's been playing alongside Fernando Pisani. Pisani returned to the ice Dec. 2 after a bout with colitis. Perhaps it's Pisani's defensive abilities that have allowed Nilsson to open up his game a bit. Most recently, Sam Gagner was the center for this line, which gives Nilsson someone to take his creative passes. I just really think Nilsson will make an impact when he finally settles in, and I don't want to miss it. Keep an eye on him for the next week or two.
Jim Vandermeer, D, Blackhawks: In the spirit of full disclosure, there is one more reason I am not buying into Byfuglien, and that reason goes by the name Vandermeer. This former WHL star has been bounced around for the last several seasons of his budding career, but seems to have found a permanent home with the Blackhawks. Vandermeer gets involved in a lot of plays, and also has secondary value thanks to his 40 penalty minutes. He is the Chicago defenseman I think should be picked up this week.
Niklas Hagman, LW, Stars: I'll be honest, I've actually stuck it out with Hagman when everyone else was saying he just had a hot start. I was rewarded with a second little burst in points in mid-November, and now I see better times ahead for this overachiever. Jere Lehtinen is out with abdominal surgery for the next two months, at least, and in his stead Hagman has been icing time with Mike Modano. Still a creative playmaker in his final days Modano will ensure that he, Hagman and Jussi Jokinen are going to have some explosive nights on the ice. I think Hagman (and Jokinen, for that matter) don't belong on shallower teams, but the reward is there if you stick it out in deeper leagues.
Kris Letang, D, Penguins: Though not getting a ton of ice time yet, this former QMJHL scoring freak is making his opportunities count. In his last full season in the "Q" Letang scored 25 goals. Last season in the playoffs for Val-d'Or, he scored 12 goals and had 19 assists in just 19 games. This future fantasy star knows what to do with the puck to help it find the back of the net. I'm not calling his two-game goal-scoring streak the unveiling of a new stud defenseman, but I do think his opportunities will grow in the coming weeks. The underperforming Ryan Whitney could use some healthy competition.
Jeff Finger, D, Avalanche: Though he lacks the booming shot that Letang has, Finger goes about his business with pure defensive skills and makes smart passes to his forwards. He may never top 10 goals in a season, but he could easily crack 50 points one day thanks to assists. His ice time has gradually been increasing, to the point where he played three straight games of more than 20 minutes last week. If nothing else, he is a plus/minus maniac. He is plus-9 this season and plus-19 since joining the team late last season. Finger also leads the Avalanche in hits this season. He is gritty and sound defensively, which is perfect for deeper-league owners always looking for help on the blue line.
Owen Nolan, RW, Flames: This old-timer is putting in some pretty darn good shifts for the Flames. Nolan usually skates alongside Matthew Lombardi and a mix of opposite wingers that sometimes includes Jarome Iginla or Alex Tanguay. Though he is not lighting the lamp on a consistent basis, Nolan has still been a solid contributor offensively, and all the while he's been racking up minor penalties. He can be helpful as a No. 4 right winger and allows you to be a bit nostalgic with your choice.
Daniel Girardi, D, Rangers: When you rank second on your team in hits and blocked shots, you are going to start earning some serious ice time. Girardi is such an asset on the ice that he is starting to get points by simply logging time with the fantasy studs up front for the Blueshirts. Girardi already has four goals; an outlandish number when you note that his career high in both the OHL and AHL is eight. That's not to say he doesn't have offensive skills to work with, because he has had some prolific assist seasons, but I think most of his value will come by osmosis this season. Nevertheless, value is value and Girardi should be off the wire in deeper leagues.
Sean Allen is a fantasy baseball and hockey analyst for ESPN.com. You can Email him here.
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