What’s the distinction between a winning and losing fantasy season? The answer often lies in a manager’s ability to draft the player(s) who will not merely match their previous seasons’ output, but will exceed it in a big way. Having that knack for shrewdly selecting a sleeper in a later round, or predicting which scorer is ready to rebound from an off year, is usually the difference between looking like a genius – or idiot – come playoff time.
From breakout players (not including this year’s rookie class – sorry, you should already know my stance there) to veterans who proved they’re not quite done yet, here’s my Top 10 list dedicated to those players who surprised us with better-than-expected seasons this year.
(Stats through Tuesday April 5th)
FANTASY TOP 10 – SURPRISE PERFORMERS
1. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
Granted, Perry’s hardly a breakout performer in the conventional sense as he was already an established All-Star heading into this season. But for a guy who’s usually a late-first, early-second round pick in most non-keeper draft formats with 30/30 type numbers, Perry’s shown in 2010-11 that this Duck can fly to amazing new heights. The league’s leading goal scorer (47) not only has a legitimate shot at 50 for the first time in his career, but he’s also garnering serious consideration for the Hart Trophy. As well he should. (He’s actually my pick to win it this year, but that’s a conversation saved for another day.)
2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
The Habs took a serious chance last offseason by trading playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the Blues and making Price their undisputed #1 goalie. As it turns out, that was one helluva move by the Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge. Coming off last year’s brutal 13-win season, Price has rebounded with his best season to date, currently tied for 1st in the NHL with 37 wins while ranking 3rd with 8 shutouts. That’ll permanently turn those boos into cheers with both fickle Montreal fans and fantasy owners alike.
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Perhaps it was no real surprise that Giroux would vault himself this season into the league’s upper echelon of scorers following his impressive playoff performance in Philly just a year ago. Nonetheless, Giroux has turned even the wildest of dreams into reality in 2010-11, sitting 11th overall in league scoring while registering notable improvements in all major statistical categories, including goals (25), points (75) and plus-minus (+18).
4. Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks
Apparently, 40 really is the new 30, at least where Selanne’s concerned. Coming off a 48-point campaign in 2009-10, no one would’ve predicted that he’d bounce back with his most productive season in the last 5 years (and by no one, I mean myself). Still, Selanne’s numbers this year are nothing short of scintillating, racking up an astounding 76 points on Anaheim’s 2nd line – good for 9th in the league – including 15 powerplay goals, the 3rd highest total in the NHL (behind only D. Sedin and Stamkos). From all accounts, he’s not even close to being Finnished.
5. Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins
It may have taken him four years, but Lucic is starting to prove he’s finally worthy of drawing those comparisons to Bruins’ great Cam Neely. The rugged 23-year old winger has shattered his career highs in goals (30), points (61), Shots on Goal (168), GWG (7) and plus-minus (30), while still chipping in with triple-digit PIMs (117) in helping Boston to the Northeast Division Crown. Take a closer look, and you’ll actually find those numbers are almost identical totals to Neely’s in his 4th year in the league (36-36-72, +23, 143 PIM). Expect Lucic to be a fan – and fantasy – favorite for years to come.
6. Clarke MacArthur/Mikhail Grabovski/Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto Maple Leafs
As a lifelong Leafs supporter, I have made a point every year to stay as far away from drafting any Leaf players to help avoid any further disappointments. While that strategy has served me well since the lockout, it absolutely backfired this season with the emergence of Toronto’s newest, and most potent, scoring line. All three players – MacArthur (62 pts), Grabovski (58) and Kulemin (57) have practically doubled their offensive output from a year ago, while contributing significantly on the powerplay too. Hey, if these guys can stay together for the next few years, maybe us Leaf fans can start planning a parade route for real this time.
7. Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers
You might’ve figured 2010-11 would be a bit of a letdown for Byfuglien after his successes last June, both on the ice with Chicago then signing that new multi-year deal in Atlanta. But that hasn’t been the case. The converted forward has been an offensive force all season long on the blueline, recording 20-goals this season, the most this year by any defenseman, including 8 on the PP and 6 game winners. Plus, if your league features Shots on Goal as a stats category, then you’re already familiar with his staggering total of 340, good for 2nd in the NHL (trailing only Ovechkin).
8. Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes
No word of a lie, Yandle was the last player picked in my fantasy draft this year. I still remember my buddy telling me, “you watch, Yandle is going to have a sick year,” as I laughed in his face. Now there’s egg on mine. Yandle has indeed been sick this season, ranking 3rd in points (59) and tied-1st in assists (48) amongst NHL defenseman. Factor in 23 PP assists, a +11 rating and 66 PIMs for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a true fantasy stud right there.
9. Alex Tanguay, Calgary Flames
Coming off back-to-back subpar seasons in Montreal and Tampa Bay, it appeared that the 31-year old LW’s best years were behind him. That was, until he made the wise decision to re-sign in Calgary this past offseason in order to get reunited with Jarome Iginla. Though his peripheral numbers (PPP, PIMs, SOG) are still mediocre at best, Tanguay’s responded this season by posting his highest point totals in goals (21) and points (65) since 2006-07, during his first tour of duty with the Flames.
10. Brent Burns, Minnesota Wild
Three seasons ago, Burns looked like he was poised to become one of the NHL’s elite all-around defensemen. But two years of injuries and inconsistent play would cost Burns that distinction – until now. Coming off a pathetic 3-goal campaign just one season ago, Burns has rebounded with a solid fantasy year in 2010-11, currently finding himself tied for 3rd in the NHL in both goals (16) and powerplay goals (7) amongst defensemen.
Which players were your biggest surprises this season?