Fantasy Week 1 in Review: Welcome to the NHL

Updated: October 15, 2010 at 9:50 am by Patrick Davey

Welcome to the National Hockey League. Without doubt it is the most demanding league in the world to play in, bringing with it an intensity level that rarely drops, if ever at all. Once the first puck drops, there is no looking back.

The players have to instantly perform to their highest capabilities, or meet the bench. The coaches have to live every shift with them, or face the media. The general managers have to watch over it all from above, behind their own pane of glass, anxiously waiting to see whether he can hit 30 this year; or if giving this guy such a huge contract really wasn’t such a good idea after all; and if it could all actually come together at the perfect time….

The fans have to not just watch that game, and that game, and the one after that, but find out who’s between the pipes,who’s going to score their first career goal in their first career game, who’s going to make last year’s Vezina winner look like an amateur, who’s going to knock someone not into next week, but the week after that…. who’s going to make the next big gesture, be it celebratory or obscene, who’s going to boo the commissioner loudest this year, who’s going to breakout, who’s going to be knocked-out, who’s going to breakdown, who’s going to finally validate their draft position, and who’s

Don praising or laying into this week……. before anyone else, or hear about it from everyone else.

The fantasy players though, the fantasy players have to take it even further, or not only hear about it from everyone else,but look at the standings and feel it too, and live with the thought that “I could have stopped this from happening after all.”

We are all in this together for the long haul, but thank goodness Hockey is back.

…. and what a week it has been.

NHL Premiere

The 2010-11 season is the 93rd in the history of the National Hockey League, and the fourth straight year that the league has opened overseas in Europe.  Carolina took two from Minnesota in Helsinki, and despite not adding much depth over the offseason, the Canes chances this year seem a lot brighter this time around, mainly because last season’s start was so bad it can’t be repeated. At 27 years of age, and coming off a breakout season, Jussi Jokinen seems to be in the form of his career, and could even improve on the 30 goals he put up then. I think he will at
least match it. Even though it’s early days the Wild don’t look like they will go places this year and will struggle to score again I think, leaving only Mikko Koivu as really the only fantasy player on this team I would be confident in consistent production.

Meanwhile, the Sharks-Blue Jackets split in Stockholm was a great series to watch, and even Joe Thornton scored a nice goal. Neither Antti Niemi or Antero Niittymaki really established themselves too well, and I think it’s in question whether either will overtake the starting role at all, so be wary of that. Columbus displayed their hopes for a rebuild in the shape of  “The Kid Line”, focused around star prospect Nikita Filatov. Filatov left for the KHL a year ago over a disagreement with then-Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock but now the younger Scott Arniel is behind the bench, look for Filatov to get every opportunity to shine. He was certainly very promising in Sweden, and will be
given ample powerplay minutes too with Rick Nash & co. The BJs are still a way away from the playoffs, but guys like Filatov will help the likes of Derick Brassard who have lost their way a little.

In Prague, Nathan Horton showed every reason why the Bruins wanted him to fill the goalscoring position left by the departed Phil Kessel, with 3 goals and 4 points. Horton has only hit 30 goals once, and that was in 2007, but this should no doubt be a career year in all categories for him, and it was great to see Tyler Seguin get his first career goal too. Seguin is still probably the more NHL-ready rookie over Taylor Hall and all his peers because of having to carry his junior team the Plymouth Whalers himself without much assistance from other talented prospects unlike in Windsor.

New Arena, ice cold performances

Watching the inspired Toronto Maple Leafs walk through the Pittsburgh Penguins last night was pretty painful. Marc-Andre Fleury is definitely a long way away from his Cup-winning performances, and this is sad to see. Since Fleury was not a stud in the GAA or SV% categories anyway, no wins for fantasy just hurts his cause further. Long gone is also the notion that whoever plays with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin can pick up easy points, as Mike Comrie has found out so far.

Bill Guerin did pretty well in the role at the time, and the promotion of Mark Letustu and Eric Tangradi to full-time roles has not covered the loss of that big body in front of the net. The loss of Jordan Staal which began as crippling now looks like it has left a black hole in the teams symmetry that just can’t be replaced. Staal’s fantasy value has always been of interest to me and I think that he should breakout when he comes back, despite not skating much at all, simply because the Pens need that to happen just to contend again. Though it will still be down to Fleury to make sure he gets his reaction times sorted out.

As for Toronto, it is the opposite, and the surge continues. Was really impressive to see Jonas Gustavsson closing the door down the stretch, leaving Pittsburgh still winless at the new Consol Energy Center. Was a little surreal to see all Mario Lemieux’s silverware in the arena during the intermission; and that was about as good as it got.

Rookie Watch: Cam Fowler

In this first article I wanted to focus on a young rookie by the name of Cam Fowler, who I watched for the first time at NHL level last night. I had seen him previously with the Windsor Spitfires, and paired with Ryan Ellis this was easily the best defensive tandem in the Ontario Hockey League. Fowler was then stellar in the World Juniors in Saskatoon, winning a gold medal with the United States to end Canada’s five-year run. John Carlson got the glory of the goal on that day, but Fowler was one of the very best, alongside Derick Stepan, now with the New York Rangers.

Look at Carlson’s confident start to the season, Stepan got that hat-trick in his debut, but Fowler for me is the best so far, simply because of what he has been asked to do. Already he is consistently playing over 20 minutes a game and even though the turnovers are there, there is also a sense of enthusiasm to just want to carry the puck all the way up the ice, very much like P.K Subban in this way, and even though there will then be mistakes, it’s better to have these growing pains and want to be a gamechanger, than to not have this desire at all.

He might not be a fantasy stud just yet, but don’t let him fall under the radar at all. He was drafted 12th overall, but was ranked as highly as #3 overall behind Hall and Seguin, then settling at 5th. I think his fall from 5th to 12th was still the most surprising event of the 2010 draft, and I am confident he will be a better fantasy contributor than No.3 Erik Gudbranson, who is more valued because of his size and strength than his natural offensive ability.

The NHL is becoming younger and younger, but the talent level is higher than ever. What an exciting time to be a hockey fan. Cam Fowler was born 135 days after I was, and is already getting close to Niedermayer-like minutes. It’s scary. Or as my cousin and commissioner of our league would say…. “So sick, it’s frightening.”

From across the frozen pond, good luck with all your fantasy teams this year!

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