With the KHL being crippled in the midst of their All-Star game, we have lots of talent coming back to North America to get ready for the new NHL season. One thing is to keep an eye on is who will be hot right out of the cannon and who will struggle to find their stride. My two cents on five players to see a fantastic start and five players who will be slow to get the old wheel churning:
5) Pavel Datsyuk – 36 points in 31 games for CSKA Moscow club.
Pavel is one of the more consistent players in the NHL. He is good for about a point-per-game in any of his NHL seasons as of late, and is dangerous enough to go above this pace. The rumor mill around the glove is that he is getting fairly old and is past his ‘prime rib’ status. Nonsense, I say, because he looked nothing but dominant at times in the KHL. He will be most likely paired up with Johan Franzen, Gustav Nyquist, and/or Todd Bertuzzi. No matter who plays with him, he will get them the puck. I’d really like to see Franzen stay healthy for the short season and still pop in 30 goals this year. Pavel will be dishing out lots of pucks and he seems very healthy this year. The short season may help to have him play all of the games at 100% or as close to that as hockey players get. Look for him to start off flying hot and expect to see some new moves from this puck wizard as he left a parting gift for the KHL fans with this razzle-dazzle shootout goal.
4) Alexander Ovechkin – 40 points in 31 games for Dynamo Moscow.
Alex, Alex…Alex. Well, Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals had an awful year in 2011-2012 season. They barely made it into the playoffs, took down Boston, and took the Rangers to a game 7. Oh, and Ovechkin scored 38 goals. 38 goals and the world came down on him like he was the worst player in NHL. Be it that we’re used to seeing closer to 50 goals from the great eight, but come on. The entire team’s totals went down. Having Nicklas Backstrom out for half the season was the likely cause for the lack of offense, but the entire team did not put up the same numbers as they are used to. In 09-10 season the team scored 318 goals and in 11-12 they scored just 222. What will make Alex a ‘point per game plus’ player again? Well, maybe a better working powerplay, more offensive starts, and an elite center. Backstrom should be back and healthy, and both will continue the dominance they had on the Moscow club. Look for Ovie to get back to his point per game pace.
3) Tyler Seguin – 26 goals in 29 games (41 points) HC Biel of the Swiss National League.
Tyler Seguin is one of the bright young players who got stuck playing a lot of third line duties as a rookie on a team that had super depth and won the Stanley Cup. Last season he saw much more ice time (10-11 averaged 12 minutes to 11-12 averaging 17 minutes) and boy did it pay off. He is not only fairly responsible in his own end (+34) but he is extremely effective in the offensive end. 29 goals last season at an age of 20 years old, and he finished the season with 67 points. He continued his dominant play this year in the Swiss league scoring at almost a goal per game pace. I know that Swiss league is not even at the KHL level, but scoring consistently and at this rate is still fairly impressive. The important part here is that he had plenty of ice time and plenty of practice to shoot. Will he be this dominant back here in Boston? No, but expect him to be one of the top right wings in the league from the get-go and take another step forward in his career.
Here are all the goals in case you missed this video:
2) Sidney Crosby – Did not play.
Out all of the obvious names on this list, I guess this might be the most obvious. The thing is that Sidney Crosby had 37 points in the 22 games he played (not a typo). With the condensed schedule two things could happen, he can be a nightmare to play against for fantasy owners, but this could also reduce his durability. I am of the school of thought that does not buy into the question of durability if a player deems himself healthy, and no one is benefited from this lockout regarding his health, more than Sidney Crosby. With the extra time for his brain to rest from the punishment of what is a full contact NHL game, he is poised to have one of his best seasons yet. I remember Jaromir Jagr putting up 70 points in 48 games during the 94 shortened season and I would expect similar numbers from 87. If the season starts on January 19th, the first game should be against Minnesota Wild and if I had Backstrom as my fantasy goalie, he would be benched on this day.
PS: Malkin should be considered just as dangerous as Crosby. Malkin had 65 points in 37 games while playing in KHL. This guy has been on fire the past two years and he cant be stopped.
1) Jordan Eberle – 25 Goals in 34 games (51 points) Oklahoma City Barons of AHL
Now I could have included Justin Schultz on this list as he is doing the same damage as Eberle is with 48 points from the back end, but Eberle has proven he can do it on the big stage. This kid has impressed us at every level and has surpassed expectations on every level. We were suppose to hear about Taylor Hall and see him be the rookie of the year and than we were suppose to be impressed with Ryan Nugent-Hokpins, but who really stole the show is Jordan Eberle. He went from an unknown to a super-keeper status for fantasy owners. This year will be no exception. He will continue to dominate and now it seems like overnight the Edmonton Oilers added two more offensive weapons in Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov, which should improve his offensive production. The biggest improvement he could add to his game, is that he can generate more offence on the power play. Last season he only had 20 PP points and while that is not bad, we want to see around 30 from him. Having an offensive minded defenseman like Schultz should help that out. At 22 he is entering his prime rib stage of his career and should be a dominant force during this short season.
There are others that I thought of putting down like Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, and Rick Nash, also some rookies like Mikael Granlund and Jonathan Huberdeau, but I figured the above names would be more interesting.
Now to some players that will most likely have slow starts to this season campaign.
5) Radim Vrbata – 2 points in 2 games for BK Mlada Boleslav in Czech Republic
The thing is that last year was a fluke. Flat out fluke. 35 goals will not happen again, forget about it. Ray Whitney is gone now and he really made a huge difference for Phoenix offensively. So while he became a fantasy relevant player last year, he should fall back to his 40 point pace/82 games. Unless he found his stride at a tender age of 31, I just do not see him coming back to 30 goal level play and you should not either. Let him slide, and go with someone more sturdy like Ryan Clowe, Valtteri Filppula, and Tyler Ennis.
4) Jason Pominville – 12 points in 7 games for Adler Mannheim German Elite League
Hey, Jason Pominville was on absolute fire last year, but how did he finish? Pominville had just 36 points in the last 48 games after starting the year off on fire with 37 in 34. What happened there is that he came down to earth and started doing what he should be doing. This is a 60 point pace player at most. Tyler Ennis centering his line might help out, but will he hold on to that job and there are always health concerns with both Ennis and Pominville. So I would not expect a 70 point pace from JP this season and look to a more realistic 60 point per pace. That said, if he starts the season like he did last year, boy would he look good in a 48 game season and I will be eating chalk.
3) Nail Yakupov – 18 points in 22 games for Neftekhimik of KHL
The rookie is the number one pick and in the past these guys have done very well in their first season and he will get the chance to succeed wearing the Oilers sweater, but, and it is a major one. He is not the same caliber as the few rookies taken before him. He clearly needs a bit more seasoning before being a lock in for rookie of the year. He will also will not be playing top minutes as RNH did and Taylor Hall has. I see maybe 20/25 points of him this year in 48 games. He may be able to prove me wrong as he does play with extreme ferociousness and passion, but this also leads me to believe that he will be injured and miss some time. It happened so far to Hall and to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He will be a star, but on a fairly young team he has to slide under some of more proven talent and this will lead to a let down from the fantasy poolies.
2) Chris Kreider – 12 points -6 in 33 games for Connecticut Whale in AHL
This kid was hyped up to epic levels by all and everything New York Ranger media and fans alike. The fact is that he does have a nice shot, but to me he did not show anything “wow” to be considered hot stuff. Even so this guy got tons of attention and was even picked up as a late round keeper by some fantasy owners. While his stock has dropped significantly due to poor play in the AHL, his name is still creeping up as a possible keeper status. The fact that he might be pencilled into the top six has only fueld this delusion. I expect very little of Kreider and you should too, especially in this shortened season.
1) Evander Kane – 1 point in 12 games (-8 and 47 PIM)
With nothing but negative things coming out about Evander Kane during the lockout, the most worrysome is the reports out of Russia that he was not in game shape and very lazy. He tried to defend himself with the lack of ice time, but he averaged 13 minutes a game. Joe Pavelski on the other hand, Kane’s teammate on Dinamo Minsk, excelled at almost a point per game pace. So the question here is what happened? Well, I think that Mr. Kane let his new massive contract go to his head a little bit and I bet that he will shape up when back in Winnipeg, the problem is that it might take some time. With only 48 games during this season the Jets faithful and his fantasy owners will expect big things from this talented forward. So lets hope he proves me wrong.
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