Tuesday, April 28, 2009

While you were sleeping v2.0

Last week we looked at two young players who had huge 4th quarters to finish out the 2008-2009 NHL Season. Both Claude Giroux and Anton Babchuck should both be treated as solid sleepers come draft day in September. This week I want to look at two players who came into this season known more for their fists then their scoring touch.

David Backes, RW/C, STL
The Minnesota native had a strong first full season in the NHL in 07-08. Showing flashes of speed, skill, and toughness, Backes brought some fantasy value with a career-high 31 points and 99 PIMs. He showed enough promise that Vancouver tendered an offer to the restricted Free Agent in the off-season. St. Louis quickly matched and David has rewarded their investment this season.

Backes became a top forward for the Blues this season. He played in every situation and quickly became the go-to guy for coach Andy Murray. David scored an impressive 31 goals and 54 points playing in all 82 games. He also finished with a healthy 165 PIMs for those of you in leagues that reward those shenanigans. It should be noted though that as the goals soared, the PIMs dropped. He's become too valuable to be in the box on a regular basis.

At 25, Backes should be able to better those numbers next year on a very talented and emerging Blues team. His big frame, good speed, and developing hands could turn him into one of the top power forwards in the game over the next couple of seasons. Think Shane Doan on a much better team.

Next Season's Fearless Forecast:
82 games played, 35 goals, 32 assists = 67 points.

Where you should draft him:
12th-16th round (standard), 7th-9th round (keeper)

Steve Ott, LW, DAL

One of the best agitators in the game, many wondered where Ott would fit in after the Stars signed Sean Avery last off-season. We all know how that worked out for Avery. Ott, on the other hand, took advantage of some extra ice time as many of the Stars top players began to drop (see Brendan Morrow, see Jere Lehtinen, see Brad Richards). All of a sudden, Ott was on a top line with Mike Ribeiro and Jere Lehtinen during Dallas' push for a playoff spot. The line clicked and Ott even saw a stretch of 12 points in 8 games in early February, finishing the season with 37 points in his last 40 games. As with Backes, Ott's PIMs took a dive when he got more top-end minutes.

So is this a mirage? Was Ott the product of circumstance? Well, he did put up two 40+ goal seasons with Windsor in junior and scored 18 goals in his only full year in the AHL. He has always had scoring touch but was buried on the depth chart because of his willingness to drop the gloves. I don't think you can expect Ott to be a point-per-game player next year but he should be able to score on a more regular basis moving forward. His PIMs should also go up again next year as he won't be counted on as a top-line player with the Stars (if they are healthy). Think...Sean Avery 06-07.

Next Season's Fearless Forecast:
82 games played, 18 goals, 26 assists = 44 points, 185 PIMs.

Where you should draft him:
15th-18th round (standard), 12th-16th round (keeper)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gambling on Gilroy

Recent Hobey Baker winner, Matt Gilroy, has signed a 2-year contract with the New York Rangers after winning the National Championship with Boston U at the NCAA Frozen Four tournament.

Gilroy was one of the most sought-after, non-NHL free agents heading into the upcoming off-season. Already 24, Gilroy had a very successful season at Boston U, recording 8 goals and 37 points in 45 games. An impressive total at the college level.

Rangers GM Glen Sather, has gone out on another limb signing Gilroy to a 2-year, one-way contract for $3.5 million. This ensures the young rear guard a spot on the Rangers team next year, regardless of how he plays. Gilroy should be playing on the top 2 pairings next season and will be able to gain valuable experience from Wade Redden.

Fantasy owners should be wary when looking at drafting Gilroy. He will get plenty of ice time in New York but that is far from being a successful fantasy producer. There have been numerous Hobey Baker winners in the NHL, but only a handful have been fantasy studs. Neal Broten, Paul Kariya, Chris Drury, and Ryan Miller are the most notable fantasy gems to emerge from the college ranks.

Being 25 heading into the next NHL will be an advantage to Gilroy, but look for him to still have numerous stumbling blocks playing for a highly demanding coach in John Tortorella. If you are able to grab Gilroy in the late rounds of your draft next season, he is worth taking a flyer on. Owners should not expect him to put up top numbers in his first year and should look elsewhere if they need to draft a point-producing d-man.


Monday, April 20, 2009

While you were sleeping...

As the fantasy hockey season winded down and you fought tooth and nail for the championship, most GMs adopt the attitude of "what have you done for me lately?" I know the drill, you start dropping anyone that isn't putting up points and focus more on instant rewards then long-term success. But it's during this last quarter of the NHL season where next year's fantasy sleepers are begging for your affection. Well if you missed their desperate screams for attention, here is a summary of next year's fantasy sleepers based on strong finishes this season.

Claude Giroux, RW/C, PHI
Everywhere he has played, Giroux has been an offensive monster (yes, I said Monster Mr. McGuire). He surpassed 100 points in all 3 years in the Q and was the Flyers 22nd overall pick of the 06' Draft. He went to the Flyers camp as a 19 yo in 07-08 and almost made a deep roster. Claude had a decent camp this year but the Flyers just didn't have a top 9 forward spot for him. Enter Danny Briere's injury troubles and Giroux's point-per-game AHL rookie campaign and the Flyers called him up at the midway point of the season. Giroux didn't slow down either, he netted 27 points in 42 games (on pace for a 54 point rookie season). Getting top 6 minutes, Giroux had a stretch of 11 points in 9 games. So far, in his first 3 playoff games he has 1 goal and 2 assists and a fight with Tyler Kennedy (OK, I know Tyler isn't a fighter but you get the point). His creativity and maturity with the puck will make him a staple on Philly's top two lines for years to come. Just 21 years of age, grab him early if you're in a keeper league.

Next Season's Fearless Forecast: 82 games played, 27 goals, 42 assists = 69 points.
Where you should draft him: 12th-13th round (standard), 5th-7th round (keeper) 

Anton Babchuk, D, CAR
Who is Anton Babchuk? A former 1st round pick (2002) of the Chicago Blackhawks, Babchuk was known as a physical Dman who had some offensive upside. After struggling to impress the Chicago brass, he was traded to Carolina in 2006. After another decent, yet unspectacular year, Anton decided to go home and play for the Russian powerhouse Omsk. It was in Omsk that he started to really develop his untapped offensive game with 24 points in 57 games (great numbers for a Dman in the Russian League). Anton decided to take another crack at the NHL but was buried on a deep Carolina depth chart. As the season progressed though, Babchuk started getting more ice-time and new Head Coach Paul Maurice became a believer in his skill. Babchuk was the Canes best Dman down the stretch and had an amazing 23 points in his last 26 games, averaging well over 2o minutes of icetime a game (he had 8 points in the Canes last 4 games). He has a cannon of a shot and used it to score 16 goals this year. At 25, Babchuk will enter next season as a top 2 Dman on the Canes and should continue to develop his offensive game. We're talking keeper potential here.

Next Season's Fearless Forecast: 82 games played, 18 goals, 31 assists = 49 points.
Where you should draft him: 15h-17th round (standard), 10th-12th round (keeper) 

Stay tuned for more sleepers over the next few weeks.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Choosing 1 and 1A

When it comes to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft later this June, fantasy owners should only be concerned with 2 players, John Tavares and Victor Hedman. They are the undisputed prizes of the upcoming draft and will not only be sought after by the Islanders and Lightning, who own the picks, but by the other 28 teams in the league as well.

Brian Burke has openly said that he will be pursuing Tavares and is will to pay whatever it takes to capture the prized star forward. That should be an key indicator to fantasy owners that they should be eying in this young star come draft day. Tavares will excel regardless of which team drafts him. He will be looked upon as a franchise player and given every opportunity to lead his team as it is built around him. I would look to select Tavares high in all formats, especially if you are in a keeper pool with roto stats.

Victor Hedman is another player looked at as a franchise player with whatever team he lands on. He is the 1A option to Tavares and is well coveted by teams that are already deep at forward. Fantasy owners in keeper leagues should be keen on the possibilities of drafting him however it is just a question of how early. Hedman will be a productive team leader well before his prime, but owners should be aware that he will have growing pains as all young defenseman do when they enter the league. I wold look to draft Hedman in the mid rounds of new drafts and early if you are in established keeper pools that allow for a farm team or futures. If you are in a one year pool I would steer clear of him in his first year and let another owner draft Hedman and grab an established d-man instead.

Beyond the first two picks, there is a plethora of talent available as future keepers. I will be looking into these players deeper in a future post and advise fantasy owners whether they should risk taking a shot at these kids.