Front and Center

12/24/2010 5:12 PM -  matt juba

Bryan Little (Source: Creative Commons user Resolute)

Happy holidays to all you fantasy hockey supporters. As we are about to turn the page to 2011, there are a few things we are more than happy to say goodbye to: the Islanders’ pathetic start and minimal fantasy appeal, the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack (now known as the Connecticut Whale), and the lack of support for both the Phoenix Coyotes and former New Jersey Devils head coach John MacLean.
Some things we all are looking forward to in 2011: the Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, and the playground pick ‘em style format for the All-Star Game. Lastly, before we get into the article, I wanted to provide an update to a story of a Toronto Maple Leafs fan getting banned from the Air Canada Centre for throwing a frozen waffle onto the ice during Monday night’s game. After the game, he was signed by the crosstown Blue Jays to be a setup man in the bullpen.

Ilya Kovalchuk, LW New Jersey Devils
Now I have talked about Kovalchuk before in this article, but it is hard to ignore that his first season in New Jersey has turned into a house of horrors. He has eight goals in 33 games this season, fewer goals that C Jason Arnott, and he is skating with a team worst -25 rating. Keep in mind that Kovalchuk had a five game point streak earlier in the month of December, making the current stat line a little inflated compared to three weeks ago. These are numbers that look awfully similar to C John Tavares (10g-9a-19pts, -19 rating, and 23 PIM) rather than a first-round fantasy ace. A recent coaching change may help in turning things around for the entire Devils squad, although Jacques Lemaire is known more for a defensive style than an up-tempo one. As well, Zach Parise won’t be on skates until March, meaning that opposing teams will continue to send their top shut-down units on the $100 million man.

Mikhail Grabovski, C Toronto Maple Leafs
I am riding high on Grabovski over the last couple of weeks since he has taken the top center spot playing alongside Phil Kessel in Toronto. Grabovski was a popular fantasy player two years ago, scoring 20+ goals and registering 80+ PIM. Grabovski has seven goals in his last eight games (total of 12 goals on the season, leading Toronto) and the Leafs have four games between Christmas and New Year’s. If you are in a Yahoo hockey league, this guy is being started in 6% of fantasy leagues. That is not a typo – 6%! Center is a deep position this season, but he is in the top 30 centers for points and top 20 for goals. Strange but true fact on Grabovski is that he has 90 shots on goal this season, more than Pavel Datsyuk, Paul Stastny, and Patrice Bergeron.

Bryan Little, C/RW Atlanta Thrashers
Eight points (5g, 3a) in the last two weeks peaked my interest in the Atlanta forward. Little is a streaky fantasy player, but he is difficult to beat when he is on. The Thrashers are second in the NHL in goals and have five players with ten or more goals. Little is leading this team in two categories: the first is plus-minus (+13), and the other is shot percentage (18.9%). It is unlikely that Little will keep that shot percentage this high (only 53 SOG), but he will be shooting more often if he can be this accurate.

Anthony Stewart, RW Atlanta Thrashers
All fantasy hockey owners are familiar with Colorado Avalanche forward Chris Stewart, who scored 30 goals last season and was on fire again this season before suffering a broken hand. His brother Anthony was the most popular fantasy hockey add over the last week, playing much like his younger brother Chris. Ten goals and 23 points on the season forces people to take notice of Stewart, but keep in mind that he also has 29 PIM on the season. He didn’t earn much attention in fantasy drafts this season, as he had only seven points in 59 games for the Florida Panthers last season. Much like teammate Bryan Little, he has minimal shots on goals (only 70), yet he has been somewhat accurate (14.3%). If you look closely at his makeup and style of play, Stewart reminds me of another intriguing fantasy player, RW/D Dustin Byfuglien. Take a flier on Stewart as a number 2 RW in larger, deep leagues.

Tomas Fleischmann, LW Colorado Avalanche
The pesky LW started the season on the third line in Washington hoping for an opportunity to get a top 6 forward spot and time on the power-play for the Capitals. The Capitals traded him to the Avalanche, for help on the blueline, and Fleischmann is making them pay dearly for the trade. Since the trade, he is a point a game player in Colorado while filling the void left by Chris Stewart’s injury. The Avs lead the NHL in goals scored and points scored, making Fleischmann a popular add in fantasy leagues with seven games over the next two fantasy scoring periods.

Listen to Matt on the Weekly Slapshot Podcast, heard every Saturday on Blog Talk Radio.

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