Front and Center

02/19/2011 8:31 PM -  matt juba

With the All-Star behind us and the trading deadline about a week away, this is a crucial time for not only real hockey but also your favorite fantasy players, as the playoffs are fast approaching. There are minimal opportunities for error and you need to scour the waiver wire to find a leg up on your opponents. Tomas Kaberle, Mike Fisher, Rich Peverley, and Kris Versteeg are among a few forwarding their mail and living out of suitcases while trying to learn new styles on the ice and making a push towards the Stanley Cup.

Mike Fisher – C – Nashville Predators
Fisher was traded from Ottawa earlier in the week for the sun and country music of Nashville, TN. Fisher has played in three games thus far for the Preds and has two points already while performing on the top line with Patric Hornqvist. Nashville, much like everyone else in the Western Conference (six points separate 4th through 12th), is competing for playoff positioning. Fisher should provide the Preds with a solid puck handler and scorer, something that the Predators 25th-ranked offense needs.  If Fisher is available in your league, pick him up as a number 2 center and hope his time on the power-play gives you an advantage.

Chris Stewart – RW – St. Louis Blues
What do Chris Stewart and David Backes have in common? After Friday’s blockbuster trade, both power forward are now St. Louis Blues. Stewart started the season on fire after last season’s 25-goal output made him a sexy fantasy pick. A goal scorer that is not afraid to drop the gloves is fantasy hockey gold. Stewart will not have to shoulder most of the heavy lifting and should be better at staying healthy now, as Andy McDonald and Backes are more willing to take a hit than Paul Stastny or Matt Duchene.

Blake Wheeler – RW – Atlanta Thrashers
Wheeler is moving to the Thrashers and a more high-powered offense in Atlanta, so his offensive potential is going to improve. Wheeler will grow along with Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, and Nik Antropov and provide a young exciting core of talent to compete in the now-competitive Southeast Division. Wheeler will have to play his way up to a top 6 forward spot, but the opportunity to grow and develop will be right there for the taking. He will be a popular sleeper in 2011-12.

Rich Peverley – C – Boston Bruins
Ironically traded for Wheeler, Peverley is the bigger winner in this deal. He broke out last season with 55 points playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk for most of the season. Peverley is now going to be on the top line in Boston with Marc Savard out for the season, boosting his ranking through the roof. He has 14 goals and a -16 rating, but with a better supporting cast, his plus/minus rating should be positive by the end of the season. Much like Fisher, I would recommending him as an add to your fantasy roster if he is available.

Michael Frolik – RW – Chicago Blackhawks
The young and talented winger was traded away from the Panthers, so he is now being given the opportunity to be a secondary scorer on a loaded Blackhawks roster. The former first-round draft pick turns 23 years old this month, yet he is trying to resurrect his career after registering back-to-back 20 goal campaigns in Florida.  Frolik was a sleeper on fantasy rosters at the beginning of the season because of the lack of other scoring options in Florida. However, he will struggle to contribute in Chicago with a deep and talented group of forwards, but he is someone to stash away in keeper leagues for the 2011-12 season.

Kris Versteeg – LW – Philadelphia Flyers
Versteeg’s time with the Maple Leafs was short lived, and he never capitalized playing on a top line with Phil Kessel. Versteeg is still young and talented with the potential to be a 25-30 goal scorer and contribute on the power-play. Philadelphia, much like Chicago last season, is full of talent, so Versteeg is competing on the LW with Ville Leino, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk and may not improve his fantasy rankings. Versteeg’s biggest contributions should occur during the playoffs, as he is determined to win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. At best Versteeg is a number 3 fantasy LW the rest of the way.

Michael Grabner – RW – New York Islanders
Grabner is the only player on here who was not traded recently. The Florida Panthers are rebuilding and for some reason they decided not to keep Grabner at the beginning of the season. The Islanders are always looking for optimism and help and surprisingly they struck gold with Grabner. The electric winger has 25 goals on the year, and more shocking, a +11 rating playing on Long Island. His recently snapped six-game goal streak has made him the hottest player post the All-Star Break. Hopefully he can continue this hot streak the rest of the season and build some much needed chemistry with John Tavares, giving the Islanders some hope for the future.

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

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