Front and Center

11/10/2010 1:43 PM -  matt juba

I know it’s been a long delay for me, but I am ready for hockey now that baseball season has finally ended. I am no longer finding confetti in really strange places after the San Francisco Giants beat up the Texas Rangers behind strong pitching and a group of misfits to win it all. Why do I start a hockey article with a baseball reference? Simply because the St. Louis Blues have allowed the least amount of goals in the Western Conference with strong goaltending and a group of misfits on the ice that have underachieved in years past but somehow find a way to win. St. Louis has only one more goal than Florida, and the Panthers need a miracle to have any shot at the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at some early-season surprises and disappointments at the forward position.

Brandon DubinskyC New York Rangers
Dubinsky is averaging a point a game through the first 14 games this season. With 10 goals, is Dubinsky finally going to break out and be the play-making center that the Rangers have been dreaming of for quite some time? He has six goals in his last six games, including a two-goal effort against rival New Jersey. This is his fourth season with the Rangers, and he has never cracked more than 20 goals in a season. Also, keep in mind Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal and Ryan Callahan are all dinged up with injuries. When the Rangers get healthy, Dubinsky will go back to a pass-first player and his goal chances are going to dry up.

Ilya KovalchukLW New Jersey Devils
The summer’s most popular and controversial signing is my early season disappointment thus far. This may come as a shocker to the readers, but with the Devils so close to the salary cap and not being able to dress enough skaters for a couple of games, the target falls squarely on Kovalchuk. His linemate LW Zach Parise is now injured with a torn meniscus in his right knee and will be out until after the All-Star break at the earliest. Kovy has only three goals and a (-6) ranking in 14 games, along with a mediocre three points in his last seven games. Those are not early season numbers you expect from a first-round fantasy cornerstone.

Scott Gomez – C Montreal Canadiens
Gomez has been a massive disappointment for the Habs this season. We know that Gomez is not a goal scorer, even if he has just a single tally in 15 games. However, even more concerning is the fact that Gomez has just two helpers this season and no points in his last eight games. Gomez’ struggles have rubbed off on linemate Brian Gionta, who has just two goals and three assists himself this season. In order to get something going, Habs coach Jacques Martin recently separated the two former Devils. Right now, I would move Gomez (and Gionta, for that matter) to your bench until things turn around.

Nick Foligno – LW Ottawa Senators
After seeing Foligno play in the AHL, I’ve been high on him for quite some time to break out. It’s still not happening, as Foligno is goalless in 15 games this season and is currently playing outside the top six forwards for the Senators. He is one of two Ottawa forwards who are still searching for their first goal. Keeper leagues have kept a close eye on him with Milan Michalek and Alex Kovalev playing ahead of him on the depth chart. Michalek and Kovalev both have their own injuries and inconsistencies over the last couple seasons.  Foligno missed 16 games last season, and if healthy, he might find a home on more than 11 percent of fantasy rosters. Until then, take a pass on a player who has not hit the twine yet.
Evander Kane – LW Atlanta Thrashers
There is another Kane worth owning in fantasy hockey besides Chicago’s Patrick Kane. Evander had 14 goals in 66 games last season, but he already has seven goals in 15 games. That puts E-Kane on pace for 40 goals this season. Of course, I am not projecting him for 40 goals, but his start is one that is worth noting. The Southeast Division struggles to play quality defense, which is the main reason to be weary of Kane’s (-10) rating thus far. However, if you are willing to sacrifice plus/minus rating for offense, you could be pleased. 

Troy Brouwer – RW Chicago Blackhawks
Brouwer was a popular sleeper pick in fantasy drafts at the beginning of the season as the player to replace Kris Versteeg in the powerful Blackhawks offense. He was coming off a season scoring 22 goals in 78 games, spending the majority of his time buried on the second and third lines. With the opportunity to play alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, 30 goals and 60 points does not seem out of the question. Right now, he has eight points and only a single goal, not the numbers you should be expecting. Brouwer is averaging 14 minutes a game on the ice and is now being overshadowed by the scorching hot Patrick Sharp and youngster Viktor Stalberg. He is owned in 25 percent of fantasy leagues, which makes him overrated and underperforming on your roster.

Chris Stewart – RW Colorado Avalanche
Stewart is proving that last season and his 28 goals was not a fluke. Most fantasy owners were looking towards Paul Stastny to be the primary goal scoring fantasy option with Matt Duchene right behind him. However, Stewart has ten goals already, ranking him among the NHL’s best. The 23-year-old was the NHL’s Third Star of the month for October and is now a fantasy beast on the RW, scoring on 22 percent of the shots that he has taken. What this means is that Stewart is a fifth to sixth-round player producing in a second-round fantasy level.  However, Stewart typically shoots at around 12 percent accuracy, so his goal totals will fall once his shooting percentage regresses to his career average. Now is your opportunity to sell high.

Jarome Iginla – RW Calgary Flames
If your team has stumbled out of the gate, then two things likely happened. One, you may not have paid attention to your draft; or two, you drafted your roster based on projections from two seasons ago. That is the story with Iginla. This 14-year veteran of the Calgary Flames saw his point production drop 20 points from 2008-09 to last season. This season in 13 games, he has a total of two goals and a (-3) rating. The sad thing is that he is being drafted as a number one RW in a majority of leagues. Iginla has not been able to adjust to Olli Jokinen even on the second go around, and offenses are not looking at him as a game-changing forward with a shooting percentage of 4.4. Rene Bourque is the more dominant winger for the Flames while Iginla’s flame has been extinguished. As Iggy’s shooting percentage improves, so should the goal totals. But don’t fool yourself: he’s no longer an elite option. On a side note, Iginla’s name has been tossed around in a lot of trade rumors, so a change of address could occur sometime this season.

Teemu Selanne – RW Anaheim Ducks
The question last spring was if we had seen the last of the Finnish 600-goal sniper.  However, the ageless wonder Selanne has been electric on the young season, scoring 17 points (7g-10a) in 16 games. This season, it looks as if the 40-year-old is actually healthy, as he played in only 54 games last season while scoring 27 goals. Playing alongside a healthy Saku Koivu has helped, as Koivu has netted five goals himself. If he can stay healthy, Selanne could be finishing his storied career on a high note.

Loui Eriksson – LW Dallas Stars
Eriksson has nine goals and is second on the Stars in points behind Brad Richards. Eriksson has 16 points, +12 rating in 13 games, so he given himself a head start in improving from a 71-point performance from a year ago. Eriksson’s playmaking ability gets overshadowed at a crowded RW position, and playing in Dallas allows him to slip through the cracks in fantasy leagues. He could be a top-15 fantasy RW when the season is all said and done leaving you laughing all the way to the bank. However, the 29 percent shooting percentage will fall, meaning that a slump is inevitable.

Devin Setoguchi – RW San Jose Sharks
Who has 2 points and a (-6) rating in 12 games this season? If you guessed the second-line right wing from San Jose who is owned in 45 percent on fantasy hockey leagues, your answer would be correct. Setoguchi is two years removed from a 33-goal campaign, but with Dany Heatley in town, Setoguchi has been bumped to the second line and now is being bypassed on the scoresheet by Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Torrey Mitchell.  Ideally, Setoguchi needs a change of scenery to resurrect his numbers. Once his 6 percent shooting percentage improves, then the goal totals will also rise. But Setoguchi may be suffering the same fate as Jonathan Cheechoo: a significant decline after being removed from the Joe Thornton line.

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

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