Treasure Hunting, the Hockey Edition
By Rob Aquino
With only three weeks left in the regular season there are still a lot of points to be had in terms of your fantasy league. Perhaps your team is like the Dallas Stars - cruising along to an easy first place finish in your fantasy leagues. Or if you’re like me, you are the Calgary Flames – after seemingly being comfortably in first place much of the season all of a sudden you look at the calendar and the standings and realize – “Holy Mackinaw, I could actually lose this thing!”
Whatever the specifics, most of us are frantically scrambling to finish as strongly as possible and looking for a player or two who we hope will get hot for us over the season’s final ten or so games. Over the past two weeks we’ve looked at two of the deeper offensive teams for the season – Buffalo and Carolina – with the idea that you could grab nearly anyone from their top three lines who could help you over the final month. At this point of the season it is valuable to look at the hot teams for fantasy help – all of the stars and streaking players are already on rosters, so you need to really search for that diamond in the rough.
One team that has recently gotten hot is the Florida Panthers. We talked about them briefly three weeks ago, focusing on young defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and how we think he should be a breakout player within a year or two, and could help your team now. We’d like to think Jay took inspiration from the column as he scored his first goal of the season that week and has since added two more, scoring points in seven of his last ten games – we’re behind you all the way Jay! Another Treasure Hunting favorite is Nathan Horton who will be an all-star forward in this league soon, but right now Horton is stuck on 24 goals for the season and has been in a scoring slump. This kid is highly skilled and not afraid of anything – his slump likely has fantasy owners ignoring him, but I feel that he’s good enough that if you’re looking for a hot forward (and one who qualifies in many leagues at both center and wing) I would take a chance on him. Leading the charge offensively for Florida has been veteran center Jozef Stumpel – over the past month only San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Buffalo’s Daniel Briere have scored more than Stumpel’s 22 points. Center is such a deep position that in many leagues he is still on the waiver wire and available – with his hot streak extending into weeks rather than days, he remains a valuable pickup right now.
Let’s take a look at three more unheralded players – sticking with three NCAA products this week - who I think could put up some good numbers over the remainder of the season.
Mike Van Ryn, Defense, Florida Panthers
One other Panther defenseman you could take a chance on is Mike Van Ryn – he does have eight points (all assists) in the last month but his offensive play has been spotty, having scored those points in bunches, then going four or five games without getting anything. Van Ryn was highly touted coming out of London, Ontario, and was a first round selection by the Devils back in 1998. He spent two years at the University of Michigan and one with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL, then after some creative bypassing of the NHL draft rules (the term “Van Ryn rule” exists in the Ontario Hockey League) he found himself a free agent. He signed with the Blues then was dealt to Florida three years later. Van Ryn still hasn’t realized his potential, but I think this year in finally getting a fulltime opportunity in the NHL – and staying in the big leagues all season – he is making big strides towards becoming a steady NHL defenseman.
Here’s why I think he can still pleasantly surprise you over the next few weeks: he currently comfortably sits second on the team in ice time per game - for the season he’s averaging well over 22 minutes per game, and lately his time has increased - over the past five games he’s averaged 25 minutes per game with a high of 30 against Washington two weeks ago. It seems simplistic but you’re not going to get points if you’re not on the ice – also of importance is that Van Ryn’s power play time has increased to where he’s also second (behind Bouwmeester) in team defensive power play time, around three and a half minutes per game.
And this is all taking into account strict point leagues - in more complicated mixed leagues his +14 and 78 penalty minutes make his value jump up even more. With Florida’s margin of error at virtually zero in trying to desperately make the playoffs, I can see them relying on their top guns even more than usual. Look for Van Ryn and Bouwmeester to be their main point men over the last few weeks which should translate into beneficial counting stats for you if you pick them up.
Chris Higgins, Center, Montreal Canadiens
As of this writing the Montreal Canadiens are in a three-way tie for sixth place in the conference, but are only a few points away from ninth, so every game is crucial for the Habs. It goes without saying (yet I’ll say it anyways) that the emergence of goaltender Cristobal Huet – who we wrote about in early February - has been the main reason the Canadiens haven’t fallen completely out of the race, as he picked up his sixth shutout on Tuesday night. Their offence isn’t one of the better ones in the league - currently 19th in goal scoring - but there is some deep value in the lineup, and currently rookie forward Chris Higgins has been one of their biggest contributors.
Higgins was drafted 14th overall in the 2002 draft after an impressive freshman year at Yale University, scoring 31 points in 27 games. He improved on that during his sophomore year, potting 20 goals and 41 points, and added two strong performances for the United States at the World Junior Championships, notching seven goals in 14 games. Turning pro after his sophomore year he spent the last two years in the American League with Hamilton, averaging 25 goals per year and proving he was ready for a promotion to Montreal.
And so far he’s made the most of it – starting off slowly with only five points over the first two months - but since the start of the new year, he has been one of Montreal’s most reliable forwards. His reward has been a spot on a line with Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder. Currently he’s riding a four game scoring streak, with six points and registering a +3. Over the past month he has 10 goals and 14 points overall - he’s a high recommendation if available.
Tom Preissing, Defense, San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks have put on a surge in the crazy Campbell conference playoff race, going 7-2-1 over the past ten games to fall within two points of the final playoff spot. The names you know are Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo, or Patrick Marleau, and with good reason as the team is fairly top-heavy in terms of offensive production. Let’s take a look at one of the other few players putting up decent numbers for the Sharks – second-year defenseman Tom Preissing. Preissing spent four years at Colorado College, with his breakout coming in his senior year when he erupted for 23 goals and 52 points in just 42 games, becoming one of the ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. Upon graduation he signed a free agent deal with San Jose and immediately stepped into the lineup the next year, notching 19 points in 2003-2004.
This season he’s been given a larger role – his ice time has been increased to where he’s averaging over 20 minutes per game, and up near four minutes per game on the power play. These increased chances have resulted in points - Preissing has had 11 points over the last month, putting him up to 34 on the year. Add to that an outstanding +20 rating – good for second on the team – and you have the best defenseman on this Sharks team determined to make up for a slow start this season.
See you back here next week where we’ll try to help you with a final push in the final days of the regular season.
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