23 March 2006

...so do the Canes: Cullen, Ladd

Treasure Hunting, the Hockey Edition

By Rob Aquino


Last week in Treasure Hunting we took a different path and took a broader look at the Buffalo Sabres – a team with a strong and diverse offense. This week I’d like to take a similar approach with the Carolina Hurricanes – another elite team that spreads their offence around so much that you could pick up a few bonus points over the remainder of the season from virtually anyone playing on their top 3 lines.

Much like Buffalo, the Carolina Hurricanes were seen by many as a team with a core of players too young to have any impact on the playoff scene this year. Last season (2003-2004) - led by Josef Vasicek’s 45 points - Carolina was dead last in offence, scoring a putrid 2.1 goals per game, horrible even for the “old” NHL. As you know by now the Hurricanes have been running away with the Southeast division this year and are still in excellent position to finish first overall, led by young second year star Eric Staal and his 90 points. They also have shown nary a weakness but their third ranked offence of nearly 3.7 goals per game is their primary weapon and has made them one of the more exciting teams to watch. Ten players on the ‘Canes roster have at least 39 points (although to be fair Doug Weight and Mark Recchi accumulated most of those points elsewhere). Carolina suffered a terrible blow recently when talented sparkplug and US Olympian Erik Cole was injured and he’ll be out for the remainder of the season, but this is a deep franchise in terms of talent that can withstand Cole’s absence and can still go three lines deep in scoring.

So who are some of these players, and who might still be available for a late season pickup? Staal is obviously not available as he has taken a quick path to stardom, and will likely be a top fantasy pick for many years to come. Veterans like Cory Stillman (47 assists) and Rod Brind’Amour (26 goals) have contributed to the Hurricanes’ force-10 offence, while winger Justin Williams has exploded this year – his previous high in points was 44 in 2004, split between Philadelphia and Carolina. This year through Tuesday he has 24 goals and 63 points and has been at better than a point-per-game pace since mid-November.

Mark Recchi is a big name player who may still be on the waiver wire for a few reasons: he in fact has accumulated all of his points this year elsewhere (Pittsburgh) as despite playing on the top two lines he has inexplicably been unable to find the scoresheet at all in six games with Carolina. He’s also sporting an oh-so-sweet -29 +/- rating, good for 842nd in the league (yes, that’s dead last). Yet as creaking as the 17-year veteran may be…you’d have to hope his time isn’t up yet – he’s already put up decent numbers this year (57 points) with a bad Penguins team. It’s a gamble for sure (but if you’re behind at this point in the season, you’ve got to take risks) but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start putting up a few points from here on out. Just don’t protect him for next year.

As for recommendations this week, I’d like to put a quick spotlight on two of the Canes less-heralded players, Matt Cullen and Andrew Ladd.

Matt Cullen, Center, Carolina Hurricanes

Matt Cullen has actually been around for awhile – drafted by Anaheim back in 1996, he went on to play seven seasons with the Ducks and Florida Panthers, with a high total of 48 points back in 2002, and never cracking the 20 goal barrier. He’s been one of those “character” players that you basically wouldn’t think about taking in your fantasy league. Yet this year, his first in Carolina, he started out the season with seven goals in October, serving notice that he’d be one of the Hurricanes’ primary reasons for their rapid ascent up the league standings. With 22 goals to date, he’s shattered his previous high of 18 (even in college at St. Cloud State his high was 15) and seems certain to break his previous point high.

The biggest reason I’m high on Cullen right now is who he’s playing with: last Tuesday night he was playing with Doug Weight and Andrew Ladd, but this week was bumped up to the Staal-Ray Whitney line. Over his last five games he has four points and is a +6. While you should never expect him to be an offensive star, he may be a great pickup for the final month. Playing on this team, and especially if he remains on the top line, Cullen is going to get his chances, and he will score.

Andrew Ladd, Winger, Carolina Hurricanes

OK, a confession: on the surface this may seem like cheating as I initially previewed Ladd back in January. I won’t repeat his bio and background but I really like this kid who I think has enormous offensive upside. He bounced down to the AHL (Lowell) in January and but with the season-ending injury to Erik Cole he is back up with the parent club. If you look at his overall stats, it may seem like the results aren’t there, but he also hasn’t been getting the prime opportunities necessary to put up noticeable numbers. With the Canes being in the hunt for first place in the East, Ladd has been mostly used in a fill-in role. Of late he has skated with the Adams Family (Kevyn and Greg) but has also paired up with Weight and Cullen. As previewed two months ago, Ladd is a great offensive talent who I believe – if and when given the right opportunity – will become a top scorer in Carolina’s lineup.

Other Hurricanes of note: keep an eye on rookie winger Chad Larose – he’s getting only limited ice time (although on Tuesday against the Leafs he was rewarded with 16 shifts totaling over 13 minutes) at this point but he’s a natural scorer – his final season in junior with the Plymouth Whalers he scored 61 goals in 67 games and was scoring at over a point per game clip this year with Lowell of the AHL before getting called up to the Canes. Larose gives them added depth going into the playoffs, and with Doug Weight out with a groin injury he is in a position to help them right now.

Thanks for reading and always feel free to drop me a line with your comments and suggestions –check back next week as we continue to dig up hidden talent to help you win your fantasy league.

Feedback can be sent to robaquino@sportsblurb.com.

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