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Fantasy Hockey: Breaking down stars and sleepers at center

Dobber Hockey
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Finally. Yahoo! fantasy hockey is open for the season. Now we can all start researching players, drafting our squads and deciding on a strategy. Just in time for the lockout. Hey, let's not let CBA crap bring us down. One of the most enjoyable events of the fantasy hockey season is the draft itself. So go ahead, draft your team. And if the season gets canceled you can always brag about how you "would have won back in 2012-13 if Gary Bettman didn't ruin it".

The Obvious…

I'm not going to waste too much of my time or yours discussing these guys. If you don't know what you're getting from these players, then one Puck Daddy column isn't going to help you win. You'd need at least two or three columns for that.

Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins - More of the same this year as last, but Seguin's positional eligibility will be nice.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks - A point per game. The only question is, the "games" part.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars - Broke out last year, should flirt with 80.

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings - No longer 90-point guys, but good for 70.

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Stephen Weiss, Florida Panthers - One of the steadiest year-over-year producers in the league. If you don't know what he'll do for you in 2012-13, then why are you even playing fantasy hockey?

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings - Kopidoor has posted between 81 and 73 in four of the last five seasons.

Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild - Question is always health. Production per game is steady.

John Tavares, New York Islanders - Formula is simple - take last year's point total and add five or six.

Brad Richards, New York Rangers - Rick Nash will get him back over 70 points. Either way, there's no real downside.

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators - As long as he has a superstar to play with (Dany Heatley, Erik Karlsson) his points go through the roof.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers - Top 5 scorer.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins - One-two in scoring if they each play 75 games.

Logan Couture and Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks - Probably similar to last season.

David Backes, St. Louis Blues - Again, similar to last season. But improved wingers such as Andy McDonald and Vladimir Tarasenko could cause a slight bump upward.

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks - 80 points or more in five of last six seasons.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning - Stud.

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals - Still a top producer even when the Caps were a D-first team.

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Boom or Bust

Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres revamped their team and will be centering their offense around their kids. While fans and media toot the horn of Hodgson, I think Ennis is your man. While Ennis cruised down the stretch with 29 points in 30 games, Hodgson managed just eight points in 20 games after joining Buffalo. You can argue PDO this and Corsi that, but when there's a gap between the two as big as this one, I'll take the end result. Regardless of who you place your bet on, one or the other will thrive. But probably not both.

Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes

If the Staal brothers play together on the top line, then a second line of Alexander Semin on the left wing, lucky sonuvagun up the middle and Jeff Skinner on the right wing looks pretty sweet. Is former 65-point man Jokinen a lucky sonuvagun?

Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers

Hey - this guy racked up eight points in a single game!

Hey - this guy racked up 39 points in the other 74 games!

It all depends on how you look at it. If Nail Yakupov and Magnus Paajarvi make a splash, then Gagner will flourish. Otherwise, probably more of the same.

Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers

Awesome - this guy can do anything. The problem is - this guy can do anything. In real hockey, that's great. In fantasy hockey, we don't exactly cheer and pump our fist when our players are put out there against the other team's top forwards, or on the penalty kill. He needs to produce early with what power-play time he is given, so that he can get more of it.

Martin Hanzal, Phoenix Coyotes

Hanzal has been steadily improving, and Phoenix's option for first-line center include him, Antoine Vermette, or that guy in Row 7, Seat 12. Okay, bad example (nobody sits there). Row 9, Seat 15? Still no? Bah, you get the point. Hanzal will improve once again, but his Achilles heel in fantasy hockey is his proneness to injury.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs

JVR is the king of getting hurt just when things  are going well for him. If that trend continues, then for this year he will be a 'bust'. If not, then he could very well click with Phil Kessel and explode in this his fourth NHL season.

Surging

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

Now that he`s gotten that WTF season out of the way, Getzlaf is primed to rebound. He was on a 54-point pace in the first half of 2011-12, and a 61-point pace in the second half, so temper expectations. Topping his career high of 94 points is out of the question. But getting back up over 70 is very feasible, even likely, under Coach Bruce Boudreau.

Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

Staal had 41 points in his last 39 regular season and playoff games playing on a line with Pascal Dupuis. Yeah.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

Everything that could go wrong last year, did. Now fully healthy, Duchene will have PA Parenteau patrolling his wing. And if PAP can do for Duchene what he did for John Tavares - or even vice-versa - Duchene's production will explode. This is one situation where it doesn't matter about chicken or egg.

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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

Injuries prevented him from becoming a 70-point rookie. If healthy, he could be an 80-point sophomore.

David Desharnais, Montreal Canadiens

Because Desharnais came from out of nowhere, most pundits expect a decline. All that means is you can draft him late. But expect equal production - or better.

Derek Stepan, New York Rangers

There may be a delay in Stepan's expected surge until Marian Gaborik returns to health. But when he does return, the domino effect will really help Stepan. Rick Nash and Chris Kreider were not a part of this team last year, so the wingers in the top six improve dramatically.

Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators

We're still waiting for Kyle's big breakout. And we'll probably continue to wait. But that doesn't mean that he won't take another step forward. Between that 'step' and a full, healthy season he should be good for close to 55 or 60 points. That would pretty much double his career high.

Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto Maple Leafs

Everyone's favorite hockey tease, Grabo followed up a breakout 58-point campaign with a disappointing 51 points. But injuries and a slow start saw to that. In actuality, he was much more consistent than in prior years and if he gets off to a good start a career season is on the way.

Mike Ribeiro, Washington Capitals

It is doubtful that the Alex Ovechkin-Backstrom combo will be split up very often. But they will be split up at times and Ribeiro will benefit. He`ll also see a lot of PP time with OV8. As a proven 70-point player, he should rebound from last year`s 63.

Bryan Little, Winnipeg Jets

I really love the outlook for Blake Wheeler in the season ahead. What does that have to do with Little? Um, a minor thing called "linemates".

Don't overrate

Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames

Although he improved upon arriving in Calgary, the fact remains that his production has regressed since being a point-per game player in 2008-09. Take a look at his points per game:

2008-09: 1.01
2009-10: 0.77
2010-11: 0.70
2011-12: 0.62

Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

From my fantasy guide:

"When Duchene was out of the lineup, O'Reilly tallied 19 points in 23 games (0.83). When he was in the lineup, O'Reilly managed 36 in 58 (0.62). A healthy Duchene hurts O'Reilly."

Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings

Richards tallied 155 points over the course of two seasons, and many poolies still hold him in that regard. Let them. The Kings are all about Jonathan Quick, team defense and their first line. The second line will "chip in", but fantasy owners want guys who will "chip in" about as much as they want a watered-down beer.

Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens

The Desharnais line dominated the offense for the Habs. That was apparent by midseason. And as Desharnais' production increased, Plekanec's declined.

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils

Henrique is a clutch player coming off of a fantastic rookie season. But don't go thinking he's a future 75-point player. He's not. In fact, he managed just 30 points in his last 59 regular season and playoff games.

Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers

This isn't a playoff pool you're prepping for. It's the regular season. And the last time Briere truly dominated there, Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Sakic were 100-point players.

Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

Everyone loves this guy, myself included. The kid is going to be a stud in every facet of the game. But don't go having visions of 60 points in 2012-13 dancing in your head. His progress offensively will be slow and steady. See Staal, Jordan.

Sleepers

Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

Written off by many a fickle fantasy hockey owner, Backlund is finally in a position to thrive. The ice time is now available, as are the quality linemates. No more Tim Jackman this, Blake Comeau that. If he's healthy all season - and therein lies the "catch" - then he will surprise.

Derick Brassard, Columbus Blue Jackets

He had 19 points in his last 25 games, really coming along in the second half. And no, the loss of Rick Nash won't kill his production. In fact, he had 19 of his 41 points without Nash, and didn't play with Nash much at all down the stretch. He had great chemistry with RJ Umberger and Cam Atkinson.

Cody Eakin, Dallas Stars

Thanks to the Derek Roy surgery, Eakin is in a great position to thrive on the second line. He produces above expectations when given opportunity, and this will be his biggest one yet - as long as the season isn't delayed so long that it's taken away from him.

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators

Smith tailed off in the second half, but in the first half he was arguably Nashville's top offensive gun. His production declined because he was used to the college schedule. Happens to a lot of college grads. Look for a hot start.

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Travis Zajac, New Jersey Devils

Two seasons of sub-50 points, combined with his buddy Zach Parise moving to Minnesota, have driven his value down further than Blackberry's stock. But he showed in the playoffs that he can get back over the 50-point mark and he's probably going to get first shot at the Ilya Kovalchuk line. His Achilles tendon injury made 2011-12 a write-off, and given the flukiness of the injury it's silly to hold it against him. He was an 82-game player prior to that.

Josh Bailey, New York Islanders

Bailey could be a nice dark horse because he did so well down the stretch playing on the wing. That's right, he's center eligible but chances are he will be used as a winger. If so, he could surprise with 45-plus.

Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues

The Blues forced a square peg into a round hole when they insisted on Berglund lining up with Chris Stewart. It didn't work and both players suffered for it. Now that Andy McDonald is healthy and Vladimir Tarasenko is on board, the options for wingers is more diverse. So let's pretend last year didn't happen, and Berglund is coming off of the 52 points he got in 2010-11.

Completely lockout-proof, take a look my seventh annual fantasy hockey guide. Tips, projections, sleepers, advanced stats breakdowns and more - updated until the puck drops.

*Note: Rookies will have their own column later in the week.

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Dobber is the resident fantasy hockey know-it-all for Puck Daddy, and founder of Dobber Sports - which includes DobberHockey, DobberProspects, DobberFootball and DobberBaseball. You can follow him on Twitter @DobberHockey

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