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Fantasy Hockey: Eastern Conference playoff dark horse players

Dobber Hockey
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Yesterday we took a look at some solid candidates for Western Conference playoff domination. Today, let's turn our attention east, where even three days before the end of the season, the Rangers, the Hurricanes and the Sabres battle for the two final playoff spots. Ranger fans are tortured on the second weekend of April for the second year in a row…

As obvious as finding Nathan Gerbe on the ice:

(These guys are already great picks, but will find yet another gear)

Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers

On most teams, a healthy season out of Briere would mean 85 points or more. On a deep team like the Flyers, where first-line pivots are moved to the wing just to squeeze them onto the second line, Briere is a 65-point player. Actually, last year he had 53 points — and then led the NHL in playoff scoring. His 30 points in 23 games were nothing new, though. Briere had 54 points in the prior 57 playoff games that he played. He's a gamer and if you like the Flyers to go all the way then he should be No.2 on your draft list behind…

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Giroux is finally getting the respect that he deserves in fantasy circles, but it's still not enough. We sort of got an inkling of how this guy is clutch back in his QMJHL days when he notched 51 points in 19 playoff games. The following year, after playing a partial season with the Flyers, he led them in playoff scoring with five points in six games. He then finished third on the team last spring. Money. I can't stress that enough. This guy is money.

Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins

An easy pick in the first two rounds if you like the Penguins to go far even without Evgeni Malkin (and I'm of the opinion that Sidney Crosby will play — and it won't be announced until late on game day). Kunitz has a pretty good history in Pittsburgh of producing solid postseason numbers, capped off by last year's 11 points in 13 games. If the Pens get to the third round, he'll have 13 to 17 points. If I'm wrong about Crosby, then forget I said anything.

As subtle as Michael Grabner sneaking into Calder discussions:

(Potential low — or even mid-round — draft picks who will turn out to be steals)

Erik Cole, Carolina Hurricanes

Between a weak stint in Edmonton and injuries, Cole has drifted off the fantasy hockey map. Even his 51 points this season aren't that great. But hold on — 36 of his points have come in the last 45 games. That's a 66-point pace. If the Hurricanes squeak in, you know Cole will remain on the Eric Staal line.

Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres

Called up at the end of last season, Ennis picked up four points in six games, which was tops (tied with Jason Pominville) on the team. Coach Lindy Ruff really relies on his offensive players when the Sabres need a goal in crunch time. He leans on them harder than Ron Wilson leaned on James Reimer. And Ennis is one of the top offensive players on the squad.

Nathan Gerbe, Buffalo Sabres

Using the same strategy as with Ennis, Gerbe will be relied upon a whole lot more than the 13 minutes per game that he has averaged during the season. He got into two games last spring and tallied two points. The 5-5 forward has 23 points in his last 39 games, which makes him closer to a 50-pint guy than a 30-point guy. (That typo was a real one, but I thought I would leave in to be funny. As long as I amuse myself…)

Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes

The last time the Hurricanes were in the postseason they went pretty deep — and Jussi was second on the team in goals (seven) and tied for second in points (11). After the obvious picks of Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, as well as my earlier note of Erik Cole, taking Jokinen is one of the best final round draft selections you can make. If there's a candidate team for a major upset, this is that team — they've done it before.

Chris Kelly, Boston Bruins

Kelly's career high is 38 points, yet in his last 26 postseason games he has 13 points. That's a 41-point pace over an 82-game schedule. If you're one of the many people who think that Boston will go deep, then Kelly is a decent candidate to get you eight to 10 points.

Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens

As I noted with his brother Sergei yesterday, Andrei will either finish third on the Habs in scoring (behind Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec) or he'll get zero points and start getting scratched by the fifth game. If you didn't think streakiness was hereditary, look no further than the Kostitsyn brothers. But in playoff pools you have to swing for the fences, so roll the dice on this late-rounder.

Brooks Laich, Washington Capitals

While his playoff history has been decent (16 points in 28 career NHL postseason games), the reason that I like Laich (ha ha) is that he always has a huge late-season surge. This year, that surge has started far later than usual, so I wonder if it will carry into the playoffs this time. He has seven points in his last five games.

Ville Leino, Philadelphia Flyers

Much like poolies loved John Druce for the playoffs one year after his big run, they're going to love Ville Leino this year. Druce, who had 17 points in 15 playoff games after just 11 in the regular season, tallied 58 points in following season only to crash and burn with two playoff points. By the same token, Leino had 21 points last spring in 19 playoff games on the heels of an 11-point regular season. He has 52 points this season. The numbers are eerily similar. However, Leino has one thing going for him that Druce didn't have — Danny Briere. And when Briere steps up, Leino will be right there beside him.

Vaclav Prospal, New York Rangers

Prospal has seemingly been the only Ranger forward producing consistently over the past month. He has 18 points in his last 19 games, and his last 23 playoff games have seen him garner 18 points. It would be silly not to take Marian Gaborik ahead of him, but I have a hunch that Prospal will end up with more points (assuming the Rangers can hold onto their playoff spot, that is).

Max Talbot, Pittsburgh Penguins

He's consistent, you gotta give him that. He consistently posts 20 to 26 points in the regular season, and his pace in the playoffs is approximately double that. Talbot's points-per-game over the last three postseason has hovered between 0.46 and 0.54, which totals 28 points in 54 playoff games. That's more than any of his regular seasons. From a season vs. playoff production standpoint, he's a poor man's Johan Franzen. A really poor man, that is.

Dennis Wideman, Washington Capitals

With his leg laceration injury, poolies will stay clear of Wideman at the draft table, so you can pick him up in the final round. If there's any doubt, just keep shouting out every so often during the draft "Wideman's out with a leg injury — they don't know when he'll be back". Then nab him with your last pick. That's called the 'get everyone pissed off at you' trick, but hey — if it wins you the pool, why not? He'll probably return by the end of the first round. Whatever you think of Wideman's regular season skills, you can't argue with his playoff success — 12 points in 13 games last year and seven in 11 the year before that.

Dobber can be criticized and ridiculed over at his own site, as well as at TheHockeyNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@DobberHockey), but only if you like cool tidbits on player trends. If you want a really cool draft list/selection tool, check this out.

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