Fantasy Hockey: Neal in the presence of fast NHL starts

Dobber Hockey
October 10, 2011

Dobber checks in every Monday to force-feed you the latest fantasy hockey trends. The founder of and a columnist for The Hockey News website, he long ago immersed himself into this rollercoaster world and is unable to escape.

Finally, we can set our lineups for a full week for the first time this season. Hope still exists for one and all that not only will our hunches pay off, but we can actually win this thing. This is the one time all season where each and every member of your league is whining about their player's position eligibility active and putting forth an effort.

On a positive note…

Here are some guys who stand a good chance to have a kick-ass week…

Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets — Now that Winnipeg's Game 1 crapfest jitters are out of the way, look for Ladd to step up. Last season he had 12 points in his first 11 contests. I can't help you with the (probably) horrific plus/minus when I look at this team, but the goals and assists will be great to start.

James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins — Besides the fact that he's lining up with Evgeni Malkin (assuming his wonky knee gets through this latest development), Neal was a hot starter a year ago, tallying eight points in the first six games.

Mathieu Perreault, Washington Capitals — If you have Pierre-Marc Bouchard on your squad and you are pissed off about the suspension in need of a replacement for a week, grab Perreault off the wire and see how he does. He was one of Washington's strongest players in the preseason and last year his suckiness didn't start to creep in until four or five games after being called up. Until that point, he was actually a very productive player.

Matt Cullen, Minnesota Wild — Already with a point this year, he had nine of them in just six games to kick off 2010-11. He has often been a first-half wonder before hitting the proverbial wall by December.

Chris Stewart, St. Louis Blues — He's owned in every league worth its salt, but I just want to reinforce the fact that this guy is gonna go nutty to kick things off. Last year he was on a torrid pace before breaking his hand in a November fight, with 24 points in 20 games. The Blues also play four times in six nights starting tonight.

Speaking of lots of games in the next week, the Canucks, Wild and Avalanche each play four games in the week starting Monday and ending Sunday. If your league doesn't limit the games played by position, feel free to use this tidbit to effectively stream players in and out of your lineup.

The negatives (also known as Ilya Kovalchuk's plus/minus)…

Make like an Andrei Kostitsyn owner and keep expectations low…

Martin Erat, Nashville Predators — Let's see … crappy first game: check. Team only plays twice in the next week: check. Weak start to last season: Does six points in 16 games comply? Check. Other players honing in on his job: Check.

Wojtek Wolski, New York Rangers — John Tortorella needs a new target for his wrath. Enter Wolski, whose perimeter game impresses Torts about as much as a Larry Brooks piece on the merits of Sean Avery.

Any Ottawa Senators player — What you have here is a pack of fairly promising young forwards and very little in the way of 'proven' or 'character'. And show me a team that would still play Sergei Gonchar for 23 minutes a game and I'll show you the KHL. There are three or four players who will get you decent points, but you're gonna get your ass handed to you in the plus/minus department.

The Rangers and the Leafs are the only two teams with just one game on their plates over the next week. The Predators play just twice against teams who normal stifle — but after seeing New Jersey and Phoenix play their first game, that ship might have sailed.

Smith and Smith

Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes — Say what you want about how terrible he is (many people do, believe you me), this guy is here to stay. I subscribe to the theory that injuries eroded his play these past two seasons, but I remember the Smith who was in Dallas and that Smith impressed me. In the right system, he will flourish and I think this is the right system. When the system breaks down, as it did Saturday, he'll see a lot of rubber. Perfect for leagues that count saves (he had 46 of them that game). Like it or not the Coyotes are hitching their wagon to Smith.

Craig Smith, Nashville Predators — There isn't much more that this youngster can do to capture the attention of fantasy owners. He was the "who the hell is that?" guy on Team USA at the World Championship in May — and he proceeded to lead the team in scoring. Then he dominated rookie camp and impressed in main camp. Two games into his NHL career and he already has four points. Until he cools off, he should be owned in all league formats. We don't exactly know what we have here, but so far it looks pretty good.

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