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Fantasy Hockey: Western Conference dark horse players

Dobber Hockey
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Playoff pool time. While the bubbly admin assistant in your office drafts some nice sleeper picks thanks to their cool sounding last name, or your chain-smoking, heavy drinking buddy who only shows up for the beer loads up on Rangers because they're "his team" (yet asks aloud what happened to Jagr) — you can actually arm yourself with some knowledge. And that's where I come in.

Playoff pools are often like throwing darts after a dozen beers, but you can hone your skills enough to at least hit the board a few times. Here are some players in the Western Conference that you should select earlier than even the regular season stats indicate.

As obvious as Sean Avery's hand in front of Martin Brodeur's face

(These guys are already at a high level, but will find another gear)

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

If you're going to pick a King, and you know that their two leading scorers are out with an injury, you don't have to look far down the list to see Doughty's name. But make sure he is the first King you grab, because even though he is a defenseman, he has the highest points-per-game potential. He had seven points in six playoff games a year ago, so he brings it.

Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings

During the regular season, he will give you around 0.75 points-per-game. But during the playoffs, Franzen posts an astounding 5.90 points-per-game average! Well, not really. But the difference is still pretty awesome. And he does it every year — 59 points in his last 51 playoff games.

Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

Not only is Little Joe San Jose's top points-per-game guy this season, but he also notched 17 points in 15 games in the postseason a year ago. If all the Sharks are still on the board and I want to take one, this is the first guy I take and I don't care how many Thornton, Heatley or Marleau lovers laugh at me.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Well aren't I just Captain Obvious. This guy wins. Period. If the game is the most important game in the history of mankind, Toews will score six goals and add five assists. Even if Chicago is out first round, he'll still notch a bunch of points. Hell, even if Chicago is eliminated in the regular season, the Dallas stats people will still credit him with five or six points in the series. That's clutch.

Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes

I love offensive defensemen in the playoffs. They always seem to pick up their games thanks to the expanded reliance on the power play in April/May. So, not only is he the top scorer in Phoenix, but he'll drive home that point next week. He also had a solid five points in seven games a year ago.

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

I probably shouldn't even mention him, because if I mention him then I feel obligated to mention the other obvious top Western Conference stars like Pavel Datsyuk, the Sedin twins, Patrick Kane, etc. But Zetterberg deserves a special note because his game is elevated in the postseason. A lot. He has 66 points in his last 57 playoff games. Provided he's healthy.

As subtle as Ryan Getzlaf's hand sneaking the puck out of the net

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

Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings

It will either be Abdelkader or Filppula (see below). One or the other. I don't see both players making waves. But while Filps has struggled, Abdelkader has been eating up a bit of his ice time (and linemates) and has looked pretty good doing it. So if this situation continues, Abdelkader will jump from his current 0.25 points-per-game in the regular season to 0.5 or 0.6 in the postseason. As a late-round pick, that would mean 10 or 12 points if the Wings go three rounds.

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

When James Neal was shipped to Pittsburgh, it flipped a switch inside Benn. He's tallied 18 points in 17 games since the move and has only been held off the scoresheet three times. While the others are looking at the mere 50-odd points that he ends up with (except for the bubbly admin assistant, who is thrilled by his last name being a first name), you can treat him like Dallas' second-best scorer.

Dave Bolland, Chicago Blackhawks

Although currently sidelined with a concussion, Bolland plans to be back for the postseason and that's his bread and butter. In each of the last two postseasons, Bolland upped his production from the regular season and he was also a big-game player during his junior career in London.

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Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings

The only NHLer who has my spell-check correct my attempts at both the first and the last name, every time, Filppula is also a great dark horse. He has 25 points in his last 35 playoff games and that's a good 20 percent increase over his regular season production.

Alex Goligoski, Dallas Stars

Using the same philosophy/logic used above with Yandle, Goligoski is a defenseman who is further below the radar. But I think in Dallas he is a 55-point player, which would mean seven or eight points if the Stars go two rounds. But first they have to actually climb into the playoffs.

Michal Handzus, Los Angeles Kings

With Anze Kopitar on the shelf, it falls upon Handzus, Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis to pick up the slack down the middle. So far, the added ice time and PP time has done neither Jack, nor Squat for the big Slovak. But he had five points in six postseason games a year ago and his playoff track record way back in his Philadelphia days was pretty solid.

Lauri Korpikoski, Phoenix Coyotes

His playoff track record is about as impressive as Rick DiPietro's health record, but this is the first season that Korpikoski has really been such a big part of an NHL team. I think going forward that he is a 45-point player, but he plays a strong two-way game that is perfect for the postseason (he boasts a plus-19 rating). This should translate to three to five points every round. Assuming his upper-body injury heals.

Sergei Kostitsyn, Nashville Predators

One of the hottest players in the league heading into the postseason, S.K. is on a 10-game points streak. He has 46 points in his last 56 games and that's the stat that makes him a wildcard. The thing with Kostitsyn, however, is his hot/cold streaks. Either he gets 12 points and the Preds go two rounds, or he gets zero points and the Preds go nowhere.

David Legwand, Nashville Predators

There was a five-game stretch recently where both Legwand and Kostitsyn tallied points in each of them. Nashville won all five of them. That's the key to their fortunes, because the two of them play on different lines. If two different lines are hot, the team will go places. Legwand will be following up on a tremendous postseason from a year ago in which he tallied seven points in six contests.

Cal O'Reilly, Nashville Predators

On one hand, he will have some trouble getting top ice time, since the team acquired Mike Fisher while O'Reilly was out with a broken leg. On the other hand, whenever he's had to fight for respect he puts up big numbers. His ability to rack up the assists far surpasses Fisher's (and Legwand's, for that matter) and if he can get on a line with a skilled winger or two, he'll surprise.

Mikael Samuelsson, Vancouver Canucks

Most poolies will like the Canucks, so depending on the size of your pool, Samuelsson will go by the end of the second round. But don't forget that last season he was dynamite, notching 15 points in just 12 playoff games. Don't be afraid to take him earlier than 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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