So, we’re just past the halfway mark of the season. Man, that sounds weird, doesn’t it? It’s time to take stock of the duds and the surprises.This should inspire debate. Now, the usual suspects are as studly as ever. Sidney Crosby is evoking Wayne Gretzky comparisons and will take home the Hart trophy. Steven Stamkos is a scoring machine. Evgeni Malkin was great before the injury and players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares, Martin St. Louis and Eric Staal are glittering like gold. Now to the fun stuff. There are a lot of raspberries to be handed out so far this season. Who’s more disappointing? Alexander Ovechkin, Drew Doughty, Ryan Miller … or all of the above? What about slow starters Miikka Kiprusoff, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel. Nicklas Backstrom, Shea Weber, Henrik Lundqvist and Brad Richards? And don’t even get me started about the droughts of Marian Gaborik, Jordan Eberle, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Marleau and Mike Green. (Spit.) But there have also been some amazing surprises this season. And some of them were even smart sleeper picks on draft day. But I’ll admit I only pulled one of these picks out of the hat. I was hot for Jakub Voracek – the one now tied for fifth in NHL scoring – as a preseason sleeper. But I never imagined that … • Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi would be in the early hunt for the Vezina trophy and Henrik Lundqvist would not?
• Chris Kunitz would sit second in NHL scoring behind only Sidney Crosby?
• Chris Stewart would lead the Blues in scoring with 13 goals and 13 assists? And top-25 in league scoring?
• Nazem Kadri would have more points than Corey Perry or Rick Nash? And more goals, too?
• Ryan Suter and fantasy waiver pick-up Francois Beauchemin would be in the early hunt for the Norris trophy, but Shea Weber and Drew Doughty would not? Voracek and Kane are helping me sit first in one of my leagues and fingers crossed they keep me there. But like you, I’m always scouring the wire to try to catch lightning in a bottle. If waiver grab Francois Beauchemin can do what he’s been doing then so can someone else. Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week. Jake Allen, G, St. Louis (10 percent owned) – Jake Allen is hot … a new supermodel on the block kind of hot. He pitched his first shutout Thursday night in a 28-save performance over the Desert Dawgs and he’s now won four straight (and seven of eight starts for that matter). Is he the Blues’ starter? I won’t go that far yet, but coach Ken Hitchcock loves the guy. And there’s a lot to love. Allen has strong technical skills and has been both calm and mentally resilient between the pipes. Best of all, he swallows pucks like Chiclets. No rebounds. Grab him and stick in the spurs. Nik Antropov, C, Winnipeg (2 percent owned) – Don’t look now, but the man made of crystal is on a four-game streak. His 13 points aren’t sexy, but two goals and four assists in those four games are more than a one-night stand. He’ll never be the guy he was when he tallied 67 points in 76 games with the Thrash (2009-10). But right now, he’s a decent injury fill-in. What’s it going to hurt to pick him up? Beau Bennett, RW, Pittsburgh (2 percent owned) – There’s tons of upside with this guy – he plays on the Pens after all. But he’s more than just a placeholder for this club. He’s still a pup and he’s already seeing time in a top-six role. He’s tricky offensively and all six points this season have come in his last nine games. He won’t deliver on that upside for a couple more seasons – he has improved his strength, but still needs to do more. Still, he should be able to pick up points, at least short term, by simply putting his stick on the ice. Derick Brassard, C, Columbus (2 percent owned) – Don’t look now, but this gifted playmaker is quietly on a four-game, four-point (one goal, three helpers) streak. He’ll probably never live up to his draft status. And his last multi-point game came last 11 months ago. But Columbus has been decent of late and someone there has to score. Brassard could step up and be that guy. Matt Cullen, C, Minnesota (2 percent owned) – Every season, Cullen manages to slide into my consciousness for a brief period and that time has come once again. His two helpers Thursday night give him six points – all assists – in his last six outings and he has eight helpers in his last eight games. The Wild are surging and Cullen is delivering secondary scoring. He might as well do that on your roster, too, particularly if you need assists. Jake Muzzin, D, Los Angeles (6 percent owned) – Muzzin was on my list last week and his ownership rose just three percent over the week. Really folks? He has eight points and a plus-8 rating in seven games in March (heading into play Thursday). Contrast that to Drew Doughty who has two points and a plus-4 rating in the same span. And guess who has more points overall? Sometimes the biggest names aren’t the best plays. I won’t mention him again. Chris Phillips, D, Ottawa (2 percent owned) – Phillips isn’t a goon, but he stands up for his mates. And that earned him a whopping 19 PIMs – including a minor for, of all things, instigating a fight while wearing a visor – last Friday night when he stood up for Jim O’Brien. But he’s not all about tough play. He has four assists in his last four games (heading into Saturday) Andrej Sekera, D, Buffalo (0 percent owned) – I’ve been waiting for Sekera to deliver the kind of offensive upside he showed in junior hockey. He teased with 29 points in 2010-11, but I gave up on him last year after his production dropped off a cliff. A girl can only wait so long, you know. But in his last four games, Sekera has had his hands on everything and has dished four assists and a plus-6 rating in that span. And that’s on a horrible team that’s dropped two of its last three. He’ll be hard pressed to maintain that type of performance on such a troubled team, but I’m willing to take a flyer on him for a few games. Jack Skille, RW, Florida (0 percent owned) – Skille is fast. And strong. And that translated into 94 points in 121 games with Rockford of the AHL. Not bad at all. But that was many seasons ago and since then, injuries have robbed him of ice time and development. He had just nine points heading into action Thursday against the Bruins, but four of those points (one goal, three assists) had come on a four-game scoring streak. Yes, the Bruins snapped that streak. But Kris Versteeg’s season-ending knee injury means a move up the depth chart and that could just deliver you some short-term production on the cheap. R. J. Umberger, LW, Columbus (6 percent owned) – Umberger has been a declining fantasy asset since his career-best 57 points in 2010-11. He barely hit 20 goals last year and when I extrapolate his current five goals ßover a full season, the winger “might” notch 15. Might. Yes, I’m being harsh. But let me cover up the fangs and give him at least a little credit for his recent work. Is it stunning? Not a chance. But he has two goals, one assist, four PIMs and a plus-4 rating in his last five games. Compare that against your most disposable asset and consider a switch. Just don’t hang on too long. Obscure Category Beast Brooks Orpik, D, Pittsburgh (7 percent owned) – He’ll never light anyone’s fire with offensive stats, but he’s an absolute beast in hits this season. He picked up three Thursday against Toronto and now has 78 in 28 games. That’s a 228-hit pace over 82 games. Add in some solid own-zone play of late – try plus-seven in his last six games – and he’ll deliver you solid gains. Pure Speculation Gustav Nyquist, C, Detroit (1 percent owned) – I thought for sure Nyquist would see time with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen on Wednesday night, but he skated with Daniel Cleary and Joakim Andersson instead. He still saw time on the second power-play unit and that delivered him a power-play assist. The guy knows how to score – he was leading the AHL in scoring with 60 points in 57 games when he was called up to the Wings. He has point-per-game upside … if not now, then soon. Snag him if he slides up to the top six. Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay (0 percent owned) – This AHL hot shot made his NHL debut Thursday night. He didn’t hit the score sheet, but then again, the Bolts were shut out completely. He was leading the AHL in goals this season with 32 and was second in points (58) behind Nyquist (above). Vincent Lecavalier is out three weeks with an undisclosed injury and the Bolts really need help down the middle. Johnson has the opportunity of a lifetime on the blade of his stick. Don’t wait on him if he seizes that chance. Back to surprises. Some of the surprises I mentioned above are rebounds from queasy performances last year and some are prospects with slow development curves. And some are completely opportunistic or perhaps a bit lucky – Kunitz is on pace for 68 points in 48 games, a tally that’s seven points better than his career best of 61 points in 82 games. Smart drafting might have snagged you some of the surprised I mentioned earlier. But at the end of the day, we all know that fantasy success is built on great preparation, constant vigilance (and a willingness to add and drop guys at the right time) … a little bit of luck. Just like Chris Kunitz. I hope you get lucky this year, too. Until next week.
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