We are now one whole week into the NHL season and while it's way too early to draw any major conclusions solely from the raw stats – Tomas Hertl is on pace for 164 goals while Evgeni Malkin is on pace for 0! – a look beyond the numbers can still be revealing. Here's your weekly peek inside my virtual notebook.
There is still plenty of time to join a Yahoo! Hockey Pool.
- Prior to the season you would have been hard-pressed to find many hockey people who were incredibly optimistic about the Buffalo Sabres' chances, but few people expected their start to be this bad. The team has scored only four goals so far and their lack of secondary scoring appears to be a very real problem. This talent shortage probably means both Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson (three points apiece) should come close to their preseason scoring expectations, but they may also be a drag on your team’s plus/minus rating. Call me stubborn, but I'm still cautiously optimistic about Tyler Ennis too, despite the fact he remains without a point thus far. He offers a level of creativity that's in short supply on this Sabres roster. Coach Ron Rolston increased his ice time almost immediately after he took over for Lindy Ruff last year, demonstrating a lot of confidence in the diminutive forward. That said, one of the players I'm placing on probation until further notice is defenseman Tyler Myers. The Texas native looked like a future star when he burst onto the scene with 48 points as a 19-year-old in 2009-10, but he has gradually regressed to the point where he's not worthy of a roster spot in all but the absolute deepest of leagues. His physical tools are evident, but with over 250 NHL games under his belt his on-ice decision-making is unacceptable.
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- Can someone please explain to me why Patric Hornqvist's ownership rate in Yahoo! leagues is a miniscule 7 percent? Sure, playing in the hockey hotbed of Nashville doesn't help with his Q score, but the man consistently averages better than three shots per game (he has 12 in three games this year) and he currently leads the Predators in power play ice time per game. His performance also ranks 87th in the Yahoo! player rater at the moment and he's fully recovered from the preseason knee injury that had cast doubt about his availability for the season opener, so why is his ownership rate in the realm of such luminaries as Nikolai Kulemin and Sven Baertschi? C'mon people, get your stuff together.
- It's very common for distant observers of the NHL like us to conflate real hockey with our fantasy game when it comes to the amount of ice time assigned to top offensive players. Nazem Kadri is a textbook example of a player with real deficiencies in his game that appear when the puck is not on his stick, but I would argue vehemently that the way he's currently being deployed by coach Randy Carlyle is not the best use of his skill set. It's logical that six Toronto forwards rank ahead of Kadri in terms of even-strength ice time per game, but why does he also place fifth among that group in terms of ice time with the man advantage? The fact that he's been given an average of 2:25 of power play time per contest versus Tyler Bozak's 3:55 is a travesty and has me slightly worried about the former London Knights prospects. If it wasn't already clear that he's firmly stuck in Carlyle’s doghouse, may I present his linemates for Tuesday's loss to the Avalanche (Carter Ashton and Colton Orr) as Exhibit A?
- I have yet to submit a sell order on my Tomas Fleischmann stock; in fact I'm looking to buy more wherever the opportunity presents itself. He has one measly assist in three games this season, but there's nothing in his setup that discourages me from expecting a repeat of the past two seasons, when he scored at rates of 0.74 and 0.73 points per game. No Panthers player has registered more shots on goal than his 11 and no forwards on the team have spent more time on the ice with the man advantage so it's far too early for me to be worried. Use his low profile and slow start to your advantage and try to acquire him on the cheap. Remember folks, the key to succeeding in fantasy hockey is identifying breakouts before they happen.
- Seeing the names of Henrik and Daniel Sedin among the league leaders in assists is far from a shock, but I'll admit I did a double-take when I saw that Michael Grabner was in a tie for third place with four helpers. The Islanders forward has one 30-goal season to his credit and another 20-goal campaign under his belt, not to mention the 16 tallies he counted in last year’s shortened schedule, but his career high in assists is the whopping 18 he registered in 2010-11. To say that he’s a shoot-first player is a massive understatement – shooting the puck on goal is his "raison d'etre". I haven't seen footage of his assists this year, but it wouldn't shock me if all had come as a result of teammates scoring off his rebounds. In any case, don't expect it to last. Grabner will continue to be a solid source of goals and shots, but he hasn't suddenly developed a penchant for sharing.
- The injury suffered by Joni Pitkanen that will force him to miss the entire season has come with a silver lining for the Hurricanes, as it has created an opportunity for rookie Ryan Murphy to gain valuable experience at the NHL level. While he's being eased in slowly, playing less than 18 minutes per game, he's also leading the club in power play minutes, a sign that coach Kirk Muller is placing him in situations where he's most likely to succeed (Randy Carlyle could learn a thing or two about this). I won't go all-in on Murphy this year since I expect he'll be on a fairly short leash, but he's one of my favorite keeper league targets.
- Those of you in leagues that reward penalty minutes seeking an unheralded contributor could do worse than to acquire the services of Edmonton’s Mike Brown. Acquired at mid-season from Toronto last year, Brown has recorded 70 PIM in 30 games with the Oilers and has amassed a total of 589 in 284 career NHL games. Most importantly, the Chicago native seems to be penciled into Edmonton's lineup for every game, which is not something that's true for all of the NHL’s tough guys.
Bargain Bin Finds (Yahoo ownership percentage below 20 percent)
While I was researching the ownership rate for Patric Hornqvist, which I discussed earlier, I uncovered a few other players whose rates struck me as being criminally low, so I thought it would be useful to point out these underrated fantasy assets:
Alex Chiasson – 8 percent
Martin Hanzal – 6 percent
Mikael Backlund – 4 percent
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