Fantasy Hockey: Vrbata, Giroux start strong; goalie steals

Puck Daddy

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.

I was browsing through some historical stats and came across this rotisserie ranking from 1999:

Actually, I kid. In case you didn't notice the "PHI" beside Jagr's name, this was taken from Frozen Pool when I put the analysis settings on "last two weeks". Despite a combined age of over 80, Selanne and Jagr lead the league roto-ranking when looking at the six main categories. Amazing that these are two players who could feasibly retire in seven months. Incidentally, the other old guys chronologically advantaged NHLers are also performing well. Nicklas Lidstrom is tied for 50th on this list and Ray Whitney is tied for 14th.


These fellas are wielding a hot stick ...

Radim Vrbata, Phoenix Coyotes (5-4-5-9, plus-7, 4 PIM, 19 SOG) — One of the streakiest players in the game, Vrbata is off to an incredible start. He's going to have his up-and-down weeks all season long, but the good will outweigh the bad as long as he continues to line up with Ray Whitney. As Whitney continues to baffle scientists produce without any signs of slowing down, Vrbata will pile up the "default" points even when he's in a funk.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (14-9-10-19, plus-4, 8 PIM, 42 SOG) — It's difficult to find a snapshot of a player's recent hot run when, let's be frank, he's been hot all season. The nitpickers might point to his third shift of the second period in the game against Montreal on Oct. 26, and how he looked merely normal ... but the fact is, he handed his sweater to Harry Zolnierczyk for that shift.

And bam, just like that, I sneak the name Zolnierczyk into a fantasy column.

Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets (8-5-3-8, plus-1, 9 PIM, 26 SOG) -- You'll be lucky if you get 75 games out of him a given season due to his rough style, but every fantasy analyst worth his salt had Kane pegged to break out at  least a little bit this year. Now that he's shaken off the tough start, look for Kane to be a 55/70 player (points/PIM) this campaign.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators (3-0-0-0, even, 2 PIM, 15 SOG) — Welcome to the 2011-12 version of a Karlsson slump. This will constitute three to five games of zero points, but damn if he doesn't shoot the puck. To date, he has six more shots on goal (51 in all) than the next highest defenseman (see Byfuglien below) and is tied for second in the league overall. So even a slumping Karlsson helps you.

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets (10-1-5-6, minus-1, 12 PIM, 34 SOG) — After a pretty crazy day on the boat weak start to the campaign, Byfuglien has picked things up. BUT - he still has a way to go to get back to where he was last year, and I don't like his track record with Tobias Enstrom out of the lineup. Last year he managed just one point in 10 games sans Tobias. So far he has two points in three Enstrom-less contests.

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers (7-5-1-6, minus-2, 7 PIM, 28 SOG) — Last year's breakout campaign was cut short by a broken hand and it was a sluggish start to 2011-12. But Captain Callahan is back on the trolley and has a shot at posting stellar multi-cat numbers. Think: 30-30-60, 60+ PIM, 250 SOG.


Somebody wake these guys up — their fantasy owners are counting on them ...

Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets (2-10-1, 3.70, 0.869) — Ugh. I got the right intro, I just don't know how to proceed from there. Just — ugh. At this point, even Vesa Toskala's been calling Mason up to offer confidence-building tips. If Mark Dekanich is available in your league, grab him now and then come back to read the rest of my gold.

Dustin Penner, Los Angeles Kings (11-0-1-1, minus-2, 21 PIM, 13 SOG) — The Gentle Giant is already a third of the way towards a career high in penalty minutes with 71 games to go. So he's helping poolies out there. But that's of little consolation to those of us who fell for the news about how great a shape he is in and how he would be given a plum spot on the Anze Kopitar line. Eleven games of suckiness later, and here we are.

Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders (9-0-0-0, minus-4, 11 PIM, 14 SOG) — After seeing his numbers from last year, it's easy to peg him as a solid multi-category sleeper. But so far, nope. The only things that Hamonic has pulled through on are the penalty minutes.

Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings (4-0-0-0, minus-6, 0 PIM, 9 SOG) — Hopefully it's just a coincidence that Drew Doughty came back four games ago. They're not defense partners so I'm sure it is.

Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues (4-0-0-0, minus-4, 0 PIM, 8 shots) — Please, Patrik, don't be another one of those good year/bad year guys. Didn't we get enough of that from Vinny Prospal? Let's hope Sunday's coaching change has an impact here.

The Wire...

Mostly short-term grabs here, but as always some potential steals ...

Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild (4-0-1, 1 SO, 1.18 GAA, 0.965 SP) —Niklas Backstrom hasn't been terrible, but Harding has been spectacular. A player whom I touted as a potential starter over a year ago, before a knee injury ended his season before it began, Harding has clearly recovered. And for now, he has stolen the starting job. Coach Mike Yeo will roll with the hot hand between these two all season long.

Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres (4-0-0, 1.41, 0.952) — Ryan Miller's job is safe. There is something about $6.25 million contracts five 34-plus win seasons in a row that provide that kind of security. But when one goalie has five losses and the other goalie is undefeated — the coach is going to play the undefeated guy more than usual. I invite you to take a look at the Goalie Post for the up-to-the-minute starting goalie grid and get an early heads up on the Enroth or Miller question on game day.

Zack Smith, Ottawa Senators (10-2-4-6, plus-3, 15 PIM, 21 SOG) — The Sens have found their Chris Kelly replacement from within the organization. Smith has won 55.3 percent of his faceoffs to go with numbers that are on a 37-point Chris Kellian pace. But unlike Kelly, much to the delight of fantasy owners, Smith will rattle off over 100 PIM.

David Clarkson, New Jersey Devils (3-2-0-2, plus-1, 7 PIM, 13 SOG) — After a terrible season last year and an injury-shortened one the year prior, it's possible that this guy is available in your league. He was a fantasy darling in 2008-09 with 32 points and 164 PIM and he is on pace to top those numbers this season.

Jason Garrison, Florida Panthers (5-3-1-4, plus-1, 0 PIM, 18 shots) — It's tough to put a finger on what to expect from a defenseman who is undrafted and signed out of college. The numbers seem to be meaningless — Jack Hillen (76 points for Colorado College) and Matt Gilroy (92 points for Boston U) hold little fantasy value, yet Garrison (32 points for Minn-Duluth) is starting to show a little something. His five goals already match his total from each of the last two years in the NHL/AHL. Worth a waiver pickup.

"Buy Low" pick of the week: Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes.

"Sell High" pick of the week: Ryan Smyth, Edmonton Oilers.


What to think of these youngsters in your keeper league ...

Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils (9-3-3-6, plus-1, 0 PIM, 18 SOG) — He may be best suited for a third-line role, but at the same time he has the hockey smarts to make plays and stick in the top six. He has over a month, possibly two, to prove himself before the likes of Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson return and so far he's making the most of it. The next six weeks will be very telling.

Calle Järnkrok, Detroit Red Wings (20-6-10-16, 8 PIM for Timra of the SEL) — Already highly-touted for his strong season last year, to say nothing of a stellar World Juniors performance, Jarnkrok is on pace to top last year's numbers by 50 percent. The only problem with this player in keeper leagues is the wait time. As in — he probably won't make a splash next year with the Wings. Detroit does things patiently, but they do it right.

For more fantasy hockey tips, take a gander at DobberHockey. And while you're at it, follow Dobber's fantasy hockey musings on Twitter.

Photo credits: AP

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