We continue our Fantasy Hockey Preview by looking at the class of Eastern Conference Forwards. Make sure you check out our Blues Fantasy Preview and Western Conference Forwards, and as always, pick at your own risk! Here are Bleedin’Blue’s top picks, overrated players, and those who may come out of nowhere to win your league:
Can’t Miss Selections
Steven Stamkos, C Tampa Bay Lightning
Stamkos electrified the NHL last season by putting up 60 goals for non-contenders Tampa Bay Lightning. After a 91 point performance in 2010 (45g, 46a), he put up 97 points in 2011-2012, along with a +/- of 7. His most impressive stat is probably his time on the ice per game (“TOI/G”), where he tallied over 22 minutes per game, good for third in the NHL among forwards. Surprisingly, he even managed to rack up 66 penalty minutes. This season, as the Lightning continue to rebuild, I expect Stamkos numbers to dip a bit, but to still be in the 80s. His TOI/G may be more in the Ilya Kovulchuk range, close to 24 minutes per game. Ranked as the top pick on ESPN.com, he definitely will live up to the billing.
Evgeni Malkin, C Pittsburgh Penguins
The Hart Trophy award winner last season, Evgeni Malkin was probably the best offensive forward in the game. Putting up 109 points with 50 goals, he led an underachieving team into the playoffs without Sidney Crosby, a perennial all-star and former MVP. Malkin also excelled in almost every other area on the ice, tallying 34 PP points, 70 penalty minutes, and a TOI/G of 21 minutes. His +/- was off the charts, at 18, and his shooting percentage of 14.7 percent. If Crosby returns, I would expect Malkin’s numbers to remain steady, especially with the loss of Jordan Staal to Carolina. I’d expect Malkin’s numbers to be around the 90 point mark, with both his TOI/G and +/- rising.
John Tavares, C NY Islanders
The 2009 first round pick had a breakout season in 2011-2012, finishing with 81 points, 15 of which were on the power play, and a +/- which improved by 10 points. He has clearly distinguished himself as a top playmaker in the NHL, and will only to continue to improve as the Isles rebuilding continues. With fellow stud line mates Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau also progressing nicely, and as their chemistry continues to build, I see Tavares having an even bigger year in 2012-2013. I would expect him to put up somewhere around 90 points, and to see his +/- finally go positive, while still averaging over 20 minutes per game on the ice.
Overrated, Risky Propositions
Marian Gaborik, RW New York Rangers
Gaborik put up another solid year in 2011-2012, posting his second 40 goal season in three years with the Rangers. However, Gaborik
is a very streaky player, who tends to score in bunches. He can have scoring droughts last weeks at a time, not a great trait for someone you expect to be a cornerstone for your offense. Not to mention the fact that the addition of Rick Nash may bump Gaborik to the second line, he is 31 years old, and seemed to start slowing down by the end of last season. His production should not be entirely discounted, though, as he put up 21 PP points and had a +/- rating of 15. He is definitely a solid mid-round pick, but because of his injured shoulder, I would not pick him up early in the draft.
Patrice Bergeron, C Boston Bruins
Although it appears the Bergeron is on an upward trend and entering his prime at age 27, he is not a value in the high rounds as a starting center. He put up an impressive 64 points and a ridiculous +/- of 36 last season for the Bruins, but had only 14 PP points, 20 penalty minutes, and an under-20 TOI/G. However, I believe the latter are more indicative of his average player than the former, as +/- that high is extremely difficult to maintain. Bergeron is the current Selke Trophy winner, given to the best defensive forward, but unfortunately most of those defensive stats and hustle plays do not count towards fantasy hockey points. He is a great player, but does not have the same value as inferior all-around players, like center Brad Richards. I would definitely take him as a mid-round pick, probably as my second center, but I would not count on Bergeron to give me massive production.
Ilya Kovalchuk, LW New Jersey Devils
The player who I consider to be the most overrated in the NHL, Kovalchuk will have a hard time this year dealing with a very young Devils team who lost their best scorer in Zach Parise. Since he got to New Jersey, Kovalchuk’s numbers have been solid, posting 83 points last season. He is also one of the league’s top power players, as he tallied 29 PP points last season. However, as was pretty easily noticed in the Devils’ final two playoff series, Kovalchuk was a clear liability on defense, and seemed to have lost a lot of his former graceful skating ability. To be sure, I believe he is on the wrong side of his prime, and with the loss of Parise, defenses will only further lock in on Kovalchuk. His +/- will decrease as he will be stuck on a mediocre team, and offensive production will drop as a result of diminishing offensive weapons. I would not go anywhere near him in fantasy hockey.
Olli Jokinen, C Winnipeg Jets
As he joins a team with oodles of young talent, look for Jokinen to return to offensive form. Most likely paired with line mates Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler, Jokinen will definitely be the premier scorer, giving him more opportunities to control the puck. Last season, after being demoted from the Jarome Iglinla-led first line, Jokinen put up 61 points, including 21 PP points, and also added 54 penalty minutes. I would expect modest increases in his point total as he is given a more central offensive role, somewhere near the 70 point, 30 goal mark. However, I don’t believe that his +/- will improve, as Winnipeg will be similar to Calgary last season. He could definitely be a late round steal this fantasy hockey season.
Ryan Callahan, RW New York Rangers
With addition of Rick Nash, the NY Rangers offense, which was lackluster at times last season, should get a much needed boost. With a possible scoring line of Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik, the Rangers could have a top flight attack. However, this move will probably bump Carl Hagelin the second line, which will feature Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan. This trio may wind up with even more scoring chances, with young front line talent in Hagelin and Stepan, and a high-motor garbage man like Callahan. Last season, the Blueshirt captain had 54 points on 25 goals, with 17 PP points. The biggest wild car for Callahan is his TOI/G, where he averaged over 21 minutes per game. He is clearly a do-it-all man for the Rangers. He did provide solid hit statistics, registering 61 penalty minutes, but somehow had a dismal +/- of -8. I would expect Callahan’s numbers to vastly improve on the offensive end, as he continues to gel with his younger teammates, and gets better match ups as teams focus in on the Nash line. Look for about 65 points, and definitely a positive +/- this season.
James van Riemsdyk, C Toronto Maple Leafs
After being traded from the Philadelphia Flyers this offseason, many would expect van Riemsdyk to fall off the face of the earth while
playing in Toronto. However, paired with probable line mantes Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, van Riemsdyk will be surrounded by top end young talent. Although he will have to convert to center, he will be part of a line that is given a ton of ice time and that will see the majority of power play time. This should not only help his offensive numbers, but will boost his TOI/G, and probably his +/-, as he will be playing with Toronto’s only good forward line. Last season, he tallied 24 points in only 43 games, was a solid contributor on the power play (5 PP points), and had solid TOI/G and penalty minutes numbers. Don’t waste a top fantasy hockey pick on him, but if he’s on the board late, pick him up.