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NHL Barometer: Lucky Devil

Mike Gay

Mike Gay

Mike Gay writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Ironically, the song “Changes” by David Bowie shuffled on my ipod (cue the laughter) just as I began writing the first installment of the RotoWire NHL barometer. You see, the barometer is all about measuring change. In this article, players are divided into different “barometrical” categories to show our beloved readers which direction they’re moving in the hockey world. I’ll begin with the first liners -players who are captivating fantasy owners for all the right reasons. A separate mention goes out to skaters and goalies that have recently sustained injuries and have headed to the training room. Finally, there are notable press-boxers, otherwise known as recent fallers - guys that are essentially falling into a black hole of fantasy hockey obscurity. I hope you enjoy reading!

First Liners (Risers)

Travis Zajac, C, NJD – The Devils provide a fine example of how change can be a good thing, at least for Zajac and his rising fantasy value. In practice and exhibition, team sniper Ilya Kovalchuk has been shifted over to the right wing to accommodate Zach Parise on the left side and Zajac lining up as the center man. On paper, this looks like a scary good line, one that could give defenses fits. At the very least, a healthy Zajac could be the envy of the league if he gets to center two forwards (coming off 80-plus point seasons) for an entire year.

Ryan Kesler C, VAN – Much like Zajac, Kesler should see an uptick in offensive production as the result of having stellar linemates. Of course, this guy has steadily improved ever year, but his probable pairing with the Sedin brothers on the top power-play unit should take his value to a whole new level. Kesler is quickly approaching elite status.

Nick Foligno LW, OTT – Foligno operates with relentless pursuit of the puck, especially when the biscuit is close to the challenger’s net. This style of play has served Foligno well already – he has been a scoring machine in exhibition play with four goals. There is no evidence to suggest that Foligno will slow down anytime soon, which means he is all but penciled in for second-line duty to start the regular season.

Jack Johnson D, LOS – When it comes to defensive players, fantasy poolies largely prefer Drew Doughty over Johnson, which makes perfect sense considering DD has become one of the league’s top blueline scorers. Still, it’s hard to ignore the giant leap Johnson made last season when he more than tripled his point output from his previous two campaigns. Even though plenty of hockey fans shrug over preseason action, it’s worth noting the three-point (2 G, 1 A) performance Johnson had in a September 28 exhibition match against the Ducks. He could very well pick up where he left off last season.

Brian Boucher G, PHI – Boucher is a prototypical backup goalie, and you should treat the veteran as such in the fantasy realm. However, he will be the beneficiary of more playing time between the pipes thanks to a bulging disc that will keep Michael Leighton (back) - last year’s breakout hero - out at least a month. Boucher is only on the rise by default, so it’s recommended that you cushion your goalie situation with at least one other capable puck-stopper.

Others Include (but not limited to): Kyle Beach, C, CHI Mike Comrie C, PIT Mike Santorelli C, FLA Jeff Skinner C, CAR Tomas Plekanec C, MON Ryan Stoa C, COL Clarke MacArthur LW, TOR Raffi Torres LW, VAN David Backes, RW, STL Martin Erat, Ales Kotalik, RW, CGY RW, NAS Scottie Upshall RW, PHO Cam Fowler D, ANA Tyler Myers D, BUF Patrick Lalime G, BUF

Training Room (Injuries)

Marc Savard, C, BOS – Savard is still dealing with post-concussion syndrome following a Grade 2 concussion he sustained last March. While there is wide speculation he could open on the long-term injured reserve or even possibly get shut down for the season, no official announcement has been made yet. Consider monitoring Bruins’ center David Krejci carefully - he will be counted on to step up with Savard still feeling the after effects of the concussion.

Kyle Okposo, RW, NYI – It may be a tough economy right now, but at least shoulder specialists in New York are getting in some hours. Both Okposo and defenseman Mark Streit are suffering from serious shoulder injuries, although Streit’s is more severe. Okposo “only” has a torn labrum and is expected to be out until December. The Islanders are in early trouble considering the duo accounted for more than 17 percent of the team’s points last season.

Mark Streit, D, NYI – The Islanders took a dagger to the heart last Friday, when Streit destroyed his shoulder falling into the boards during a scrimmage. Tests revealed that he tore his rotator cuff and labrum and also sustained a separated shoulder, injuries that will reportedly keep him off the ice for six months. In 2009-10, Streit had 49 points and ranked eighth among NHL defenseman in average ice time per game.

Filip Kuba, D, OTT - Kuba is already on the mend, but that shouldn’t come as a total surprise considering he spent nearly 29 games in the press box last season due to a troubled back. This time, Fragile Filip is out with a broken ankle that he suffered on the very first day of training camp. According to various reports the break was clean, so surgery is not necessary for the veteran rearguard.

Josh Harding, G, MIN – You have to feel for Harding. After spending the majority of the offseason rehabbing a hip injury that required surgery, he tore two ligaments (ACL and MCL) in his right knee after Brad Boyes of the Blues fell on him in a late September exhibition game. With Harding lost for the season, the team from the Gopher State signed Jose Theodore to a one-year deal to fill in between the pipes when Niklas Backstrom needs a breather. If Backstrom gets injured or falters, get ready for an extremely wild season in Minnesota.

Michael Leighton, G, PHI – Leighton is expected to be shelved for a month with a bulging disc in his back. To make matters worse, it has been reported that he could go under the knife if rest and rehab don’t properly run its course.

Others Include (but not limited to): Ian Laperriere (post-concussion) C, PHI Jordan Staal (foot) C, PIT Scott Parse (groin, foot) RW, LOS, Kris Draper (groin) LW, DET Vaclav Prospal (knee), LW, NYR Sergei Samsonov (neck) LW, CAR

Fourth Liners/Press Boxers (Fallers)

Zach Boychuk, C, CAR – Even though Boychuk lasted a long time in training camp, he was eventually sent to Charlotte to begin his season in the minors. He remains a top prospect who should easily handle the weaker competition found in the AHL. Boychuk will likely play his way back up to the parent club at some point this season, but until then, the raving about Jeff Skinner and Patrick O’Sullivan should continue.

Olli Jokinen, C, CGY – Jokinen technically could have been slotted in the training room section of this article since he is dealing with a bad back, but in this edition, that section is reserved for players with more serious injuries. Still, this underachieving center can ill afford a downgrade in fantasy circles. He is somewhat of an enigma, and that can be extremely frustrating to fantasy owners. Calling Jokinen streaky on a game-to-game basis is putting it rather mildly, yet he could still weasel his way towards the 50-point level in 2010-11. That’s all fine and dandy…if you’re a risk taker.

Wade Redden, D, NYR – Redden’s situation brings to mind the classic rock song “Take the Money and Run,” by the Steve Miller Band. Redden put his signature on a six-year, $39 million contract in July 2008, only to anger Ranger fans with just 26 and 14 points respectively in the two seasons following the mega-deal. Now, Redden must dig himself out of a crater after he was waived by the Rangers and reassigned to AHL Hartford earlier in the week.

Sheldon Souray, D, EDM – The Oilers grew tired of trying to deal Souray and his $5.4 million per season salary demands, so the team placed him on waivers on the final day of September. Before another team considers his services, they will undoubtedly factor in his propensity for injury, poor career plus/minus history, and inconsistent point outputs from one season to another. If Souray clears waivers, the Oilers may put him on re-entry waivers, which would result in his annual salary being slashed in half.

Thomas Greiss, G, SAN – Greiss must feel slighted by the sudden offseason addition of Antti Niemi. Just when it appeared the Sharks were content with either Antero Nittymaki or Greiss as the main successor to long-time netminder Evgeni Nabokov, Team Teal signed Niemi, last year’s goalie hero, to a one-year deal.

Niklas Backstrom, G, MIN – Minnesota’s defense has been unimpressive in the preseason, and if the group doesn’t get it together quickly, Backstrom can expect to get peppered with shots when the Wild opens the regular season opens against the Hurricanes, in Finland, on Oct. 7. Minnesota increased the premium on their goalie insurance policy with the early October addition of veteran Jose Theodore.

Others include (but not limited to): Niklas Hagman, LW, CGY Nick Boynton D, CHI Jere Lehtinen RW, FA Erik Gudbranson, D, FLA Shane O’Brien D, VAN Kevin Shattenkirk D, COL Curtis McElhinney G, ANA Cory Schneider, G, VAN

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Mike is always willing to talk hockey and to listen to your comments/article suggestions. You can reach him at Mikeg716@yahoo.com.

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