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From the Press-Box: The Sidekick Theory

Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno

Paul is a 22-year veteran of the STATS INC reporter network, scoring play by play for the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. He is also the creator of the statistical platform which evolved into the NHL's Real Time Scoring System, which was unveiled in 1992. You can also hear him on XM Sirius and nextsportsstar.com, talking hockey and baseball.In addition to all of Toronto's teams, he is also a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

FROM THE PRESSBOX
By Paul Bruno

Welcome to the first edition of my weekly column where I will take a look at hot rookie performers, any players who are seeing a spike in their playing time or productivity and other factors that should impact your fantasy team prospects.

Early in the season, some unexpected players burst out of the gate and rank among the leading scorers, prompting the question of whether or not to take them on. Should you grab Luke Adam of the Sabres, who has that type of profile?

In my opinion, the answer to that question is "no." Sure, he has six points in the Sabres first five games, but the former second round choice in the 2008 Draft had only four points in his career total of 19 NHL games that preceded this season. This quick start represents a very small sample size, too small to place lots of faith in the likelihood that he suddenly the real deal this year. We need to see a longer stretch of games with this newfound level before we buy in to Adam, or others like him.

I also have a "sidekick" theory, where I look at who is playing alongside some of the league's top players. In a number of these circumstances, players are getting a first look or hoping to build on modest successes from last year.

John Tavares has lived up to many experts' views that he might be headed for a breakout season. His hot start has netted him eight points in four games. The guy who has caught my eye on Tavares' wing is P.A. Parenteau, who has chipped in seven points so far. He made a decent impression on the Isles' brass last season with 53 points in 81 games played last season. Parenteau will continue to see this increase in productivity as long as he hangs on to this first line assignment. He has to be a prime target of fantasy owners if he is a free agent in your league's player pool at this time.

In Washington, Troy Brouwer is a new addition, coming over from Chicago in the offseason. Early indications have him linked to the prime wing position on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps' dynamic duo. Brouwer scored 39 goals over his last two years in Chicago, while being shifting around the roster for much of that tenure. With this prime time opportunity he should eclipse that performance in Washington.

In Chicago, Bryan Bickell, who tallied 17 goals and 17 assists last year, was poised for a similar increase in his role as a top-six forward with the Hawks. He has validated those hopes by chipping on two goals and two assists in Chicago's first five games played. It is also worth noting that he has been seeing significant time on the Hawks' power play so far.

On defense, a trio of veteran blueliners has got my attention in the early going.

Mark Streit missed all of last season with a severe shoulder injury, but rehabbed to the point where he was primed for a hopeful return to the pace of the same blueliner who guided much of the Isles' attack and produced 105 points over his last two seasons of active duty. For me, it was a very promising sign when Streit was appointed as the team captain, prior to the start of the season. They were obviously counting heavily on Streit to return to his elite level of play. Behind an improved forward complement, he remains the primary scoring weapon from the defense corps here and he has collected three points in his first four games.

John-Michael Liles toiled in relative anonymity on the Avalanche defense and wound up with 46 points last year to rank among the top 20 scorers among NHL defensemen, a fact that may surprise many fantasy owners. In looking at his career, he has scored at least 31 points in each of his first seven seasons, but now finds himself in Toronto, where he should be an excellent complement to a quick group of forwards, as the club's top puckhandling defender, and who will also be paired on the club's top power play unit with Dion Phaneuf, who owns a cannon of a shot. 

Sheldon Souray was banished to the AHL last season, largely due to his $5.4 M cap hit, which could not be justified in the Oilers' rebuild and their commitment to youth. Well, the big veteran with the blazing slapshot has found a nice situation, at a modest $1.6M price tag with the Dallas Stars, where he has been given an early look on the club's top power play unit and averaged about 20 minutes of playing time per game. The early returns - five points in seven games - are quite encouraging.

Surprises in the nets so far would have to include Jose Theodore of the Florida Panthers, and Kari Lehtonen with the Dallas Stars. Both of these veterans have gotten off to fairly impressive starts and are undoubtedly drawing some attention in fantasy pools as early pickup options. I would issue a note of caution in terms of trying to select them for my team. The reason for my concern is simply related to a belief that the Dallas Stars and the Florida Panthers do not project to be playoff teams and will soon revert to that more expected form. Goalies are the ones who tend to bear the brunt of the impact of non-playoff teams, so that, in a nutshell is why I would shy away from these two keepers.

By the same token, there is a great deal of concern over the relatively slow start Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. Through his first four appearances he has posted a 3.78 goals against average and a ghastly .858 save percentage. There is a growing groundswell of support for his backup, Cory Schneider, to get more work here. For his part, Schneider has posted much better numbers over his two starts (2.03 gaa and .935 save pct), to build his case for more action. Again, I have to issue a word of caution to anyone who thinks that the Canucks will sit Luongo and his corresponding $5.33M Cap hit, which goes out to 2022. They may turn to Schneider for a couple of their upcoming games, but Luongo will remain "the man in Van."

Rookies tend to represent a real crapshoot every year because a number of them are sent back to junior every year after less than 10 games played, because retaining them beyond that number of contests uses up a year of eligibility vis-a-vis their eventual free agency year. Teams want to be sure that their young guns will be a season-long asset or really benefit from being with the NHL club, as opposed to gaining some valuable experience with expanded roles on their junior clubs or with American Hockey League affiliates. Two players seem clearly destined to stick with their NHL teams after their impressive debuts.

In Edmonton, the Oilers have a stable of young guns that they have accumulated as a result of several consecutive years of futility. A core group that includes the likes of Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, has been augmented by the addition of 18-year old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He has jumped out of the starting gate with five points (4 goals) in his first five games, which included his first career hat-trick last week. To suggest that he will continue to score at this pace is highly unlikely. In fact, through his two years in Junior, he topped out at 31 goals in 60 with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels. His profile has been more in keeping with a playmaking ability rather than finisher/goal scorer. I think the Oilers are on the cusp of a special time in their history and that they believe all of their recent high picks have flourished at the NHL They will afford Nugent-Hopkins with the same opportunity.

Similarly, Gabriel Landeskog, who was drafted second behind Nugent-Hopkins, has had an impressive start, with two goals and an assist in his first six NHL games. He has landed on a solid line with fellow youngster Matt Duchene at center and the solid veteran Milan Hejduk on the opposite wing. Since the playoffs may not be in the cards for the Avalanche again this year, Landeskog will probably get hold onto this roster spot indefinitely.

At the opposite end of the top rookie prospect spectrum is the Hurricanes top choice (#7 overall draft pick in 2011), defenseman Ryan Murphy, who once was projected as a threat for rookie of the year honors. Carolina brass has opted to return him to his junior club (Kitchener of the OHL), where he will focus on having a dominant year and leading Team Canada juniors in the annual Junior World Hockey Championships.

The beauty in all of the foregoing is that anything can happen. My job is to share my best guesses with you.

Hopefully you found this piece informative and come back looking for more next week, in my "From The Pressbox" column. In the meantime you can send your feedback to me on Twitter (@statsman22) and you can listen to me on Tuesday nights, at 9:30 EST on Sirius/XM Radio, on "THE FANTASY DRIVE", Sirius 210 and XM 87.