The NHL's second season is fast approaching but your focus should follow further into the future. Planning now who to take for next year sounds ridiculous but it's not as if we'll be providing the 2014-15 draft kit by the end of the month. Last week, we covered those to target for the coming season. Here, we advise you who to stay away from when October rolls around and your mind wanders back to fantasy hockey.
The following have either done well of late, are wrapping up a career year, and/or are projected to lose ice time next season. We'll focus more on the last topic since that would serve as the main criteria for inclusion in this column. You'll notice the average age of the five main selections is just under 32. That's not a coincidence. Those darn whippersnappers are at it again by taking away all the good jobs. Maybe the old folks can ward off the youngsters for a little bit longer but shaking their fists at them probably won't do the trick:
(NOTE: For the umpteenth straight entry, no goalies. Don't expect the same omission next week.)
(Stats as of Monday April 7th)
Tobias Enstrom, D, Winnipeg
The Jacob Trouba era has taken over southern Manitoba. Resistance is futile; assimilation is inevitable. While Enstrom has outpointed the 20-year old American (29 to 28), it's taken the elder statesman 17 more games to do so. Overcoming one hotshot D-man sounds easy enough, but the task becomes daunting when offensive machines Josh Morrissey (73 in 59 for his junior club) and Brenden Kichton (45 in 70 in his AHL debut) await their chances in the big show. Enstrom will be asked to carry on his significant special-teams service (over five minutes a night) but it's only a matter of time before he gives way.
Johan Franzen, F, Detroit
The Mule is actually on the young side when ranking Red Wing forwards (in sixth place at 34, seven years younger than fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson). And while he continues to terrorize the opposition with his large crease presence and quick hands (17 in 20), Franzen did sit 22 games with a concussion. It's no secret Detroit are undergoing a rebuild up front with Gustav Nyquist (team-leading 28 goals), Tomas Tatar (36 in 69), Riley Sheahan (21 in 38), and Tomas Jurco (13 in 32) already filling in extensively when the veterans were sidelined (and Henrik Zetterberg still out). Franzen will still be called upon for his size but his production will inevitably drop off.
Jussi Jokinen, F, Pittsburgh
Since being acquired from Carolina last April for a handful of magic beans, Jokinen has posted some pretty impressive numbers (65 in 88, including 24 on the power-play). It helps to have Evgeni Malkin act as your primary center but it's not as if the 10-year NHLer started scoring out of nowhere (peaked at 65 in 2009-10). Jokinen is set to become a free agent in the summer. So as long as some team requires a top-six'er possessing superior shootout skills, then the Finnish forward will be in demand. Just don't expect a repeat of the last 12 months if he's not in Pittsburgh.
Frans Nielsen, F, NY Islanders
Without John Tavares, Nielsen has assumed the #1 center role on the Island. Even on a woeful franchise, that's a lot of pressure. But the Dane has handled it pretty well, amassing a career-high in points (53) along with a low in plus-minus (-13). With Tavares projected to recover by the fall and the rise of blue-chippers Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson, that potentially leaves much less responsibility for Nielsen in all situations.
Mark Streit, D, Philadelphia
The Swiss veteran may be getting long in the tooth (hard to believe he's 36) but he's not selling owners short. Well, there have been a couple recent lulls (a six-game scoreless streak in early March) but Streit still provides enough (38, 14 PPPs) to justify high second-tier status (or low first-tier, depending on your league). But his stats will never be elite as long as he plays behind a strong offensive blueliner like upcoming UFA Kimmo Timonen (33, 19). If the Flyers decide to re-sign Timonen or even give workhorse Andrew MacDonald (27, on an expiring $575,000 contract) a longer look, then Streit could easily miss out on opportunities.
((Dis)honorable mention: Matthew Carle, D, Tampa Bay; Shane Doan, F, Phoenix; Brandon Dubinsky, F, Columbus; Mikhail Grabovski, F, Washington; Erik Johnson, D, Colorado)
Reminder: Playoffs start next Wednesday. Get ready for 'em. We'll have our usual material to help y'all get prepared.