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Frozen Fantasy: Casting Call

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

The drafts are over. The magazines are closed. The hard work is done. Or is it?

Not a chance.

There are loads of guys getting auditions in some pretty impressive roles early this season – even on the most powerful offensive teams. And a lot of your fellow league owners have chosen to wait for their guys to “settle” before they make any real moves.

Their laziness will be your gain.

Now, I’m not advocating that you dump a guy like Simon Gagne just because he hasn’t picked up a point in his first three games. Or give up on Marty Turco entirely – he’s not this bad. But do you really need to carry an extra center on your reserve roster when that position is so bloody deep?

I like to dedicate at least one of my reserve spots to a high-risk, high-reward guy from the waiver pool. Really, what’s the risk? The thrill is in the catch. And every once in a while, a star is born.

Let’s take a look at the guys who’ve gotten the big call to start the season.

Todd Bertuzzi, RW, Detroit (29 percent owned) – Big Bert has a new Ernie and his name is Valtteri Filppula. Add the Mule to the mix and you have Motor City’s new second line. Now, his hold on the job is tenuous – he’s only there because Jiri Hudler has, well, sucked. But he’s playing well enough (six points in four games) to stick for a bit. Roll him until Hudler re-adjusts to the smaller ice.

Andrew Brunette, LW, Minnesota (19 percent owned) – Brunette is like your first minivan. You resist for as long as possible – something that boring and unsexy has got to be unmanly. Cripes, those wheels are a better fit for a soccer mom. But when you finally take the plunge, you realize how much power and performance you get from such a “boring” ride. Brunette is riding shotgun beside Mikko Koivu on the Wilds’ top line and is also getting power-play time. Fifty-five to 60 points is a solid target and that means he should be owned in every 12-team standard Yahoo! league. But this mini van is hiding in the garage of just one in every five leagues. Go figure. There’s easy money on the car lot. And you don’t even have to finance to get him. Just get boring. Easy.

Brett Clark, D, Tampa Bay (1 percent owned) – Sure, he makes a lot of mistakes. But he can move the puck and he’s doing just that for the Bolts. Three games and three points, including two on the PP – that’s more than the supposed number one QB, Victor Hedman, has brought to the table so far. It seems everyone has forgotten that Clark delivered back-to-back 36 and 39-point seasons in the Mile High City. I’ve already snapped him up in one of my leagues; you should, too. He could deliver significant early returns with that unbelievable offense.

Blake Comeau, LW, NY Islanders (14 percent owned) – Laid-back or just plain lazy? That’s long been the knock on this talented winger. But things may have finally clicked for this former second rounder. He has three goals and an assist in his first three games, and seems to have found some interesting chemistry with the underrated Josh Bailey. This outburst shouldn’t really come as a surprise, though – things clicked for this guy right before the Olympic break last season and he drained 11 goals and 20 points in his last 18 games. Grab him while the fire is still raging under his butt and ride him as long as the Long Island oxygen feeds the flames.

David Jones, RW, Colorado (4 percent owned) – The Counting Crows hit it large with Mr. Jones; maybe you can, too. This Mr. Jones is smart, fast and plays with an edge; he also has a quick release. He even delivered 16 points in 23 games last season. But he’s way under the radar because of an injury inventory that’s deeper than your local NAPA Auto Parts store. Injury risk or not, he’s on top-six duty in the Mile High City and that means one of two centermen – Paul Stastny or Matt Duchene. Need any other reason to pick him up? The over-under on his long-term health still sucks but short-term, he’s worth the grab.

Tomas Kopecky, RW, Chicago (11 percent owned) – Top-line duty + power-play time + defending Stanley Cup champs (and still powerhouse) = must be owned. So why isn’t he? Maybe it’s his age (28) or maybe it’s his uneven playoff performance. But neither of those should matter when you add up those three things I listed above. He has four points in as many games and has a chance to shine in an elevated role in the Windy City. Don’t ignore him for long.

Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa (0 percent owned) – I saw it, you saw it – all it took was a little bump by grandma’s grocery cart to torque Pascal Leclaire’s private parts. Has that guy ever played a full season? Oh sorry, that was a rhetorical question. Lehner is the Sens’ tender of the future and he’s absolutely elite. And I’m guessing he’ll get the call to back-up Brian Elliot in Gimpy’s absence. Sure, it’s pure speculation but you know how many goalies aren’t on your wire. He’s capable of a hot streak; take a chance. I did… the moment I saw Leclaire clutching his boys.

Clarke MacArthur, LW, Toronto (19 percent owned) – Whoa – where did this come from? Four goals and an assist in his first three games? I knew he’d be the finisher on the Mikhail GrabovskiNikolai Kulemin line but this is just nuts. The horseshoe will fall out of his jock. But until then, skate him into the ice.

Cal O’Reilly, C, Nashville (1 percent owned) – He’s not exactly another Music City Miracle but this 23-year-old has had a miraculous start to the season. He earned the job as the Preds’ top center between Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist, and he’s smart enough and talented enough to keep it, at least for the next few weeks. Of course, those three helpers Thursday night sure didn’t hurt his cause. Center is incredibly deep so you may not have room for him. But there’s surprising value in this Tennessee Kid.

Ondrej Pavelec, G, Atlanta (5 percent owned) – First, let me say thank goodness it was “just” a fainting spell. We all had visions of Jiri Fischer; I know I was waiting for the defibrillator. But based on all those tests, this talented twine tender should be back between the pipes once his headache clears. The talent is there – remember he was a top-10 goalie through November last season. Chris Mason is fine; Pavelec is better. Now is the time to stash him on a speculative play. Someone else will if you don’t.

Brad Stuart, D, Detroit (10 percent owned)Brian Rafalski’s untimely injury means the oft-injured Stuart will earn a lot more ice time (and responsibility) over the next month. He won’t get Rafalski’s power-play time – that’ll go to Niklas Kronwall. But increased ice time and a hot squad will almost certainly increase his even-strength output (and hopefully improve his plus-minus, Thursday’s result aside). He, too, is an injury risk (last season was his first real healthy season since the start of the decade). But he’s on my radar in the short term.

Matt Taormina, D, New Jersey (0 percent owned) – I’m a sucker for the underdog, particularly talented ones with huge opportunities. This 5-foot-9 free-agent squirt exploded for 50 points in 75 AHL games last season – that was second only to wunderkind P.K. Subban in rookie scoring from the blue line. And he has been given a gift to start the season – a top-four job on the Devils’ blue line. He can skate, pass and lead the rush. And he loves to fire the puck. All of a sudden, this guy has stepped in front of Andy Greene on the Devils’ top power-play unit. There aren’t many freebies on the wire at any time during the season but this guy is one of them.

Back to auditions.

The best ones come at the beginning of the season. That’s when guys get the longest leashes.

Some of them will eventually be dogs; others will end up as waiters. But none will be William Hung. Not one.

Until next week.