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Frozen Fantasy: Bye-bye, Boring

Janet Eagleson

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

Aggressive. Unrelenting. Intelligent. Unselfish. Fire wagon hockey is back.

The future of fantasy is good.

We’ll never see the offensive brilliance of the Edmonton Oilers of the early 1980s again (can you imagine the joy of fantasy hockey back then?) But the present – and future – versions of high-speed, attacking hockey were on full display this week.

Good-bye Devils’, Predators’ and Wild hockey. Hello, Oilers and Avalanche brilliance.

Yes, the Avs are back.

Don’t get me wrong – the Avs probably won’t make the playoffs this year, even with their hot start. But in two years time, they’re going to scare the snot out of the so-called pillars of the Western Conference. And maybe even the entire NHL. And with that will come new highs in fantasy output, particularly for the mid-range players on the squad. And squads just like them.

Monday’s game against the Leafs really opened my eyes. The Avs literally had the pedal to the metal for 61:11. They never let up. They were absolutely unrelenting. Each line that came over the boards brought another wave of pressure. There was no escape valve. It was awesome hockey (messy at times but fun nonetheless).

Mark my words – all of their top-nine forwards will have some kind of fantasy value at one point or another this season … simply because of their style.

Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week. But before we do, I’d like to acknowledge one of my readers who I’m sure is like a lot of others. He’s in a super-deep league and really needs to dig to make a difference on the wire. It’s hard for me to address every league format but I’ve tried to sift out a few guys who might meet that criteria (but dang, a 16-team league with 22 active guys is intense!)

Dave Bolland, C, Chicago (12 percent owned) – Talk about underrated. The only tool this guy doesn’t have in his elite belt is start-up speed. He can do everything else … and on both sides of the puck. Just ask the Sedin twins. He potted four goals in his first four games and looks poised to set new bests across the board. Ride him while he’s healthy (just remember there are no guarantees with this guy).

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, G, Colorado (7 percent owned) – I thought Jiggy was done after last season with the Leafs. Boy, was I was wrong. He looks completely healthy and is playing as well as he ever has. The Avs will almost certainly use caution with the oft-injured Semyon Varlamov, so I expect Jiggy to get more starts than your usual backup. And he looks like he could deliver strong – or even stellar – numbers in that situation. Stash him now – he may soon be helping you make incremental advances in all of your goalie categories, even playing behind a very young squad.

Chris Higgins, LW, Vancouver (3 percent owned) – Talk about making hay when the sun is shining. Higgins has been outstanding in green and blue, and is making every shift count while filling the skates of the injured Mason Raymond. He has three goals and two assists in his first seven games, and the return of Ryan Kesler should boost those totals even more. Yeah, I know – he’s burned you before. Me, too. But this could finally be the fit he needs to prove those 27 goals in Montreal weren’t a fluke.

Nick Leddy, D, Chicago (1 percent owned) – Guess who’s tied with Duncan Keith as the top-scoring Blackhawks’ blueliner after six games? Leddy just doesn’t get the ink that Keith or Brent Seabrook get … yet. This undersized defender clearly models his game after the slick Keith, and at age 20, he shows a poise and maturity to his game that would make you think he’s about five or six years older. Sure, there will be bumps along the way this year, but right now, Leddy is showing that he has the speed, grace, skill and smarts to play with forwards like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him top 30 points this year. That might even be good enough for second in blue line scoring on the ‘Hawks. Yes, ahead of Brent Seabrook, who I think is going to take a step backwards, at least from an offensive perspective. Don’t miss out – Leddy’s not going to be available for much longer.

Ryan O’Reilly, C, Colorado (4 percent owned) – Being lucky is about being in the right place at the right time. But being good is about doing the right thing once you’re there. O’Reilly is that good. His anticipation of the game – in all three zones – is elite. And his skills – passing, shooting and skating – are strong enough to make him a threat in any situation. Right now, he’s centering Daniel Winnik (1 percent owned) and rookie Gabriel Landeskog (28 percent owned) on the Avs’ third line and the trio is playing like a top unit. O’Reilly has five helpers, including two on the power play, in his first seven games. And he’s part of that exciting young lineup in Denver. Sure, center is deep, but this guy can help … at least right now.

Max Pacioretty, LW, Montreal (18 percent owned)Zdeno Chara who? Pacioretty is completely healed from that horrific (and controversial) hit from Big Z, and he has picked up right where he left off before the accident. Pacioretty had been on a real roll right before that hit – 11 goals, 17 points in 19 games. And he’s now leading the Smurfs with two goals and five points in five games this season. He’s powerful and fast, and one of the biggest Habs on the ice (OK, I admit that’s not saying much). And I think there’s a chance he can deliver 25+ goals, 55+ points and 60 PIM if he continues to grow his consistency. There’s even a chance – and a strong one at that – he’ll end up leading the team in goals this year. His ownership won’t ever be this low again this year.

Kyle Quincey, D, Colorado (18 percent owned) – Quincey may be boring, but the guy is also valuable, in an under-the-radar way. I’m not a fan but I’m not stupid, either. He has three points in the last three games and it wasn’t that long ago that he potted 38 points in 76 games in La-La Land. Toss in some serious body language and the PIM are coming, too. It looks like he’s finally putting all those lessons he learned in Detroit to full use. And the only thing standing between him and a 35-point, 90-PIM season is yet another injury. Use him now and simply dump him when he does get hurt.

Matt Read, RW/C, Philadelphia (13 percent owned) – By now, you’ve heard all about the pride of Ilderton, Ontario – a four-point game will do that for a guy, even if it’s against the lowly Ottawa Senators. Sure, he’s small, but his versatility and skill make him just the kind of guy the Flyers can plug in just about anywhere in their lineup. And his chemistry with Sean Couturier is exciting. Read put up strong numbers at Bemidji State during his tenure there and then delivered impressive totals at AHL Adirondack (13 points in 11 games) in his pro debut last year. My gut says he’s more Andy McDonald than Tyler Bozak, and he may end up really surprising this year.

David Savard, D, Columbus (0 percent owned) – You really should get to know this guy. He’s blessed with great hockey sense and has good size and a strong shot. And oh yeah – his impressive pro debut last year (43 points in 72 games) rocketed him past the far-more-heralded John Moore on the team’s prospect depth chart. He turns 21 Saturday but he plays like a 28-year-old. And that bodes well for his short and long-term future. The Jackets have forever struggled to find a puckmover with power-play skills and this guy fits the bill almost perfectly. His ice time, particularly on the PP, will drop with James Wisniewski’s return. But he won’t be held back for long. Check him out.

Derek Stepan, C, NY Rangers (10 percent owned) – Stepan is a lot like Ryan O’Reilly … but with a lot more natural talent and far greater upside. He’s not flashy but he’s smart, creative and opportunistic. And that combo has landed him on the top line beside Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Aggressive speculators have already picked this guy up and you should, too – Stepan has the game to stick with those guys. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to write an algorithm to figure out what outcome could result.

Back to the Avs. And the Oil for that matter.

Both of these squads have thrown boring right out the window. And to some extent, so have the Islanders and Blues, too.

Fire wagon hockey is fun. And it’s great for fantasy hockey … as long as you can stomach the plus-minus hit.

Until next week.