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Frozen Fantasy: Run, Don't Walk

Janet Eagleson

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

A good start might not get a bad NHL team into the playoffs. But a bad start might just keep a good team out.

Fantasy is no different.

By this time next week, the Rangers will have played almost one-eighth of their games this season. The Flyers and Caps will have played even more. At least the Kings will have only played 12 percent of their games. All four teams will be lucky - and I do mean lucky - to be sitting at .500.

How soon will they make changes to right their ships?

It's going to be just as tough - maybe even tougher - for fantasy owners to recover from a slow start. Smart owners need to come out of the gate with the throttle wide open. Trades, waiver improvements, blocking moves - you not only have to consider them now, you have to move on them immediately.

The early bird gets the worm. Or keeps someone else from getting it.

Now that doesn't mean dropping a high pick like Phil Kessel just because he hasn't tickled the twine in the first four games of the season. Or Shea Weber because hasn't picked up even a single point. But can you afford to wait at least six weeks on Joffrey Lupul's broken arm? Or up to eight for Scott Hartnell's broken foot? Sure, if you have an IR spot. But that's still half the season or more.

Run, don't walk. Or you'll be left behind.

Now let's take a look at some guys who caught my eye this week.

Patrik Berglund, C, St. Louis (9 percent owned) - Big things have always been expected from this so-called Sundin clone, but he's struggled with one step forward, one step back, year-over-year. The arrival of uber-stud Vladimir Tarasenko has fantasy owners glancing his way instead of Berglund's - don't be one of those owners. If Berglund's offensive patterns continue this year, he's about to take another point-per-game upswing. Just check his career numbers. Every other year, he delivers good offense and guess what year we're in. His first three games were pretty much uneventful, but Thursday's two-point effort caught my eye. He could be worth a flier. I'm looking at buying in...soon.

Cory Conacher, LW/C, Tampa Bay (31 percent owned) - Nail Yakupov. Jonathan Huberdeau. Vladimir Tarasenko. Mikael Granlund. Justin Schultz. These were the names tossed around for top rookie before the season started. Now, we can add Conacher's name to the mix. He's the first Bolt ever to score points in his first three games. And heading into play Friday, he sits second (five points) in rookie scoring behind only Tarasenko. He has shown immediate chemistry with linemates Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell, so take advantage while you can. His ownership is rising like a rocket.

Matt Frattin, RW, Toronto (1 percent owned) - Frattin is a top-six forward - he made that clear with a three-point outburst Thursday night against the Islanders. He's the perfect Randy Carlyle guy - he loves to crash the net and has the hands to deliver once he gets there. No, he won't score like this every game, but he'll do enough to become a fantasy regular. Yep, he's that good. Keeper owners already know him; single-year owners should, too.

Michael Grabner, RW, NY Islanders (8 percent owned) - Two seasons ago, Gremlin was a Calder candidate. But last year, you probably could have found his mug shot on Wikipedia's page for sophomore slump - he stink, stank, STUNK. He still had his speed, but he scored 20 fewer points and saw a 28-point negative swing in his plus-minus from his rookie campaign. Yikes. Fortunately, that first-year brilliance appears to be back - count three goals and two helpers in his first three games - and he's largely unowned in most formats. Get on him now - his ownership is already on the rise.

Travis Hamonic, D, NY Islanders (27 percent owned) - Luby who? Hamonic once again looks like the emerging force he was from 2010-11 and he's helping fans on the Island forget about that Lubomir "I ain't no misfit toy" Visnovsky dude. Visnovsky is now suspended because of his latest excuse - sorry, reason - why he can't return to North America. Hamonic has stepped up and can deliver multi-categorical goodness for your squad.

Jason LaBarbera, G, Phoenix (5 percent owned) - It has happened already. "It" is a groin tweak and the victim? Mike Smith. That leaves the twine tent that's somehow still pitched in the desert all to Mr. LaBarbera. LaBarbera's no starter, but he can carry the mail for short bursts. And carry it he will - emergency callup Chad Johnson sure won't see time unless the team is truly desperate. Grab LaBarbera before Smith's owner does - you might not need him, but he (or she) does. And you had better start playing dirty fantasy pool as early as possible this year - every advantage MUST be taken in a 48-game season. Every single one.

Nazem Kadri, C, Toronto (14 percent owned) - Has he arrived? I dunno. You know what I think of Mr. Kadri, but I could soon be proven wrong. Yes, you read that right. Kadri has picked up at least one point in each of the Leafs' four games so far and his five points now lead the Buds. Like him or not, he's showing off his creativity and he's worth owning, at least for now. And maybe even later.

Mike Kostka, D, Toronto (16 percent owned) - Justin Schultz who? Don't look now, but the late-blooming Kostka is taking Hogtown by storm. He made the Leafs when Jake Gardiner went on the IR and Morgan Rielly went back to junior. And he was - perhaps not surprisingly - the Buds' best puck mover in their first two games this season. He has a power-play assist in his first three games and most importantly, coach Randy Carlyle tapped his shoulder in the last minute of play when the games were on the line. He can't possibly keep up this pace, but he's still worth rostering. This guy will stick.

Alex Kovalev, RW, Florida (9 percent owned) - How do you define inspiration? For Kovalev, it's spelled Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida's blue-chip forward who's almost half Kovalev's age. There were points in Kovalev's career where he was arguably the most skilled player in the league, but his inconsistency (read: lack of motivation) meant he'd run hot and cold. He'll turn 40 next month and he's clearly not the talent he once was. But the three points he picked up opening night showed me he's worth some spot starts.

Christopher Nilstorp, G, Dallas (2 percent owned) - Nilstorp isn't your average "rookie" backup. He's been one of the best goalies in Sweden for a few years now and transitioned smoothly to the AHL this past fall. He's big (6-foot-4) and quick, and at 28, he brings a mature approach to the Stars' twine tent. He tossed up a strong, 31-save performance Sunday and looked like kind of the consummate (and calm) pro who can inspire confidence in the boys in front of him. I've stashed him in a couple leagues - how long will Kari Lehtonen's groin muscles hold up?

Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago (9 percent owned) - Opportunity has knocked for this talented 20-yar-old who - courtesy of Daniel Carcillo's knee injury - is getting a shot on the Hawks' top line. Yes, that's the one with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Saad has great hockey smarts, a strong two-way game and a big-enough body to play a possession game. And enough talent to pick up some points, particularly with those two studs.

Fedor Tyutin, D, Columbus (7 percent owned) - Fantasy drafters snapped up Jack Johnson (85 percent) and James Wisniewski (61 percent), but it's the steady Tyutin who is leading the Jackets in scoring heading into action this weekend. Yeah, I did a double take on that, too. His plus-minus could cramp your style worse than cheap hip hop jewelry. But file this away - his point-per-game pace last year with both Wiz and JJ in the fold mirrored that of his 34-point season in 2008-09. Most people thought his production would drop with those two guys around. Not a chance. And that type of output would make him relevant in all but the shallowest of leagues.

Back to the early bird's worm.

Don't agree with me? The numbers don't lie. Cory Conacher went up 28 percentage points in 36 hours this week. Vladimir Tarasenko, went up a whopping 58 percentage points overnight Wednesday. And Joffrey Lupul dropped 16 percentage points in mere hours Thursday after his broken arm became a six-week absence.

Some owners have already gotten aggressive. So you can wait and go for a lovely walk with your girlfriend. I'm sure she'd like that. Or you can break a sweat and sprint, just like you did when your beloved flat screen was included in that Black Friday sale.

I know what I'm going to do. Sorry in advance to all of my league mates. That's the only time you'll hear that from me.

Until next week.