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Frozen Fantasy: On the Cusp of Greatness

Janet Eagleson

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

Think back to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The Oilers had just drafted Nail Yakupov as the final jewel in a crown that included fellow first-rounders Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Now raise your hand if you thought they’d be this bad. Or that the Islanders would be on the cusp of greatness before the Oil would.

Put your hand down. I can see that you’re lying.

Seriously. Only the Islanders’ six diehard fans truly believed they’d ever figure things out. And there isn’t a single person on earth who could have dreamed there’d be a Garth Snow Appreciation Thread on a popular hockey discussion board.

Stop laughing -- I gave you the proof.

The Islanders really are on the cusp of something remarkable. They’re the league’s only undefeated team heading into action on Saturday. And most impressively, three of the top four fantasy skaters in Yahoo! leagues over the last seven days (heading into action Friday night) were Long Island boys.

Yep -- three of the top four. And four of the top seven.

John Tavares topped the list with two goals and seven assists in four games and newcomer Johnny Boychuk rang in a strong second overall with two goals, four assists and a plus-5 rating in those same four games. Kyle Okposo delivered two goals and five helpers to sit fourth overall. And 22-year-old Brock Nelson brought up the rear in seventh with four goals and three assists.

Jaroslav Halak was certainly changed outlook from the blue paint. Johnny Rocket and Nick Leddy seem to have patched the glaring holes on the back end. And Garth Snow has finally added some decent depth up front to help spread the scoring across three full lines.

Guess what’s #trendingnow.

The Islanders are no longer the Island of Misfit Toys. Fantasy-wise, I’d take them over the Oilers 10 times out of 10…even though I’ve hated the Isles for as long as I can remember. But you know me -- I don’t have to like a guy (or a team) to stick him on my squad. There’s a lot of value in situations like that.

Now let’s take a look at who caught my eye this week.

Sami Aittokallio, G, Colorado (0 percent owned): I actually like Aittokallio better than Calvin Pickard (below) as the Avs’ goalie of the future. His skills are better, and he’s a real battler between the pipes. His biggest knock is his consistency, but head-to-head, I think Aittokallio outperforms Pickard. Collect them both off the wire if you need goalie help. Patrick Roy will find a way to get the best of whichever guy ends up starting now the team’s depth chart has been decimated.

Troy Brouwer, RW, Washington (20 percent owned): I’ll bet you a beer (and a good one, at that) that Brouwer left practice Thursday and downloaded the theme song for that 70s show, “The Jeffersons”, onto his iPhone. I know I would have if I’d been in his boots -- a promotion to the Caps’ top line with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom is enough to have any man do the Sherman Hensley strut. Brouwer already has four points in four games, is laying hits and getting power-play time. And an upgrade to the top line is like going from the projects to the penthouse. Check your wire -- his value is going up.

Andre Burakovsky, LW, Washington (9 percent owned): Forget about all those things you’ve read about Burakovsky’s junior output being the product of playing alongside next year’s draft phenom, Connor McDavid, in Erie -- it’s nowhere near the truth. Burakovsky has elite offensive skills, above-average speed and outstanding vision. And four games into the season, the left winger has at least a point in each of those games (two goals, three assists). He’s only 19, so there’s always a risk he’ll be sent down after nine games. But that’s going to be a tough call with his success so far. Get him fast – his ownership will just keep climbing.

Anthony Duclair, LW, NY Rangers (5 percent owned): Is this kid the next star on Broadway? Perhaps, but it just won’t be this year. His flashy offensive skills earned him a nine-game cameo with the Rangers to start the season. But he’s barely 19, and he’ll be much better off back in the Q. He scored 50 goals there last year -- who knows how many he could score there this season. He may still have some short-term value left five games into his audition…even if his ice time is dropping. He’s an easy roll-on, roll-off guy for one of your early-season IR anchors. The risk is low. It just might be worth it.

Nick Foligno, LW, Columbus (16 percent owned): Dancing Kevin and his freaky bear have had plenty to be excited about this season in Columbus, especially the efforts of the pugnacious and productive Nick Foligno. There was plenty of jiggling -- sorry, dancing -- last season when Foligno was on the ice, particularly when he guaranteed (and delivered) that Game 4 OT winner against the Pens last spring. And Foligno has fired Kevin up early this year with a four-game, five-point scoring streak that includes production on the power play. I’m not sure I’m prepared for all the dancing if Foligno keeps this up. But I could slip on some dark glasses and live with a possible 50-point, 100 PIM, 200-hit season this year. I’m adding him in my deepest formats…and searching for more Dancing Kevin. Wait. Look away from the light. Turn away. Stop. Looking. Crap, I can’t. I’m hooked.

Paul Gaustad, C/LW, Nashville (7 percent owned): I know, I know: you think I’m cracked to stick Goose on a fantasy watch list. But check this out -- the defensive specialist who excels in the face-off circle picked up four points, including a goal, and a plus-5 rating in his first two games. Sure, his offensive contributions would be best described as “spotty.” But his 30-80-120 (points/PIM/hits) contributions mean he can bring value to leagues that roll three LW…or even a rover-type forward bonus position.

Ryan Murphy, D, Carolina (1 percent owned): Murphy is really only good for one thing, and that’s teeing it up on the power play. And so far, so good on that point this season. There hasn’t been much production yet, but he’s getting plenty of ice time with the man advantage, and he’s certainly ripping rubber at opposing goalies (12 shots in three games). Points should come. And with Andrej Sekera hurting, this is Murphy’s shot to run the top PP unit in Carolina. Still, he’s a roll of the dice; he’s not worth a roster spot if he’s not on the top PP unit. Monitor him closely if you add him to your roster.

Calvin Pickard, G, Colorado (2 percent owned): Pickard is a good prospect, just not a great one. But none of that matters now because BAM -- he’s an NHL starter. Semyon Varlamov hit the IR with a groin ouchie and new starter Reto Berra got knocked out of Thursday’s game just 2:46 into the first period. Sure, Pickard allowed four goals and took the loss the rest of the way that night, but I’m cutting the guy some slack. He barely had time to breathe, let alone think about what he was experiencing. And he’s the proverbial “man” in Mile High if Berra is hurt badly. Sure, Colorado is in regression mode this season, but they’re not that bad of a team. And Pickard will be at least league average, if not a bit better. Scoop him up before someone else does. Just handcuff Sami Aittokallio to him.

Damon Severson, D, NJ (16 percent owned): This self-styled Shea Weber wannabe actually does play a little like his hero – he has a big shot, handles the puck well and loves to lay the body. And he showed that off Thursday night with eight shots, two hits and two goals, all in 21:41. That ice time was second highest on the Devils’ blue line -- not bad for a fresh-faced babe who just left his teens in August. He has leap-frogged the more-touted Adam Larsson and is quickly becoming a staple on the Devils’ back end. I just grabbed him off the wire; you’d be smart to do the same thing. He’s rocketing up the ownership charts like crazy -- I snagged when he was only 6 percent owned and less than a day later, he’s at 16 percent.

Anton Stralman, D, Tampa Bay (4 percent owned): Don’t look now, but it’s Stralman -- and not fellow newcomer Jason Garrison (54 percent owned) -- who has taken the reins on the Bolts’ second power-play unit. Stralman is a beautiful skater, a pinpoint passer and a smart defender, but he hasn’t topped 18 points since 2009-10. This year is different -- he already has three points in his first four games and has his career mark of 34 in his sights. Snap him up -- he’s the kind of underrated pickup that will help you win your league. Mark my words.

Back to the Islanders.

Damn, they look good so far. And man, are they fun.

Tavares’ dangle in the shootout Thursday night turned Alex Stalock of the Sharks into a pretzel -- John-Boy could vie for the Art Ross and might just get a Hart nomination. Boychuk plays with a fire that will undoubtedly light one under the rest of his team -- he’s a natural to wear an “A” on his jersey. And Okposo has been a D-splitting power beast -- he could easily finish with 30 goals and 75 points.

The Isles will make the playoffs. And they’ll help carry your team into your fantasy playoffs. The Oilers?

Well, Taylor Hall will be fun to watch. After that…oh yeah, there’s always Connor McDavid, isn’t there?

Until next week.