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Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Are You For Real?: Toews, Cogliano, Johnson

By Victoria Matiash and John Pereira
Special to ESPN.com

As far as fantasy hockey writers are concerned, spring is certainly the season of discontent. The mercury is climbing, the NHL schedule is winding down, head-to-head leaguers are deep into the playoffs, and rotisserie players have all but assured either victory or defeat. What's left to discuss? With only a handful of games remaining, how helpful is it to tell you that Jason Pominville's recent play is indeed for real, or that Johan Franzen will likely cool down? If you're still active this late in the season, you probably already know these things.

So, in this final edition of "Are You For Real?", we'll focus on some rookies instead. Several have experienced moderate success this season and could be focal points in next year's draft. Whether you play in a keeper or re-draft league, consider this a complimentary "heads up."

Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago

Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews formed a great 1-2 rookie punch in Chicago with Patrick Kane.
Breaking into the NHL scene at only 20 years old, Toews is proving to be a valuable weapon for the Blackhawks and fantasy owners alike. With 49 points through 58 games, he's been one of the best rookie options this year. The third overall pick in the 2006 draft is owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, so we know he's here -- but is he here to stay?

Pereira: Of all the players we're addressing today, I'm the most sold on Toews' career prospects. He's coming off two successful years with the University of North Dakota, where he compiled 40 goals and 85 points in just 76 games. Toews is absolutely the real deal; the only non-NHL player to skate for Team Canada at the 2007 World Championships, he picked up seven points in just nine games against some of the best pros in the world. If he had stayed healthy all season, he could have finished with 70 points. With another year of experience for him and fellow rookie teammate Patrick Kane, it's reasonable to assume Toews could reach 90 points the next time around.

Matiash: I'm with you a hundred percent on this one, Johnny -- Toews is going to be an excellent hockey player for a long time. Skill, attitude and pedigree notwithstanding, what impressed me most about his performance this year was the way he bounced back from injury. Even some veterans have difficulty renewing their confidence after missing a chunk of time, but not so with Toews. After sitting out a month's worth of games in January/February, he returned to the ice with a vengeance and registered five points in his first three games back. I love that he didn't skip a beat: it's a sure sign of maturity and a healthy mindset. As we've seen in the past, a young man's head is just as important as his skill set.

Andrew Cogliano, C, Edmonton

Andrew Cogliano
Andrew Cogliano is part of a solid Oilers youth movement.
Somehow, Cogliano slipped down the draft board in 2005 and ended up with the Oilers. Nice luck for a franchise with youngsters like Robert Nilsson, Ladislav Smid, Sam Gagner, Rob Schremp and Marc Pouliot already in the system. After a slow start, Cogliano has been one of the better players in the NHL over the past month. Is this indicative of his talent or should we call it just another hot streak by a young player?

Pereira: He's for real, all right. Without a doubt, I think Cogliano will be a hit in the NHL. He's been white hot over the past month, scoring nine goals and adding six assists while fueling Edmonton's offense. Like Toews, he will benefit next year -- and well into the future -- from playing with another elite young player, Sam Gagner. If they're together on the same line, these two will continue to produce at a high level. Cogliano is certain to inspire higher ownership than this year's 11 percent in ESPN leagues You can confidently take him late in drafts next season and watch the goals pile up.

Matiash: I'm not so enthused. The Oilers are going to be better next year, and although Cogliano will play a key part in the team's offense, his production won't approach his recent numbers. With everyone healthy, there's simply no room for the soon-to-be 21-year-old on the top line or first power-play unit. Keep in mind, Cogliano's role increased substantially this season once Shawn Horcoff was injured in late January. Before that point, he had only 24 points in 53 games. Expect a slightly higher pace than that next year on the basis of increased maturity and experience. I'm not writing the guy off altogether, but outside of being a late-round pick in deeper leagues, he doesn't carry that much value. As far as the youngsters go, Gagner would be my first choice.

Erik Johnson, D, St. Louis

Erik Johnson
Erik Johnson had a decent season obscured by high expectations.
Even though Johnson had a decent season, some are calling it a disappointment after all the love he garnered at the get-go. He ranks a solid 11th among all NHL rookies in scoring, and his 28 points are good enough to rank 39th among all defensemen. Of course, he'll be rostered in nearly every fantasy league next year, but how much more can we expect out of him?

Matiash: Oh, we can expect more indeed; Johnson truly is for real. He's going to be an absolute beast on the blue line next year, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. With ever-increasing ice-time, a killer shot and burgeoning confidence, this kid is going to be a star. Johnson, who only turned 20 a few days ago, has been trusted to quarterback the Blues' power play. With 15 points on the man-advantage, his performance has been solid. Remember, in contrast to youthful forwards, it takes longer for young defensemen to get used to play in the NHL. Johnson will be fantastic down the line; we just need to have a little patience.

Pereira: Honestly, after pegging him to win the Calder Trophy as the best rookie this year, I've had to temper my expectations, but over the past month, he's shown exactly why we all loved him so much originally. With 10 points since Valentine's Day, he's become competent enough to run the point on the Blues' power play. With his big size and aforementioned powerful shot, he can also pick apart penalty killers with crisp passes. I see him as the next Chris Pronger. And you're right, defensemen usually take a little longer to reach their full potential and excel in the big leagues. So he'll be good in '08-'09, but the competition better watch out the year after that.

Matiash:< We're completely on the same page here. Oh, and hey Johnny, as an aside, do you remember who I picked to win the Calder?

Pereira: Yes, yes, your insight into Nicklas Backstrom's talent was very impressive. Happy?

Matiash: I am. And hey, it was nice working with you this year -- for real.

Pereira: Ditto.

Victoria Matiash and John Pereira are fantasy hockey analysts for ESPN.com.