|ESPN.com: 2011||[Print without images]|
Clarke MacArthur or Mikhail Grabovski may not qualify as top-six forwards on a lot of other NHL teams, but they rock as Toronto Maple Leafs.
|Nikolai Kulemin has already matched his career-high in goals with 16 with half the season left to go.|
MacArthur, Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin are easily the Leafs' No. 1 line. Add Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kaberle on the point, and you've got a dangerous power-play unit.
I went back to the first week of November and looked at the Forecaster numbers that went into the formula. At that time, the Leafs were tied for last place with the Florida Panthers for the worst power play in the league. They have since climbed into the top 10 with an 18.9-percent success rate that has translated into a ton of points for the aforementioned players.
To be fair, the top line is putting in points at even strength, but on the power play, they are on a whole new level. Grabovski, MacArthur and Kaberle have scored more than a third of their points during the past month on the man advantage. Kaberle has 12 points in his past nine games, 11 of those points were on the power play.
How is this working so well? Grabovski is actually a bit of an unheralded playmaker and his 37 assists as an AHL rookie in 2006-07 are often overlooked. MacArthur has underrated speed and grit in the corners. Kaberle we know as a power-play quarterback of the highest caliber. The real glue to make it all come together is the combination of Versteeg and Kulemin.
Vertseeg has taken to his role as a forward on the blue line like a duck to water. His defensive instincts keep the puck in and his passes are timed perfectly. When he fires a shot, it is low and on target. Of his 31 points this season, 13 have come on the man advantage. His poise is a key element for this unit to work.
Kulemin is the player really coming into his own. Of the group of forwards being discussed here, Kulemin is the only one that was projected to be a top-scoring player coming into the NHL. He may not be there quite yet, but his game is coming together this season. The third-year player could double his career-high of 36 points. (He's at 32 now with just under half the season to go.)
Kaberle, Grabovski and MacArthur are almost universally owned in ESPN leagues, but Versteeg and Kulemin could be available in your league. Versteeg is a bit of a riskier choice, as he has yet to find solid success at even strength and has a prohibitive plus/minus because of it (besides, he is hurt right now). Kulemin, available in 45 percent of ESPN leagues, is a no-brainer. With 16 goals and 16 assists this season, Kulemin has shown a balanced attack. But his potential is even greater as he almost scored twice as many goals to his assists while developing in Russia.
I'll raise my hand without hesitation when someone polls the room for people who said Phil Kessel would be the only valuable Maple Leaf this season (and I doubt I'd be alone), but it's this power-play unit (sans Kessel) that is worth your attention.
Ducks on Canadian tour: Not to pick too much on the Northeast Division, but if not for the division-winners' seeding rule, the five teams from the Northeast might be limited to no better than seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Anaheim Ducks get the pleasure of riding some hot offense into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec next week. Although the games don't rate incredibly well on the Forecaster, sometimes you have to use your gut for these picks. I'll take a Ducks team that scored 14 goals in their past three games heading into contests against the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. With Ryan Getzlaf sidelined for the rest of the month, Matt Beleskey is a great free-agent play for fantasy. He has four points in five games while sharing the spotlight with Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan on the top line. It is also a perfect chance to try out Cam Fowler. With Getzlaf on injured reserve, the Ducks are using a traditional three-forward power play, allowing Fowler to join Lubomir Visnovsky on the blue line with the first unit. Fowler has five points, three of them on the power play, in the past three games.
Big week for Bruins: With four games and one of the better overall ratings for the week, you can go a little deeper on the depth chart with your Boston Bruins. For instance, Patrice Bergeron is taking advantage of a new line assignment, although the window of availability to acquire him is closing quickly. With four straight multi-point games and 10 points in his past five contests, Bergeron seems to have taken to veterans Mark Recchi and Brad Marchand on his wings. If you play in a deeper pool, consider Marchand or Recchi for a final roster spot. The Bruins do have four games during the next fantasy period to help boost the numbers.
Theodore gets call?: With Niklas Backstrom nursing a hip flexor, Jose Theodore has been in net for the Minnesota Wild for most of January. He has had three good games and three not so good games (despite winning four of the six starts this month). The Wild rate a 7 for defense on the Forecaster next week, so Theodore should be given solid consideration if you need help goaltending. Games against the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks all rate as a 7 or better. If you could use a couple wins and a sub-2.40 goals-against average, consider using him. At the very least, you could take advantage of the game against the Oilers that rates a 10.
|The move to New York has already helped Wojtek Wolski's value.|
• Here we go again. This week, I am describing yet another player's fantasy potential given his role alongside Marian Gaborik. The Rangers acquired Wojtek Wolski from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Michal Rozsival, and by all indications they didn't get Wolski to let him rest on his laurels. Playing fewer than 10 minutes a game in his final days for the Coyotes, Wolski put in more than 19 minutes of ice time in his Rangers debut, most of it next to Gaborik. He then scored the lone Rangers goal in a win for his second game as a Blueshirt (Gaborik had an assist). Once again I will remind fantasy owners that Wolski put in 18 points in 18 games with the Coyotes after he was traded to the team at last season's deadline. A speculative pickup would be wise if you have some roster room.
• Tuomo Ruutu still has the world on fire. With 15 points in his past 10 games, his ownership levels are skyrocketing, although he's still available in about 50 percent of ESPN leagues. Ruutu and Jeff Skinner have been stuck together like glue and the pair is performing on the power play with Eric Staal and off the power play with Chad LaRose.
• While the Montreal Canadiens have to be pleased that Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta have woken up, Andrei Kostitsyn, Mike Cammalleri slowed down at the same time. With Cammalleri taking ill, Benoit Pouliot is reminding everyone that he learned to score goals last season. Pouliot, who scored 15 goals in only 39 games with the Habs last season, was promoted to the wing with Tomas Plekanec this week and has two points in two games since the move. It may not be time to act on Pouliot just yet, but the Canadiens need two lines scoring and Kostitsyn (no points in eight games) and Cammalleri (hasn't scored since Dec. 19) are not getting it done lately.
• A couple injury notes: Keep an eye on Logan Couture headed into next week. While the rookie has cooled off significantly and is not a must-start, his knee may keep him out a couple contests. Sidney Crosby's status with a concussion is not being updated that frequently by the team, but it doesn't look like he'll have suited up by the time roster's lock in weekly leagues for next week. You might want to sit him out, just in case.
Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here.