|ESPN.com: 2011||[Print without images]|
Like spotting an ivory-billed woodpecker, the elusive five-game week is a rare sight in fantasy hockey. Sure, four games in seven days happens all the time, but to have that fifth game is truly a limited occurrence. The St. Louis Blues will have a much clearer picture of where their season is going after next week. This stretch of games will either solidify the team as a possible contender for the postseason, or cement them as an also-ran./p>
Many of the key offensive cogs for the Blues remain available in ESPN leagues and, while they can certainly be a great addition to your team for a five-game week, some could earn a permanent role with your fantasy team. There is plenty of untapped talent on this Blues squad that deserves a look, both for now and down the road.
Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues: Possibly one of the most underrated centers in the league, McDonald is back collecting points like his old self despite being owned in just under 40 percent of ESPN leagues. I know this Strathroy, Ontario native had a couple of down seasons since coming to the Blues after a few huge campaigns with the Anaheim Ducks. But one has to appreciate that the talent level surrounding him on this Blues team has increased exponentially in three years. Whereas the team used to have limited potential surrounding McDonald, there is now no shortage of dynamic young scorers to finish the plays McDonald starts. Since returning from a concussion, McDonald has six points in six games and looks like the player that managed to sustain a point-per-game pace in his days with the Ducks.
Brad Boyes, St. Louis Blues: Playing right alongside McDonald on the top line and top power-play unit, Boyes no longer elicits memories of a 40-goal scorer; after netting just 14 goals in a full season last season, it has become clear Boyes is not the scoring machine he once was. But on pace for his highest assist total since his rookie season, Boyes doesn't need all those goals to offer fantasy owners some mild value. No, he isn't going to be an everyday fantasy option in shallow leagues, but Boyes has been skating top minutes and therefore finding himself a part of scoring plays, with 11 assists in his past 10 games. Like McDonald, Boyes is available in more than 60 percent of leagues and projects to net you a goal and four assists during the team's five-game week.
T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues: Like McDonald, Oshie has recently returned to the lineup after missing a chunk of time. The budding star broke his ankle back in November. That was a significant amount of time for Oshie to miss and a broken ankle is one of the worst injuries for maintaining conditioning while away from the ice, so we can understand his slow progress in returning. However, Oshie's pace has picked up of late. He has four points in six games in February and has two five-shot games this month already. In fact, if you write off his five games in January as conditioning games to get his legs back, and look only at his production before his broken ankle and in February, Oshie has 14 points in 19 games. That seems much more the borderline elite numbers we expected from him this season and is an indication of what to expect during the final months of the season. While he hasn't been as hot as McDonald and Boyes, Oshie may have just as much value down the whole stretch run.
Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues: If we are talking about sustained hot streaks though, the discussion begins and ends with Berglund. Since Jan. 13, Berglund has 13 points in 13 games. Four of his seven goals during that span have come on the power play. Yet here is a guy owned in fewer than four percent of ESPN leagues. Berglund is playing on the second line with Oshie and Alexander Steen and on the first power-play unit with David Backes and McDonald. His minutes may be limited compared to the other big guns on offense, but Berglund has been making the most of the time he gets. His streakiness could end at any moment, but riding the wave through a five-game week is certainly worth a gamble.
Ty Conklin, St. Louis Blues: Turning up the pressure cooker even more heading into a defining week is the loss of starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak to an injured hand. With such a condensed schedule, it is likely that backup Conklin and AHL call-up Ben Bishop split duties, so I am not overly excited about the prospects for either next week. But even for a team in last place in its division, there are a couple games that look very winnable next week (Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers). If you were desperate for those goaltending numbers, I'd play the long odds and use Conklin. But even Bishop might have value in deeper leagues as the games against the Avs and Oilers are both the second night of back-to-back evenings.
Using any member of the Blues organization during a five-game week is certainly advisable, but I do believe many of the players mentioned can serve well beyond the confines of next week. This Blues team has plenty of talent up front, a passable defensive core and above-average goaltending. On paper, they should be much more competitive and if that talent is going to start shining through, it's now or never.
Big week for Panthers: Tied for the best overall Forecaster rating next week, you know the matchups must be favorable when the Panthers offense rates well. Among healthy players, only Stephen Weiss, Dennis Wideman and David Booth are owned in more than one percent of leagues, (Bryan McCabe could be back as early as Friday) so you certainly have your choice of players to use. Jack Skille and Cory Stillman are playing on the first line with Weiss and on the first power play with Weiss and Christopher Higgins. Skille and Stillman, in those roles, possess the most potential to do something with a good Forecaster rating. To be frank though, no one on this team is showing anything lately. I wouldn't blame you for avoiding the Panthers despite what the numbers say. Still, if you need a body or two off the wire, this whole team is available.
Follow up with Baby Pens: Beating the Avalanche doesn't mean as much these days, but the replacements Pittsburgh Penguins forwards put in a solid outing in a win since they were the focus of Front Line this week. Brett Sterling and Nick Johnson both had a point and were plus-2 in the win. The Pens are actually tied with the Panthers for the best overall Forecaster outlook next week and, like the Panthers, offer plenty of free-agent options. Sterling and Johnson on the top line with Jordan Staal are the best bet, but Tyler Kennedy is chipping in too. With no progress for Sidney Crosby and his concussion, these upstarts will continue to lead the team through next week.
• Sometimes telling just part of the story can be useful for making a point: Phil Kessel has not scored a goal that wasn't assisted by Joffrey Lupul in 16 games (Jan. 11). After moving Kessel to a line with Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski to spark his play, coach Ron Wilson moved Kessel back to a line with Lupul and Tyler Bozak. The three have combined for Kessel's first three goals since Jan. 11. While Bozak may not be feeling the love (minus-7 in past eight games with zero points), Kessel and Lupul look as good as they ever have.
• Olli Jokinen, David Moss and Curtis Glencross have been clicking perfectly. Continue to roll any one of the three until further notice, but it's Jokinen (available in 15 percent of leagues) and Glencross (available in 78 percent) that have been doing the most damage. This is just one of those combinations that makes the value of the whole greater than the sum if its parts. If you want to argue the point, discuss it with Glencross' 11 points in eight games.
• Michael Grabner is now owned in a majority of leagues. Now it is time to concentrate on his linemates. Frans Nielsen has eight points and a plus-8 during the past seven games. Kyle Okposo has five points and a plus-6. Both are eligible for your squad with Grabner on fire.
• Mike Fisher is doing what he does best with the Nashville Predators: Making those around him better. While he was never a fantasy darling in his career, Fisher does a good job of lifting up his linemates. Since Fisher joined the team and his line, Martin Erat has five points in three games. For his part, Fisher has a goal and an assist but it is the boost in production for Erat with a reliable center that makes for good fantasy news. Sergei Kostitsyn completes the line and should also see a boost in value in the short term.
• Playing with Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler, Daniel Cleary has picked up where he left off before an ankle injury slowed him down in late December. Since going scoreless in his first three games back, Cleary shook off the rust and has seven points in five games. That's the kind of production he was providing before he was hurt too. It's time to pick him back up. Hudler, by the way, also has seven points in that span.
• Kris Versteeg loses some value going from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Philadelphia Flyers. While, certainly, the Flyers offer more opportunity for productive linemates, they also have a logjam on offense. Vertseeg didn't get a significant whiff of the power play in his Flyers debut. Though he did play on a line with Mike Richards, we would have to see where he plays when Ville Leino is healthy to get a true gauge on his potential. Of course, it's worth watching where he lands on the depth chart, but I'm not getting too excited just yet.
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.