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Yahoo Fantasy Hockey: Breaking down the best studs and sleepers at forward

Getty ImagesYahoo Fantasy Hockey is open for the 2013-14 season. To help give you a better chance to win your league, our pals at Dobber Hockey are returning for another season. They'll be breaking down the top forwards, defense and goalies, and also giving you some sleepers to keep an eye on. First up, forwards.

By Jeff Angus

Coming out of a lockout-shortened season, fantasy hockey poolies are even more prone to fall victim to any number of biases as they prepare for their drafts. Over 82 games, the best players in the league tend to separate themselves from similarly talented – but more inconsistent – contemporaries. However, in only 48 games there isn’t always enough time for that to happen.

Some players are notorious slow starters and not having a full training camp undoubtedly had a significant impact across the league. And of course injuries always play a factor, but outside of Martin Havlat a few slam dunks, how easy are they to predict?

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The below lists aren’t comprehensive, but they will arm you with some important information as you prepare your Yahoo fantasy draft lists. For a comprehensive breakdown of all 30 clubs (including sleepers, rookies to watch for, advanced statistical analysis, and much more), you can also pick up DobberHockey’s 2013-14 Fantasy Guide.

The Studs

These forwards will go in the first few rounds in your fantasy pool (and if they don’t, it may be time to find some better competition).

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks – With a strong 2013 season, Getzlaf proved that his awful 2011-12 was just a bump in the road. And if you play in a fantasy league that rewards PIM, there are few better fantasy options up front than Perry. Few teams rely on their top line more than the Ducks do with Getzlaf and Perry, and they have a much-improved supporting cast around them (including a very underrated checking line with Andrew Cogliano and Daniel Winnik).

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks – Kane and Toews. Toews and Kane. Whatever order you want to put them in, know that Chicago’s two elite talents will go very early on draft day. That being said, Toews may be a solid value pick even if you use one of your first selections on him. He has scored 52 goals over the past two regular seasons (in only 106 games). Of those 52 goals, only seven have come on the power play. Ten of his 32 goals in 2010-11 were scored with the man advantage. Could this be the year Toews scores 40?

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars – A move back to the left wing will bring with it more goals and assists for Benn. He made a very smooth transition to center (never an easy position to learn, especially for a young forward), but his size and puck possession game are best suited for the wing. Expect the Canadian evaluation camp snub to provide extra motivation. Benn is ready to become a household name in hockey.

Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers – It is a matter of “when” and not “if” Hall scores 50 goals. He is learning how to balance his dynamic (see: reckless) skating style with his impressive skill set, and that spells trouble for the rest of the NHL. He has separated himself from Edmonton’s other young guns as the face of the franchise.

Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild – With huge contracts come huge houses wallets expectations. And Parise delivered in year one for the Wild, leading a very mediocre offensive club in both goals and points. With improved teammates on his line (Jason Pominville) and behind him in the depth chart (particularly a more prepared Mikael Granlund), expect a return to the 35+ goal mark in 2013-14.

John Tavares, New York Islanders – His year-to-year improvements have been nothing short of spectacular. Tavares entered the NHL as a one-trick pony and he now ranks among the top four or five most complete forwards in hockey. Oh, and he is signed to one heck of a contract, too.

Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators – How many poolies were banking on 50 goals from Dany Heatley after the trade to San Jose? How about the duo of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik lighting up Broadway together? Dynamic duos on paper frequently fizzle on the ice. But Spezza and Ryan could buck that trend. Ryan hasn’t been the focal offensive player on a team since his days in the OHL with Owen Sound, and Spezza has quietly developed into a solid two-way player and leader (in addition to an incredible offensive talent).

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? I guess we will find out if Ryan and Spezza fail to click for the Sens.

Getty ImagesSteven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning – The best goal scorer in hockey (although Alex Ovechkin is coming back for his seat on that throne) and the ageless St. Louis will continue to make magic in Tampa for the foreseeable future.

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals – It took a few months for Adam Oates to get through to Ovechkin, but his positional hunch (moving Ovechkin to the right wing) paid off. And with the Capitals now without a second line center once again, the two big guns will be relied upon for the bulk of the offense. (Ed. Note: This was written prior to the Grabovski signing.)

Don’t discount the added motivation of the Sochi Olympics for the NHL’s top Russian talent.

The Emerging Studs

Give it a year or two, and these guys will simply be considered “studs.” Some of them have already had their breakout season, but they all should be counted on to take another big step or two forward in 2013-14.

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche – Duchene shook off a disappointing 2011-12 campaign with 17 goals (only two of them scored on the power play) in 47 games. He’s the closest thing the NHL has to Pavel Bure right now – few players can accelerate with the puck up the ice, and he’s a threat to score whenever he has the puck in the offensive zone. As a nice bonus, the Avalanche are moving their defensive ace, Ryan O’Reilly, to Duchene’s wing this season. Expect him (and the underrated P.A. Parenteau) to build off of the instant chemistry they established last season.

Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars – The Seguin-for-Loui Eriksson trade may end up being a win-win for both Dallas and Boston. Similar to the Jarome Iginla-for-Joe Nieuwendyk trade from 1996, one team received the most value in the form of a young asset (Seguin), while the other received a proven commodity (Eriksson). Eriksson brings with him consistency, reliability, and a heck of a contract. Seguin has superstar upside, and will benefit from a change of scenery after a bit of a witch hunt in Boston. The Stars are going to do everything they can to give him a chance to succeed.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers – It doesn’t matter who he lines up with (be it Alexander Barkov, Drew Shore, or Nick Bjugstad), Huberdeau will avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Why? He’s simply too good. Although he looks like Quentin Tarantino with a blowout, he’s going to be one of the best offensive players in the NHL for the next decade.

Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens – Born Feb. 12, 1994. Let that one sink in. He has the potential to be the first superstar in Montreal since Guy Lafleur (no, Vincent Damphousse doesn’t count).

Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers – The best Flyer skater in 2013 (yes, including Claude Giroux) finally showed why poolies have been drafting him based solely on upside and potential for the past five or six years. Voracek is from the same city in the Czech Republic as Jaromir Jagr, but his game more closely resembles Marian Hossa’s: power, two-way play, and an overall offensive package that causes nightmares for opposing coaches.

Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning – Let’s say that an extremely gifted left wing prospect is given his choice of where to begin his NHL career. If he doesn’t choose Tampa Bay, he’s crazy. Drouin will be given every opportunity to line up with Stamkos and St. Louis and Lightning coach Jon Cooper did a phenomenal job teaching and developing Tampa’s young talent over the past few years in the AHL.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs – Thankfully for the Flyers Luke Schenn actually began to resemble an NHL defenseman again in 2013 (and a pretty good one, at that), as van Riemsdyk is well on his way to becoming one of the more dominant goal scorers in hockey.

Evander Kane, Winnipeg Jets – Kane’s 2013 season was a bit of a catch 22 situation – he has to learn how to use his linemates better, but how can he do that when he is stuck playing with Olli Jokinen most of the time? Expect Kane to line up with prized prospect Marc Scheifele in 2013-14, who the Jets smartly returned to the OHL for 2012-13.

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets – Wheeler has recorded 105 points over the past two NHL seasons (good enough for 30th among all skaters). He has developed into a bona fide top line star for the Jets, and he is now paid like one ($5.6 million for the next six years). Many in the hockey world believe he is just scratching the surface of his upside.

The Sleepers

Sven Baertschi, Calgary Flames – Someone has to score in Calgary, right? Baertschi is a lightning-quick winger who plays a surprisingly gritty game for a player known more for his skill and offensive ability. If healthy, he will contend for the rookie scoring lead.

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets – Atkinson has spent the past few summers training with Martin St. Louis. And as an undersized winger he couldn’t have found a better training partner or mentor. Atkinson has been an effective player in the NHL, and an elite one at lower levels. The Jackets are going to surprise a lot of people this season, and expect Atkinson to be among their most important players.

Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings – Nyquist may be the future of the Red Wings following in the footsteps of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, two players who he resembles in both playing style and demeanor. Detroit continues to unearth late round gems and develop them with patience and care at the AHL level. Nyquist will slip on draft day because his NHL production to date doesn’t match his upside or ability.

Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings – For all of their strengths (physicality, defensive ability, goaltending), the Kings have struggled to score goals over the past two seasons. Enter Toffoli, who lit the lamp 109 times over his final two OHL campaigns with the Ottawa 67’s. He’s a natural right winger but has been learning to play the left side, as the Kings have a huge (literally, not figuratively) hole to fill in the top six with the departure of Dustin Penner. Toffoli has a great shot at sticking for the entire season alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

Colin Wilson, Nashville Predators – When was the last time that Nashville had a forward worth taking in a fantasy draft? Paul Kariya? The production totals for Nashville’s forwards tend to clump together, partly due to playing style, partly due to the fact they dress mostly checking-type players, and partly due to the fact that Barry Trotz balances his ice time across three or four lines. Of all current Predator forwards, Wilson has the best opportunity to break through the offensive glass ceiling.

Ryane Clowe, New Jersey Devils – Clowe scored three goals on 87 shots last season (a 3.4% shooting rate). For his career, he has been an 11.2% shooter. Expect a positive regression in 2013-14.

Pierre-Marc Bouchard – New York Islanders – Bouchard has an opportunity to step into one of the best gigs in hockey (the third wheel to the John Tavares-Matt Moulson duo). P.A. Parenteau and Brad Boyes have both had tremendous success in that spot, and Bouchard is a crafty playmaker who would find a lot of his passes to Tavares and Moulson in the back of the net. However, he’s one of the most injury-prone players in hockey. Tread carefully.

Getty ImagesBrad Richards, New York Rangers – 2013 was an unmitigated disaster of a season for the 2004 Conn Smythe winner. Richards wasn’t bought out this summer, but he is still entering the season with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder. Richards wants to prove that he still has a lot of hockey left in his legs and he should benefit from playing under Vigneault, a coach who does what he can to get the most out of his offensive players.

Beau Bennett, Pittsburgh Penguins – Bennett’s only competition for the second line vacancy in Pittsburgh is Jussi Jokinen. While Jokinen is a more proven commodity, his experience may work against him. Pittsburgh would prefer to have Jokinen on a checking/two-way line over Bennett, who is still learning how to play without the puck. And if he sticks with Evgeni Malkin, that play without the puck will lead to a lot of points.

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks – Assuming Burns maintains defensive eligibility in Yahoo Fantasy Hockey, he will be among the most valuable fantasy “defensemen” in 2013-14. I use quotation marks because Burns is being converted to wing by the Sharks on a full-time basis. Burns should be considered a lock for 20 goals as a forward.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues – Figuring out St. Louis’ line combinations is about as easy as scoring a goal against A Ken Hitchcock-coached team, but the sophomore winger from Colorado College has one thing going for him – position. The Blues don’t have many natural left wingers on the roster, and Schwartz could land a spot on the go-to scoring line (likely alongside Derek Roy and Chris Stewart… but your guess is as good as mine).

Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lighting – If Drouin struggles to adapt to the NHL, Killorn is the next logical candidate to play on the top line in Tampa Bay. He is very familiar with Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper from their time together in the AHL, and is already a polished two-way forward. His offensive potential goes from 40-50 points to 60-plus if he lines up with Stamkos and St. Louis.

Zack Kassian, Vancouver CanucksCue the obligatory “best shape of his life” comment. A fit and trim Kassian has a huge opportunity this season under John Tortorella. The combative bench boss apparently wants to reunite Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows on line two, leaving a vacancy alongside the best hockey playing twins on the planet.

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The Deep Sleepers

If you are in a league that closely resembles the NHL (30 teams, large rosters), here are some more names to keep in mind on draft day.

Brandon Pirri, Chicago Blackhawks – Chicago needs a second line center. Pirri has proven about all he can at the AHL level. Brandon Saad may get a look at playing center, but the transition from wing is rarely an easy one.

Steve Downie, Colorado Avalanche – The gritty winger missed all of 2013 with a knee injury. Now fully healthy, he is being pencilled in alongside Nathan MacKinnon, and the duo has the potential to be a very productive one. Downie is well-known for his physical play and related antics, but he is a heck of a playmaker, too.

Mark Letestu, Columbus Blue Jackets – The Pittsburgh castoff was among Columbus’ best players in 2013. He could line up anywhere from wing or center on line one to line three. His versatility will allow him every opportunity to continue his productive ways for the Jackets. And if he sticks alongside Artem Anisimov and Marian Gaborik on line one, Letestu could be among the league’s biggest offensive surprises in 2013-14.

Alex Chiasson, Dallas Stars – While the lanky winger will be in tough to repeat his per-game scoring pace of 2013 (six goals in seven games), he will very likely find himself alongside Ray Whitney on Dallas’ second line. Whitney didn’t earn the nickname of “Wizard” for nothing (go to the 2:15 mark of this video for some evidence).

Drew Shore, Florida Panthers – Shore was one of Florida’s best forwards in 2013, but his production didn’t reflect that (thanks to a bad luck scoring rate of 3%, mostly). He will one day be Florida’s two-way ace behind the likes of Huberdeau, Bjugstad, and Barkov, and that day may be on the immediate horizon.

Cal Clutterbuck, New York Islanders – He is known more for what he does with his body than with his hands, but Clutterbuck is a former junior linemate of Tavares. At the very least, he will be the other guy to Matt Martin’s Fulton Reed. And in a best-case scenario, he pops in 25 or 30 goals alongside Tavares and Moulson on line one.

Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks – Hertl is one of the most NHL-ready prospects in hockey, having spent the past few years developing in the top men’s league back home in the Czech Republic. Hertl has a great shot at playing regular top-six minutes for the Sharks.

Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals – The speedy center-turned-winger was an important part in Ovechkin’s 2013 comeback tour. Expect him to set career numbers in all categories with a full season alongside Washington’s dynamic duo. Johansson missed the first few weeks of the 2013 season with a concussion and had only one point in his first nine games back, but finished the season on a 69-point pace.

Getty ImagesDon’t Overrate

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins – Will Marchand build off of his 18-goal campaign (45 games played) in 2013? Unless the NHL decides to increase net size just for the Bruins, don’t count on it. Marchand scored on 19.8% of the shots he fired on goal last season. And although he has been a shooting percentage outlier for much of his career (15.3% for 218 games), the Little Ball of Hate 2.0 simply can’t sustain his 2013 success.

Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres – Vanek had 23 points in the first 11 games of 2013, but only 18 in the final 27. Jason Pominville is now in Minnesota, and Buffalo’s center situation is a mess. Assuming Cody Hodgson inks a new contract before camp, Vanek will at least have one competent linemate, as things are quite bleak after Hodgson – Ennis and Ott are both better as wingers and Mikhail Grigorenko was over his head as a rookie in the NHL last season.

Perhaps the Sabres can call up Taro Tsujimoto?

Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Hurricanes – Tlusty was one of the biggest offensive surprises in the entire league last season. However, his success won’t carry over into 2013-14, as the former Maple Leaf scored on nearly 20% of the shots he fired on goal last season (well above his career number of 13.8%). He will be a productive forward so long as he remains alongside Eric Staal and Alex Semin, but expect his per-game production rate to regress.

Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kuntiz, Pittsburgh Penguins – Even if Sidney Crosby is able to stay healthy for 70+ games this season, Dupuis and Kunitz will be lucky to once again approach their 2013 levels of production. To his credit, Dupuis was effective even when Crosby as on the shelf, and Kunitz finished 2013 with an 82-game-schedule pace of 38 goals and 92 points. How often do teammates set career numbers at the age of 33?

Dave Bolland, Toronto Maple Leafs – If the Leafs acquired Bolland to anchor their checking unit, they made a solid move. However, if they expect him to contribute in a top-six role… they should prepare for disappointment. Bolland was an anchor alongside Patrick Kane last season, and that should be cause for concern. If you can’t produce alongside Patrick Kane, how are things going to be better with Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson?

Bolland’s most frequent linemates from 2013, courtesy of Dobber Hockey’s Frozen Pool Fantasy Tools:

Frequency Strength Line Combination
36.08% EV 36 BOLLAND,DAVE - 88 KANE,PATRICK - 10 SHARP,PATRICK
16.57% EV 36 BOLLAND,DAVE - 39 HAYES,JIMMY - 88 KANE,PATRICK
8.06% EV 36 BOLLAND,DAVE - 88 KANE,PATRICK - 16 KRUGER,MARCUS

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Jeff Angus is the website manager for DobberHockey, and he published his second annual Top 50 NHL Trade Value rankings this past summer. Give him a follow on Twitter @AngusCertified). And for Fantasy Hockey Keeper League player rankings to supplement the Yahoo one-year rankings, check them out here.

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