Throughout training camp, all eyes in Minnesota were on four youngsters battling for two roster spots. James Sheppard, Benoit Pouliot, Matt Foy and Petr Kalus arrived in camp with one goal in mind: get on that roster.
The two winners would receive several looks throughout the season on the first line with Pavol Demitra and Marion Gaborik – so you can understand why fantasy poolies were giving more than just a passing glance at the situation.
Gaborik is an elite producer. His only shortcoming is his frequent trips to the infirmary. That said, he spent the summer training extra hard – strengthening his groin muscle in particular – to see to it he no longer begins the season on injured reserve (as had been the case the past two campaigns).
Due to his history it’s hard to bank on him playing 80 games this year, but if he does manage even 70 he is in for a career year. By extension, Demitra will bounce back, as well. By further extension, whoever plays on that line will see a real boost.
The Wild’s pre-season was quite the roller coaster ride, with each of the four youngsters – at one time or another in camp – stepping to the forefront and becoming the favorite. In the end, though, Foy and Sheppard are the guys.
With Foy, he would have to pass through waivers to be sent down and another team would most assuredly scoop him up. The 24-year-old has decent hands and the career potential to tally as high as 65 points. He has NHL experience (28 games), so it is not unreasonable to believe he will get into most contests this season and produce in the 30- to 40-point range. His production will have some blips upward with every term he serves on that top line.
With Sheppard, he was more or less kept because the Wild felt his development would be better served in a pro league, as opposed to going back to junior. Since the AHL is not an option (as part of the NHL agreement with the CHL), he must remain with the big club.
Pouliot, on the other hand, had the AHL as an option. He played great and coach Jacques Lemaire sees a great player in him, but since he can play in the American League, he will.
If you recall Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brent Burns joining the Wild as teenagers, the exact same reasoning was used. They played 50 and 36 games, respectively, in their first year, which leads me to believe Sheppard will possibly see his share of healthy scratches.
The skilled power forward has the potential to one day to hit heights of 80 or even 85 points, but you may have to wait (much like you did with Bouchard and Burns). One advantage Sheppard does have is the fact he is a center – a position the Wild desperately needs to fill. He’ll get his share of shifts on the big line and as such I think you will see 70 or 75 games this season with 40 to 45 points and 80 penalty minutes. The points will come faster and faster as the season progresses.
In keeper leagues, Sheppard makes a fantastic pickup. In one-year rotisserie leagues, he may be worth sticking on your bench and activating whenever you see him back on the Demitra-Gaborik line.
With Foy, it would be wise to wait and see what kind of NHL player he develops into…
Injuries, from a fantasy pool perspective: With the Senators recalling goaltender Brian Elliott from Binghamton, starter Ray Emery is still not fully recovered from wrist surgery. This means Martin Gerber will get the first start for the Sens and the way things are looking, he will likely play several games. This will be a chance for Gerber to re-establish himself and he is worth taking a chance on in your league…
Farm Report: Keep an eye on diminutive winger Chris Conner over in Dallas. The 23-year-old has been providing something the team desperately needs – offense. Right now it looks like a long shot, but keep him on your radar as a player who could surprise with a 55-point season. His upside is the mid-60s down the road. (Dobber's note - I originally submitted this to The Hockey News on Monday. Conner has since been the last cut)