Fantasy hockey can be an unpredictable and relatively scary environment to some. Filled with uncertainties and risk, many poolies fall victim to poor fantasy hockey seasons due to insufficient prospect knowledge, poor drafting, and questionable trades. Where most people hurt their season is before the draft, when a lack of preparation comes into play. People will rely on past statistics, name recognition, and their favourite players to fill their team, regardless of their role in the next season. Due to this, some poolies look at their team in March, baffled at what went wrong.
The Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit on the bubble of the Eastern Conference, with just over 30 wins and 70 points. Leaf players are always an important commodity at any draft, with some potential fantasy studs and high-potential prospects that have the ability to greatly improve a fantasy hockey team (as well as maintain high trade value in pools with Leaf fans).
The Three Fantasy “Studs”:
When you think of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is always one forward that stands out above the rest. That man is Phil Kessel. With two consecutive 30 goal seasons and closing in on a third, he is a huge commodity to own in any keeper or one-year league, especially if that league is goal-heavy. Phil is a consistent threat to score 30 goals every year, and record well over 300 shots on goal. In fact, Kessel is currently third in the league in shots, behind only Alexander Ovechkin and Dustin Byfuglien. Kessel should be considered a 60 point threat every year (at the minimum). But not all is great for “Phil The Thrill”. He currently has a rating of minus-21, among the worst in the league. He also is a horrendous two-way player, which will affect stats such as hits, blocked shots, and short-handed points. He is also a streaky scorer, and will frustrate owners that are in head-to-head leagues. Even with his frustrating ways, Kessel should be considered a top 50 forward in fantasy, and should be drafted anywhere between the 40th-60th slot in a draft. However, a top-tier center would drastically improve Kessel’s fantasy value, and could be drafted even higher if that happens.
While Kessel is a one-way goal machine, there is another player on the Leafs that is both a scorer and a two-way player. Nikolai Kulemin has quickly (and quietly) emerged as a great player. Noted for his defensive play and forechecking ability, Kulemin has turned into a player with fantasy value. Currently, Kulemin has over 25 goals and 50 points, both of which are career highs in the Russian’s third season. He also has a solid plus/minus rating, will play minutes on both the power play and penalty kill, and will take penalties. Another attractive fantasy quality that Kulemin has is the lack of name-recognition. Despite having better statistics than Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner, Kulemin is often a waiver-wire player in shallow leagues, not understanding the true value that he really has. If he is still available in the slots of 80th-100th overall, it would be worth the shot to take the consistent winger.
The next fantasy “stud” will come as a shock to some. Despite a solid rookie season, this defenseman has fallen off in his past two years, posting poor numbers. But don’t be shocked when you hear that Dion Phaneuf is climbing back to a player with fantasy value. Since the all-star break, Phaneuf has 18 points, is averaging well over 20 minutes every night, and is playing the majority of every power play. He is hitting the net with his shots, which can be seen with his sudden rise in goals scored, with six since February (in contrast to one goal prior). He is still a lock to gain a solid amount of penalty minutes, and has taken his role of captain of the Leafs with pride, blocking shots and making thunderous hits. To say he is among the elite of fantasy defensemen is a stretch, but a 45-50 point season is a definite possibility for 2011-12. He is still in the top 50 for defenseman points despite a brutal start and missing 16 games with a leg injury, and should be drafted in the 30th to 40th slot among defensemen.
The Leaf’s Boom Or Bust Player:
Rarely do you see a player come into the season with such low expectations, and exceed them to the shock of everyone. Entering the season, Clarke Macarthur had never amassed more than 31 points in one season, and became an unrestricted-free-agent after the Atlanta Thrashers refused to pay him $2.4 million a season. In search for some offense, Burke picked up the role-playing forward for a contract with a cap-hit of $1.1 million. However, the Leafs lacked forward depth in the pre-season, and Macarthur made the jump from third-line checker to top-six forward. Macarthur took this responsibility with great pride, and came storming out the gate, with five goals in his first four games. Currently, he is among the Leafs top point scorers with 53 points in 72 games, including 20 goals. To many, these statistics would make Macarthur a top 50 forward to draft, but don’t be fooled. Assuming Clarke Macarthur resigns with the Leafs (which is not a certainty, but a probability) he will have to live up to the talent level that he proved he can play at, which would mean at least a 60 point campaign in 2011-12. However, there is the possibility that this was a lucky season for Macarthur. With a small sample size as a proven scorer, to take such a gamble on Macarthur could be foolish, yet also brilliant. Considering that he has looked better as the season progresses, there is no reason that Macarthur won’t get 60 points next year, along with 20 goals. But with lack of consistent stats, be wary of Clarke, and don’t make him a top 50 pick just due to last year’s stats. However, if he has not been drafted at around the 90th-110th overall picks, the upside would much surpass the potential disappointment.
Prospects of Fantasy Value:
In the Maple Leaf’s farm system, there are only three skaters that can be deemed “prospects” that could bring value in a fantasy league. The first player is Nazem Kadri. Kadri, the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, has had an inconsistent year as a pro. In his first season outside of the OHL, Kadri has moved from the Marlies to the Leafs on two separate occasions. While recording over 40 points in just 44 games with the Marlies, Kadri has been less than stellar in the NHL, only recording eight assists in twenty-one games. However, Kadri has shown growth and maturity in each of his games in the NHL. Consider Kadri a lock to make the team next year, but do not expect a Calder-trophy season out of the Canadian dangler. Expect a season with about 40-50 points, with 15-20 goals.
There is one other Leaf forward that could make the jump from the AHL to the NHL next year, and that player is Joe Colborne. Colborne, the 6’5” Canadian center, was traded to the Maple Leafs along with a first round pick in exchange for Tomas Kaberle. In Colborne, the Leafs get a large, playmaking forward with tremendous upside. He has great hands, and a nice shot. However, one area where Colborne lacks is his ability to use his size to his advantage. Colborne has not learned to fully utilize his body to his advantage, but some time with the coaching staff in the AHL should help him in that regard. To say the he’s a lock to make the team might be pushing it, but consider him a probable addition to the Maple Leaf’s squad in 2011-12. Do not expect stellar numbers from Joe in his rookie year, likely getting around 35-40 points, 10-12 of which should be goals.
The final player on the Leafs that has the ability to see time with the big club is defenseman Jake Gardiner. Gardiner was also recently acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks. In Gardiner, the Leafs get a prospect with strong defensive presence that has an offensive mindset and playmaking ability. His speed is a large component of his game, and has the ability to score. However, Gardiner is still a young defenseman that will need time to grow, and to expect a fantastic rookie campaign is unrealistic. While he might not play full-time with the Leafs, expect him to play some games, and is easily worth the pick in deep prospect pools.
The Leafs’ Goaltending Situation:
One aspect of the Toronto Maple Leafs that is not certain is the goaltending. With three goaltenders on the roster, to say that there is a clear-cut starter is foolish. J-S Giguere has played the most games for the Leafs this year, but has battled injury and sloppy play. However, he is a great mentor, a favourite player of Burke’s, and is still a great backup goalie in the NHL (for the right price). Jonas Gustavsson has also battled poor play and injuries, being a huge letdown for the Leafs. However, he is still young and has a cap-friendly salary, leaving reason to believe that he will remain on the team. Finally, James Reimer has been the talk of the town in Toronto. Noted for stellar play in even the most crucial situations, people have already deemed Reimer the savior of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Keep in mind, however, he is only 23 years old and hasn’t even played 30 games as a pro yet.
To even attempt to predict the goalie situation in Toronto is difficult, however, I see three different scenarios that are likely to happen in goal for the Buds:
- Giguere is re-signed to a smaller contract, and plays backup and mentor to James Reimer. Gustavsson is either traded or sent down to the Marlies.
- Gustavsson and Reimer split time as goalie and Giguere walks away as a free agent.
- Gustavsson is sent down to the minors or traded, Giguere walks away as a free agent, and Reimer splits time with a free agent goaltender.
It is clear that the Leafs see Reimer as the future goaltender for the squad. However, do not expect Reimer to play 60 or more games – to do that to a sophomore would be a bad idea, one that Wilson and Burke know better than to follow. Expect Reimer to get 45-50 starts, with the rest going to the second goaltender that the Leafs keep. Do not draft Reimer as a top ten goalie, despite impressive stats to date. Due to a lack of playing time, it is too early to say if Reimer will turn into a fantasy stud, but it looks promising. However, he should still be deemed an 18th-24th overall goalie.