The third annual Prime Cuts roster is here! Check out the Prime Cuts rosters from 2007-08 and 2008-09. The thinking process that goes in to selecting the team is similar to Pierre McGuire’s “Monsters” for TSN (I promise that is the first and only time I will compare my thinking process to Pierre’s). Since this is a fantasy hockey site, the selection process favours players that have had strong seasons on the score sheet, obviously. However, not just goals and assists are weighted – perhaps a player has started to shoot the puck more, or play better defensively. Intangibles like heart, grit, and determination factor in to the selection process as well. It is far and away my favourite article to write each year, and I hope you will all enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it!
Part 2 of the article series will name the second defensive pairing and third line.
The second pairing: Tyler Myers and Joni Pitkanen
The 6’8” Myers has always stood out from the crowd. Throughout his minor hockey, he towered over his peers. Due to a few significant growth spurts, he was always competing against his body, though. He constantly battled fatigue and coordination issues, and only when he reached age 16 did he really begin to figure things out. Buffalo had a good feeling about him during the summer of 2008, and they moved up in the draft to select him 12th overall. Many expected Myers to one day make the NHL as a solid top-four defenseman, but he was viewed as a project. His development since being drafted has been nothing short of spectacular, joining the likes of Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Alex Edler, and Luke Schenn as successful graduates of Kelowna’s defence factory. He had an impressive camp this season and Buffalo decided against sending him back to the WHL. Myers let them know they made the right decision by quickly adapting to the speed of the professional game.
Among Sabre defensemen this season, he finished first in goals, assists, points, plus-minus, shooting percentage, and ice time (including the most power play time per game AND the most shorthanded minutes per game). His 48 points (including 11 goals) placed him 11th overall in the entire league, and he still hasn’t celebrated his 20th birthday yet. Myers has quickly been able to develop the skills that most average sized players struggle with – fluidity with regards to skating, stick-handing, and general awareness on the ice. The upside for Myers as a defenseman is sky high – there simply are no comparables to him. He is eons more mobile than Zdeno Chara, and he reads the game from an offensive standpoint much better as well. He is the youngest NHL defenseman to have 40 points since Bryan Berard did it back on Long Island in 1996.97. His team is 28-7-1 when he records a point. Myers was an easy choice for the 2009-10 Prime Cuts roster, just like he will be for the Calder Trophy.
Joni Pitkanen showed a glimpse of his offensive upside with the Flyers back in 2005-06, when he recorded 13 goals and 46 points in only 58 games. However, since that point he has been unable to consistently play at the level many believe he is capable of. However, he seems to have found a home as the number one guy on Carolina’s back end. His combination of size, speed, and offensive ability continue make him an enticing option for poolies, as he still has the upside to develop into a 50 or 60-point defenseman.
This season, he led the entire NHL in ice time per game, playing almost a minute more per game than Duncan Keith, who was second. He was 13th in scoring among NHL blue liners with 46 points. He also fired 161 shots on goal, more than double any other Carolina defenseman. Logging heavy minutes for a struggling team is not as impressive as doing it for a contender, but Pitkanen has played at a very high level all season. Unlike most top defensemen, he hasn’t had a stable partner, either. 20 percent of his shifts this season were with Aaron Ward, 15 percent were with Brett Carson, and nine percent were with Tim Gleason. Due to injuries, trades, and call-ups, Pitkanen was forced to adjust his game to a new partner all season long.
The third line: Steve Downie, Brandon Sutter, and Eric Fehr
Steve Downie had quite the season in 2009-10. He was the first player in almost a decade to score over 20 goals and record over 200 penalty minutes in the same season. He instantly clicked with Steve Stamkos and Marty St. Louis on Tampa Bay’s top unit, and looks to be a long-term fit there as well.
Downie has been followed by his bad boy reputation throughout his career. It’s a shame, because he has always been a very, very effective two-way hockey player. He finally was able to show it this season. He finished the season with a very impressive plus-14 rating. The next highest plus-minus number on the Lightning roster was zero. He has great hands, sees the ice well, and has the skill required by all “complementary” players – the ability to keep up with superiorly talented linemates.
His shooting percentage (19) this season is an abnormally high total, so expect a decline in goals next year (unless he decides to shoot the puck more). It was the seventh highest total in the entire league. He played less than 15 minutes per game, a number which should go up a minute or two in 2010-11. More ice time should mean more shots on goal. There are some rumors circulating that St. Louis may ask to be traded, but I don’t buy it. He is the backbone of that team. Trying to peg Downie’s upside is where things get interesting. He always has that wild streak that will make him a bit of a risk/reward type of player in fantasy hockey, but if he keeps his head on (relatively) straight, he has the skills to become a 60 or 65 point winger.
Stamkos puts it best with regards to Downie’s on-ice presence. “He creates spaces for me... everyone’s a little scared of him when he’s on the ice. He has that edge.” Well put, Steve.
Brandon Sutter’s offensive progression at the NHL has been very impressive. He scored only one goal in 50 games as a rookie in 2008-09, but followed that up with a 21 goal sophomore campaign for the Hurricanes. The most impressive part about Sutter’s season wasn’t his 21 goals, though. He recorded only two penalty minutes all season. He isn’t a perimeter player or someone who avoids tough areas or puck battles – he competes hard every game. The fact that he took one minor penalty is damn impressive (unless your league counts penalty minutes, of course). He is the perfect “ying” to Eric Staal’s “yang” down the middle in Carolina.
He should develop into a 25-30 goal, 60-70 point second-line center. He can score goals and pass the puck, and brings size and defensive acumen to the 2009-10 Prime Cuts roster.
Eric Fehr finally showed why he has been known throughout his career as a pure goal scorer. His 21 goals don’t jump off the stat sheet, but when you add some context, they should. Fehr played only 12:08 per game this season for Washington. That places him 22nd on the Capitals roster in terms of ice time per game. Out of all 20 goal scorers in the league, only Steve Downie and Jamie Benn (both at 14:42 per game) played less than 15 minutes. Fehr was able to produce very respectable numbers with essentially fourth line minutes all season long.
He played most of the time with Brendan Morrison as his center, and one of Tomas Fleischmann, Jason Chimera, or Brooks Laich on the left side. Fehr finished with 145 shots on goal. Like I mentioned with Downie earlier, more shots will come with more ice time. Fehr is a restricted free agent this summer, so it will be interesting to see what happens with him. Do the Capitals dangle him for a defenseman? In the right situation, Fehr could be a 40-goal scorer one day.
The roster (to date):
Steve Downie – Brandon Sutter – Eric Fehr
TJ Galiardi – Jay McClement – Ian Lapperiere
Tyler Myers – Joni Pitkanen
Keith Yandle – Mark Giordano