I might be new to the game in terms of column writing, but I’m well aware of good analysis when I see it. That’s why I’ve decided to bring you, the readers, an Eastern Conference flavor of Ryan Ma’s Earmarked for Success. Ryan does a phenomenal job of breaking down which players should be penciled in for top six or bottom six roles on each Western Conference team each summer.
Ryan has pointed this out in his articles, but I feel the need to reinforce – don’t stress over the potential line combinations we may have listed below. I might have Evgeni Malkin at left wing, for example, when Dan Bylsma blatantly says he will be playing center. The fact of the matter is, he’s a top-six forward, which is the whole point of this exercise.
I decided not to use the same terminology Ryan uses, so here’s a quick breakdown of mine if you couldn’t figure it out. Keep in mind that this terminology should be applied for fantasy hockey purposes in the coming season only.
- Golden Boys – Each team’s top six. The top-six role is theirs to lose.
- Challengers – These guys want to crack their way into the top six and depending on the situation, they just may.
- Checkers – these players are essentially fourth line players. Some may have very bright futures, but the path of the current team doesn’t seem to have top-nine minutes in store for them.
I’ll look at three or four teams each week, going in alphabetical order. Let’s get started.
Boston – top five locked, sixth spot in the air
Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand* - Patrice Bergeron – Rich Peverley
Benoit Pouliot, Tyler Seguin, and Jordan Caron
Chris Kelly, Greg Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, Zach Hamill
My Boston lines run on the assumption that Marc Savard will retire. If you’ve been paying any attention to concussions over the last decade, this should be no shock. With Savard’s absence, Krejci is most likely to center the top Boston wingers, Lucic and Horton. While Marchand is a pending RFA, his postseason play will make sure the Bruins get him under contract for the coming season. Bergeron is also a strong center who can swap with Krejci if either center goes through a cold spell. The sixth spot will likely be Rich Peverley’s to start with, though Seguin has the talent to play in this position. Peverley and Seguin are both natural centers and Seguin’s development would be better served as a third-line center.
Newcomer Benoit Pouliot is stronger on the left side, but could push to play on the second line in the right-wing slot. Pouliot potted 24 points in 39 games (just over a 50 point pace) with Gionta and Gomez in 2010, but will have a hard time finding top minutes in Beantown. Mark Recchi’s retirement (and a gaping hole on RW), spells major opportunity for Jordan Caron. The 2009 first-round pick saw action last year and should be with the big club all season in 2011-12. With little competition above or below him, Jordan Caron is likely a name that Eastern Conference opponents will learn very quickly.
Buffalo – top three absolutely set, next three are up for grabs
Thomas Vanek – Derek Roy – Jason Pominville
Ville Leino – Nathan Gerbe – Drew Stafford
Tyler Ennis*, Brad Boyes, Ales Kotalik
Jochen Hecht, Cody McCormick, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Luke Adam
With the departure of Connolly, Gerbe should be a lock for second-line center duties. Vanek finished the year with 21 points in 17 games for the second-most productive season of his young career and will likely perform just as good or better in the coming year. He plays at his best when the team is good (less pressure), and this team is definitely improving. Roy and Pominville should get the lion’s share of ice time as well as both are Buffalo favorites. Leino and Stafford should complement each other well and could slot in as third-line players, but their salaries have second-line written all over them.
Boyes and Kotalik can fill in at top-six duties, but are too inconsistent to stay there all season. Tyler Ennis will be the one knocking the hardest for a top spot as the former first-round choice looks to improve upon his 49-point rookie campaign. Luke Adam is a dark horse to steal a spot in the top nine, but odds are not in his favor with the offseason acquisitions.
Carolina – top five locked, sixth spot up in the air
Jussi Jokinen – Eric Staal – Jeff Skinner
Alex Ponikarovsky – Tuomo Ruutu – Chad Larose
Jiri Tlusty, Drayson Bowman, and Brandon Sutter
Zach Boychuk, Tim Brent, Anthony Stewart, Chris Terry, and Zac Dalpe
Jokinen, Skinner, Staal, and Ruutu appear to be the golden boys in Carolina and it would take a miracle or an injury for someone to take their place. Ponikarovsky was brought in at a reasonable salary to replace Cory Stillman and Chad Larose continues to see top six minutes. If consistent, Larose could be a solid fantasy asset, but he’s been given plenty of opportunities to prove his worth and has come up consistently short. His real-life value is much better than his fantasy value.
Tlusty, Sutter, and Bowman are all younger players who have had a decent amount of NHL exposure, certainly enough to motivate them into capturing a top-six role. This won’t be handed to them on a silver platter though, so for any of them to crack the top-six and see some PP time, they’re going to have to earn it. Play it safe and expect them to lace up on the third line. If Sutter isn’t careful, AHL journeyman Tim Brent could step in and take the third line center role, but that should be a long shot. With a potential fourth line of Boychuk, Brent, and Stewart, expect Chris Terry and Zac Dalpe to get a couple cups of coffee.
Next week: Florida, Montreal, New Jersey