There is still six weeks of hockey left to play this season, but I have seen enough to name my fantasy dark horse of the year. Yes, Carolina’s Ray Whitney has been a pleasant surprise, but his production has slipped a little and he is now on the shelf with a sprained ankle.
(This was originally submitted to and published by The Hockey News, ESPN.com and MSN.ca on March 5)
Another runner-up is Michael Cammalleri of the Kings, but I can’t really give him the prize. After all, I anticipated a 70-point season from him and he is looking at finishing with 80-85 points. This is impressive, but not a big enough jump to warrant the title.
Martin St. Louis is surprising everyone with his comeback performance. The Tampa Bay winger is looking at a 105-point season – far above expectations. However, he has been there and done that, having been a former scoring champion in this league.
Calgary’s Kristian Huselius makes it a tough contest. He is breaking out this year in a big way, with 64 points in 64 games and 60 in his last 52. He was drafted by poolies this past summer with the expectation that he would get them 50-55 points, with a chance of going much higher. This is a judgment call on my part and as tough as Huselius makes this decision, I am still looking elsewhere for the prize.
The best dark horse of the season? The most impressive pickup in your draft last summer? Colorado rookie Paul Stastny.
The 21-year-old has 62 points in 66 contests and has done nothing but improve since playing his way onto the squad in training camp. The Avs fully intended for their 2005 second-round pick (44th overall) to put up a good camp and then go to Albany (of the American League) for some more seasoning.
Stastny had other plans.
The son of Hall-of-Famer Peter, Stastny impressed in camp with all aspects of his game and not only made the Colorado roster – he was immediately given plenty of ice time on the special teams.
Coming from college hockey (Denver of the WCHA), Stastny has been accustomed to 40-game seasons. As such, one would expect the youngster to slow down as the 82-game NHL season wore on.
He is riding a 15-game point streak in which he has eight goals, 14 assists and is a plus-8. Stastny is my dark horse fantasy hockey pickup of the year, because not only has he performed further above expectations than any other player, but he probably was not even drafted in most pools.
Farm Report: The Oilers acquired Robert Nilsson from the Islanders in the Ryan Smyth trade last week and he was immediately placed on Rob Schremp’s line in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Magic has ensued. The sniper (Schremp) and the setup man (Nilsson) are clicking like gears in a clock, combining for 10 points in their first two games together. Both players have high upsides in the NHL and either one of them (or both) could be in an Edmonton uniform in the fall.