I have a few general rules when it comes to building a team in a fantasy hockey keeper league. One of the more important ones is to not plan beyond a two or three year window. You are not building a real NHL club, and too often fantasy hockey poolies place an emphasis on youth and prospects over proven veterans with gas still left in the tank. So using my general rule, take a look at your team(s). Can you realistically say you will have a shot at winning the league at some point within the next two or three seasons? If not, time to scrap the rebuild and start adding proven NHL talent.
Keeping my rule in mind, I have compiled a list of the top 10 keeper league right wingers to own (assuming standard keeper league rules and scoring categories). Using the two or three season scope, I had to balance proven production with young players on the verge of breaking out. I hope you enjoy!
Left and right wing are arguably the two hardest positions to fill in fantasy hockey. This season, the 10th highest scoring left wing (Patrick Sharp) finished with 66 points. The 10th highest scoring right wing (Chris Stewart) finished with 66 as well. Ryan Kesler finished 10th among centers in scoring with 75 points. Going down the leader board at each position, the discrepancy only increases. Nik Antropov had 67 points, placing him 20th among centers. The 20th highest scoring left wing was Thomas Vanek with 53 points, and Danny Briere finished 20th among right wingers with 53 points as well. This data is hardly groundbreaking, but it just highlights how important it is to draft (and retain) quality wingers on your fantasy hockey team.
1. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
Contract: $6.3 million/season, signed through 2014-15
Patrick Kane must not read DobberHockey. Dobber has long been a supporter of the “fourth-year breakout” theory, as it (on average) seems to take young players three years to get comfortable at the NHL level. Kane cut a year off of the theory, boosting his production by 18 points this past season – his third. He is incredibly crafty and durable, only missing two games with the Blackhawks. He uses his lack of size to his advantage on most nights. There isn’t really much to say about Kane – he is arguably the best offensive forward to own in any keeper league format aside from the big three (Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin).
One year upside: 100
Three year upside: 115
2. Corey Perry – Anaheim Ducks
Contract: $5.3 million/season, signed through 2012-13
Those that don’t get to watch the Anaheim Ducks play on a regular basis are really missing out. Perry is well known in the fantasy hockey world as being one of the best points/PIM combination players in the eague, but he is a player you need to see play to really appreciate how good he is – cerebral, slick, and annoying all at once. Perry’s between the whistles game resembles the Sedin twins a bit – he loves to isolate opposing defensemen, he can make plays with both his forehand and backhand, and he has worked hard to improve a weakness into a strength (skating). His after the whistles style of play is similar to the likes of Steve Ott and Sean Avery – he is mouthy, feisty, and a pain in the rear end every single evening. He doesn’t have the offensive upside of some below him on this list, but there aren’t any that have the potential to score 50 goals and rack up 110 penalty minutes. Perry’s pugilism (if you can call it that) is remarkably consistent as well – his penalty minute totals from the past three seasons: 108, 109, and 111.
One year upside: 85
Three year upside: 95
3. Marian Hossa – Chicago Blackhawks
Contract: $5.3 million/season, signed through 2020-21
Since recording 100 points with Atlanta back in 2006-07, Hossa has suited up for three different clubs (Pittsburgh, Detroit, and now Chicago). He is one of the best two-way forwards in the game, but for the most part poolies don’t make their picks based on defensive acumen. Hossa scored 24 goals in 57 games for Chicago this past season. Playing in Chicago, where offensive depth is plentiful (especially on the right side), may seem like a bad fit for Hossa. Kane is the top right wing there, and the Blackhawks like to give Hossa defensive responsibilities, which diverts some of his efforts away from scoring and offensive production. On the other hand, he is also able to play with a wealth of talent on the power play. Hossa has the ability to hit the century mark in points in any given season, regardless of whether he lines up on the first or second offensive line.
One year upside: 100
Three year upside: 100
4. Marian Gaborik – New York Rangers
Contract: $7.5 million/season, signed through 2013-14
Gaborik finally showed what he is capable of when healthy this past season. To those of you that were patient and held on to him in the face of adversity (or sanity, take your pick), congratulations. If you don’t want to rest your fantasy hockey hopes in Gaborik’s groin again (that sounded wrong), now may be a good time to try and deal him. However, the fact that he was able to put up 86 points on a Rangers squad that struggled to light the lamp with any sort of consistency in 2009-10 bodes well for him if they find him a legitimate center to play with. One thing is for certain with Gaborik – owning him is like riding a rollercoaster. There are highs (five-goal games, blinding speed, and game breaking offensive instincts) and the lows (injuries, injuries, and injuries). Enjoy it! I have Gaborik’s three year upside higher as I assume that the Rangers will be able to add a first-line center by that point (no offense to Brandon Dubinsky).
One year upside: 90
Three year upside: 100
5. Martin St. Louis – Tampa Bay Lightning
Contract: $5.3 million/season, signed through 2010-11
It’s too bad that Tampa Bay was such a mess off the ice in 2009-10, as they had some impressive performances on it. Steve Stamkos had a phenomenal sophomore season, scoring 51 goals. Steve Downie became the first player since Theoren Fleury to score over 20 goals and record over 200 penalty minutes (more on him below). St. Louis had perhaps the best season of all, recording 94 points and playing hard and honest every single game. His work ethic is what got him into the league, it is what made him a star, and it is what will enable him to produce at an elite level for at least three more seasons. One thing in particular I admire about him is his ability to shoot the puck from anywhere. I don’t mean in terms of his positioning in the offensive zone, but the position of the puck in his shooting stance. Bad pass? No problem. Off his back foot? Not an issue. Too far ahead? Not for Marty. There were some fairly quiet rumblings a few weeks ago about him potentially asking for a trade, but I don’t see it happening.
One year upside: 95
Three year upside: 95
6. Claude Giroux – Philadelphia Flyers
Contract: $800,000/season, signed through 2010-11
Just to get it out of the way, I am a huge Claude Giroux fan – absolutely huge. My bias with regards to him has burned me once, as I passed on a very lucrative trade a few years ago in order to retain him. However, his placement so high on this list comes from my honest, bias-free assessment of the player he is very close to becoming. He loves skating with the puck on his stick, and the Flyers have toyed with the idea of having him play center because of this. He is playing center right now for the Flyers in the playoffs on a line with Arron Asham and James van Riemsdyk. With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter ahead of him on the depth chart (for now), who knows what the future holds for him from a positional standpoint. Regardless, his offensive production is sky high. Like all great offensive players, he reads the game extremely well. Simply put, Giroux sees plays that most players don’t.
One year upside: 60
Three year upside: 90
7. Ales Hemsky – Edmonton Oilers
Contract: $4.1 million/season, signed through 2011-12
A severe shoulder injury shortened Hemsky’s season to only 22 games in 2009-10, and he was off to a strong start with 22 points during that time. The Oilers were absolutely dreadful without him, finishing dead last in the entire league. He probably wouldn’t have made an enormous difference, as that team had many serious holes at all three positions, but having a player of Hemsky’s calibre definitely would not have hurt. He is one of the toughest skill players in the league, and that led to his injury. He takes the puck hard to the tough areas with reckless abandon. His skill level is elite, but his consistency isn’t. He seemed to be stuck in fourth gear at times over the past few seasons in Edmonton – he would have a stretch of three or four fantastic games and put up eight or nine points, but then follow that up with nothing for the next few. Once he figures out how to hit the score sheet every night, watch out. The future for him is very bright in Edmonton in terms of future linemates: Taylor Hall (or Tyler Seguin), Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, and Dustin Penner all could fit in with Hemsky in 2010-11.
One year upside: 80
Three year upside: 95
8. Jarome Iginla – Calgary Flames
Contract: $7 million/season, signed through 2012-13
Last year was the first time that it was noticeable that Iginla has lost a step or two. He finished the season with only one assist in his final nine games, and he scored only 19 goals outside of the month of November (a month in which he lit the lamp 13 times). Calgary was a mess from top-to-bottom for stretches last season, and Iginla has received a large part of the blame (just or unjust, as captain and face of the franchise it is inevitable). Darryl Sutter fumbled the ball numerous times, especially with Iginla. He replaced Mike Cammalleri, a player who really clicked with Jarome, with Olli Jokinen. Like Iginla, Jokinen is a shoot-first player, and the two had absolutely zero chemistry together. Iginla needs at least one playmaker on his line, and that unfortunately didn’t happen enough in 2009-10. Calgary doesn’t have the prospect depth to survive a full-scale rebuild, and even if they did, trading Iginla would be a massive mistake. Sutter’s first priority this summer (if for some miracle he keeps his job) should be to find some appropriate linemates (and no, Matt Stajan is not the answer) for his star forward. Iginla may be trending downwards but he is done more than enough in his career to warrant a second chance from poolies.
One year upside: 90
Three year upside: 90
9. Jakub Voracek – Columbus Blue Jackets
Contract: $1.2 million/season (including bonuses), signed through 2010-11
I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there is something extremely intriguing about Voracek. Perhaps it is his long, flowing blonde locks. Or it could be his powerful skating stride. Who knows? What I do know is that Columbus has a special young player on the verge of breaking out. He improved off of a decent 38-point rookie season in 2008-09 with 50 points in 2009-10. His ice time rose from about 12 minutes per night to over 15. Voracek’s power play time increased by only 20 seconds per game, and his short-handed ice time by only seven seconds – the bulk of the increase came at even strength. He is very (very) strong on his skates, and his two-way play has already garnered some comparisons to Hossa. He projects to be more of a playmaker (I see him developing into a consistent 25-30 goal, 50-60 assist kind of guy). His inclusion on this list ahead of some more proven and prolific scorers may be a bit of a surprise, but you’ll see why I have him here as early as next season.
One year upside: 65
Three year upside: 85
10. Kyle Okposo – New York Islanders
Contract: $1.6 million/season (including bonuses), signed through 2011-12
The New York Islanders had eight players record between 38 points and 54 points this past season. Mediocrity was the name of the game for Long Island from an offensive standpoint, but don’t expect that trend to continue into 2010-11. The Islanders are building quite a good young core with Okposo, Josh Bailey, John Tavares, and Matt Moulson. The fact that Okposo scored 19 goals is not terribly impressive, but considering he went 18 games without scoring during one horrific stretch, it makes that number look a bit better. Okposo is a natural scorer – he has a heavy and accurate shot and he loves to use it. Expect big things from him and Tavares for a long time. There are quite a few other players I toyed with putting at number 10, and a strong case could be made for at least a dozen of them. Okposo doesn’t have the short-term value of many I am about to mention, and he is a bit of a risk as he has yet to record 20 goals at the NHL level.
One year upside: 65
Three year upside: 80
Daniel Alfredsson – I’ll probably get some harsh comments from Senators fans for failing to include Alfredsson. If you want to win your pool next year, he is easily a top ten right winger to own. His durability and work ethic at the age of 37 is extremely impressive. How many productive seasons does he have left in the tank, though?
Chris Stewart – Already one of the best power forwards in the game. Stewart is big, fast, mean, and skilled. He knows his role and plays it very well. Look for many 30 goal seasons from him in the future.
Phil Kessel – Kessel’s speed and shot are elite – the rest of his game isn’t. Fantasy hockey is all about production, so many of Kessel’s deficiencies don’t matter. However, he still is a bit too one-dimensional for me to include in the top 10.
Johan Franzen – Mr. April/May/June needs to bring it during the regular season to be a top 10 player at his position. He uses his strength to dominate like few can in the game today. He has 31 goals in his past 49 playoff games. (And four in his last one!)
Dustin Brown – Brown and Anze Kopitar don’t work well on the same line. He is a solid offensive player but probably won’t be put in a role to maximize his production in Los Angeles.
Peter Mueller – Mueller scored nine goals and added 11 assists in only 15 games with Colorado after the trade deadline. However, a second serious concussion at only the age of 22 has to raise some red flags.
Martin Havlat – will Havlat’s fantasy hockey significance fade away in Minnesota? Only 18 goals and 54 points last season say yes, but at 29 Havlat still has lots of hockey left to play.
Devin Setoguchi – Setoguchi tumbled from 65 points in 2008-09 to only 36 this past season. He has looked fantastic in the playoffs so far with Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski on San Jose’s best line.
Michael Frolik – Frolik has a ton of upside, but there are two question marks with him. What position will he play (he has shifted between all three up front at the NHL level), and can he reach his upside in Florida? His first two seasons in the NHL are near duplicates (21 goals and 45 points in 2008-09, and 21 goals and 43 points this past season).
Jiri Hudler – It looks as if Hudler is slated to return to Detroit this fall, and he has a spot on the second line waiting for him. From a personal standpoint I am glad he is coming back as he is one of my favourite players in the league to watch.
Jason Pominville – Pominville doesn’t do anything at an elite level, but he is a very sound and smart player. He recorded his fourth-straight 60+ point season in 2009-10, although many poolies are still hoping for a return to the 80-point mark. Expect 60-65 from Pominville – anything more is simply icing on the cake.
David Backes – Backes is still listed as a right wing in many places, but the Blues like him at center. His goal output dropped from 31 to 17 – expect him to bounce back to somewhere in between those two totals in 2010-11.
Brad Boyes – If the Blues do move Boyes, keep an eye on where he goes. He has a wicked shot and is a strong player both on the wing and up the middle. Like many St. Louis Blues forwards, he lost his way a bit in 2009-10.
Steve Downie – What will he do for an encore in 2010-11? Will the firing of Rick Tocchet affect him negatively at all?
Loui Eriksson – Eriksson is one of the best two-way wingers in the game, and has averaged 32 goals over his past two seasons. He bumped up his assist total from 27 to 41, but he is a Brad Richards trade away from stumbling back a bit. The two really clicked last season, but Dallas is expected to shop one of Richards or Mike Ribeiro this summer.
Nathan Horton - In his six NHL seasons, Horton has failed to break the 62-point barrier. He was drafted before some pretty special players in 2003 (Getzlaf, Parise, Weber, Carter, to name a few), but hasn't done enough in Florida to justify the high draft pick used on him. Horton is still a very intriguing player for poolies because of his size/skill combination.
Patric Hornqvist - "Horny" had a fantastic sophomore NHL campaign, jumping from two goals in 2008-09 to 30 this past season. He isn't big or fast, but he competes extremely hard and loves getting his nose dirty. He found a hope on the first power play unit with the likes of Arnott, Weber, and Dumont.
Alex Semin – listed as a right wing by Yahoo!, but he is a natural left wing who played out of position because of some Ovechkin guy.
Patrick Sharp – can play all three positions, but may be on the trading block this summer as the Blackhawks look to create some salary cap space.
After the first four or five, I found this list very interesting/tough to compile and rank.