Fantasy Pool Look: Five surprise top NHL scorers: can they keep it up?

There are a few names that really jump off the list of top NHL scorers right now. Let’s take a look at these five players and their outlooks.

It’s fitting that the day after Matt Moulson gets traded, I write a column on a few players who are surging thanks (for the most part) to their linemates. As I noted on Twitter Sunday night, 196 of Matt Moulson’s 223 points for the Islanders happened while John Tavares was on the ice with him.

If you look over the top NHL scorers right now, you see the usual Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, etc. But then there are a few names that really jump off the page. These players have never had 60 points in a season and in most cases you don’t expect them to. But roughly a dozen games into the season, they are on pace to surpass 80. Let’s take a look at these five players and their outlooks.

Jiri Hudler, Calgary Flames (11 GP, 5 goals, 8 assists, 13 points)
History – Hudler’s tallied a career-high 57 points with the Red Wings in 2008-09. In his first season with Calgary, his points pro-rated to 52. A 97-point player in the American League (2005-06), Hudler also finished ninth in scoring when he played the 2009-10 season in the Kontinental League.

Linemates – (per Frozen Pool)

Fewer than 55? Barring an injury, highly unlikely. Likelihood: five percent

55-64 points? Hudler has been there and done that. If he’s healthy all season, this is the minimum. Likelihood: 50 percent

65-74 points? This would break new ground for Hudler, but he’s one of the only experienced offensive weapons Calgary has, so he will continue to get every opportunity to put up points. Likelihood: 30 percent

75-plus points? Since players struggle to reach this level nowadays, it will be tough for Hudler. However, he is one of the more durable players in the league, missing just 17 games in his last five NHL seasons. But if his chemistry with Sean Monahan, you never know. Likelihood: 10 percent

Injury risk: As noted, Hudler is quite durable. Likelihood: five percent

Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders (11-7-8-15)
History – Prior to making the NHL, Nielsen was an above-average producer at the AHL level, peaking at 0.81 points-per-game there in 2006-07. Pegged as a two-way center with third-line upside, Nielsen has consistently shown that he can hold his own on a scoring line. Already with more goals this year than he did all of last season, it will be interesting to see if he can keep this up.

Linemates –

Fewer than 55? At this point he only needs 41 points in 71 games to beat this mark – and he had 44 in 71 games back in 2010-11. Likelihood: five percent

55-64 points? This would be groundbreaking, but given Nielsen’s start, how can he miss? Consider this your minimum. Likelihood: 70 percent

65-74 points? Reaching a number in his area is very un-Nielsen-like. At any level. But with the great start he needs just 50 points the rest of the way. Likelihood: 14 percent

75-plus points? I try not to speak in absolutes. Anything is possible. Likelihood: one percent

Injury risk: Durable the last two seasons, but injured quite frequently the three years prior. Likelihood: 10 percent

Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders (11-5-8-13)
History – Pegged as John Tavares’ linemate seemingly since birth, Okposo is finally on that line for good. For now at least. It’s his seventh NHL season and his numbers have actually been declining since he tallied 52 points in 2009-10. The seventh overall pick from 2006 was drafted there for a reason.

Linemates –
*You can now swap Thomas Vanek in for Moulson, which is an upgrade.

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Fewer than 55? Falling short of 55 points while playing on a line like this is almost impossible if Okposo stays healthy. So this is really just a reflection of the likelihood of him being removed from the top line. Likelihood: five percent

55-64 points? At 25, Okposo is entering his prime. Likelihood: 40 percent

65-74 points? Now we’re into the Matt Moulson window. If Tavares can put Moulson into this tier, then he can certainly put Okposo up there, too. Likelihood: 30 percent

75-plus points? If Vanek and Tavares click, then Vanek could very well score 50, which would mean Tavares would reach 100 points. And, by extension, Okposo hits the 75-point mark. Fingers crossed. Likelihood: 10 percent

Injury risk: Fairly healthy three of the last five seasons. Likelihood: five percent

Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues (9-10-5-15)
History – Since joining the Blues, Steen has consistently hovered around the 0.70 points-per-game mark, which pro-rates to about 58 points over 82 games. Unfortunately, “82 games” is not in Steen’s vocabulary.

Linemates –
57.94%    EV    42 BACKES,DAVID – 74 OSHIE,T.J. – 20 STEEN,ALEXANDER

Fewer than 55? It’s a nice start, but Steen tends to be very streaky. Likelihood: 20 percent

55-64 points? This would set a career high for Steen and the Blues are usually in tough to have anyone in this range, let alone Steen. But they’re scoring goals with aplomb this year, so perhaps he’s turned over a new leaf. (pun not intended, Steen being a former Maple Leaf). Likelihood 30 percent

65-74 points? This would require Steen to play at least 75 games and remain consistent throughout. I just don’t see it. Likelihood eight percent

75-plus points? Another case of not speaking in absolutes, so I won’t say that it’s impossible. But this would shock me. Likelihood two percent

Injury risk: Of all the players in this group, Steen is the one with the biggest injury risk. In fact, he is almost guaranteed to miss time this year, likely 10 to 15 games. Likelihood: 40 percent

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs (10-5-6-11)
History – JVR was the second overall pick in 2007 for a reason. And that reason is his tremendous upside. Now 24, he’s only now entering his prime. His points-per-game average each year since joining the NHL is a nice upward curve – 0.45, 0.53, 0.56, 0.67 and now 1.10. I like steady progression like that. It makes my job easier.

Linemates –

Fewer than 55? If he’s healthy, his days of sub-55-point season are pretty much over. Likelihood five percent

55-64 points? Now a more consistent player, van Riemsdyk really just needs to worry about battling the injury bug. Likelihood 30 percent

65-74 points? Playing with Phil Kessel, who finished tied for seventh in NHL scoring last season and was sixth the year before that, will gave van Riemsdyk a very realistic shot of flirting with 70 points. Likelihood: 25 percent

75-plus points? If Chris Kunitz can be a Top 7 NHL scorer playing with Sidney Crosby for just half a season, JVR could be a Top 20 NHL scorer playing with Kessel an entire season. Likelihood: 15 percent

Injury risk: He’s already missed two games this year and struggled with injuries in 2011-12. There is some risk here, given the power game that he plays. Likelihood: 25 percent

Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.

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